NBA draft lottery: Zion favorites, traded picks and tank races

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The race for consensus No. 1 overall NBA draft prospect Zion Williamson is on. But this tankathon will be different from that of past seasons.

This is the first year under the lottery reform rules passed in September 2017 -- more of an incremental step to deter blatant tanking than a complete overhaul. Every loss at the bottom of the standings is now less valuable.

Here's how the new system works, which teams are in the best position entering March, the traded picks to watch and more draft intrigue.

More: Mock draft | Top 100 prospects | Traded picks Insider


How the new NBA draft lottery works

The NBA now draws the top four picks through the lottery instead of the top three, with the teams' chances of a winning selection flattened.

Here are the new odds for the 14 lottery slots compared to the old ones:

Some key insights to know:

  • The difference between finishing with the worst record and the third-worst record has shrunk. The bottom three teams have the same odds at both the No. 1 pick (14 percent) and staying in the top four (12 percent). The main difference: You're more likely to fall out of the top five with a better record.

  • The gap starts with the fourth-worst team, though the difference isn't huge. The fourth-worst team can fall as far as No. 8, but on average that pick falls around No. 4 or No. 5.

  • The worst team has a 47.9 percent chance to fall to No. 5. The lowest a team could fall under the old system was No. 4, and there was just a 35.7 percent chance of that happening.

  • Look at the middle of the lottery: Teams with the sixth- through ninth-worst records have (in some cases) doubled their chances of landing in the top five. Though the expected picks for teams in the bottom half of the lottery moved up less than one pick -- according to data from the NBA in a report by ESPN's Zach Lowe -- there's inevitably going to be more random movement over time.

Projecting the strength of any draft is challenging, but this is an interesting year to start having identical odds for the No. 1 pick and a top-four selection among the worst teams. Despite a lingering injury, Williamson is a runaway No. 1 pick, and the second tier of prospects behind him goes about three deep, including RJ Barrett, Ja Morant and Cam Reddish. ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony said on last week's Woj Pod that teams have more questions about the prospects in the Nos. 5-10 range.


Lottery projections

Here are the latest odds for each likely lottery team, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI).

  • The Phoenix Suns (17.5 projected wins), New York Knicks (18.6) and Cleveland Cavaliers (19.3) have a decent lead on earning those coveted top-three spots and an equal chance at Williamson, per BPI. (FiveThirtyEight projects a similar finish.)

  • The Chicago Bulls (23.1) and Atlanta Hawks (26.2) aren't out of this race, but they have some ground to make up. And remember: We're talking about much smaller differences in lottery odds between slots. If the Bulls finish fourth, they have a 12.5 percent chance at No. 1 and a 48.1 percent chance at a top-four pick. If they move up to third, those odds bump up by only 1.5 and 4.0 percentage points, respectively


The traded picks

Here are the protected and traded picks to know about in the lottery, along with BPI's projections on where they land:

Mavericks-Hawks

The Mavericks owe their pick to the Hawks if it falls outside the top five. If not conveyed, the pick remains top-five protected in 2020, falls to top-three protected until 2022 and becomes unprotected in 2023.

  • Chances Dallas keeps its pick: 14.9 percent

  • Chances Atlanta gets a top-10 pick from Dallas this year: 37.6 percent

Grizzlies-Celtics

The Grizzlies owe their pick to the Celtics if it falls outside the top eight. If not conveyed, the pick falls to top-six protected in 2020 and then becomes unprotected in 2021.

  • Chances Memphis keeps its pick: 91.4 percent

  • Chances Boston gets a top-10 pick from Memphis this year: 8.0 percent

Clippers-Celtics

The Clippers owe their pick to the Celtics if it falls outside the lottery. If not conveyed, the pick remains lottery protected in 2020 and then converts to a 2022 second-round pick.

  • Chances LA keeps its pick this year: 10.4 percent

Kings-Celtics-76ers

The Kings owe their pick to the Celtics unprotected, but the 76ers will get the selection if this becomes the No. 1 pick. In that scenario, Boston would get Philadelphia's pick.

  • Chances Sacramento is in the lottery: 88.4 percent

  • Chances Boston gets a top-10 pick from Sacramento: 7.6 percent

  • Chances Philadelphia gets the No. 1 pick from Sacramento: 1.0 percent

Cavaliers-Hawks

The Cavaliers owe their pick to the Hawks if it falls outside the top 10. If not conveyed, the pick remains top-10 protected in 2020 and then converts to second-round picks in 2021 and 2022.

  • Chances Cleveland keeps its pick: Greater than 99 percent


The tank race

The new odds lower the stakes to lose every game in the tank race, but top-five picks remain some of the best assets in this league. Plus, there are protected selections at stake. There's bound to still be some gamesmanship along the way.

Here's a breakdown of the remaining schedule for the bottom eight teams, using BPI.

Keep in mind that top teams resting their best players at the end of the regular season isn't guaranteed. Home-court advantage throughout the playoffs remains a toss-up and could go down to the wire.

Suns

  • Strength of schedule: 13th hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 2

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 2

  • Last 10 games: 1-9

Cavaliers

  • Strength of schedule: 9th hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 1

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 5

  • Last 10 games: 4-6

Knicks

  • Strength of schedule: 17th hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 3

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 3

  • Last 10 games: 3-7

Bulls

  • Strength of schedule: 22nd hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 5

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 2

  • Last 10 games: 5-5

Hawks

  • Strength of schedule: 5th hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 2

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 2

  • Last 10 games: 4-6

Grizzlies

  • Strength of schedule: 11th hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 2

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 2

  • Last 10 games: 4-6

Wizards

  • Strength of schedule: 18th hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 4

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 4

  • Last 10 games: 3-7

Mavericks

  • Strength of schedule: 16th hardest

  • Games against BPI bottom-five teams: 2

  • Games against BPI top-five teams: 2

  • Last 10 games: 4-6

BPI top five: Bucks, Warriors, Raptors, Celtics, Nuggets

BPI bottom five: Suns, Cavaliers, Knicks, Bulls, Hawks