In recent years, the NBA’s draft lottery system incentivized teams to pursue tanking. Previously, the franchise with the worst record held a 25 percent chance to obtain the coveted first overall pick. The odds descended for each franchise from picks two through 14.
According to Sports Illustrated, the league passed an amendment in Sept. 2017, where the lottery odds would undergo a crucial change. Starting in the 2019 NBA Draft, the three worst teams all have an equal chance at the first pick (14 percent), while the fourth-worst team has a 12.5 percent chance, not far removed from the bottom three. The odds continue their descent.
Right now, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have the same, and best, odds to obtain the first overall pick alongside the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. While the worst individual team always has the best odds to get the first pick, it rarely happens. Before 1985, the top draft picks were determined by coin flips.
Since 1985, when the current lottery system was introduced, only eight times did the team with the worst record/best odds at the first overall pick actually obtain that selection. The most notable instant happened in 2003, when the Cavs, with the worst record and best odds at the first pick, won the lottery. Of course, they selected LeBron James that year. Last season, the Suns won the lottery as the league’s worst team, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first pick.
With the newer lottery rules, each of the three worst teams gets the same odds at the first pick, as mentioned before. In addition, the actual worst team doesn’t have an elevated percentage to win the lottery, although history shows it doesn’t really matter anyway.
Right now, the Cavaliers stand as the third-worst team in the league, two games worse than the fourth team, the Chicago Bulls.
The College Talent Pool
Since the 2018-19 season started, all eyes trended toward Duke University megastar Zion Williamson. The other college players were seen as merely consolation prizes. Most of the statement mentioned in the last sentence is true, the key word being “most.”
It’s obvious Williamson will be the first selection this summer, but whichever team selects second or third won’t suffer too much. While his team made a relatively quick exit in the NCAA tournament, Murray State University guard Ja Morant showed NBA teams a glimpse of super-stardom. If I had to pick which NBA player to compare Morant to, Russell Westbrook comes to mind. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying he’ll achieve the success Westbrook has. If everything works out for Morant and he stays healthy, the comparisons might not be far-fetched).
Another Duke prospect, RJ Barrett, provides Cleveland another substantial alternative if they don’t get either the first or second pick. While the Cavaliers organization obviously wants the first pick, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they fell to the second or third overall selection.
With only six games left, the Cavaliers hold a two-game advantage over the Bulls to obtain one of the top three odds for the first overall selection. Both teams don’t play each other again. As of right now, it looks like Cleveland won’t be in danger of falling out of the top three, or bottom three, however you look at it.
No matter what happens through the remaining games, the worst pick Cleveland can get stands at seventh overall. It’s almost guaranteed they won’t draft lower than fourth.
Cleveland should leave the 2019 draft with Williamson, Morant or Barrett. The organization should feel good about that.
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