Published On: Tue, Mar 6th, 2018

9 tankers, 3 ping-pong balls: Who should each potential lottery team draft?

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If your team isn’t in one of the intense playoff races in both conferences, the fight for the league’s worst record might be worth checking out.

The bottom nine teams are just five games apart. With 20 games or less remaining for each potential lottery winner, it’s time to embrace tanking.

Just three ping-pong balls are selected in the lottery, with the worst team having the most balls among 1,000 total. After the top three are selected, teams are placed in order of worst record from four to 14, meaning the worst team can’t select lower than fourth overall.

Still, the difference between a top-three pick and fourth overall can be staggering. With that said, what would each team do if they had one of the three lottery picks?

Lottery odds as of March 5

Team Record Lottery odds
Memphis Grizzlies 18-45 25%
Phoenix Suns 19-47 19.9%
Dallas Mavericks 19-45 15.6%
Atlanta Hawks 20-44 7.8%
Brooklyn NetsĀ (Cavaliers own pick) 20-44 7.8%
Sacramento Kings 20-44 7.8%
Orlando Magic 20-44 7.8%
Chicago Bulls 21-42 2.8%
New York Knicks 24-40 1.7%

Memphis Grizzlies

  1. Luka Doncic – Real Madrid, G/F
  2. Deandre AytonArizona, C
  3. Michael Porter Jr.Missouri, F

What a disaster of a season for the Grizzlies. After being a playoff staple over its past seven campaigns, Memphis is suddenly on its way to the league’s worst record. With star point guard Mike Conley missing the majority of the season, the team has had to rely on the aging Marc Gasol and several G League-level players to keep it afloat.

With upward of $78.5 million invested in Gasol, Conley, and Chandler Parsons, the Grizzlies have little hope for cap flexibility. If they can deal Gasol, it would make sense to take the big-man route in a size-heavy draft. If they aren’t interested in moving Gasol, a pure playmaker could spark a stagnant offense.

The team sorely lacks a consistent No. 1 option. Its offense is run through Tyreke Evans, who’s having a tremendous rebound season but is better suited to leading a bench unit. The “Grit and Grind” era may be gone, but a legitimate offensive threat could help form a new culture.

Phoenix Suns

  1. Ayton
  2. Doncic
  3. Mohamed BambaTexas, C

While the Grizzlies made the playoffs every year over the past seven seasons, the Suns haven’t made the postseason once in that stretch. With a decent young core centered around honorary general manager and Three-Point Contest winner Devin Booker, Phoenix should aim to get an NBA-ready player to support their budding star. Their current crop of young big men has been less than stellar, so it may be time to find a staple in the post.

Another thing Phoenix has struggled with is finding a primary ball-handler. With Goran Dragic gone for a few years now and Eric Bledsoe spending a bit too much time at the hair salon before being sent away as well, the Suns have had to rely on a revolving door of below-average point guards. If there’s no top-tier big man on the board, that may be the ideal direction to take. Keep an eye on Doncic here, as he can fit perfectly as a point guard with size.

Dallas Mavericks

  1. Ayton
  2. Doncic
  3. Porter Jr.

Poor Dirk. He shouldn’t have to spend his remaining years on arguably the weirdest bad team in the league. Of the teams on this list, Dallas has the best net rating and is tied for the best point differential, but has the third-worst record. The Mavericks’ roster isn’t unbearable, but it’s still bad. And losing games is the best path for the franchise to get back on track.

After giving Harrison Barnes that big contract and drafting Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavericks should just aim for the best available player. The strange Nerlens Noel saga makes drafting a big body the best-case scenario. But taking a more reliable ball-handler or pure scorer seems to be a safe bet as well to salvage the reputation of a team that won an NBA championship just seven years ago.


Sacramento Kings

  1. Doncic
  2. Ayton
  3. Jackson

It’s crazy to say, but the Kings have actually exceeded expectations. With Zach Randolph as their top option on the offensive end, it’s been incredible seeing them crack the 20-win mark. That says a lot about how bad this team is. The good news? The core is pretty solid.

De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein all have potential, but unless Fox takes a giant leap forward, none of them will be stars. This draft is the perfect opportunity to give the Kings a franchise player who will push them into playoff relevance.

Atlanta Hawks

  1. Ayton
  2. Doncic
  3. Jaren JacksonMichigan State, F/C

Atlanta gave up on its season early on, but the Hawks are so well-coached that they’ve put up a fight in most games. Outside of John Collins, nobody in this lineup deserves to start after the rebuild. An argument can be made for Dennis Schroder, but his erratic play and small stature make him difficult to rely on as a primary ball-handler.

The Hawks have had a decade of success, winning 60 games as recently as three seasons ago. They just need to go with the best available player and shouldn’t be picky. Pairing one of a few stretch big men on the board with Collins could be a fun place to start. It’s a good thing coach Budenholzer is around to make sure it all works.

Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn Nets)

  1. Ayton
  2. Porter Jr.
  3. Doncic

Oh, Brooklyn. Did you guys really ruin your franchise for a bunch of old dudes? Well, thanks to the Kyrie Irving trade, it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers who will reap the benefits. If LeBron James chooses to stay, you can imagine the joy of a rookie getting the opportunity to play with arguably the greatest ever. If he bolts, though, there will be a lot of pressure to perform.

Take a moment to remember the Cavaliers’ lottery luck in recent years. From 2011-2014, Cleveland picked first overall three times and had two fourth overall picks in between. If they get another chance to draft first, they can quickly replace their superstar with some high-potential rookies. The Cavaliers just need to pick the best available player.


Orlando Magic

  1. Ayton
  2. Doncic
  3. Jackson

Where to begin with this embarrassing Magic roster? How about the contracts that have effectively ruined any future dealings? Did they really need to pay Bismack Biyombo $70 million to be a below-average backup center? Would they take back that Evan Fournier contract if they could? And what about the deal to bring in Serge Ibaka, only to trade him a few months later? That might be the worst of all.

The new management made it clear it’s looking to move on from past mistakes. Trading 2014 10th overall pick Elfrid Payton for a measly second-round pick is evidence of that. But should they move on from Aaron Gordon and Jonathon Isaac, or do they see either as a building block?

This team has so many question marks because it’s so poorly constructed. Orlando has to pray the development of this upcoming pick goes in the right direction, because it can’t afford to be the post-Dwight Howard Magic much longer.

Chicago Bulls

  1. Ayton
  2. Doncic
  3. Jackson

The Bulls have the brightest future of these terrible teams. With a young core of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen, Chicago has positioned itself well after the Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler eras.

Outside of those three, the Bulls have a decent mix of role players and are potentially one piece away from being a scary team. They’re missing a starting-level wing and center, and if they get into that top three, they’ll have an opportunity to get either Doncic or Ayton.

New York Knicks

  1. Ayton
  2. Doncic
  3. Bamba

Ever since Kristaps Porzingis was ruled out for the season, Knicks fans all over could be heard yelling, “Oh no! We suck again!” like Rob Schneider in “The Waterboy.” Unfortunately, there’s no debate: this Knicks team is a hot mess without their unicorn.

As in most recent Knicks seasons, it almost seemed like they would fight for a playoff spot early on. Almost. Sadly, they’ve dropped 26 of their last 33 games.

However, they still have Porzingis. And Frank Ntilikina could become a great perimeter defender (whether that’s at point guard or shooting guard appears yet to be determined). Maybe giving Tim Hardaway Jr. a boatload of money will turn out well, too. One thing’s for certain: the Knicks can’t mess this pick up if they want to start competing.



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