It's almost draft season.
While we're more than a month away from the 2021 NBA Draft, the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery is fast approaching.
On June 22, each team that missed out on the playoffs will find out where they will be selecting in this year's draft. The Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic enter the night with the best odds of getting the No. 1 pick, but it's not rare for a team with low odds to win the lottery.
Adding to the intrigue of the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery is there are a couple of teams that could earn multiple lottery picks depending on where the ping-pong balls land.
With that in mind, here are the most interesting storylines entering this year's NBA Draft Lottery.
Who wins the Cade Cunningham sweepstakes?
We might as well start here.
As deep as the 2021 NBA Draft is considered to be, there is widely considered to be a clear No. 1: Cade Cunningham.
In his one and only season at Oklahoma State, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game on .438/.400/.846 shooting splits. A 6-foot-8 guard who weighs in at 220 pounds, NBA.com's Kyle Irving projects him to be a franchise cornerstone who has shades of Luka Doncic and Jimmy Butler in his game.
Cunningham is a franchise-altering talent with elite playmaking skills. He commands the pace of the game as a jumbo guard who can score with ease from all three levels. A versatile defender with a high motor and a knack for making winning plays.
The Rockets, Pistons and Magic each have a 14.0 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick that is expected to turn into Cunningham, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers, each of whom have a 11.5 percent chance of moving up to No. 1. Following them: Minnesota Timberwolves (9.0 percent), Toronto Raptors (7.5 percent), Chicago Bulls (4.5 percent), Sacramento Kings (4.5 percent) and New Orleans Pelicans (4.5 percent).
The four other teams in the lottery have less than a 2.0 percent chance of getting the top pick.
|Team||No. 1 Pick|
|4||Oklahoma City Thunder||11.5%|
|10||New Orleans Pelicans||4.5%|
|12||San Antonio Spurs||1.7%|
|14||Golden State Warriors||0.5%|
For what it's worth, the Pelicans had a 6.0 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick in 2019, which they used to select Zion Williamson. The Cavaliers had even lower odds (1.7 percent) of getting the No. 1 pick in 2014, which they used to select Andrew Wiggins.
What happens with the Minnesota pick?
At last season's trade deadline, the Timberwolves and Warriors agreed to a deal centered around D'Angelo Russell and Andrew Wiggins.
While both Russell and Wiggins were difference-makers for their respective teams this season, the most interesting part of the trade was the protected first-round pick the Timberwolves sent to the Warriors. The pick is top-three protected in 2021, meaning the Timberwolves keep it if they earn a top-three pick. If their pick falls outside of the top three, however, it goes to the Warriors.
The kicker? If Golden State doesn't get Minnesota's pick this season, it becomes unprotected in 2022.
Timberwolves 2021 pick protected to No. 3, and becomes unprotected in 2022, per sources. Minnesota kept pushing for Russell, who it has wanted since summer free agency and finally got the point guard Gerssson Rosas imagined pairing with KAT. https://t.co/kfDNvsdBHX- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 6, 2020
Having finished the season with a better record than the Rockets (17-55), Pistons (20-52), Magic (21-51), Thunder (22-50) and Cavaliers (22-50), the Timberwolves (23-49) have a 27.6 percent chance of landing a top-three pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Of course, that means they have a 72.4 percent chance of it landing outside of the top three, so the most likely outcome is that their first-round pick in the upcoming draft goes to the Warriors.
Golden State might prefer to have Minnesota's unprotected pick next season, but the 2021 NBA Draft isn't exactly short on talent. While Cunningham and Evan Mobley almost certainly aren't going to be available outside of the top three, the Warriors could have an opportunity to add someone like Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Kuminga, Scottie Barnes, Keon Johnson or Moses Moody to their core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
The Warriors would also have the option of using whatever the pick ends up being to go after someone who is better prepared to help them win next season.
The Timberwolves are in good shape moving forward with D'Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, but they're going to miss out on a first-round selection either this year or next depending on what happens in the lottery.
With how much is at stake for both teams, all eyes will be on where Minnesota's pick lands.
The rebuilds begin
The rebuild has already begun in Oklahoma City, but the Thunder will continue to build for the future with three first-round picks in the 2021 NBA Draft.
In addition to having their own first-round pick and Boston's No. 16 pick, the Thunder acquired a pick swap from the Rockets when they traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul in 2019.
What you need to know about that pick swap: Oklahoma City earns Miami's late first-round pick if Houston lands a top-four pick in the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery. If Houston's pick falls outside of the top four, Oklahoma City gets it.
Owners of the league's worst record, the most likely outcome (52.1 percent) for the Rockets is they keep their first-round pick, but there's still a 47.9 percent chance of it falling to five. In which case, the Thunder would get it, giving the franchise not one, but two lottery picks in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Whether they get Houston or Miami's first-round pick, the Thunder are going to add more first-round talent around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a breakout season in 2020-21 with averages of 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game, but the possibility of them getting two top-five picks in this draft could make them big winners of the lottery.
Another team that could end up with two lottery picks? The Magic.
In addition to their own first-round pick, the Magic netted a top-four protected first-round pick from the Bulls in the Nikola Vucevic trade at this season's trade deadline. Chicago's pick is likely to be conveyed to Orlando, as the Bulls have only a 20.2 percent chance of landing a top-four pick.
The Magic don't already have a Gilgeous-Alexander type of player on their roster, but getting two of the top-10 players in this draft class would accelerate their rebuild in a big way.
Don't call it a comeback
Not all of the teams in the lottery are in the same situation.
Following an up-and-down season that saw them finish with a 27-45 record, the Raptors will be looking to add a young prospect to their battle-tested core in the hopes of a quick turnaround. The Raptors are most likely (33.9 percent) to end up with the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but they have a 31.9 percent chance of landing a top-four pick.
There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to what the Raptors could look like next season - Kyle Lowry and Khem Birch will both be unrestricted free agents at the season's end while Gary Trent Jr. will be a restricted free agent - but pairing Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby with Cunningham, Mobley or Suggs would set them up for a lot of success, both next season and beyond.
MORE: Why Mobley would be a perfect fit with Raptors
Even if the Raptors fall to their projected pick at No. 8, there will be plenty of talent to choose from. Three players in particular NBA.com's Kyle Irving believes would best fit what the Raptors are looking for: Baylor's Davion Mitchell, Tennessee's Keon Johnson and Texas' Kai Jones.
Whichever pick the Raptors end up with, this will be their first time selecting in the lottery since they drafted Jakob Poeltl ninth overall in 2016. Based on how well they've built this roster without many high draft picks, expect them to make the most of it.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.