Race to Win the NBA Lottery 2.0
Projecting what each lottery team would do with the No. 1 pick: Chet? Paolo? Jabari? Ivey?
We are 25 games into the NBA regular season and it’s time to check in on the teams in the running for the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
On their way to the lottery, teams can try the following strategies:
tanking outright for draft position (for instance, sitting players who might help them win);
rebuilding with losing as a convenient byproduct (for instance, trading away players for draft picks);
playing to win and falling short — sometimes pulling the plug during the season.
In other words, it’s a continuum, and the goals for each team can shift during the season. In some organizations, there is a tug-of-war between what the players want, what the coaches want and what the front office wants.
Here's a look at where the 10 worst teams in the NBA stand in their quest for the No. 1 pick in the draft ... and which player each team might select.
Note: I’m using 538’s ELO forecasts to project team records.
1. Detroit Pistons
Projected Record: 19-63
Current Record: 4-20
The Pistons have been awful and Monday’s home loss to the Thunder put Detroit atop our board.
The Pistons’ place in the standings is not a surprise. But it has been strange to see two of Detroit’s more promising young players — Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart — regress from last season. Meanwhile, the Pistons’ two recent lottery picks, Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham, have struggled as well, especially with their shooting. (Cunningham has made 50% of his 3s in his last five games, giving hope that his rough start is behind him.)
The team is dead last in 3-point shooting, second-to-last in offensive rating and third-to-last in assists per game. It’s been a disaster on that end of the court.
Lots of GMs expect Jerami Grant, the Pistons’ one veteran presence in the starting lineup, to be moved before the trade deadline, which would cement the Pistons as a strong favorite to end up as one of the three teams with a 14% chance of winning the draft lottery.
Potential target with the No. 1 pick? Chet Holmgren
Stewart has a motor and toughness, but he lacks the shot-blocking skills and offensive versatility of Holmgren, Gonzaga’s talented center. Paired with a playmaker like Cunningham, Holmgren would provide offensive punch and be a game changer for the Pistons defensively.