Buying or Selling Every Lottery Team Making NBA Playoffs Next Year

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 23, 2020

Buying or Selling Every Lottery Team Making NBA Playoffs Next Year

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The NBA might sometimes have a predictable feel, but organizational identities change every year.

    Some playoff teams will lose their spots the following season, and a batch of up-and-coming lottery participants are always ready to claim them. Those up-and-comers have our attention here.

    Based on what we witnessed this season and what we project is possible for the offseason, we're buying and selling the 2020-21 playoff chances of each lottery team.

Atlanta Hawks: Selling

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Hawks keep attempting to accelerate their rebuild, and with Trae Young already having engineered his All-Star ascension, the thought process makes some sense. Clearly, Atlanta thinks it's close, as the drafting of De'Andre Hunter and deadline deal for Clint Capela felt like searches for the final puzzle piece.

    But save for the internal desire to compete, what's the rush? John Collins is the senior member of this young nucleus—assuming he isn't traded—and hasn't even turned 23 yet. Young, the centerpiece, is only 21. Even Capela is just 26 and should still be working toward his prime, since he hasn't received major minutes until the last three seasons.

    Unless the Hawks strike gold in free agency—other than Brandon Ingram, who is going nowhere, it's hard to find a great fit—their core needs more developmental time. They went just 20-47 this season and outperformed their scoring differential, which said they should have gone 16-51. They couldn't even tread water with Young (minus-4.9 points per 100 possessions), and they drowned without him (minus-12.2).

    This doesn't dim Atlanta's future, which appears among the brightest of all the rebuilders. But it should dampen expectations for next season. Player development should eventually be Atlanta's ticket to the second season, but patience is a vital part of this process.

Charlotte Hornets: Selling

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Who is the centerpiece for the Kemba Walker-less Charlotte Hornets?

    Devonte' Graham got the most attention on this season's squad (and deserved it), but he's a 37.5 percent shooter through two seasons. Terry Rozier makes the most money of the long-term keepers, but he's a sub-40.0 percent shooter and supplier of only 4.2 assists per 36 minutes for his career. Miles Bridges plays a loud game, but it lacks substance. Malik Monk is theoretically interesting, but the stat sheet doesn't see it.

    P.J. Washington might be the answer, which is great news for him but not such a glowing review of the franchise. If his shooting sustains (37.4 from three, but only 64.7 at the line), he will have the Swiss army knife skills of a two-way glue guy. Every team needs one of those—but player powers aren't built around them.

    The Hornets could make a splash in free agency—Brandon Ingram is the dream, but Montrezl Harrell and Christian Wood are the more realistic targets—and it still wouldn't change this projection. The lack of top-shelf talent is too much to overcome.

Chicago Bulls: Buying

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls were supposed to make their leap this season, so betting on the same core to actually get it done next year seems a tenuous proposition.

    Only it's not the same core. Head coach Jim Boylen is out, and the front office has been overhauled. Zach LaVine just authored his most productive campaign to date. Coby White has an Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award under his belt. A hopefully healthy Otto Porter Jr. offers difference-making potential, as NBC Sports Chicago's Rob Schaefer detailed:

    "Porter remains, on paper, just about the optimal player to slot into the Bulls' current core starting lineup. A versatile wing defender capable of checking 1-4, marksman of an outside shooter and effective slasher, the theoretical vision of him is the ideal low-usage, high-efficiency, dirty-work small forward to run alongside LaVine, White and Lauri Markkanen."

    Chicago needs a productive offseason—hiring the right coach is a must, and finding an advanced playmaker is a close second on the priority list—but the pieces appear in place to make a playoff run. If Markkanen redirects his trajectory, White continues his climb, Porter stays healthy and Wendell Carter Jr. finds his comfort spot, the Bulls should have better than a puncher's chance of securing a postseason spot.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Selling

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Cavaliers haven't even sniffed the playoffs since LeBron James' latest departure from Northeast Ohio. They have 19 wins to show for each of the past two seasons, a stretch in which they have employed four different head coaches.

    But don't tell that to team chairman Dan Gilbert, who is apparently itching for the club's first LeBron-less playoff trip since 1997-98.

    "Now two years into the rebuild, Gilbert is turning up the pressure for the Cavs to show real improvement next season," The Athletic's Jason Lloyd reported.

    It's unclear what "real improvement" means, but the Cavs could really improve and still land well outside the postseason picture. Despite Gilbert's impatience, that shouldn't be the focus, anyway. Cleveland is going nowhere fast, so the real significance of next season is tied directly to the ongoing development of Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr., Darius Garland and Dylan Windler.

Detroit Pistons: Selling

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The Detroit Pistons are trapped between two time frames.

    One still holds the hopes of the recent past, manifested in the forms of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. The other focuses on a brighter tomorrow, one Detroit has already deemed better without Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris.

    Griffin and Rose were meant to be impact players in the Motor City, but their priorities have transformed to long-term leadership duties. The Pistons are about knee-deep into a youth movement, and they need as many of their youngsters to hit as possible. It's on Griffin and Rose to do anything in their power to help facilitate that growth.

