What's Next for Young Lottery Teams After 2019 NBA Draft?

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2019

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 20: Zion Williamson is interviewed after being drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20, 2019 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Ryan McGilloway/NBAE via Getty Images)
NBA Photos/Getty Images

As the NBA heads into what could be its most chaotic offseason in some time, many teams already have a lot of young talent in place. There will be competition for the biggest stars on the market, as there always is. But even teams that didn't make the playoffs last season have a lot to get excited about with the young players they have on board.

With the Golden State Warriors a likely non-factor next year due to injuries, the playoff race is wide-open in both conferences, and a few of these teams could break through and return to the postseason. Let's check the pulse on all of last night's lottery teams and take an early look at where their promising young cores build from here.

      

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes

When the Pelicans won the lottery last month, they instantly became one of the biggest stories in the NBA. It would be enough on its own that they've landed Williamson, the most highly touted college prospect in almost a decade, as the cornerstone for their next era. But new vice president David Griffin also got a haul of young talent from the Los Angeles Lakers in the blockbuster Anthony Davis trade, all of which fits nicely around their new star.

Ingram and Ball, the No. 2 overall picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively, have had health concerns early in their NBA careers. But if they can stay on the floor, they can complement Williamson. Ingram still has potential as a perimeter scorer, and Ball is a facilitator who will be dishing lobs to Zion. Hayes, whom they selected with the No. 8 overall pick after trading back with Atlanta, is an athletic, rim-protecting big man.

The fact that Griffin thus far appears set on keeping the 29-year-old Holiday suggests he intends for the Pelicans to be competitive right away, rather than beginning a long rebuild in the post-Davis era. He still has some moves left; for one thing, he needs to make a decision on whether to re-sign forward Julius Randle. But get ready for the Pelicans to become NBA League Pass darlings. With a transcendent talent like Williamson, they could be back in the playoffs as soon as this season.

      

Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 20: Ja Morant signs autographs after being selected second overall by the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20, 2019 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees t
Melanie Fidler/Getty Images

That the Grizzlies would draft Morant at No. 2 had been a foregone conclusion for weeks, but they may have gotten a steal with Clarke at No. 21 as well. Both of them pair nicely with Jackson, a legitimate franchise cornerstone who was firmly in the Rookie of the Year mix before injuries cut his season short. Wednesday's trade of Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz turned the page on the grit-and-grind era, but the next phase of basketball in Memphis looks tantalizing.

New York Knicks: RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier

The Knicks' young core is almost beside the point, considering New York hopes to become relevant again by adding top-end talent in free agency. They'll still make a strong push for Kevin Durant, even though his torn Achilles is all but certain to keep him out of next season. They have room to give a max offer to one other player as well.

As for their own youngsters, Robinson showed promise in his rookie season as a shot-blocking center, and Barrett projects as a prolific scorer at the NBA level, if nothing else. Ntilikina is still a total enigma as a prospect, a promising defender without much of an offensive game. Knox had one of the worst rookie seasons in recent memory for a lottery pick, but his raw tools make it hard to completely write him off. Trier, meanwhile, was a nice surprise as an undrafted rookie.

On their own, these Knicks prospects don't create much excitement. That part will depend on the team's success in free agency.

      

Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young, De'Andre Hunter, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish

BROOKLYN, NY - JUNE 20: De'Andre Hunter is interviewed after being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20, 2019 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Stephen Pellegrino/Getty Images

The Hawks made a controversial trade during the 2018 draft, passing on Luka Doncic and moving back from No. 3 to No. 5 to select Young. While that swap will surely be judged throughout their development, Young's rookie season gave early validation, as he showed uncommon passing ability as well as a near-unlimited shooting range.

Young proved a great fit with second-year big man John Collins and rookie guard Kevin Huerter, who shot 38.5 percent from three-point range in his first NBA season. In Thursday's draft, Atlanta added two more intriguing pieces. Hunter has great potential as a versatile defensive forward, while Reddish is more of a long-term project and potential offensive weapon. First-time head coach Lloyd Pierce has a strong reputation for player development, which gives this group a promising outlook.

      

Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr., Cedi Osman

The Cavs' selection of Garland at No. 5 on Thursday was somewhat surprising, given that they drafted Sexton in the top 10 last year. General manager Koby Altman envisions Garland and Sexton as an Eastern Conference version of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but neither player has a ceiling that high. Porter could be a steal at No. 30, though.

