There are 3 weeks to go until the NBA Draft Lottery, with the 2023 iteration one of the most important lotteries in league history. The prize at the top of mock drafts and big boards is Victor Wembanyama, a 7′ 5″ alien who can change the outlook of a franchise overnight. Naturally, each of the non-playoff teams finds themselves in unique circumstances, but there are some clear teams that desperately need the ping pong balls to bounce their way.
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13. Oklahoma City Thunder
The emergence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a 30+ PPG scorer helped vault the Thunder up the standings as they improved their win/loss ledger by 16 games this season. Nearly cracking .500 and earning a play-in berth was a respectable jump in production for OKC as their budding nucleus almost found themselves back in the postseason. Next year they will get the reigning 2nd overall pick Chet Holmgren back on the court after he missed the entire season with a foot injury, although his draft peer Jalen Williams did his best to turn heads by averaging 18.6 PPG after the All-Star break. All in all, Oklahoma City would love to land another early draft selection, but they’re set up well for the future regardless.
12. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans is stacked with talent, but there is an oft-injured 6-6, 284lb power forward that continues to hamstring (pun intended) the franchise’s playoff aspirations. A fast start and winning nine of their final 12 games saw the Pels snag a spot in the play-in games with fringe All-Stars Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum doing a lot of the heavy lifting. However, the team will only be able to succeed if Zion Williamson is able to live up to his promise by staying on the court. When he was healthy they were on pace to win 48 games and even if Zion can’t get his body right, the Pelicans are still in an adequate position – with or without a lottery win.
11. Toronto Raptors
A tumultuous season is in the books for the Toronto Raptors and this offseason could see the franchise undergo significant change. Starting guards, Gary Trent Jr and Fred VanVleet both own player options for the 2023-24 season that they will likely turn down and there are no guarantees they’ll stay north of the border. With forward Scottie Barnes expected to rebound from a sophomore slump, following his ROY triumph in 2021, there’s still enough talent on their list for the Raptors to have a glass-half-full approach to the offseason.
10. Orlando Magic
Unless you’re the post-LeBron Cavs, you’re not allowed to win the lottery two years in a row. Orlando fans don’t need to be worried though, they’re set up just fine with an abundance of young talent on the roster already. Headlined by projected Rookie of the Year winner Paolo Banchero, the Magic’s core all have youth on their side with Banchero, Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Bol Bol, Franz Wagner and Markelle Fultz all under the age of 25. Armed with pick No. 6 and No. 11 before the ping pong balls drop, Orlando is going to be just fine no matter who they add in the upcoming draft.
9. Portland Trailblazers
Of all the non-playoff sides, Portland is in the weirdest position heading into the offseason. Damian Lillard’s future with the ball club appears to be at an impasse as both parties will potentially look to part ways, giving the Trailblazers a chance to reboot. Anfernee Simmons and Shaedon Sharpe are poised to be important building blocks for the franchise and part of me would love to see them land the No. 1 pick and swap Jusuf Nurkic with Victor Wembanyama to really give Portland fans a reason to be excited. A lottery win would be fantastic for the Blazers, but there are enough pieces in place to have some optimism moving forward.
8. Indiana Pacers
The backcourt of the future is clearly set in Indiana, with Tyrese Haliburton establishing himself as a star floor general and rookie scorer Bennedict Mathurin ably supporting the Pacers’ All-Star with 16.9 PPG – second only to Norman Powell for the highest scoring average off the bench. Established veterans Buddy Hield and Myles Turner dealt with trade rumours all season, but they remain on the roster and can be handy tools for their rebuild. Contracted for next season, Indiana could choose to finally deal the pair for additional assets, or keep them around to support their youngsters. Either way, there’s still work to be done before the Pacers are back in the postseason picture.
