The final month of the NBA regular season is almost upon us. Which means that a handful of teams will now begin to compete for position at the bottom of the rankings in hopes of securing a coveted top lottery pick.
This year adds an extra layer of intrigue with several teams having to give up their first-round pick if he doesn’t get high enough in the draft lottery. While the NBA has introduced a lottery overhaul in recent years, there are some franchises that may still resort to some cheating to improve their draft position. We’ve already seen the Thunder shut down Al Horford during the final stretch of the season.
This year’s draft class also seems to be especially loaded with top-tier talent. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, USC’s Evan Mobley and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs are just a few of the crown jewels projected to be in the top five. For teams without young talent, one of these top prospects could easily become a building block for a future playoff contender and beyond.
The strength of the next draft class leaves no doubt as to why a team like the Magic chose this every year to split their perennial playoff squad. However, the Magic shouldn’t be the only one desperately sinking to the bottom of the standings this season.
Illustrated Sports ranks the five most desperate lottery teams this season.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are fully ready for the future with control of 17 first-round picks over the next seven years. Much of that is due to deals GM Sam Presti has made to trade stars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Chris Paul.
Even though OKC has no problem for future draft capital, they still have an All-Star in the making in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is ready to contribute to a winning team. The point guard will enter the final year of his rookie contract next season and in all likelihood will have a maximum offer sheet from the Thunder to retain him.
If they intend to build around Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City is only guaranteed a five- to six-year window before it can reach unrestricted free agency. This puts at least a slight amount of pressure on the Thunder to quickly gather a good young core around SGA so they can maximize their window on him and increase the chances of him sticking around for the long haul.
4. Detroit Pistons
Detroit had what looked like a bewildering offseason at the time in 2020, signing Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee from the Nuggets for a total of nearly $ 85 million in three years. However, those signings have held up better than expected as both players posted career-best PER in their first season with the Pistons.
Grant and Plumlee, however, have not given Detroit any direction for the future. Right now, the team is 16–36, with none of their recent draft picks averaging more than 11 points per game. The Pistons desperately need more talent and, being in a small market, Detroit’s front office must continue to rely heavily on the draft.
Aside from the comeback projects of Josh Jackson and Jahlil Okafor, the Pistons have no former top five picks currently on their roster. A top lottery pick this year would immediately become the focal point of the team’s future.
3. Washington Wizards
The Wizards will end their disappointing season in all likelihood with another trip to the draft lottery. Many expected Washington to be a strong playoff team at the start of the season after making a highly successful trade to acquire Russell Westbrook. However, those hopes are likely to be dashed when FiveThirtyEight gives Wizards less than 1% chance to make the playoffs at this current juncture.
The timer in Washington runs with his franchise player Bradley Beal. He’s been very vocal about his desire to play on a winning team, and the Wizards haven’t made the playoffs since 2018. The St. Louis native could turn down his player option and become an unrestricted free agent in the 2022 offseason.
A high lottery pick this year could give the Wizards more options for the future. They could package it for a player who could help them win next season or keep the selection and rebuild around whoever they choose.
2. Houston Rockets
After trading James Harden earlier in the season, the Rockets have entered a full rebuild. However, the consequences of his past decisions still persist. Houston gave the Thunder the ability to trade their own 2021 first-round pick or Miami’s for the Rockets (given it’s not in the top four) in the Russell-Westbrook-for-Chris-Paul trade.
Although the Rockets have prepared themselves with a treasure trove of future picks from the Harden trade, OKC maintains at least partial control of Houston’s first-round picks from 2024 to 2026 (another holdover from the Westbrook trade), providing it with still more. incentive to improve your list quickly. Keeping his pick this year, when he has the second-worst record in the league, would go a long way for a Houston team desperately in need of a cornerstone of the young franchise.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Although they already have two former No. 1 picks on the roster, the Timberwolves have to be the most desperate lottery team this year. The reason is that Minnesota will lose its first-round pick entirely to Golden State if it is not in the top three.
This season has been anything but what the T-Wolves’ headquarters envisioned when they traded their protected top-three first-round pick in 2021 and Andrew Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell last year. Bogged down by injuries, players contracting COVID-19 and a midseason change of coach, Minnesota has had its two best players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell, on the court together for just 125 possessions this season. according to Cleaning the Glass.
His season has still illuminated the need to improve the Timberwolves’ supporting cast so they can take the leap to the next level, and this year’s draft presents a great opportunity to add to his collection of young talent.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.