Which teams are in the NBA Draft Lottery and how'd they get there? originally appeared on nbcsportschicago.com
Fourteen teams have a shot at winning the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery and the right to draft Duke freshman Zion Williamson. Here's how the Lottery teams got to this position. Here's a look at how the NBA Draft Lottery will work on the night of May 14.
1. New York Knicks, 17-65, 14.0%: This was the plan all along. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined following ACL surgery, the Knicks weren't playing for much of anything in 2019. Add in the fact that they already had their sights set on the free agency class (Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) the following summer, and there was no real movement to get better in the short-term. They started the season 4-8 and had a three-game winning streak in November. But it got much, much worse from that point on. The Knicks beat the Bucks on Dec. 1 to move to 8-16. From that point on the lost five straight, won a game, lost eight straight, won a game, lost 18 straight. Yes, in a span from Dec. 3 to Feb. 13, the Knicks went 2-31. That's a five-win seasonlong pace. Oh, and after that 2-31 stretch they would later add losing streaks of eight and six games. They were awful.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 19-63, 14.0%: Life after LeBron James is difficult, something the Cavaliers found out in 2010 and again this past season. A heap of bad contracts and a roster built around a player who was no long there was a recipe for disaster from the beginning. What made it worse was that the Cavaliers lost 303 games to injury, per Man Games Lost, the most in the NBA. Kevin Love appeared in just 22 games and the three-man combination of rookie Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson and Cedi Osman - all three of whom look like nice future pieces - couldn't overcome such a wide talent gap each night.
The Cavaliers had a whopping 27 players suit up for them in 2019. That was 1.42 players for every one of their wins. They actually put together an 8-8 stretch from early February to mid-March, with Sexton coming alive and looking like a franchise point guard. But bookending that stretch was an 11-44 start and an 0-10 finish. That allowed them to "catch up" to the Suns - who went 4-11 to finish the season - in the Lottery standings. Cleveland then won a critical tiebreaker with Phoenix.
3. Phoenix Suns, 19-63, 14.0%: The Suns have a decent young core in Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson. But they're purely potential at this point - with the exception of Booker, who continues to post monster numbers - and both a lack of a point guard and depth at any position crippled any chances of Phoenix competing this season. You blinked and they were 4-24 with the league's worst defense and playing in an unforgiving Western Conference. They actually put together a four-game winning streak in December but followed it with a ridiculous 17-game losing streak from January to February. A promising March included wins over the Lakers, Bucks and Warriors, but this team has a really long way to go. Their win over the Cavs on April 1 could loom large depending on how the Lottery balls far; Phoenix lost the tiebreaker to Cleveland and will be slotted below the Cavs if neither team is picked in the top-4.
4. Chicago Bulls, 22-60, 12.5%: The Bulls entered this past season with modest expectations. A 27-win campaign in Year 1 of their post-Jimmy Butler rebuild was supposed to be rock bottom. Armed with two top-7 picks in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., as well as a $78 million investment in Zach LaVine, the Bulls were poised to top at least the 30-win mark and inch closer toward playoff contention.
What they didn't account for was seven significant injuries to key contributors. They included Denzel Valentine (82 games), Bobby Portis, Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter Jr and Chandler Hutchison. By the end of the season the Bulls have seven former G-League players on their active roster. They finished the regular season 10-18, with part of that hot stretch coming after the acquisition of Otto Porter. That kept them out of the 14 percent club, but losing eight of nine to close the season assured them the No. 4 spot.
5. Atlanta Hawks, 29-53, 10.5%: The Hawks won't be in this position again next season. Their supporting cast still needs an enormous makeover but they've got a remarkable young core in Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Heurter and Taurean Prince. Unfortunately - or fortunately, for Lottery purposes - they didn't start playing well until halfway through the season. They began 6-23, with Young figuring out his style in the NBA and Collins working back from a shoulder injury. They have the potential to be a top-5 offense next season. Whether they start winning will come down to the defense. But two likely top-10 picks should have the rebuild heading in the right direction. Buy stock in the Atlanta Hawks. They're about to be for real.
6. Washington Wizards, 32-50, 9.0%: It was tough to peg the Wizards in 2019. They brought back John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter and signed Dwight Howard, who was quietly really good in Charlotte the previous season. But something was off almost immediately, with the Wizards beginning the season 1-7. They managed to get back to 11-14 before losing seven of nine, with losses in that span including Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago. Wall was ruled out for the season in late December - six weeks later it was revealed he tore his Achilles and would miss 12 months - and Howard appeared in just nine November games before his ailing back kept him out the rest of the season. For what it's worth, Beal played like an All-Pro. But the Wizards never righted the ship and wound up with the sixth best Lottery odds, their 32-win season their worst since a 29-win campaign in 2013.
7. New Orleans Pelicans, 33-49, 6.0%: The Pelicans looked to be on the up and up after winning 48 games and sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in Round 1 last season. It appeared as though that momentum carried over when the Pellies began this past season 4-0 and then 10-7. It quickly unraveled after that with four straight losses - including L's to New York and Washington on consecutive days - and by the time Christmas rolled around they were 15-20. A month later Anthony Davis publicly requested a trade with New Orleans sitting at 22-28. The Pelicans finished the season 11-22 after that request, with Davis playing sporadically and sitting out random nights with a phantom "back" "injury." Assuming they deal Davis at some point, this pick could be very important as far as their rebuild goes.
