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2019 NBA draft lottery featured historically massive shakeup

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The Knicks winning the lottery was treated as an inevitability.

New York had the lottery’s No. 1 seed. No team had better odds than the Knicks. New York fans salivated over Zion Williamson. The Knicks sent Patrick Ewing, their last No. 1 pick and player they got by winning the initial lottery, to represent them on stage. Nearly every mock draft until last night slotted the Knicks No. 1. Reports emerged about what New York would do with the No. 1 pick (try to trade it for Anthony Davis).

Some of this was overstated. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns had an equal chance at the top pick. New York’s higher lottery seed would be relevant only if not getting drawn into the top four. Yet, Cleveland and Phoenix often got left from the discussion.

Some of this was innocent. There’s no other prospect in this draft whose hype nears Williamson’s, and other fan bases got preemptively excited about the idea of adding him. Using lottery seeds to order a mock draft before the lottery is just practical. The Knicks should be planning for every eventuality.

But it all created a feedback loop: Talk about the No. 1 pick, talk about the Knicks. Talk about the Knicks, talk about the No. 1 pick. And on and on, the noise amplified by the world’s biggest media market.

Lost in the hoopla: 86%.

Those were the quite-high odds New York wouldn’t get the No. 1 pick.

Of course, New York didn’t get the top pick – an expected outcome amid one of the most chaotic (and most important) lotteries of all-time.

The NBA reformed the lottery this year – flattening the odds and drawing the top four, rather than top three, picks. That didn’t ensure a wild outcome, but it increased the potential. And we got pandemonium.

The Pelicans (No. 7 seed) drew the No. 1 pick. The Grizzlies (No. 6 seed) landed the No. 2 pick. The Lakers (No. 11 seed) jumped even further, to the No. 4 pick.

Those leaps are among the biggest in lottery history.

No lottery had ever included even two teams moving five slots between their lottery seed and draft pick. The 2019 lottery had three teams move six slots.

Here are the biggest movements between lottery seed and draft pick of all-time:

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With the mediocre Pelicans, Grizzlies and Lakers moving up, some awful teams had to get displaced.

And there were some truly awful teams this year.

New York (17-65), Cleveland (19-63) and Phoenix (19-63) stunk then leaned into tanking. Though lottery reform gave the three worst teams equal lottery odds, the fourth-worst Bulls (22-60) didn’t allow much cushion to win meaningless games. Every additional ping-pong-ball combination improved the odds of getting Williamson. Plus, standings within the bottom three still determined draft order if not selected in the lottery.

Before this year, the average draft position for a sub-20-win team in the lottery era was slightly better than No. 3. The Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns will pick Nos. 3, 5, 6.

Phoenix’s No. 6 pick is the worst in the lottery era for a team that won fewer than 20 games. Cleveland’s No. 5 pick is tied for second-worst. And in this weak-looking draft, it’s not as if New York should rejoice about getting No. 3.

Here’s every team to win fewer than 20 games in the lottery era (or the equivalent in a lockout-shortened season), sorted by ensuing draft pick:

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All told, 11 of the 14 teams in last night’s lottery got a pick that didn’t match their seed.

The Pelicans (7 to 1), Grizzlies (8 to 2) and Lakers (11 to 4) moved up.

The Knicks (1 to 3), Cavaliers (2 to 5), Suns (3 to 6), Bulls (4 to 7), Hawks (5 to 8), Wizards (6 to 9), Hawks via Mavericks (9 to 10) and Timberwolves (10 to 11) moved down.

Only the Hornets (12), Heat (13) and Celtics via Kings (14) remained in place.

Originally, the lottery determined where every non-playoff team picked and gave each team equal odds of each pick. That system sometimes produced less movement than last night’s lottery.

Yesterday, the 14 lottery teams averaged moving 2.7 slots between their lottery seed and draft pick – the third-biggest shakeup ever.

Here’s every lottery, sorted by average movement between lottery seed and draft pick for each lottery team:

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In 1993, the Magic – despite holding the lowest odds – jumped to the No. 1 pick. That produced plenty of backlash, especially considering Orlando also won the previous lottery.

In 1986, one of two years with the initial lottery system, the seven lottery teams, picked, in order of seed: 5, 4, 7, 3, 2, 1, 6. And the Cavaliers got a bonus pick to be slotted after Dallas (which owned Cleveland’s own pick) as compensation for Ted Stepien’s numerous missteps on condition of him selling the team. It was chaos.

Both situations prompted change. The NBA instituted the Stepien rule, limiting teams’ ability to trade future draft picks. The league didn’t want a team to be so hopeless, it’d need dispensation. The NBA also changed lottery rules for 1994, improving odds for the worst teams and therefore trimming odds for teams – like the Magic the year prior – that barely missed the playoffs.

Eventually, that led to an outbreak of tanking. Nobody pushed the limits further than former 76ers general manger Sam Hinkie and his Process. He, more than anyone, prompted this lottery reform.

