Cleveland rocks—at least when it comes to draft lotteries.
For the second straight season, the Cleveland Cavaliers vaulted up from an unlikely spot to land the top overall selection in the 2014 NBA draft. Cleveland had just a 1.7 percent chance at winning after having the ninth-worst regular-season record in the NBA. This is only the second time in the modern lottery era that a team has had back-to-back No. 1 picks.
The Cavaliers will be selecting first for the third time in four years and fourth time since taking LeBron James in 2003. Cleveland selected Anthony Bennett with the top selection last season and Kyrie Irving in 2011.
Luck of the Ping pong balls...Very exciting!!!— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) May 21, 2014
The Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the regular season with the league's worst record, will select second and the Philadelphia 76ers round out the clubs whose selection order was based on random chance.
|Pick No.||Team||Chance of Winning|
|7||Los Angeles Lakers||6.3%|
|9||Charlotte Hornets (via Detroit Pistons)||2.8%|
|10||Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans Pelicans)||1.1%|
|11||Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks)||0.8%|
|12||Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets)||0.7%|
As some often forget, the NBA lottery is not a "lottery" in a traditional sense. Only the top three selections are based on how the ping-pong balls land. The remaining teams are then ranked based on the inverse order of their regular-season record.
This is the 10th straight season where the team with the worst regular-season record did not win the lottery. In the current format, only the Cleveland Cavaliers (2003) and Orlando Magic (2004) have parlayed the worst record into the top pick.
Interesting tactic by the NBA to discourage teams from tanking by just awarding the #1 pick to the Cavs every year.— Micah Hart (@MicahHart) May 21, 2014
Nonetheless, the story of the night is undoubtedly Cleveland's unbelievable fortune. Left essentially for dead following James' departure, the Cavaliers now have little excuse but their own failures if they fail to re-enter the Eastern Conference conversation. Irving is one of the league's most promising young guards, yet Bennett failed as a rookie and both Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson are flawed.
New general manager David Griffin is now tasked with one of the toughest decisions at No. 1 in recent memory. He faces the unenviable task of deciding between Kansas teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid and Duke forward Jabari Parker—largely considered the consensus top-three prospects in the class.
Each player has a legitimate claim to the top spot.
Parker is the most instantly translatable talent and should be the (very, very) early favorite for Rookie of the Year. He can score in myriad ways, pulling up for smooth jumpers off the dribble and possessing a sneaky post game. Though Parker projects as a mediocre defender, he's a natural, elite talent offensively and should not have any trouble becoming a nightly 20-point scorer quickly.
Cavs did not listen last yr as we said take VICTOR OLADIPO - THIS yr listen take JABARI PARKER @JPiz1— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) May 21, 2014
Embiid is a wild card. The 7-footer has played just four years of organized basketball, the latest of which was halted by a concerning back injury. Wiggins, Embiid and Parker each skipped the draft combine in Chicago, so there is no concrete update on his progress. If fully healthy, though, Embiid is a potential two-way force.
Embiid can be a bigger Dwight Howard w/ offensive skill and "mean streak." Can be even better than Ibaka.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 21, 2014
Wiggins splits the difference between the two. Possibly the most hyped prep star since LeBron, Wiggins didn't live up to those expectations but is still a ball of potential. He's the best on-ball defender of the three at the moment, arguably the best athlete in the class and a developing offensive weapon with an improving outside jumper.
The Cavaliers could really choose any of the three. The middle of their defense has been a leaky mess in recent seasons, and Embiid could provide the rim protection they passed up by taking Thompson over Jonas Valanciunas in 2011. Wiggins and Parker fill a need on the wing and would lessen the blow of Luol Deng's possible departure in free agency.
I'm on board with this. RT @BSnowScout: No way the Cavs should pass on Wiggins, just none. He is the best player and prospect in the draft— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) May 21, 2014
Milwaukee and Philadelphia would probably prefer Cleveland take Embiid. Both have holes on the wing and already have an in-house defensive center.
Sixers could still end up with Wiggins, like a lot. I'm good, babies.— Michael Levin (@Michael_Levin) May 21, 2014
Australian prodigy Dante Exum, Indiana's Noah Vonleh, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon—all guys who would've competed for the No. 1 pick last year—are available behind the top trio. Any team in the top seven could wind up with a potential All-Star.
"This is really deep draft," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told Scott Gleeson of USA Today. "Last year was just a bad draft. I don't think anyone wanted that No. 1 pick. This year, the top dozen are all capable of being stars and there's guys in the second round who could be really valuable pieces."
|8||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||Sophomore||PG|
|9||Gary Harris||Michigan State||Sophomore||SG|
|13||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||Senior||PF|
|22||P.J. Hairston||North Carolina||Junior||SG|
|24||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||Sophomore||SF|
|25||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||Senior||SF|
|27||Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||Sophomore||SF|
Of course, the occasion was far from joyous for some teams. Cleveland's ascent will cost the Detroit Pistons the No. 9 overall pick, as they have to send it to the Charlotte Hornets to finish off the Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette swap.
The irony, not that Pistons needed to lose more. They needed to lose less, finish 9th, fan base with no hope and boom, No. 1 pick.— Detroit Bad Boys ☠ (@detroitbadboys) May 21, 2014
The New Orleans Pelicans, who could have held onto their pick had they moved into the top three, will now give that selection to the 76ers. New Orleans sent the No. 10 selection to Philadelphia as part of last summer's Jrue Holiday trade.
Also losing lottery picks are the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets. The Knicks owe their pick (No. 11) to Denver to mercifully end the Carmelo Anthony haul, rendering the pick the Nuggets have to send to Orlando (No. 12) mostly insignificant. The Magic and 76ers are the only teams with multiple lottery selections in this year's class.
The Knicks, meanwhile, will draft a sofa.— Jason Gay (@jasonWSJ) May 21, 2014
Avoiding a similar fate are the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves had to convey their pick to the Suns if Phoenix would have moved up from the No. 14 slotting.
Overall, there are nine first-round picks exchanging hands this season. In an era where teams are supposedly hoarding selections as a form of low-cost talent, that's a mildly surprising number. Picks in the mid-20s, typically a roll of the dice in the NBA, might turn into long-term starters in 2014.
Ainge thinks "this is a deep draft. I do think there are players (in 2nd round and undrafted) who can play in the NBA." Just no cornerstones— Jay King (@ByJayKing) May 21, 2014
It's at the very least an infinitely more interesting class than the dregs of last June. Only four rookies from the 2013 class averaged double-digit points this season, and only five lottery selections averaged 20 or more minutes per game.
That almost certainly won't be the case this time around. For now, though, the Cavs are just happy they'll get their pick of the whole lot.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: