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2021 NBA draft lottery projections and traded pick odds

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What is projected to happen in the 2021 NBA draft lottery?

This will be the third lottery since the NBA flattened the odds, which introduced more uncertainty at the top of the draft order. Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves won the lottery with the league’s third-worst record and the Charlotte Hornets jumped up to No. 3 after finishing with the ninth-worst record.

There’s a new wrinkle to the tank race this season: Teams that finish No. 9 or No. 10 in each conference will make the playoff play-in round. That gives more teams incentive to remain competitive through the end of the regular season rather than trying to help their lottery odds.

With some of the top prospects taking the court in the NCAA tournament and the NBA trade deadline approaching, here’s what you need to know about the most likely lottery winners and the traded picks at stake. We’ll use ESPN’s revamped Basketball Power Index (BPI) for projections.

MORE: Top draft prospects in the NCAA tournament


This year’s lottery odds

In 2019, the NBA began drawing the top four selections in the lottery with new odds for each slot. A full breakdown of those changes can be found here, but these are the key things to know:

  • The teams with the three worst records have the same odds for both the No. 1 pick (14%) and staying in the top four (52%).

  • The team with the worst record has a 47.9% chance to fall to No. 5.

  • Teams in slots 9 through 6 have a 20-37% chance of jumping into the top five. Previously, that range was 6-22%.

Here are this season’s current lottery odds via BPI, including each team’s play-in chances.

Minnesota Timberwolves | Expected position: 3.8

  • Top pick: 13.9%

  • Top three: 40.0%

  • Top five: 90.5%

  • Make play-in:

Houston Rockets | Expected position: 4.3

  • Top pick: 12.6%

  • Top three: 36.9%

  • Top five: 66.0%

  • Make play-in:

Detroit Pistons | Expected position: 4.4

  • Top pick: 12.8%

  • Top three: 36.1%

  • Top five: 62.6%

  • Make play-in: 0.3%

Cleveland Cavaliers | Expected position: 4.4

  • Top pick: 12.5%

  • Top three: 36.5%

  • Top five: 63.2%

  • Make play-in: 0.4%

Orlando Magic | Expected position: 4.9

  • Top pick: 11.1%

  • Top three: 33.3%

  • Top five: 52.9%

  • Make play-in: 2.0%

Washington Wizards | Expected position: 6.6

  • Top pick: 7.7%

  • Top three: 23.3%

  • Top five: 33.1%

  • Make play-in: 17.7%

Oklahoma City Thunder | Expected position: 6.8

  • Top pick: 7.2%

  • Top three: 22.2%

  • Top five: 31.5%

  • Make play-in: 7.1%

Sacramento Kings | Expected position: 8.5

  • Top pick: 5.1%

  • Top three: 16.0%

  • Top five: 22.4%

  • Make play-in: 14.0%

New York Knicks | Expected position: 9.3

  • Top pick: 4.0%

  • Top three: 12.3%

  • Top five: 17.2%

  • Make play-in: 45.9%

Chicago Bulls | Expected position: 10.1

  • Top pick: 3.3%

  • Top three: 10.2%

  • Top five: 14.2%

  • Make play-in: 59.3%

Memphis Grizzlies | Expected position: 10.6

  • Top pick: 2.9%

  • Top three: 9.7%

  • Top five: 13.6%

  • Make play-in: 40.1%

Atlanta Hawks | Expected position: 12.5

  • Top pick: 1.5%

  • Top three: 5.1%

  • Top five: 7.2%

  • Make play-in: 78.4%

San Antonio Spurs | Expected position: 12.7

  • Top pick: 1.7%

  • Top three: 5.7%

  • Top five: 7.9%

  • Make play-in: 67.9%

New Orleans Pelicans | Expected position: 12.8

  • Top pick: 1.6%

  • Top three: 5.3%

  • Top five: 7.4%

  • Make play-in: 69.7%

Indiana Pacers | Expected position: 13.5

  • Top pick: 1.2%

  • Top three: 3.6%

  • Top five: 5.0%

  • Make play-in: 79.1%


The top prospects

This lottery is all about the top five — a rare level of depth.

