It’s been 28 years since the Charlotte Hornets picked first overall in the NBA draft for the only time, selecting Larry Johnson.
So it feels like they’re overdue for some luck in Tuesday’s draft lottery in Chicago. However, the odds are against them; they have just a 4.7 percent chance of getting any of the top four picks in the weighted lottery for the June 20 draft. That’s compared to an 86.1 percent chance they will pick 12th.
Since 1985, the NBA has used a lottery to distribute the top picks in each draft as a way to discourage “tanking” (intentionally losing in pursuit of a franchise-changing player). Whether this actually curbs tanking is questionable, but awarding those picks as a game of chance live is good television (8:30 p.m. on ESPN).
This is one of those years when the lottery gets extra attention for a captivating player at the top of the draft: Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson is the presumed No. 1 pick regardless of who ends up with that selection.
Williamson is one of those once-a-decade players — as LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Patrick Ewing were in the past — who could so improve a franchise’s performance and profile that the league has a lottery. One transcendent player makes that much more difference in basketball, where there are only five starters and an elite big man or point guard can have so much predictable impact.
The NBA has tweaked the lottery rules over the years, and this time there is a slightly new system: Now, the league is awarding the top four picks via the lottery (as opposed to the top three in recent years). Also, the teams with the worst three records from last season (the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns) each gets a 14 percent chance of receiving the top pick (as opposed to the team with the worst record getting the best odds).
The Hornets will have only a 1 percent chance of receiving the top pick.
What’s at stake
Williamson, who averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds at Duke, is clearly the top prospect. But Murray State point guard Ja Morant and Duke guard-forward R.J. Barrett both look like impact picks.
This isn’t as deep a draft class as 2018, according to ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas. For instance, Hornets rookie Devonte Graham, who went early in the second round a year ago (34th overall) would be well into the first round in this draft class, Bilas says.
The NBA moved the lottery to Chicago last season so that it would be in the same city as the draft combine (Thursday through Sunday).
Bilas says if the Hornets end up picking 12th, there is still enough depth to provide a good player. He mentioned the two Gonzaga big men — Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke — as players who could be good fits for the Hornets’ needs (Although Hachimura could be a top-5 pick).
Assuming the Hornets don’t jump into the top-4, the lottery odds give them a 9 percent chance of picking 13th and a 0.2 percent chance of picking 14th. The Hornets could pick 13th or 14th only if the Miami Heat and/or the Sacramento Kings jump into the top-4, which is highly unlikely.
The Hornets don’t have one position of obvious need, but with this qualifier: If free agent-to-be Kemba Walker signs elsewhere, it would create a big hole at point guard, even with Graham on the roster. Free agency begins in July, about two weeks after the draft.
In addition to their first-round pick, the Hornets will have two second-round picks from prior trades — 36th overall and 52nd overall.