6 NBA Lottery Teams Set for Postseason Run Next Season
So, you’re sitting at home watching the NBA playoffs, but your team isn’t in it. You’re thinking, “Next year we’ll make a run.”
How likely is it that your favorite lottery team willl get to the postseason next season? I have your answer.
I broke each lottery team into six categories, ranking them on a scale of 1-10.
The categories are: record, games behind, cap space, roster, draft picks and development. A detailed explanation of the rationale for each is offered on the last slide.
Adding the scores together, the highest possible score was 60.
Six teams had a score of at least half that, suggesting they have a somewhat realistic chance of reaching the postseason next year. That’s consistent with this year’s results, when five of the 2013 lottery teams made the playoffs.
They are ranked here by their scores. In each category I give the relevant data. The scores they received in each category are in parenthesis.
The Other 8 Teams
Here are the eight teams that don’t have a realistic shot at the playoffs, their score and the main thing that hurt them.
14. Milwaukee Bucks, 21
They were the worst team in the NBA last year, have a bad roster and are in total disarray. They’re not getting back to the playoffs next year.
13. Los Angeles Lakers, 23
Kobe Bryant, who is an all-time great. He is also coming back from injury at age 36. Other than that all they have is the sixth-most lottery balls and cap space. Oh yeah! They have Robert Sacre, too. Literally, that’s all that they have guaranteed right now if they use the stretch provision on Steve Nash.
They don’t even have a coach yet. It’s not realistic to expect that superstars looking for a title are in line to sign up for that. So, that cap space means very little.
12. New York Knicks, 26
The Knicks had a losing record last year, so they weren’t very good. But, they did finish on a good run and only one game out of the playoffs.
They were awful without Carmelo Anthony on the court, though. They were outscored by 6.9 points per 100 possessions. That might be all of next year if Anthony bolts, which seems likely at this point.
Even without his salary, they don’t have a draft pick or cap space to improve. So the Knicks will be worse next season, not better.
11. Philadelphia 76ers, 27
I know there’s going to be a lot of heat on this, but the Sixers are better set than the Knicks for next season.
While the Knicks look like they’re losing their best player and won’t be able to add anyone of significance, the Sixers will add two first-round picks—one possibly being the No. 1 overall pick—and effectively a player who could have gone No. 1 overall last year, Nerlens Noel. The only reason he didn’t is his health.
10. Utah Jazz, 27
The Utah Jazz were the fourth-worst team in the NBA last year. They have a lot of young talent in players such as Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke. They will get the chance to add even more with the fourth-most lottery balls. But, they’re going to take more time to develop. They’re at least one more year away.
9. Boston Celtics, 27
The Boston Celtics are in rebuilding mode, but the emphasis is still on “re” more than “building.” They’re very young and have a number of holes to fill. They have some promising young players in Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, but they need time. They also have holes to fill.
Particularly, they need a wing who can drive and score. The “Jeff Green is due for a breakout” years should be behind us by now.
The Celtics are well-situated to rebuild, owning a wealth of assets (which includes as many as seven first-round picks in the next three eyars), but it’s not going to happen overnight. Of the teams who missed the top six, they are probably the team that will make it to the second round first.
8. Sacramento Kings, 28
The big question with the Sacramento Kings is if Rudy Gay will use his player option. If he bolts, the Kings can’t really replace him. If he opts to stick around, their chances at the playoffs go up.
There’s even some possibility they could be next year’s surprise breakout team. Head coach Michael Malone just needs to figure out how to get DeMarcus Cousins, Gay and Isaiah Thomas' skill sets working together.
7. Denver Nuggets, 28
If the Denver Nuggets could stay healthy, they would be a playoff team, but injuries keep getting in the way. Their four highest-paid players missed significant time last year. Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler both missed 20 games. JaVale McGee only played in five. Danilo Gallinari didn’t play at all.
They have postseason talent, but talent only works on the court. If the Nuggets can avoid getting hurt, they can make the playoffs.
6. New Orleans Pelicans, 30
2013-14 Record: 34-48 (5)
Games out of Playoffs: 15 (4)
Cap Space: $0 (1)
Roster: 7 (10)
Draft: 0 (1)
The New Orleans Pelicans' biggest strength is in what they have. They got clobbered by the injury bug last season with several players out for extended time. Tyreke Evans missed 10 games; Anthony Davis (15), Eric Gordon (18), Jrue Holiday (48) and Ryan Anderson (60) also sat for an extended time.
That’s their best potential lineup, and they spent all of 90 minutes on the court together this season.
