The pingpong balls have spoken: 6 takeaways from NBA draft lottery
The Detroit Pistons walked away from the NBA draft lottery with the No. 1 pick and the Houston Rockets held onto their selection at No. 2, while the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls saw their top-10 picks convey to trade partners.
Here are six takeaways from Tuesday night's lottery.
Deee-troit Basketball is back
The Pistons haven't won more than 44 regular-season games - or a single playoff game - since 2008. They haven't finished in the top half for attendance in 11 years. Yet during that run of irrelevance, the Pistons never picked higher than seventh in the draft. They've been the NBA's most depressing example of the treadmill of mediocrity.
No franchise is more desperate for legitimate, seat-filling star power than Detroit, which won the lottery Tuesday night to land the No. 1 overall selection in a draft class loaded with that kind of appeal. Barring something unforeseen, the Pistons will use that pick to select Cade Cunningham, and they'll immediately be back on track.
Though the 2004 championship team boasted its own brand of gritty stars and franchise icons, the Pistons haven't employed a transcendent individual talent since Grant Hill more than two decades ago, if not Isiah Thomas more three decades ago. Cunningham obviously has work to do before he can even be mentioned in the same breath as such Hall of Famers, but he has legitimate superstar potential.
He's also ready to make an immediate impact, and if he arrives playing the type of two-way ball that scouts expect, the Pistons can field an exciting, surprisingly competitive team as early as next season. Whether Detroit's in the 2022 Eastern Conference playoff race or not, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better collection of young talent than the combination of Cunningham plus 2020 draft picks Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and Killian Hayes. Keep in mind that Jerami Grant, who looked like a borderline All-Star for parts of this season, is still only 27 and under contract for two more seasons.
Don't get used to the Raptors being here
While the human toll of Toronto's displaced, pandemic-interrupted season from hell should not be minimized, the Raptors' disappointing 2020-21 campaign is now worth it from a basketball perspective; no team made a bigger jump than the Raptors did by ending up with pick No. 4 from the seventh-best odds.
Though the team took part in the 2016 lottery by way of the Knicks' pick (thanks, Andrea Bargnani), this was Toronto's first trip to the lottery with its own pick since 2012. The night's proceedings went a long way toward ensuring the Raptors should avoid many trips back.
The Raptors' capacity to return to title contention in the near future likely hinges on Kyle Lowry's free agency and whether they can swing a trade for another impact player, but the future north of the border is much brighter than it was yesterday.
Either the Raps will add one of Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, or Jalen Green to a young core of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Malachi Flynn (plus potentially Gary Trent Jr., who is set for restricted free agency), or they can package the No. 4 pick with parts of that impressive core to join the trade sweepstakes for the league's next disgruntled star. The Raptors also own all of their future first-round selections and have multiple second-rounders this year.
Another blow to Timberwolves
Speaking of potentially disgruntled stars, the entire league will be keeping a close eye on Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves made the playoffs just once in the last 17 seasons. The T-Wolves finished with the league's sixth-worst record this season, yet they enter the 2021 draft without a single selection to show for it.
That's because Minnesota traded both of its 2021 picks to Golden State as part of the 2020 blockbuster that sent Andrew Wiggins to the Warriors and brought D'Angelo Russell to the Twin Cities. The Timberwolves would've kept their 2021 first-rounder had it landed in the top three, but Tuesday's lottery slotted the pick seventh (the 2021 second-rounder has since been dealt from Golden State to OKC).
Though there is a bevy of young talent around Towns - including Anthony Edwards, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, and Naz Reid, among others - the team remains nowhere near contention. Meanwhile, Russell has played just 54 games since his arrival, he's owed more than $61 million over the next two seasons, and there are legitimate questions about the defensive downside of this roster with all three of DLo, Towns, and Edwards aboard.
Vooch trade looks worse for Chicago
Another lottery team without an actual lottery pick to show for it - or a first-rounder at all - is the Bulls, who traded a top-four-protected pick to Orlando as part of a deadline-day deal for Nikola Vucevic. That pick landed eighth, so it now conveys to the Magic.
The gamble can't yet be deemed a failure for the Bulls, but it's definitely looking dicey.
Vooch remains under contract through 2023, but the Bulls' first objective in acquiring him was a 2021 playoff push to help convince Zach LaVine they're committed to winning now, with LaVine set to hit unrestricted free agency next year. Instead, Chicago didn't even make the play-in tournament, and the team was outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions in the limited minutes Vucevic and LaVine shared the court.
In fairness to the Bulls, LaVine missed 11 games in the league's health and safety protocols shortly after the trade, and Vucevic was awesome down the stretch. If the team bounces back with a playoff run in 2022, or it's competitive enough to keep LaVine in Chicago, then the front office will likely look back on the trade with no regrets.
But if the combination of LaVine and Vucevic continues to look like the least threatening All-Star duo possible, the Bulls remain a playoff afterthought, and LaVine skips town, giving up a top-eight pick in a loaded 2021 draft will be tough to swallow. That lost selection, plus the top-four-protected pick the Bulls still owe Orlando in 2023, will be sorely missed if another rebuild is in order a year from now.
Remember: Even in a worst-case scenario where LaVine walks and the Bulls end up with the worst record in 2022-23, the chances their 2023 pick would land in the top four and remain in Chicago would still be less than 53%.
Talent vs. need at 2 and 3
Assuming Cunningham goes to Detroit at No. 1, the draft's biggest questions will concern the Rockets and Cavaliers with the second and third picks, respectively.
Houston, like every team, should be looking to take the best player available regardless of current positional need, so if the Rockets believe that's USC big man Evan Mobley, it shouldn't matter that rising star Christian Wood is already on the books through 2023.
But if that's the case, and the Cavaliers end up with a choice between guards Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs, will Cleveland make the pick and add to a crowded backcourt that already includes Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, or will the Cavs look to move the third pick for veteran, win-now talent? If the Rockets select Suggs or Green, would Mobley falling to No. 3 affect Cleveland's decision on Jarrett Allen's restricted free agency?
If Mobley somehow falls past both Houston and Cleveland, Toronto would be thrilled.
Thunder learn the perils of the lottery
Between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a number of intriguing youngsters, and an unprecedented level of draft capital, the Thunder still have a terrific chance to build another sustainable contender in Oklahoma City. But Tuesday's results serve to remind tanking teams that relying on the lottery is a dangerous game.
Had the Rockets' pick fallen out of the top four, it would've conveyed to Oklahoma City, while the Thunder's own pick had a nearly 50% chance of landing in the top five. In other words, there was a decent chance that the organization could've come out of the lottery with two top-five selections in a loaded class boasting five potential stars at the top. Instead, the Thunder left with the No. 6 pick (with the Rockets keeping the No. 2 selection).
That's quite the buzzkill, and it could mean that Sam Presti's Thunder will be racing to the bottom again next season.
Joseph Casciaro is a senior writer for theScore.
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