    Frankly, it's an overdue process, and the organization helped itself by recognizing that fact. The Pistons will be better for this experience in the long run, but their outlook shows a cloud of losses waiting to unload on Southeast Michigan.

Golden State Warriors: Buying

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Golden State Warriors stock is the kind you buy no matter the price. If this club missed next year's postseason, it would rank among the biggest shocks in NBA history.

    Assuming the Warriors have healthy versions of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lining up alongside Draymond Green, they will enter the campaign with realistic championship dreams. Those were three pillars in the organization's dynastic three-titles-in-four-years run, so a rise from worst to first is by no means out of the question.

    "In the last five years, the only times that trio has been defeated in a playoff series have come when one or more of them was seriously injured or controversially suspended," NBC Sports Bay Area's Brian Witt wrote. "Since Steve Kerr took over as head coach, they have never been defeated in a series when at full strength."

    The Curry-Thompson-Green triumvirate is enough to make Golden State a playoff lock, and the potential opportunities to expand this core boost its championship chances. With Andrew Wiggins in the fold, the No. 2 pick to trade or develop and a massive trade exception at the ready, the Dubs could wind up being so much more than their historic three-headed monster.

Memphis Grizzlies: Selling

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The Memphis Grizzlies' rebuild is ahead of schedule, but that hardly means it's finished.

    Memphis, which fought its way into the play-in series before falling short of a playoff berth, understands this season's success doesn't change the timeline. If it did, the club wouldn't have prioritized potential at the trade deadline, when it turned Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and Andre Iguodala into whatever the future holds for Justise Winslow.

    That's no slight on the nucleus. The Grizzlies were solid this season, landing 16th in winning percentage and 17th in net efficiency rating. Given how little was expected of them, it was no less than invigorating to watch them follow the leads of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and first-year head coach Taylor Jenkins as they obliterated all realistic projections.

    But Morant is only 21 years old. Jackson hasn't even celebrated his 21st birthday yet. Winslow, Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and De'Anthony Melton are all under the age of 25. The club might've been better than expected, but it's still a group geared toward the future. Given how congested the Western Conference should be next season, it wouldn't be such a bad thing for this core to get another year to grow and another crack at the draft lottery.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Buying

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Is this a case of the celebratory champagne from the Minnesota Timberwolves' lottery win emboldening us with liquid courage? It's possible, since we're clearly taking a leap of faith on a franchise with all of one playoff trip since 2004.

    But why not bet on the Timberwolves? Their offense is in the hands of two All-Stars who could work two-man magic together in Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. They might have a third fireballer in Malik Beasley, who should've guaranteed his return in restricted free agency with his scorching 14-game run with Minnesota (20.7 points per game on 47.2/42.6/75.0 shooting).

    Then, there are myriad possibilities attached to the No. 1 pick.

    "We're excited about the potential level of player that we can add to our organization, but at the same time, we're going to be very aggressive," Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said, per Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. "We're going to look at every avenue to improve this team."

    If the Wolves stand pat, they might find a three-level scorer in Anthony Edwards or a preternatural passer with limitless range in LaMelo Ball. If they move the pick, they might find avenues to John Collins, Victor Oladipo or Zach LaVine. If the team from the Gopher State maximizes the value of this pick and accelerates the development of last summer's No. 6 selection, Jarrett Culver, it can rocket into the playoff picture.

New Orleans Pelicans: Selling

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Pelicans can and should carry playoff expectations into next season.

    They played nearly .500 ball (13-15) and posted the 11th-best net rating (plus-1.8) once Zion Williamson debuted. They have a breakout star in Brandon Ingram (who should have a max offer awaiting him once the market opens), a wildly underrated two-way asset in Jrue Holiday, a perimeter sharpshooter in JJ Redick and several candidates to contribute to internal improvement (starting with Lonzo Ball).

    But adding new teams to the West playoff picture requires bumping other ones out, and the numbers game might be the undoing of the team from the Big Easy. All eight 2019-20 postseason participants will reasonably expect to return, and it's hard to find regression candidates in that field. We anticipate a few changes to the bracket, but good teams—like the Pelicans—will miss the cut.

    That will feel like a gut punch for an organization hoping that a coaching change can be the final piece of its playoff puzzle. But this isn't as damning as it seems. The Pels boast one of the best young cores in the business, and once they make their postseason debut, they could hold that spot for a decade.

New York Knicks: Selling

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Another draft lottery, another body blow to the snake-bitten New York Knicks. The 'Bockers, who haven't moved up in the lottery since 1985, fell from sixth to eighth.

    Even in an apparently down draft year, that's a disaster. The Knicks need young talent in the worst kind of way. Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett seem like long-term keepers, but does anyone else on the roster wear that label? Frank Ntilikina has no offensive identity. Kevin Knox II has some NBA tools but maybe no NBA skills. Dennis Smith Jr. couldn't lock down a rotation spot on an abysmal team with major point guard problems.

    So, yes, missing out on LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards is a huge deal. The fall to No. 8 could even cost them a shot at second-tier targets Obi Toppin, Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes or Isaac Okoro.