8. Memphis Grizzlies, 33-49, 6.0%: The Grizzlies finally entered a rebuild in 2019 when it became apparent that the supporting cast around Marc Gasol and Mike Conley simply couldn't compete in the West. But that rebuild didn't begin until December because the Grizzlies got off to a 12-5 start and were 15-9 midway through December. But it went all downhill from there, with Memphis losing 24 of 29 games in a seven-week span leading up to the trade deadline. They wound up trading Marc Gasol, who at the time was the franchise leader in points and had played his entire career in Memphis, and began a youth movement. They were surprisingly competitive down the stretch, finishing 10-12 after the All-Star break. Of course that wound up costing them a few Lottery combinations in the process.
9. Dallas Mavericks, 33-49, 6.0% (pick going to Atlanta if outside the top-5): The Mavericks are certainly building something thanks to hitting a home run in drafting Luka Doncic last season. But playing in the West can take its toll over an 82-game season, and that's what happened in Dallas. A surprise 15-11 start in which Doncic looked like an All-Star was erased by a six-game losing streak. In a five-week span the Mavericks went 5-15, essentially ending any hopes of a playoff run. Seeing as their draft pick this season will convey to Atlanta if it's outside the top-5, Dallas went into sell mode in dealing DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr. and Wesley Matthews to the Knicks for the injured Kristaps Porzingis. After that trade, the Mavericks lost 16 of 21 games. They likely would have been slotted higher but won four of their last seven games to fall into a tie with New Orleans and Memphis.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves, 36-46, 3.0%: The Timberwolves ended a 13-year playoff drought a season ago, but that apparently wasn't enough to keep Jimmy Butler happy. The NBA's newest diva requested a trade from the Timberwolves, and was eventually granted his wish. The result was Karl-Anthony Towns needing to single-handedly keep Minnesota competitive each night. Andrew Wiggins posted another terribly inefficient season, while Derrick Rose's comeback story only lasted until about January. Robert Covington, acquired in the Butler trade, suffered a bruised knee in January and was lost for the season. The Timberwolves have plenty of work to do to get back to the postseason, beginning with Wiggins and ending with a solution at the point guard position.
11. Los Angeles Lakers, 37-45, 2.0%: LeBron James' groin. That's how the Lakers got here. When James slipped on the floor at Oracle Arena on Christmas Day, suffering a strained groin that would ultimately leave him out 5 weeks, it essentially ended the Lakers season. The Lakers went 6-11 without James, and even when King James returned it was clear he wasn't his normal self. At the same time, the Clippers were running away with the No. 8 seed, so the Lakers scaled back James' minutes in an effort to A) preserve their four-year investment and B) improve their standing in the Lottery. Oddly enough, the Lakers won six of 10 games to ened the season and in the process cost themselves a few Lottery balls. They won't be here next offseason.
12. Charlotte Hornets, 39-43, 1.0%: The Hornets had one final chance to show Kemba Walker they could put together a playoff contender. Now the impending free agency enters the summer on the heels of a third straight playoff-less season. The story is pretty simple for the Hornets: They're an average team propped up by Walker's heroics and absurd scoring. Walker earned a third straight All-Star berth by averaging career-highs in points (25.6), rebounds (4.4), assists (5.9) and 3-poiners (3.2). And even that wasn't enough for a Hornets team that flirted near .500 for most of the season before a stretch in February/March when they went 5-13 to take themselves out of a weak Eastern Conference playoff race. They made things interesting by winning 8 to 12 to end the year, but alas they're back in the Lottery for a third straight season. If Walker bolts, they'll be picking much higher a year from now.
13. Miami Heat, 39-43, 1.0%: $152 million doesn't buy what it used to. No team spent more money on their roster this season than the Miami Heat and it still couldn't buy a playoff spot. Lacking a true superstar, the Heat were simply a group of above-average players who never seemed to really mesh well. They hovered around either side of .500 through January before losing nine of 12 games in February. That opened the door for the upstart Orlando Magic to slide in to the top spot of the woeful Southeast Division. And when Orlando began to slide and Charlotte suffered ugly losses in April, Miami responded by losing five of their final six games and missing the postseason by two games. Their ceiling wasn't all that high, but this was still an incredibly disappointing season for a team paying so much money to marginal talent.
14. Sacramento Kings, 39-43, 1.0% (pick going to Boston or Philadelphia): On the flip side, Sacramento's spot this late in the Lottery (their pick will most likely go to Boston; it'll go to Philadelphia if they somehow get the No. 1 pick) is well deserved. Their wasn't a more surprising team in basketball through the season's first half. Dave Joerger's group raced out to a 6-3 start and then proved it was no fluke, going 9-6 in January and being four games above .500 near the All-Star break. Ultimately they ran out of steam - and the Clippers gained superpowers in the final two months - and bowed out of the playoff race, but their core of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley and Bogdan Bogdanovic is legitimate.