Last night’s lottery won’t change everything.

But it worked exactly as intended.

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

Associated Press
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Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.

 

Kevin Knox with an high-flying putback dunk… into his own basket (VIDEO)

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Give the Knicks credit, they have won two games in a row for the first time this season after knocking off the Kings. The return of Elfrid Payton at point guard — meaning they don’t have to play rookie R.J. Barrett out of position in that role — has given New York some floor balance and they look much better.

But there are still moments.

Such as this one from Kevin Knox, with the putback dunk — into his own net.

Mike Breen wanted to credit Buddy Hield there, and to be fair, Hield did come flying in and force the action. But that was Knox. (Hield got the bucket in the official scorebook).

Well, at least Knox is contributing something here.

Watch James Harden drop 54 to lead Houston past Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — James Harden found his 3-point shooting touch — again.

Harden scored 54 points, matching the team record of 10 3-pointers he set in Houston’s last game in the Rockets’ 130-107 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

“I just want to win,” Harden said simply. “Whatever it takes.”

Harden scored 50 or more for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in his last seven games. The rest of the NBA has combined for only five such games this season.

Harden was 10 of 15 from long range and 19 of 31 overall from the field. He also had a seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes, receiving a loud ovation from the Orlando crowd when he headed to the bench in the final minutes.

“I feel like we lost against just him tonight,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “He’s the MVP for a reason. We talked about in pregame that he’ll take shots, and we’ll just live with the results. He did not miss tonight, period.”

Harden set the Houston record for 3-pointers with 10 in 18 attempts Wednesday night in a 55-point game in a victory at Cleveland.

“When he’s shooting over the top like that, I don’t know what you can do,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said.

Russell Westbrook added 23 points for Houston. The Rockets were 22 of 39 from 3-point range, setting a record for the most 3-pointers by any Magic opponent in franchise history.

“We just shot the ball extremely well,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When James is like that, it’s hard for anybody to really beat us … no matter what kind of defense you’re going to throw, we’ve got guys.”

The Rockets pulled away in the second quarter, with Harden scoring 18 points, including Houston’s last 11 for a 59-49 lead.

Fournier led Orlando with 27 points. Aaron Gordon added 21. The Magic have lost three straight after winning four in a row.

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard combine for 88 points in Clippers win

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s hard to stop Paul George. It’s hard to stop Kawhi Leonard. It’s really hard to stop both at the same time.

George and Leonard showed what the Los Angeles Clippers had in mind when they teamed up the superstar duo Friday night. George scored 46 points, Kawhi Leonard had 42 and the Clippers held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-117 for their fourth consecutive victory.

“It’s special, two guys offensively,” George said. “The thing about it is, we’re dishing, finding each other, feeding each other. And then when we have moments to be aggressive, we’re looking to get aggressive, attack, look for our shots. It’s great when both guys can get it going”

Leonard and George became the first set of teammates in Clippers’ history to each score 40 points. It was the 21st time in NBA history it has happened. The last time it was done, it also involved George. He and Russell Westbrook did it for Oklahoma City last season.

Leonard and George’s previous high this season came Dec. 1, when they combined for 65 points against Washington.

“It’s great that we can have somebody else out there to help scoring the ball, making the game easier for myself,” Leonard said. “We’re still trying to build our chemistry out there.”

Karl-Anthony Towns had 39 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its seventh in a row. Towns had 14 points, including a 4-point play, in a 22-6 fourth-quarter run that trimmed a 21-point Los Angeles lead to five.

Andrew Wiggins added 34 points for the Timberwolves. His basket with 1:04 left cut the Clippers’ lead to 119-115. Minnesota didn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.

“Disappointed from the loss, but we fought back,” Wiggins said. “We were down big. Dug ourselves a hole. We fought back though. We went out swinging.”

Leonard and George set the tone early, combining to score the first 23 points for a Clippers team playing without Lou Williams, who sat out with a calf injury. In his absence, George and Leonard accounted for 54 of Los Angeles’ 65 first-half points. They became the first duo to each score 35 or more points through the first three quarters of a game in the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Leonard made a career-high 19 free throws. He was 19 for 19 from the line.

“That was great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We knew without Lou tonight, every play was basically for those two guys. And they came up big.”

The Timberwolves took a 51-50 lead in the second quarter with a 15-2 run, capped by a Towns 3-pointer. Leonard responded with seven consecutive points to give the Clippers the lead for good.

George started the third quarter with a 7-0 run of his own. He scored 16 in the third, when Los Angeles took control by outscoring Minnesota 37-23.

“Forty-six and forty-two, they make it very tough on you,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.

Leonard’s 31 first-half points set a career high for points in a half. He tied a career high for points in a first quarter with 16.

“We got into our spots early, made shots,” Leonard said. “Paul carried us in that second half.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 18 points for the Clippers. Jeff Teague scored 22 for the Timberwolves.