“The top five of this class is pretty spectacular — definitely one of the best I’ve seen in my nearly 20 years of covering the draft,” ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony wrote recently. “I have to think any team would be happy landing anywhere in this range.”

Here are those top five prospects, per scouting and inside intel from Givony and Mike Schmitz:

  • Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham: Establishing a tier of his own as the consensus No. 1 overall prospect, with Schmitz describing his game as a Luka DoncicJayson Tatum hybrid with shades of Khris Middleton.

  • USC center Evan Mobley: His defensive versatility, shooting potential and ability to handle and pass at 7 feet give him a ceiling that resembles something between Anthony Davis and Chris Bosh.

  • G League Ignite guard Jalen Green: An exciting perimeter shot-creator who could lead the league in scoring with his off-the-dribble shot-making and dynamic abilities at 6-foot-6.

  • G League Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga: The most physically impressive prospect in the draft — strong, quick and explosive at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan — with shot-creation potential.

  • Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs: The best player on the best team in the country thanks to his toughness and all-around feel for the game.

No team will enter the lottery with a better than 14% chance to land the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to draft Cunningham, but — pending trade obligations — the team that finishes with the worst record in the league is guaranteed to have an opening to pick one of these five prospects. Every other franchise will be hoping on the pingpong balls.


The traded picks

This loaded draft also features some key traded first-round picks to monitor heading into the deadline and the rest of the season. Here’s a rundown.

Wolves-Warriors

Minnesota will send its pick to Golden State if the selection falls outside of the top three. If the pick doesn’t convey this season, it becomes unprotected next year.

The Wolves are currently projected to finish with the league’s worst record, which would give them a 40% chance of staying in the top three and keeping their pick, but a 60% chance of sending the Warriors pick No. 4 or No. 5 and a chance to draft one of the star prospects.

Thunder-Rockets

OKC will receive the two most favorable first-rounders between its own pick, Houston’s pick and Miami’s pick, but the Houston pick is top-four protected. If Houston’s pick falls within the top four, then OKC receives its own first-rounder as well as Miami’s.

This one is going to be close. As long as the Rockets finish with a bottom-three record — projected as a likely outcome at this point — they will have a 52% chance of landing in the top four via the lottery drawing. A winning streak that vaults them out of the bottom three would start to hurt those odds.

In an unlikely yet plausible scenario, the rebuilding Thunder could end up with Cunningham at No. 1 via their own pick and the last remaining star prospect from the top five via the Rockets.

Mavs-Knicks

The Mavericks owe the Knicks their first-rounder unprotected this season. After a shaky start, Dallas has climbed up to No. 8 in the West with an 84.9% chance of making the playoffs, according to BPI projections.

It looks unlikely that this pick ends up in the lottery, but it’s still one to monitor. Given the unpredictable nature of this season and the flattened odds, a losing streak or a play-in dud that drops the Mavericks down the standings could turn into a valuable high-lottery pick for New York.

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Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown undergoes wrist surgery, expected to resume activities in 3 months

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Boston Celtics All-Star guard Jaylen Brown underwent successful wrist surgery Wednesday and is expected to return to basketball activities in approximately three months, the team announced Thursday.

This timeline for Brown would have him ready to return to the court in time for training camp.

The Celtics announced Monday that Brown, who averaged a career-high 24.7 points on 48.4% shooting, had a torn scapholunate ligament in his left wrist and would miss the remainder of the season.

Boston is familiar with the procedure as guard Romeo Langford had it Sept. 22. Langford was ready to make his debut in mid-March before he contracted COVID-19 — about 5½ months after the surgery.

Brown’s injury adds to what has been a frustrating season for the Celtics, who are officially headed to the play-in tournament.