Image from indycornrows.com
7. Utah Jazz
A career-best season from Lauri Markkanen and the continued development of his Jazz peers leaves Utah in a decent position. A lot of people, myself included, expected this ball club to own a miserable record in 2022, however they surprised everyone by clinging on to a playoff seed for the majority of their campaign. Next season’s Jazz outfit could look quite different with Kelly Olynyk’s deal not-guaranteed, while Jordan Clarkson and Talen Horton-Tucker both own player options for 2023-24. Even if they lose that trio, first-year center Walker Kessler who finished 4th in the NBA for total blocks and the scoring punch of Collin Sexton gives Utah solid youngsters to build around.
6. Detroit Pistons
Detroit didn’t get a chance to assess their true potential this season with Cade Cunningham limited to just 12 games after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his shin. Missing their best player for the bulk of the season saw the Pistons finish with the worst record in the league at 17-65, although owning the best chance of landing the No. 1 pick is a silver lining from a dismal campaign. Trading for James Wiseman prior to the deadline and selecting Jalen Duren in last year’s draft means Detroit already has budding big men they can invest time into, but I’m sure everyone involved with the franchise wouldn’t turn down the chance to land Wemby. Personally, I think the Pistons would benefit from sliding and drafting a prospect like Brandon Miller or one of the Thompson twins, however, any top-5 talent will be an asset to the franchise’s quest to climb up the standings.
5. Houston Rockets
With Stephen Silas out as Houston coach, the first domino has fallen in what should be a significant summer for the franchise. It appears as though the Rockets are about to undergo serious change, positioned well with a ton of cap space and promising prospects at almost every position. Drafting Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr, Tari Eason and Alperen Sengun in the last two years gives them a core to construct a future winner around, but it’s clear they aren’t done accruing young talent. This would be an ideal landing spot for Scott Henderson in my eyes and who they choose as their next head coach is equally as important to guide this franchise to success.
4. Dallas Mavericks
Something needs to break right for the Dallas Mavericks. The gamble they took on Kyrie Irving didn’t work with the Mavs finishing the season on a 7-18 slump that saw them collapse to 11th on the West. They have almost $46M committed to Tim Hardaway Jr, Davis Bertans and Maxi Kleber, with Luka Doncic chewing up nearly the same amount of cap space. That makes a lottery triumph all the more important for Dallas, with a star youngster the perfect tool to flank their MVP threat in Doncic. The Mavericks don’t even need to land the No. 1 pick, but jumping from 10th into the top-4 would be a monumental coup for the franchise.
3. San Antonio Spurs
I mean this with all respect, San Antonio’s roster is shithouse. Granted they were missing their second-leading scorer for the majority of the season after Devin Vassell suffered a knee injury in early January, which contributed to one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Vassell and their other lead man Keldon Johnson are nice pieces, but neither of them is the type of player the Spurs can build their future roster around, making the upcoming lottery a crucial one. The majority of the supporting talent is in place for San Antonio, the only thing left is to add a franchise-altering center should they land the coveted first-overall pick.
2. Charlotte Hornets
It’s tough to see a way forward for the Hornets right now. Outside of the uber-talented LaMelo Ball, there aren’t too many players that offer promise, with veterans Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier handicapping their possible moves thanks to their lofty salaries. Even if the ping pong balls bounced the right way for Charlotte, one player isn’t going to single-handedly turn around their misfortune, with Buzz City managing just one postseason berth in the last nine seasons. There are still a lot of dark days ahead for the Hornets before they emerge from the depths of the Eastern Conference, but securing a stellar running mate for Ball by jumping a few spots in the draft pecking order would certainly be a boost to their cause.
1. Washington Wizards
Sigh. It seems as though Washington are content to run it back again with a ‘Big-3’ of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma – possibly the worst news that Wizards fans could hear. Porzingis and Kuzma both own player options for the 2023-24 season, although the front office has indicated their interest in resigning the duo to long-term deals as they try to shake the mediocrity that has plagued the franchise since its inception. Failing to hit on any of their draft picks over the past decade hasn’t helped, and owning the 8th-best lottery odds means there’s no assurance their selection this year will help either. No team needs a lottery W more than Washington and even if they don’t land the top selection, leaping up into the top-4 might help them finally pounce on a young, budding star for the future.