The year 2021 has been a big one for Ben Wallace. First, he was named to the Hall of Fame. Then, Tuesday night, he was the good-luck charm for his old franchise, the Detroit Pistons, in the NBA’s annual draft lottery.
Detroit claimed the top spot in a loaded 2021 NBA draft, followed by the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors.
The rest of the top 10 includes Orlando; Oklahoma City; Golden State, which gets Minnesota’s selection; Orlando, which gets Chicago’s selection; Sacramento; New Orleans.
Charlotte, San Antonio, Indiana, and Golden State, with its own selection, round out the lottery picks.
Detroit, after taking three players in the first round of last year’s draft — Killian Hayes (seventh), Isaiah Stewart (16th) and Saddiq Bey (19th) — will now get a chance to add a high-end talent to its mix. It will be the Pistons’ first top-five selection since they took Darko Milicic second overall in 2003, and their third in the past 40 years. They also took Grant Hill third overall in 1994.
Detroit has the top overall pick for the first time since drafting Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure University in 1970.
“Obviously we get to add another wing player to the restoration process,” said Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, who was hired to run Detroit’s basketball operations last year. “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 number one pick.”
The Rockets, after making the playoffs the past eight seasons, saw things go in an entirely different direction this season after trading James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets for a bevy of draft picks back in January. But after finishing with the NBA’s worst record, Houston got a bit of luck Tuesday, allowing it a chance to immediately begin to restock its coffers around center Christian Wood with an elite young talent.
lCleveland, after picking fifth the past two seasons, got a dose of lottery luck this time around, as the Cavaliers hope to break back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference next season around whomever they pick, young guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, forward Isaac Okoro and center Jarrett Allen.
It was a miserable season for the Raptors, who saw what easily was the most successful stretch in franchise history — seven straight playoff appearances, including the 2019 NBA title — come to a screeching halt this season. Playing in Tampa, Florida, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Raptors endured a stretch of close losses to begin the season, then a massive bout of COVID cases among players and coaches just as the team got itself back to .500 midway through, sinking its chances at a return to the postseason.
Tuesday night, however, the Raptors got some reward for that ugly season, as they leaped into the top four for a chance to add a premium young player to a team that is ready to win right now around its core of guard Fred VanVleet and forwards Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
The Magic shifted into a rebuilding mode this year, trading Nikola Vucevic to Chicago, Evan Fournier to Boston and Aaron Gordon to Denver. Now, the Magic will get two cracks at adding young talent to its core thanks to its own pick, the fifth overall selection, and that of the Bulls, which it got as a result of the Vucevic trade when it didn’t jump into the top four selections.
No team had more to gain in this draft than Oklahoma City. The Thunder were the only team that had a chance to land two top-five selections if they received Houston’s pick, which would have happened if the Rockets didn’t move up in the draft.
Ultimately, though, Houston got lucky, leaving the Thunder with its own pick — sixth overall — in addition to Boston’s 16th overall selection, which they picked up in last week’s trade that sent Al Horford back to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, and Miami’s 18th overall selection, as they continue to rebuild around emerging star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The Timberwolves knew they would be giving up their pick either this year, if they stayed outside the top-three picks, or an unprotected pick next season if it did not.
They wound up paying that debt this season, though, meaning Golden State will have two lottery picks this year — the seventh overall selection from Minnesota, plus its own pick at 14th overall. Along with center James Wiseman, last year’s second overall selection, the Warriors will hope they can either get a couple of players to help build a long-term bridge to a future beyond Golden State’s Big 3 of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, or potentially give them the ammunition to make immediate upgrades after missing the playoffs the past two seasons.
Every year, the teams that jump into the top four feel lucky on lottery night. This year, however, that feeling will only be intensified by the top-end talent available in this draft. With a month before the draft, the consensus top four players available, in some order, are Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham, Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs, USC big man Evan Mobley and guard Jalen Green, who was an inaugural member of the NBA’s G-League Ignite program.
The combination of that talent, as well as the fact that three picks within the top eight were up for grabs due to prior trades, made this year’s lottery one of the most anticipated in years.
Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday night that the plan for Cunningham, projected by many to be the No. 1 overall pick, will be to visit only one team before the draft: the Pistons.
Twenty percent of the league found itself on pins and needles entering Tuesday night’s festivities as a result of those prior deals. The Rockets, due to the Russell Westbrook trade with Oklahoma City two years ago, would either keep their pick if it fell within the top four or send the fifth pick in the draft to the Thunder after finishing with the worst record in the NBA. The Bulls, meanwhile, either would keep their pick if it fell in the top four or give up a mid-lottery pick to the Orlando Magic after trading for center Vucevic at this year’s trade deadline. And the Timberwolves would either keep their pick if it landed in the top three — or an unprotected pick next year — because of Russell trade.
Ultimately, it was Houston, Orlando and Golden State that managed to have things break their way Tuesday night. As a result, six teams — Oklahoma City (3), Houston (3), Golden State (2), Orlando (2) and New York (2) — have control over 12 of the 30 first round picks in this year’s draft.