Detroit statistically had the best odds of getting the best pick along with the Rockets and Magic at 14%, thanks to the NBA's new flattened lottery system implemented in 2019 that gives the three NBA teams with the worst record the season prior equal odds of winning the lottery. Nonetheless, Pistons fans should be cheering in the streets; the team had not won the lottery in 14 previous appearances, losing slots in six of them. In a star-studded draft with an alpha prospect at the top available in Cade Cunningham, Detroit was gifted first dibs.
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Magic fans, on the other hand ... feel free to yell into your pillow. The Magic fell out of the top-three altogether and while Chicago's pick conveyed to them, giving them pick No. 8 in addition to pick No. 5, the missed chance at landing one of the top-four in this draft will leave a mark. NBA evaluators I've spoken with feel with conviction that there's four franchise-caliber players at the top then a dropoff.
How do you think that makes Thunder fans feel, by the way? OKC had a very real chance at coming away with two top-five picks if Houston's pick fell to No. 5 and its own pick landed in the top four. Instead, its pick came in at No. 6 and Houston retained its pick. Let me be the first to propose a name change from "OKC Thunder" to "C Thunder," because speaking for all Oklahomans, I can assure you we are not "OK" right now. Not even a tiny bit.
Those teams are the headliners of Tuesday night's draft lottery winners and losers. Let's get into all of them below.
Winner: Detroit Pistons hit the lottery
After potentially hitting on all three of its first-rounders last draft in Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, Detroit is now in position to add a true No. 1 to the mix with the No. 1 pick. That's an auto-winner in my book, when you literally hit the lottery. So, too, is the fact that Cade Cunningham appears to be a darn-near perfect fit with this young Pistons bunch. A 6-foot-8 point guard/wing, he's a dynamic two-way player who right now is -- and has been for some time -- viewed as the No. 1 player in this draft.
It's the first time the team has a top-five pick in the draft since selecting Darko Milicic second overall in 2003. Detroit also selected Grant Hill with the No. 3 overall pick in 1994.
The last time Detroit had the No. 1 pick was all the way back in 1970, when it selected Bob Lanier after winning a coin flip (pre-lottery era). Lanier messed around and became a Hall of Famer. Whether Cunningham reaches that great pinnacle is anyone's guess. But he provides real hope for a franchise restoration. Time to celebrate accordingly, Motown.
Winner: Orlando gets two top-10 picks
Look, I get it, not winning the lottery stinks after having a 14% chance of doing so. And further, falling out of the top three is a bummer. But the bright side when you look at the big picture here is that Orlando has the No. 5 pick and also the No. 8 pick, the latter of which conveyed to them via Chicago as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade. It could be much, much more bleak. It could be Chicago bleak! Two top-10 picks should allow this team to reset in a big way, even if it's not around one of the sure things at the top of the draft.
Loser: OKC hits the bad-luck lottery
Oklahoma City had a 52.5% chance of its own pick landing in the top-five and a 47.9% chance of Houston's pick falling to No. 5 and conveying its direction. Neither happened, however, as Houston retained its pick (and will select at No. 2) and the Thunder's pick landed at No. 6. From potentially two top-five picks to none, poof. OKC will now pick at Nos. 6, 16 and 18 in the first round.
Maybe in the grand scheme it mattered, maybe it didn't, but OKC beating the Los Angeles Clippers in a regular-season finale tank-off -- thus detonating any chance it had to own the best odds of winning the top overall pick at 14% -- sure looms large right about now. Point Poku being too good down the stretch of that game as the Clippers tried to actively implode might haunt the Thunder for years.
Loser: Chicago Bulls' immediate outlook is rough
Chicago's first-round pick conveyed to the Orlando Magic as part of the Nikola Vucevic deal. So, that's the bad. The real bad is that the Vucevic acquisition, at least right now, doesn't look as if it was worth it (along with the 2023 first-rounder owed to Orlando). The Bulls went 12-17 after the trade deadline to finish 31-41 overall. And now they don't have a first-rounder in 2021.