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NBA creates Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award

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The NBA has created a new award in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s all-time leading scorer and a noted civil rights activist, that will recognize a player who best embodies his striving for social justice and racial equality, the league announced Thursday.

The winner of the inaugural Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award will be announced during the playoffs and will receive $100,000 from the league to donate to an organization of his choosing. Four additional finalists will receive $25,000.

“It’s nice to see the NBA try to promote social justice awareness, and I am very flattered they would see fit to name the award after me,” Abdul-Jabbar, 74, told The Undefeated. “I know I have some history with this, so I’m happy the way it’s worked out.”

All 30 NBA teams will nominate a player for the award, and finalists will be selected by a seven-person committee composed of league executives, activists and former NBA players.

Aside from being one of the sport’s greatest contributors, Abdul-Jabbar is also a man of conviction, who in the face of Jim Crow-era segregation and racial discrimination, took principled stands for the betterment and progress of African Americans.

Growing up in the Dyckman housing projects in New York City, Abdul-Jabbar was exposed to the governmental neglect of, and targeted injustices toward, poor, Black people. Incidents such as the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, when Abdul-Jabbar was just 8 years old, and the Harlem riots of 1964, sparked by the fatal shooting of James Powell, a 15-year-old Black boy, by a New York police officer, are what triggered Abdul-Jabbar’s ascent into racial politics.

“Right then and there I knew who I was and who I had to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1980. “I was going to be Black rage personified, Black power in the flesh.”

Abdul-Jabbar won three consecutive NCAA championships (1967 to 1969) while at UCLA. In between them, he, alongside famed sociologist Harry Edwards, helped organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City due to the then-recent assassinations of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and the continued mistreatment of Black people in America.

“It was too difficult for me to get enthusiastic about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court.”

While in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar and other famous Black male athletes, including Jim Brown and Bill Russell, organized the Cleveland Summit in support of world champion boxer Muhammad Ali’s decision to refuse entry into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

Today, Abdul-Jabbar sees many similarities in how athletes — such as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Maya Moore — have taken a measured approach to racial equality work much as he and others did during the civil rights movement.

“I’m glad that they’re taking their time and not rushing into it. If you go into trying to effect change with a chip on your shoulder, and a lot of anger, it really turns off the people that you’re trying to talk to,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who grew up on the teachings of adopted Harlem son Malcolm X before a chance encounter with King while in high school led him to a peaceful, direct action.

“And I am glad they’ve learned that lesson and have made a commitment to do it sensibly in a nonviolent and constructive way. That’s how we get change done. That’s how we managed to overcome the communication gaps and break through.”

Abdul-Jabbar said he hopes this award inspires young, up-and-coming basketball players to continue the work he and other athletes started some half-century ago amid heavy criticism and even death threats.

“They can’t be afraid. That’s the one thing that they can’t do, because if you’re going to give into fear, then we won’t achieve anything,” he said. “We have to have the courage to speak truth to power, and if we can do that, then get the others to feel that way, we can effect change.”

Abdul-Jabbar played in the NBA for 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, winning six championships (five with Los Angeles). Aside from points, Abdul-Jabbar is also the career leader in All-Star Game appearances (19) and MVP awards (six).

Outside of sports, Abdul-Jabbar has written 14 books; has starred in multiple films, most notably the 1980 hit “Airplane!”; and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama in 2016.

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Brooklyn Nets sign Mike James for remainder of season

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NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets are keeping Mike James for the rest of the season.

The Nets signed the guard to a contract Thursday after the expiration of his second 10-day deal.

James has appeared in 11 games, including starting in Brooklyn’s victory over San Antonio on Wednesday. He has averaged 7.1 points and 3.7 assists in 17.5 minutes per game.

He signed his first 10-day deal April 23 after spending the previous two seasons with CSKA Moscow. He has played most of his nine-year pro career in Europe.

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