NBA Draft Lottery Preview: Where Every Team Sits in the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes

After a long haul of a season and at what is somehow only the midway point of the playoffs, the NBA draft lottery takes place Tuesday night, ushering in the beginning of what should be another massively intriguing off-season. Per usual, a number of franchise’s fortunes are hanging in the balance, with a bit of added gravitas thanks to the availability of Zion Williamson, who will barrel into the league with massive expectations after living up to every bit of hype at Duke. The structure of the lottery has changed, flattening out the odds, leaving more room for surprise, and juicing up the randomness. It’s all coming together at a fascinating time.

Remember that teams can now jump into the top four selections, as opposed to just the top three, meaning that the Knicks, who lead the sequence, can now fall as low as fifth. The three worst teams, also including the Cavs and Suns, now have equal odds of winning the lottery. Given that this is being (somewhat properly) touted as a Williamson sweepstakes, we’ll refrain from hinting at who each team should pick if they win. But below, you’ll find a quick need-to-know refresher on every team with something at stake on Tuesday night.

- Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (51–31)

Expected outcome: No lottery pick
Chance of winning: 1%
Chance of Top Four selection: 1%

What’s at stake: After falling to the Raptors on Kawhi Leonard’s breathtaking game-winner, the Sixers will be in Chicago on Tuesday as the final vestige of the Process comes to pass. Their only way into the lottery is if the Kings’ pick miraculously delivers on a 1% chance of winning the top spot. While the prospect of adding Zion Williamson to a star-powered roster would be an earth-shaking result for the state of the league at large, it’s highly unlikely we hear from Philly on lottery night.

BOSTON CELTICS (49–33)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 14, possible Grizzlies pick
Chance of winning: 0%
Chance of Top Four selection: 4%

What’s at stake: The Celtics have two pathways into the lottery: they will receive the Kings’ pick unless it lands at No. 1 (and conveys to the 76ers), and they can also obtain the Grizzlies’ pick if Memphis is jumped in the selection order and falls outside the top eight. It’s possible Boston ends up with two lottery picks, which would be useful currency, but there’s also a fair argument that they’d rather the Grizzlies keep the pick. Memphis is going nowhere fast, and if the pick defers, it will be protected 1-through-6 in 2020 and unprotected in what currently promises to be a deeper 2021 draft.

MIAMI HEAT (39–43)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 13
Chance of winning: 1%
Chance of Top Four selection: 5%

What’s at stake: The Heat have very slim odds of winning the lottery and will most likely end up sitting on pick No. 13. While Miami could certainly use the infusion of talent that would come with a jump into the top four, don’t bet on it.

CHARLOTTE HORNETS (39–43)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 12
Chance of winning: 1%
Chance at Top Four selection: 5%

What’s at stake: Like Miami, Charlotte will most likely sit at No. 12 barring an unexpected twist. The Hornets are on the precipice of free agency with Kemba Walker, placing some emphasis on nailing this selection, particularly if he departs and they move toward a rebuild.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (37–45)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 11
Chance of winning: 2%
Chance at Top Four selection: 9%

What’s at stake: Certainly, eyebrows would raise around the league if the Lakers’ were somehow rewarded through the lottery, amid their current state of disarray. Whether they try to use the pick as a trade chip or try and add a player who can help LeBron James right away, there’s pressure on L.A. to manage this situation correctly. 

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MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (36–46)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 10
Chance of winning: 3%
Chance at Top Four selection: 14%

What’s at stake: With Gersson Rosas now at the helm in Minnesota, it’ll be curious to see which direction the Wolves opt for with this selection. With Karl-Anthony Towns in place and approaching his prime years, it’s imperative that they implement some type of vision around him and hit the ground running. Coming from a system-oriented organization in Houston, this should be an interesting situation no matter where the Wolves pick.

DALLAS MAVERICKS (33–49)

Expected outcome: Pick likely to convey to Hawks
Chance of winning: 6%
Chance at Top Four selection: 26%

What’s at stake: Unless the Mavericks convert on their 26% chance at a top-four pick, this selection will go to the Hawks as part of last year’s draft-night swap that let Dallas move up for Luka Doncic. This makes for one of the more fascinating scenarios: if the Mavs are able to add high-level talent next to Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, it could significantly jump-start an already fast-tracked rebuild. If Dallas were to keep the pick, it would be top-five protected for Atlanta again in 2020. 

Also hanging in the long-term balance: the Mavericks owe the Knicks two unprotected first-rounders via the Porzingis deal, but due to league rules, the first selection cannot convey until two years after Dallas sends a pick to Atlanta. As it stands, the Knicks would get the picks in 2021 and 2023. If the Mavs keep this pick, that timeline pushes back to 2022 and 2024, and so forth.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (33–49)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 8
Chance of winning: 6%
Chance at Top Four selection: 26%

What’s at stake: The Grizzlies’ pick conveys to Boston if it lands at No. 9 or lower, which would only happen if anyone below Memphis jumps ahead in the sequence, beginning with Dallas and its 26% chance. As noted above, the Grizzlies might actually prefer to convey this pick now and eliminate the specter of losing it unprotected down the line. With a restructured front office in place, Memphis will a be in need of some direction with this pick if they keep it.