    It's a lost opportunity all around—but it has no bearing on this projection. The Knicks could've won the lottery, and they still wouldn't have sniffed next year's playoffs. As wide-open as the back end of the East playoff seeds can be, the Knicks—who have more losses than anyone over the past six seasons—are nowhere near a postseason berth.

Phoenix Suns: Buying

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Phoenix Suns' bubble breakout perfectly punctuated a productive season for the franchise. While their 8-0 record wasn't enough to punch a postseason ticket, it did highlight how Phoenix sits prominently among the NBA's rising rosters.

    A 34-39 finish may not seem like much, but it marked the Suns' highest winning percentage in five seasons and didn't fully capture how well they played. Based on their scoring differential, they were expected to go 37-36, giving them the 14th-highest expected winning percentage—best among all non-playoff teams. The Suns also landed 14th in net rating and simple rating system, which combines point differential and strength of schedule.

    The bubble spotlight showed how much talent Phoenix has on hand, starting with first-time All-Star Devin Booker. Formerly dinged as a stats-over-substance non-star, the Suns' leading scorer and second-best distributor made them 6.5 points better per 100 possessions this season.

    "I've been a fan of his since he was in college," Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. "His game has really grown."

    The Suns have grown around Booker, too, and that process should continue. Deandre Ayton may make the team's next All-Star leap, Mikal Bridges will command All-Defensive consideration sooner than later, and Cameron Johnson seemingly adjusted his trajectory for the better by landing in the stretch-4 spot. Phoenix's future is bright, so don't be surprised when it finally snaps its decadelong playoff drought next season.

Sacramento Kings: Selling

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    If the Sacramento Kings entered this campaign with any questions of whether they could build around De'Aaron Fox, those should be answered. The speedy floor general propped up his squad on a nightly basis, and he might have had an All-Bubble argument had the Kings remained in playoff contention throughout the seeding round (26.2 points and 7.3 assists per game over his six outings).

    "I definitely feel confident that we're seeing what kind of player we're going to have here as the future plays out," Kings coach Luke Walton told NBC Sports Bay Area's James Ham.

    The issue is the Kings are painfully short on clarity around Fox. Drafting Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic looks like an all-time gaffe—the executive who made that call in 2018, Vlade Divac, recently stepped down—and giving Buddy Hield $94 million only to watch him lose his starting spot can't be comforting. The solidly unspectacular Harrison Barnes is paid like a star. The same could soon be true of restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic.

    Unless Bagley becomes whatever Divac thought he could be, what can change Sacramento's fate next season? The Kings stood pat at No. 12 during the lottery, so the draft may not be much help. Walton's plans to play fast have never come to fruition, and Sacramento actually had a bottom-half pace (19th). It doesn't have an especially young rotation, which limits the potential for internal improvement.

    So, even if the Kings have a rising star in Fox, it'll take a lot more for them to traverse the West.

San Antonio Spurs: Selling

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    The bubble became a time machine for the San Antonio Spurs, shifting them out of a period defined by sustained success and into an unknown future with more potential than anyone could've realized.

    With LaMarcus Aldridge shelved by shoulder surgery, San Antonio leaned into youth-heavy, small-ball lineups. The results were as encouraging as anything that took place in the Alamo City all season.

    The quartet of Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Jakob Poeltl and DeMar DeRozan blitzed opponents by 7.6 points per 100 possessions. Swap in Dejounte Murray for Walker, and the number jumped to 8.9. With Murray, Walker, Poeltl and Keldon Johnson, San Antonio was a whopping plus-20.3 (albeit in only 25 minutes).

    "It's the best part of the whole environment," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, per Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News.

    The Spurs now have an outline for their next chapter, but they aren't writing it just yet. Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are under contract for next season, and DeRozan will be whenever he makes the easy call to pick up his $27.7 million player option. San Antonio might spend the campaign stuck between two eras, then, and neither side seems capable of shouldering a playoff run.

Washington Wizards: Buying

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Washington Wizards aren't worried about their 25-47 record, nor the 50-loss season that preceded it. All of this campaign and the majority of that one were played without five-time All-Star John Wall, who is nearing the end of his lengthy rehab from a ruptured Achilles tendon and, Washington hopes, can soon be back to normal.

    "He's played enough to see that he's going to be just fine," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said in March, per NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes. "He's going to be the John that we all love. He's going to be one of the best point guards in the league when he comes back."

    Admittedly, that seems a big ask. Wall will be 30 the next time he takes the floor, and so much of his game is built around blistering speed. If age, injuries or both have slowed him down, it's hard to say how helpful he can be.

    Saying that, the Wizards have elevated themselves in other spots. Bradley Beal just played his most productive campaign. Davis Bertans emerged as an elite shooter. Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant had encouraging runs through the bubble, and Rui Hachimura engineered an impressive rookie season before hitting roadblocks in the bubble.

    If Wall is anywhere close to the player he used to be, the Wizards will have one of the Association's better backcourts and an improved supporting cast around it. That should be enough for Washington to claim one of the East's final playoff tickets.


    All stats courtesy of, Basketball Reference and Stathead unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.