Given a chance to recover, they’ll be good to go. Add in that Monty Williams is an excellent coach and Anthony Davis is looking like the NBA’s next super stud and this club looks poised to contend, even in the tough Western Conference.
5. Orlando Magic: 32
2013-14 Record: 23-59 (1)
Games out of Playoffs: 15 (4)
Cap Space: $22.2M (6)
Roster: 8 (5)
Draft: 3, 12 (9)
It will surprise some people to see the Orlando Magic here, but it shouldn’t. I maintained that they won the Dwight Howard trade when it happened, and it looks like that prophesy is coming true. They are ranked higher here than the Philadelphia 76ers, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Denver Nuggets—the other three teams involved in the trade.
They have young core players to work around in Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. It may eventually bear out that Victor Oladipo will be the best player from last year’s draft.
They have trade fodder or help in veterans such as Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, depending on what they do with them.
This year they could end up with the No. 1 pick. Owning the third-most lottery balls the worst they can do is fifth, where someone such as Dante Exum or Julius Randle should be available. Then throw in the No. 12 pick to boot.
Of course, they’re not going to suddenly turn into a winning team just by adding draft pick. But they also have $22.2 million in cap space to unleash. And, with all that young talent, it’s a big incentive to free agents to spend their next four years in sunny Florida.
Look for the Magic to be a big sleeper in the free-agent market.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves, 35
2013-14 Record: 40-42 (9)
Games out of Playoffs: 9 (7)
Cap Space: $0 (1)
Roster: 12 (9)
Draft: 13 (2)
The biggest thing the Minnesota Timberwolves have going for them is still Kevin Love, and one figures a player of his caliber can’t be kept out of the playoffs forever.
The Timberwolves have a roster which should work around him, but they’re another team with a plethora of injury issues. The first thing they need to do is just stay out of the training room.
A change of coaching scenery might not hurt, either. Rick Adelman has been a solid coach, but he is retiring and moving off to Portland to spend time with his family. That might not be all bad. A new coach can bring a new sense of excitement to a team.
One intriguing name that has come up is Tom Izzo, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Whether or not “Izzo” is going to happen remains to be seen. But if it works out, it would be compelling.
The Wolves’ were the second-best team to miss the playoffs last year. A No. 13 pick, an emerging Gorgui Dieng and a new coach might give them the boost they need.
3. Detroit Pistons, 37
2013-14 Record: 29-53 (5)
Games out of Playoffs: 8 (8)
Cap Space: $22.0M (5)
Roster: 8 (8)
Draft: 8 (5)
The 2012-13 Detroit Pistons were incompetently assembled, without regard for how the players would mesh. They had an overcrowded middle with limited court-stretchers. Their .321 three-point percentage was the second-worst in the NBA.
They have a chance to remedy that with Greg Monroe hitting the restricted free-agent market. The Pistons can try and work a sign-and-trade deal for him before he agrees to terms with someone else, or they can just renounce their rights and have $22 million in cap space to spend.
Either way, they have a chance to work up a true starting five, instead of trying to figure out how to play someone out of position. Monroe has real value as a player, but he’s the odd man out, which is why their best option is to trade him.
By finding a better fit for Monroe via a trade and owning the No. 8 pick in the draft, Detroit can balance out its roster.
And, with Stan Van Gundy, who transformed Dwight Howard into a superstar, taking over the reins, per Matt Moore of CBSSports.com, look for Andre Drummond to become the dominate player he looks like he can be. Detroit is not far off, and Van Gundy can get them there.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 40
2013-14 Record: 33-49 (6)
Games out of Playoffs: 5 (9)
Cap Space: $23.4M (7)
Roster: 8 (7)
Draft: 9 (4)
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, literally everything hinges on their next head coach. The right choice can mean the postseason and, perhaps, even an eventual title run. The wrong choice can mean losing their stars and suffering through another heartbreak.
Who it might be is all a matter of guesswork right now, and the Cavs don't seem to be in a rush to find someone.
The well-documented issue is the personality conflict between Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. The right coach can make this sort of thing go away. Waiters and Irving have the potential to be an outright explosive young backcourt if they can work together.
They also have a developing young big man in Tristan Thompson. And maybe Anthony Bennett can still prove something. The right coach could make a world of difference there.
What happens with the newly acquired Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng and whether they stick around may depend on who the new coach is and whether he can stabilize the locker room.
The Cavs will have cap space, but they won’t be able to spend it if players aren’t persuaded that it’s worth coming to Cleveland, which is a tough enough sale as it is. If Irving and Waiters can be a selling point and not a deterrent, their chances of landing someone of significance goes way up.
