Over the three years I’ve written for The Lottery Mafia, I’ve enjoyed driving directly into the chaos. The NBA Lottery is chaos. It’s an exercise in random luck that isn’t so random at all, but rather heavily weighted in favor of a select few participants.
There isn’t a whole lot of surprise, though it’s fun to imagine all of the what-if scenarios. What if the Minnesota Timberwolves won and locked in yet another No. 1 pick? What if the same happened for the Philadelphia 76ers? What if the Los Angeles Lakers stole the top spot and had to choose between Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball? What if they picked the wrong guy in that scenario?
See, this is fun and all of these potential realities ended up meaning nothing, just like they so often do. Yes, the Chicago Bulls stole the Derrick Rose draft and that was incredible. But most movement is much less radical. Fortunately, Mikhail Prokhorov bought a team and didn’t have a clue how that was going to work out. Good job, you filthy-rich dummy.
Some very bad trades are fun. The Sacramento Kings make those. So do the Bulls. And so did the Brooklyn Nets for a long time. And now it cost them a No. 1 pick when Fultz is sitting at the top of the board.
The spotlight remains entirely focused on Danny Ainge and Boston. He’s got his team ready to get rocked by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but at least it’s happening in the conference finals. Brad Stevens finally got a playoff series win after an early scare from the almighty Rajon Rondo. Now, Isaiah Thomas and the human Croc Kelly Olynyk are ready to go hard at LeBron and co. At the exact same time, they have the No. 1 pick in the draft.
My take is that Boston is peaking and it’s a very good peak. I don’t think that the pick does them any good if they keep it. Of course, keeping it is both the best idea and most Ainge thing possible. By the time Fultz (or whoever) starts ascending, the current Celtics core could be in some level of descent. It doesn’t put them over the top of the Cavs as long as LeBron is healthy and has his squad assembled. It does help them get the next stage of their team going to challenge the 76ers, if they also stay healthy.
Speaking of the 76ers, they got the No. 3 pick. Isn’t that rich? If Fultz and Ball are the first two players off the board ahead of Philly, they could reasonably take Josh Jackson or De’Aaron Fox. That’s a nice problem to have if Ben Simmons, Justin Anderson, Nik Stauskas, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid can be healthy together at the same time.
But, before we go completely off the tracks, let’s talk about the other Boston option – a trade. I’d say that Boston isn’t getting that much better than they already are, regardless of what Jaylen Brown or Fultz does next year. When any player, whether Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or anyone else not named LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard has a career year, I remain extremely skeptical that they can repeat. Not because they aren’t good players, but because it’s so damn hard to produce at a superhuman level.
The best and worst thing about the draft will be the weeks of constant speculation about what Ainge does with the pick – keep or trade. I think he keeps, but I hope he trades.
Now, about the Lakers. How fantastic would it be if they passed on Lonzo? Imagine if Ball fell to the Sixers and for some reason they opted to take him. Drop Ball and his sideshow dad into that environment where there are already egos like Saric and Embiid, then just watch it go. And Simmons is also going to be a complete handful. This pairing has the perfect opportunity to be the Real Housewives of Philadelphia that we all deserve to watch unfold. If LaVar Ball could convince Embiid to break from Adidas for Big Baller Brand, basketball would be the least interesting thing going on with the Sixers.
It would have been cool if the Wolves stole a top pick, but at No. 7, they’re still in the conversation for Malik Monk, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith. I’m excited about the future of this franchise and this is probably the last time we see them drafting this high for a while.
The Charlotte Hornets are a little too far out of the best picks, but at No. 11, this is a good chance for them to look for a bench guy that can make an impact right away in a limited capacity. They really need that heading into 2017-18. They’re still a good team with a great coach and I feel confident they can get back to the playoffs next year. This draft pick is going to play a big role in that.
The only other thing that I enjoy about the lottery order is guestimating the likelihood that each team absolutely botches their draft pick.
Lottery Pick Analysis
No 1. Boston Celtics – There’s a really good chance. If Ainge keeps the pick, they stay relevant long term as long as relevant means they’re as good as second or third in the conference. If they trade, they mortgage the future to go in on LeBron James at the end of his insane arc of dominance.
No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers – Not much of a chance. If they draft Lonzo, he’s gonna be pretty good and that probably means they look for a new home for D’Angelo Russell. That’s gonna be fun to speculate. If they pass on him, would he cry? Would his dad try to punch Jeannie Buss? Does he fall even further? And then what if he ends up being good? Of course, that would be too cool. Just the right amount of chaos thrown into the draft.
No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers – A Sixers chance. They have a stockpile of young players who are good. Also, a handful of guys who have been very injured over the past couple of seasons. Whoever they pick, it’ll probably end up being a great fit with what they’ve already assembled.
No. 4 Phoenix Suns – Moderate chance. They like to gamble (see: Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender), but it’s likely they just get a good player that works.
No. 5 and No. 10 Sacramento Kings – You tell me. Vivek Ranadive is a loose cannon and Vlade Divac still doesn’t know that winning a trade is a possibility. I could see them doing something like drafting Dennis Smith at No. 5 and then going Bam Adebayo or some other such nonsense at No. 10. I hope they don’t take Smith, but would be very happy if they went after Ntilikina or something at that spot.
No. 6 Orlando Magic – Nothing feels good, everything hurts. Pray for this franchise. Six is a good spot, but it doesn’t make me feel anything for this team.
No. 7 Minnesota Timberwolves – They’ve got this. Seems like they either go back for another point guard or they go after a big to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns. Either way, they’re already going to be good.
No. 8 New York Knicks – Better than being No. 10, they’ll take it. Goink kind of rhymes with Malik Monk, right?
No. 9 Dallas Mavericks – This sucks. Really don’t like them this low in the draft. What’s the best available, a center? Does one of the point guards fall this far? Would have been nice to see them closer to the top.
The rest of the picks don’t matter so much. No one is surprised if those guys are duds and it’s a feel-good story if those picks outperform everyone selected ahead of them.
The Big Winner
The big winner for lottery night isn’t the broadcast. They make it a whole thing and the draw happens before the big procession. Knowing this, it makes it feel a little less cool to me. However, something absolutely fantastic to watch has been the reactions of the broadcast crews for the teams at the top of the draft board.
Brian Scalabrine, AKA The White Mamba, is already a legend, but he elevated his iconic status on Tuesday night. When the top pick was secured, Scalabrine reacted with the expected amount of jubilance, then tore off the stage and into a crowd of Celtics fans clad in green and started going bananas – just like an average basketball fan. That’s the exact result I want to see, because it’s fun and basketball should be fun. It’s also a bit chaotic when your broadcast personality disappears into a mob. As you’ll recall, I’m a fan of said chaos.
The Lakers crew also had a lively reaction and Philadelphia draft parties over the past few years are starting to remind me more of college block parties than somber occasions filled with dejected fans and embarrassing Knicks fans who get caught booing Kristaps Porzingis on national television.
I’m here for the party. That’s what basketball is to me and why I’ve enjoyed years of writing at The Lottery Mafia. The season might be coming to an end soon, but the draft order is set and selection night is on the horizon. It’s time to catch your second wind friends, the basketball party doesn’t end. That endless procession of hoops joy is the fun kind of chaos I love.