If your team’s not in the NBA playoffs, the second-biggest event of the offseason just went down on Tuesday evening.
The NBA held its annual Draft lottery on Tuesday night, and the top pick did not go to the worst team, instead being shipped out to the team with the second-worst record in basketball, the 20-52 Detroit Pistons.
It was a night filled with nerves, not least because this is considered to be one of the most stacked drafts in some time in terms of talent. The worst team in basketball during the 2020-2021 campaign, the Houston Rockets, snagged the No. 2 pick, followed by the ever-lucky Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 3, and the Toronto Raptors at No. 4, both of whom moved up thanks to the lottery.
So far in 2021, it’s as if Ben Wallace’s mere presence has meant good luck. The legendary Pistons big man was named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year, and on Tuesday he was on hand in all of his championship-winning, salt and pepper glory as his former team was awarded the top draft choice.
After the Raptors (who had the seventh-worst record) at No. 4, the Orlando Magic will pick at No. 5, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Golden State Warriors (via a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves), the Magic again (this time via the trade which sent Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls), the Sacramento Kings, and finally the New Orleans Pelicans, who will round out the top ten.
The Charlotte Hornets grabbed the 11th pick, the San Antonio Spurs the 12th, the Indiana Pacers lucky No. 13, and the Golden State closed out the lottery ceremony when they were awarded the 14th and final lottery pick for the 2021 NBA draft. The Warriors and Magic will both have much to discuss ahead of the draft on July 29th, with both franchises picking twice in the top 14.
The Pistons are in good shape with a solid head coach in Dwayne Casey to go with an exciting young core that includes Jerami Grant as well as three 2020 first round picks: Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart. Adding a No. 1 overall pick to that group will have many in the Motor City chomping at the bit to start the next campaign.
This is the first No. 1 overall pick that the Detroit Pistons have had since they took Bob Lanier with the top choice way back in 1970. While it’s a nice spot to be with no one picking ahead of you, there’s also a tad bit of pressure on general manager Troy Weaver and the rest of the Pistons’ brass despite Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham being a pretty-close-to-consensus top prospect.
“Obviously we get to add another wing player to the restoration process,” Weaver said. “We’re excited to be in this position. But it means that we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re going to be diligent about it. But it always helps to be able to add the No. 1 pick.”
The Rockets got quite lucky on lottery night considering that if their pick had not been in the top four, it would have gone to the Thunder. Instead, the Rockets have a great chance to immediately add an elite hooper to start building a core around talented forward Christian Wood.
Toronto also received a stroke of luck in jumping into the top four after a nightmare of a season. While every team struggled with COVID restrictions, no team was hit like the Raptors, who were forced to play their entire home schedule in Tampa Bay, 1,100 miles from their proper home.
Not to mention the fact that they were knocked off by a swath of players catching COVID just as they were finding their feet during this campaign. A top four pick is a huge coup as they look to add to a solid young core that includes Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby and possibly veteran Kyle Lowry.
In the end, a group of just five teams have control over 12 of the top 30 selections in July’s draft, with both the Thunder and the Rockets claiming three choices apiece, and the New York Knicks, Warriors, and Magic each making a pair of picks in the first round.
The lottery, instituted in 1985 to dissuade the worst teams from tanking—which it has done only occasionally if at all—has not generally been kind to the team with the worst overall record the previous year, even though the lottery process states that team is to receive the largest chances to win the first ball.
Only nine times in 35 years has the top prize gone to the team with the best chance at it. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery three times in four years from 2011-2014, selecting Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett. One each an All-Star, a solid role player, and a bust, which is not too bad a success rate.
The worst team in basketball got the top pick in four straight years after that, ending in 2018 when the Phoenix Suns selected big man DeAndre Ayton, who has been dominating in the Conference Finals for his team, who are now offering juicy -110 NBA odds on their moneyline in Game 3 after going up in the series 2-0.
The last three years, the seventh-worst team, the third-worst, and most recently, the second-worst, have claimed the top prize after the league decided to give the three worst teams the same odds at winning the No. 1 pick to further deter teams from tanking