If they have confidence the young talent can be developed, it’s a big incentive to go there.
Imagine, for instance, Pau Gasol coming to the Cavs, splitting the cap space with Deng. Would a starting five of Irving, Waiters, Deng, Thompson and Gasol make the playoffs in the East? It’s hard to believe it wouldn’t.
1. Phoenix Suns, 55
2013-14 Record: 48-24 (10)
Games out of Playoffs: 1 (10)
Cap Space: $28.4M (9)
Roster: 8 (10)
Draft: 14, 18, 27 (6)
The Phoenix Suns just ran away with this, scoring 15 points higher than anyone else. Why such a dramatic difference?
Let’s break it down. The Suns were the best team to miss the playoffs last year. They won 48 games and just missed out by one. They have $28.4 million to drop in free agency. And, they have three first-round draft picks to add to all that.
The icing on top of this almost sickeningly sweet cake is that they have Jeff Hornacek, potentially this year’s coach the year, at the helm.
According to research I did in February, based on player efficiency rating, four of the eight most improved players were Suns this year. Those numbers might have changed a bit, but it still shows Hornacek is a great player developer. Putting three first-round picks in his hands to mold is almost unfair.
The ice cream to go with the sickeningly sick cake it is that Eric Bledsoe, arguably the team’s best player, missed almost half the season—41 games.
While Bledsoe is going to take a chunk of the Suns' cap change, they will still have the money left to add another premiere player. The Suns aren’t going to struggle selling free agents on the idea of joining up.
Phoenix isn’t just looking at playoff chances next year. It might be two seasons away from being a legitimate championship contender.
Explanation of Categories
Curious as to why a team is too high or too low? Here is the detailed explanation for each category.
A straightforward ranking of how good the teams were last year, based on wins.
How many games did the team miss the playoffs by last year. There’s a difference between the competitiveness of the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, fair or not.
It’s a lot tougher to make it to the playoffs in the West. That means a better Western Conference team might have a lower chance than a worse Eastern Conference team.
Utilizing this thorough breakdown by Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders, I ranked the teams by how much cap space the team had to spend in free agency. The more money the team had, the higher they scored. I used his best guess for player and team options.
This was assessing next year’s rosters. How good is the core? How likely are players to return? These questions aren’t just important because they show close a team is to the playoffs. They also indicate how attractive teams will be to free agents.
For each team, the number of minimum returning players is listed, but that doesn’t include team options or count the quality of those players. Those things were included in the teams ranking, though there’s no universal way to quantify them.
Until the lottery occurs, we won’t know for sure where anyone is picking, so for now they’re ranked according to lottery balls, with a slight tweak.
Some teams have multiple picks. For instance, the Phoenix Suns have the 14th, 18th and 27th pick.
The question was how to balance those who have multiple first-round picks with those who have better odds. It seemed a reasonable solution was to estimate: what is the best possible pick a team could get if combing their selections and trading up?
Could the Suns combine their three picks to move up to 13? Absolutely! Could they get the No. 1? Probably not. The highest it seemed reasonable to me is No. 7, so I gave them the same score as the owner of that pick, the Sacramento Kings.
I didn’t factor in second-round picks, since it’s a crapshoot.
One note of caution here: Even great rookies have a limited impact on a team. Last year, Kevin Durant and LeBron James combined for 35.1 win shares. All drafted players combined notched a total of 33.9.
Additionally, a higher draft pick doesn't guarantee success. Last year the top-10 picks combined for 7.4 win shares. Those taken 11 through 20 had 9.3. The last 10 of the first round totaled 11.6. Granted, last year had some unique circumstances, but it’s still intriguing.
Last season there were 15 players with at least 10 win shares. None were rookies. Getting 10 win shares isn't that rare, but it's extraordinary for a player in his first year.
It’s highly unlikely that there’s an instant Durant or James waiting in the wings. There probably isn’t a generational player such as Paul, Duncan or O’Neal, either.
Drafts matter, but rookies take time to develop. Even Durant and James did.
Finally, how much potential is there on the existing roster for improvement?
This includes potential coaching changes and player development.
If a team was badly coached last year, and either have already had, or may soon have, an upgrade at the helm, they were given a better score.
If they have a coach who has already shown he can develop players, the team was also given a better score.
The age and health of players and improved (or potentially improved) composition of the roster were also considered. Does the team have returning players who were injured? Is it losing players in free agency? Are its stars on the downside of their career? For example, it’s doubtful that Kobe Bryant will have the best year of his life next season.