On Tuesday night, the all-mighty ping-pong balls made their annual appearance on national television as fans were once again treated to the world’s grandest celebration of ineptitude: the NBA draft lottery.
Let me be up front: I love the lottery. I love the lottery because it makes absolutely no sense. Clearly, the mystique of probability has not curbed the incentive for teams to lose virtually every game in sight. But the lottery has produced a unique television spectacle in which we wait two hours to hear almost-instantaneous decisions and see Russell Westbrook throw it back to 1995 (can the Thunder please miss the playoffs more often).
While this year’s lottery followed the script for the most part, a few intriguing surprises and many larger questions still arose, especially about the process itself. Here are three of my thoughts in the aftermath of the one day of the year where losing is winning, up is down and it becomes acceptable to throw around the term independent events in a public setting.
How good will the Timberwolves be in a few years?
Last year, after the Cavaliers inexplicably snagged the top overall pick for the third time in four seasons, I wrote that this might be a sign that maybe God loves Cleveland after all.
However, we were all duped by the heavens. God’s supposed newfound affinity for Cleveland was clearly a ruse to help out his real favorites: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After trading the disgruntled Kevin Love to the Cavs for two No. 1 overall draft picks in Anthony Bennett and the reigning Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, the T-Wolves hit pay dirt again by landing this year’s top pick and the chance to agonize over the choice between Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor.
In either case, Minnesota will be picking up a stud and will roll into next season featuring a young roster that also includes freak-athlete Zach Lavine and crafty passer Ricky Rubio. Furthermore, if Kevin Garnett returns next season, the Wolves will have the perfect mentor for either Towns or Okafor and a coach on the court who could help this overwhelming amount of young talent realize its potential.
Get all of your Timberwolves jokes in right now, folks, because in three seasons they will be coming for you.
Philly missed out on the home run, but the rebuilding is coming along
Coming into the lottery, the 76ers had a nontrivial chance of pulling off the greatest lottery heist of all time. With 17.2 percent and 9.1 percent chances of acquiring the Lakers’ and the Heat’s protected picks, respectively, Philadelphia could have ended up with three lottery picks.
As it turned out, with the Lakers moving up to second overall (enough to make even the mildest conspiracy theorist wonder) and the Heat also landing in the top 10, the Sixers will only possess their own pick at third overall in the lottery.
But the results of this lottery were not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. As Philly continues its patient, but ambitious rebuilding plan, a top-three pick will go a long way. Currently, many project the Sixers to take Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, a 6-foot-5 guard with an excellent shooting touch, something former Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams lacked.
Going into next season, the 76ers will trot out a core of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and this year’s top-three pick. This group of young talent with the eventual addition of Dario Saric from Europe will also be formidable in the near future. And — as if this wasn’t enough — those protected draft picks Philly missed out on don’t magically disappear. In fact, they could be sitting on as many as four first-round draft picks next season. The Great Experiment in the City of Brotherly Love has been intensely scrutinized, but if they actually pull this off and emerge as serious title contenders, it could completely change the culture of business in the NBA.
The conference imbalance worsens
This should be a no-brainer. Get the top 16 teams into the NBA playoffs. No questions asked. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to me in a sport and business as highly competitive as professional basketball that owners and league executives can sleep at night knowing that the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics are playing in the postseason while the Oklahoma City Thunder, who would have unquestionably been a top-five seed in the East, watch from home.
Now, with the Timberwolves and the Lakers owning the top two picks and thereby access to the two clear-cut best players in the draft, this conference imbalance is all but guaranteed to worsen. This problem is analogous to the existence of divisions in the NFL. While it might be cute to group teams by geography and promote particular rivalries, it does a disservice to the competitive balance of the league as a whole.
As proud Georgia native Vihan Lakshman shares his thoughts on the NBA Draft Lottery, he also reels at the sight of his beloved Atlanta Hawks and coach of the year Mike Budenholzer down 0-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the second-best coach of the year, LeBron James. Send him your predictions for the rest of the series at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.