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (33–49)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 7
Chance of winning: 6%
Chance at Top Four selection: 26%

What’s at stake: David Griffin’s tenure in New Orleans has a small but tangible chance of starting with a bang. The Anthony Davis situation has yet to be resolved, but if the Pelicans were to luck into a potential second star in Williamson, or even Ja Morant, it could significantly help to alter the team’s trajectory. This would be a fascinating, if improbable scenario.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS (32–50)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 6
Chance of winning: 9%
Chance at Top Four selection: 37%

What’s at stake: Safe to say, the Wizards could really benefit from an infusion of elite talent as they figure out their next steps. With John Wall’s health in question as his max contract kicks in and Bradley Beal in place next to him, the rest of Washington’s roster remains in a bit of flux, and on the older side. Whether it’s falling into Williamson or the chance to tap Ja Morant as Wall’s successor, the franchise’s direction could shift significantly with the right combination of ping pong balls. 

- Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

ATLANTA HAWKS (29–53)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 5
Chance of winning: 10.5%
Chance at Top Four selection: 42%

What’s at stake: The Hawks, in particular, could greatly accelerate their rebuild with the addition of Williamson. With Trae Young already in the fold and holding the keys to the franchise’s future, don’t expect Atlanta to target a point guard at any juncture. Williamson’s athleticism and ability to generate easy points would be a strong fit with Young’s passing savvy and transition-oriented style. If Atlanta were to pick second, R.J. Barrett would be preferable to Ja Morant based on positional need, and Jarrett Culver or De’Andre Hunter may make more sense than Darius Garland or Coby White if they’re drafting further down.

CHICAGO BULLS (22–60)

Expected outcome: Pick No. 4
Chance of winning: 12.5%
Chance at Top Four selection: 48%

What’s at stake: The Bulls weren’t quite bad enough to fall into the bottom three, ending up with the next-best set of odds and three teams ahead of them in the pecking order. With Chicago in need of a better long-term answer at point guard than Kris Dunn, moving up to the second pick and having a chance to select Ja Morant free of critique might be just as gratifying as winning the entire thing. Williamson, certainly, would be a massive hit, but his fit next to Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen may not be the cleanest, at least not at the outset.

PHOENIX SUNS (19–63)

Expected outcome: Top three selection
Chance of winning: 14%
Chance at Top Four selection: 52%

What’s at stake: Phoenix can become the third team to land back-to-back No. 1 selections since 2013 (though it’s worth noting that the Cavs traded Andrew Wiggins away after drafting him in 2014, and the Sixers’ winning pick in 2017 originally belonged to the Nets). After selecting Deandre Ayton last year to go with Devin Booker, Phoenix is positioned to add to a talented group of young players, albeit one that is still very much finding its way. After the Suns cleaned house and let go of Igor Kokoskov and staff, stability is not the organization’s strong suit, but if they win the lottery and add Williamson, the threshold of where elite talent becomes foolproof should be tested. The best outcome might actually be picking second, where Phoenix could select Morant without backlash and end what has been an excruciatingly long flirtation with mediocrity at the point guard spot. 

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (19–63)

Expected outcome: Top three selection
Chance of winning: 14%
Chance at Top Four selection: 52%

What’s at stake: As the Cavs continue to try and reverse the ship after LeBron’s departure, hanging onto a top selection this year is somewhat pivotal. Landing Williamson, of course, would be a home run, although trying to succeed LeBron while also trying to avoid an inevitable wave of comparisons to LeBron in Cleveland is not the ideal fate we’d bestow upon him. The more complicated decisions might come at Nos. 2 or 3, as neither Ja Morant nor R.J. Barrett is a great fit with Collin Sexton, and taking either one creates a long-term question of co-existence. There’s a good case for committing to either one as a long-term priority, regardless. This would be Cleveland’s third lottery win this decade.

NEW YORK KNICKS (17–65)

Expected outcome: Top three selection
Chance of winning: 14%
Chance at Top Four selection: 52%

What’s at stake: More than any other franchise, the Knicks might have the saltiest collective fan base to deal with if they fail to win the lottery on the heels of a rough season. That’s the weight of expectations, even when the odds don’t truly dictate that you’ll win. Williamson landing in New York would rather obviously be a huge victory for the league at large, and with the Knicks widely expected to court Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, the presence of Williamson (and the trade value of the selection) would add a huge wrinkle to the situation. What New York cannot afford to do this off-season is come away empty-handed, and whether or not they strike gold with a top free agent, having a real, promising rookie talent to show for their troubles is essentially the bare minimum. They can pick no lower than fifth, but if the Knicks fall out of the top three, it would be somewhat disastrous.

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