       

Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie

Jarrett Culver
Jarrett CulverMichael J. LeBrecht II/Getty Images

Towns and Wiggins are going into their fifth and sixth years, but they're still only 23 and 24 years old, respectively. Towns is an All-NBA talent who blossomed as a dominant scorer following the trade of Jimmy Butler in November, while Wiggins has been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his career. Minnesota traded up from No. 11 to No. 6 on Thursday night—also shipping Dario Saric to the Phoenix Suns—to select Culver, a promising wing defender who had a starring role in Texas Tech's run to the national title game.

When you're anchored by a player as good as Towns, there's great potential to build a good core. Wiggins' giant contract is one of the most untradeable in the league at roughly $30 million in each of the next four years, but they have enough intriguing young pieces around those two to make them worth keeping an eye on. It's unlikely they're a playoff team next season, barring an unexpected impact free agent.

     

Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Coby White

Year 2 of the Bulls' rebuild was hampered by injuries up and down the roster, but Chicago is quietly building an intriguing young team. Markkanen has the highest ceiling of this group, as a 7-footer who can knock down three-pointers. Carter complements him nicely in the frontcourt, with uncommon defensive smarts for a young big. LaVine is a pure bucket-getter, and Porter, who came over from Washington at February's trade deadline, fit in right away as a three-and-D wing.

The Bulls have needed a point guard after two disappointing seasons from former top-five pick Kris Dunn, and they got their guy when Coby White fell to No. 7 overall on Thursday night. If head coach Jim Boylen lets them push the pace next season, White could fit in seamlessly. The Bulls will still likely look to add a veteran point guard this summer in free agency, which will allow them to bring White along slowly.

The Bulls are probably another year away from a return to the playoffs. Without a surefire superstar in the mix, their ceiling may be a middle-tier playoff team, unless Markkanen or LaVine makes an unexpected leap to All-NBA-level performer. But they've got a good thing going.

     

Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura, Admiral Schofield

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21:  The Washington Wizards 2019 draft pick Rui Hachimura talks to the media during an introductory press conference at Capital One Arena on June 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Out of all the lottery teams, the Wizards have the least promising future. Their franchise point guard, John Wall, is entering the first year of a four-year, $170 million extension, and he's likely miss the entire 2019-20 season as he recovers from a torn Achilles. Other than All-Star guard Bradley Beal, they don't have much in the way of proven talent. Hachimura, the No. 9 overall pick in Thursday's draft, had a stellar college career at Gonzaga, but he was widely viewed by analysts as a reach at that pick with a questionable NBA future.

            

Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges

Ayton, last year's No. 1 overall pick, demonstrated that he was worth the hype as one of the most promising young big men in the NBA. Booker, meanwhile, can score as well as anyone, but there are glaring concerns about his defense. Jackson has been inconsistent through two NBA seasons, and Johnson, the No. 11 overall pick in Thursday's draft, was widely seen as a reach after Phoenix traded back from No. 6 to pick up Dario Saric from Minnesota.

Phoenix has some intriguing pieces, to be sure, but there are too many questions about the roster and organization to feel comfortable putting the Suns back in contention anytime soon.

                

Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, PJ Washington

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 20: PJ Washington reacts after being drafted with the 12th overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expre
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Hornets have been in no-man's land for some time, hampered by the big contracts of Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams, among others. They have a few promising young pieces: Bridges had a solid rookie season, and Monk has potential as a scorer, though he's been inconsistent through two seasons. Charlotte took Washington with the No. 12 overall pick Thursday.

The Hornets' big question mark, of course, is Kemba Walker's upcoming free agency. They'd love to keep him, and he seems to want to stay, but they're going to have to pay max or near-max money to get a deal done. If he's back, Charlotte will at least be in the running for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. If he leaves, they'll be closer to the bottom and in store for a developmental year.

     

Miami Heat: Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson, Tyler Herro

Winslow has come into his own as a wing defender, while Adebayo is an exciting prospect as a rim-protecting big man. Herro was the Heat's lone first-round pick on Thursday. They landed a first-round talent in Bol Bol in the second round but promptly traded him to Denver.

Miami's bigger problem is the sheer amount of salary on their books for underperforming role players like Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are in the final years of their giant deals and could be moved eventually, but until some of that money is off the books and they're able to get a new infusion of talent, the Heat are trapped in NBA purgatory.

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