Chicago has the No. 38 overall pick in this year's draft and some flexibility to maneuver this offseason in free agency, but the front office is in a tough spot here to try and figure things out after losing the No. 8 pick to the Magic.
Winner: Houston retains pick, and it's a good one
It was more likely than not that Houston would retain its pick, but a 47.9% chance of it conveying to the Thunder was a significant-enough chance to warrant a major sweat entering lottery night. That Houston retained the pick makes them a winner already, but getting the No. 2 pick -- essentially getting the first non-Cade selection -- is monumental. Scouts I've talked with see Evan Mobley as the No. 2 overall prospect in a vacuum, so it'll be interesting to see which direction the team goes with Jalen Suggs and Jalen Green both lingering out there as viable franchise kickstarters. There are no bad options at No. 2 and it's a nice consolation prize after posting the worst record in the NBA last season.
Loser: Minnesota Timberwolves lose pick to Warriors
Minnesota didn't need a miracle, but it needed something close to it on lottery night to keep its pick. It did not get one. Instead, its top-three protected pick conveyed to the Golden State Warriors at No. 7. That means Minnesota not only does not have a lottery pick, it for right now does not have a draft pick in 2021. Period.
Winner: Warriors get two lottery picks
Whether this is potential roster-restocking ammo or trade bait is unclear, but what's clear is Golden State has options. It landed the Wolves' pick at No. 7 and its own pick stayed at No. 14.
Can two lottery picks and other stuff be enough to package for an All-Star caliber return? Maybe, maybe not. Even if it doesn't, this draft has pieces good enough to be contributors for Golden State early on. I'd imagine they look at every option on the table including standing pat to see what it might net. This is a very good draft and there are players who could help a contender in the range they're picking.
Winner: Swin Cash's deadpan
New Orleans will pick No. 10 in the draft and not No. 1, the lottery determined Tuesday. That didn't sit well with Pelicans VP of Basketball Ops, Swin Cash, though it did give us one incredible gif that will live on in perpetuity. The simultaneous leg and arm fold combined with the eye squint as she gave off the universal "welp!" face is beyond incredible.
Winners: Raptors, Cavs jump into top four
Shameless tankers down the stretch, those Raptors were. And good on 'em, because they got lucky on lottery night, with their seventh-best odds netting them the No. 4 pick after moving up three spots. It positions the franchise potentially to reset in a post-Kyle Lowry era next to Fred VanVleet and Toronto could get one of the big names available left on the board between Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs or Jonathan Kuminga.
The Cavs also moved up into the top four. They had the same odds as OKC as winning the lottery (though OKC won the tiebreaker) and moved up to the No. 3 pick, the highest draft pick in their last four drafts. It opens up the possibility for them to add another building block next to Collin Sexton and Darius Garland or to make themselves open for business, potentially cashing in the pick for a haul that could accelerate their timeline.
Losers: Non-Cunningham No. 1 pick contenders
There's still just over a month until the NBA Draft, so I won't say anything definitive about the draft. However, it sure feels like all the non-Cunningham No. 1 pick contenders saw their chances at going No. 1 greatly diminish with Detroit winning the lottery. First, here's what Pistons general manager Troy Weaver told ESPN on Tuesday:
"Obviously we get to add another wing player to the restoration process. We're excited to be in this position. But it means that we've got a lot of work to do and we're going to be diligent about it. But it always helps to be able to add the No. 1 pick."
He didn't say it, but it sure sounds like Detroit's leaning Cunningham. Then there's this development from the man himself:
Sources: The plan for presumptive No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham will be to visit only one team prior to the NBA Draft on July 29: The Detroit Pistons.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2021
Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley -- they all might be in a footrace now to be the first non-Cunningham player selected in the 2021 NBA Draft.