Prior to Tuesday night's Game 2 between the Clippers and Suns, the Detroit Pistons secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
One of three teams tied for the best odds to pick first, Detroit – represented virtually by a gracefully aged Ben Wallace – will have the top pick for the first time in 51 years. Assuming they hold onto the pick, it will be Detroit's highest selection since taking Darko Milicic with the second overall pick in 2003 – a draft that produced no other relevant players whatsoever. None at all.
The Houston Rockets – one of the teams tied with Detroit for the best odds – landed the second pick, while Cleveland jumped up to No. 3 and the Toronto Raptors leaped up to No. 4. Meanwhile, the Magic – the third team with the best odds – dropped down to the fifth pick, while the Thunder tumbled to the sixth pick. By virtue of Houston remaining in the top four, the Rockets kept their pick, which would have otherwise been sent to Oklahoma City. So, overall, not a great night for the Thunder.
The Timberwolves drew the No. 7 spot, so their pick, which was top-three-protected, will be sent to Golden State as part of the D'Angelo Russell trade. It's a similar story at No. 8 for Chicago, which will ship the pick to Orlando thanks to the Nikola Vucevic deal. The Bulls also owe the Magic their top-four-protected pick in 2022.
Beyond the eighth pick, the rest of the selections shook out in the expected order, based on the pre-lottery odds. Let's take a closer look at the seven teams with the most on the line come draft night on July 29.
1. Detroit Pistons
The big winners on lottery night, the Pistons will have their highest pick since The Darko Draft in 2003. It's a fortuitous break for a franchise that has a few pieces in place but desperately needs an infusion of star power. The assumption is that Cade Cunningham will be the pick – he apparently plans to only meet with the Pistons – but it's possible Jalen Green, Evan Mobley or Jalen Suggs could work their way into the conversation over the next month.
If the Pistons do go with Cunningham, he'd immediately step in as the primary ball-handler and playmaker and be in the best fantasy spot of any rookie. Detroit is mired in a multi-year rebuild, so getting Cunningham plenty of reps should be the franchise's top priority. Of course, that could complicate things for last year's lottery pick, Killian Hayes, who missed most of his rookie season with a hip injury. Hayes showed some flashes near the end of the season and still has plenty of upside, but he's not the same caliber of prospect as Cunningham, so pushing Hayes off the ball isn't a huge concern.
2. Houston Rockets
Ben Wallace prevailed over Hakeem Olajuwon for the top pick, but Houston is still in a great spot to add an instant-impact rookie to its core of John Wall, Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae'Sean Tate. While Wall is still a big name and a max-contract player, his presence shouldn't keep the Rockets from considering Green or Suggs at No. 2. If the Rockets go with one of those guards, Wall's presence – assuming he's still on the roster – is somewhat of a concern for fantasy purposes, but he's a constant injury risk and his touches wouldn't be prioritized over developing a potential future All-Star.
Mobley will also get heavy consideration, though if Houston views Wood as a long-term cornerstone, there may be some concern about how that pair fits together. Both are versatile, modern big men, but they're also slim-framed and have similar skill sets. Either way, the Rockets are just happy they didn't fall out of the top four and lose their pick to the Thunder.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
After a recent spell of bad luck, by their standards, the Cavs were up to their old tricks on lottery night. This time, Cleveland didn't jump all the way up to No. 1, but the Cavs secured a top-three pick and essentially guaranteed that they'll have a shot at one of Mobley, Green, Suggs or Jonathan Kuminga.
Having drafted Isaac Okoro, Darius Garland and Collin Sexton in the last three lotteries, the Cavs already have solid young talent in the backcourt, but would that preclude them from taking Suggs or Green? Garland, in particular, took a big step forward this season, so ultimately it will depend on how the Cavs feel about Collin Sexton's long-term development. If Cleveland were to add another guard, it's possible Sexton could eventually end up in the sixth man role some believe could ultimately suit him best.
4. Toronto Raptors
Perhaps the biggest winners at the lottery, it feels like the basketball gods were atoning for the Raptors having to spend a miserable 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida. There's no question Toronto blatantly tanked its way out of the playoff picture down the stretch, but, hey… it worked.
Glancing at the top of the draft, the Raptors are the obvious odd team out. They're two years removed from winning a title and one year removed from nearly making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. No other high-lottery team has a core like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Gary Trent along with perhaps the best young coach in the league. If the Raptors nail this pick, taking one year off from contending for a championship will have been well worth it.
At No. 4, Toronto will have to wait to see how the chips fall, but (at least) two of Green, Mobley, Suggs and Kuminga will be there. With Kyle Lowry likely moving on, a guard would probably make the most sense. Suggs, in particular, would be close to an ideal fit for a team that would look to simultaneously develop the rookie and contend in the Eastern Conference.
5. Orlando Magic
The Magic moved down a couple of spots, but they made up for it by officially nabbing the Bulls' pick at No. 8 as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade. At 5 and 8, Orlando will have a chance to add a pair of impact rookies, though it's also possible the Magic could try to package those picks in an NFL-style attempt to move up. Orlando has young players in place at virtually every position, so if they hold on to both picks, it should be a best player available approach.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Going into lottery night, the Thunder's best-case scenario was landing a pair of top-five picks in a five-player draft. The best best case was getting the No. 1 pick plus Houston's top-four-protected pick at No. 5 (the only spot it could land outside of the top four). Ultimately, the Thunder's own pick fell out of the top five, while Houston landed at No. 2, avoiding what would've been a disastrous scenario stemming from the Russell Westbrook trade.
Considering what could've been, the Thunder came away as the biggest losers on lottery night. They can still land a high-upside talent like Davion Mitchell or Keon Johnson at No. 6, but the prevailing belief is that there's a decent gap between the top five prospects and the rest of the bunch. Long-term, the Thunder still have an embarrassment of draft capital – OKC also owns Boston's and Miami's first-round picks in 2021 – but there's no dodging the fact that this is a pretty significant letdown, especially with an Oklahoma State product sitting atop the draft board.
7. Golden State Warriors (via MIN)
While the Timberwolves are in no position to be forking over lottery picks, they have to be somewhat relieved that they're only handing Golden State the seventh overall pick. It's still a valuable asset, but the pick was just top-three protected. And had it not conveyed in 2021, the Warriors would've received Minnesota's 2022 first-round pick completely unprotected.
For Golden State, which also has its own pick at 14, this will be another chance to add a long-term piece and attempt to rejuvenate the supporting cast around Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and a soon-to-be-healthy Klay Thompson. As they learned last year, however, the Warriors can't necessarily bank on landing a starting-caliber player – especially picking five spots below where they took James Wiseman. Maybe the front office falls in love with a mid-lottery prospect, but it's also possible Golden State could attach the pick to a package geared toward landing a win-now piece.