This summer as the Utah Jazz have traded away franchise cornerstones Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, the largely prevailing thought has been that the team will be in position for a top draft pick next summer.
There is good reason for Jazz fans to want a top pick, as many consider prospects such as French big man Victor Wembanyama and G League guard Scoot Henderson to be outstanding talents.
But how bad will the Jazz actually have to be next season in order to get a top pick? In short, worse than perhaps many realize.
For the argument’s sake, let’s call a “top pick” one of the first three of the draft, as the teams with the three worst records in the league during the 2022-23 season will all have equal odds of landing the top pick, at 14% (that changed in 2019. Before then, the worst team had a 25% chance, the second-worst had a 19.9% chance and the third-worst had a 15.6% chance).
Since 2019 when the lottery odds changed, the team with the third-worst record in the league has finished with an average of just 20.5 wins.
The Detroit Pistons won 23 last season, the Orlando Magic won 21 year before that, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers won 19 in 2020 and the Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns won 19 in 2019.
Again, that is the average of just the third-worst team the past four seasons. The worst team (the Houston Rockets, Rockets, Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks) has finished with an average of just 17.25 wins.
Perhaps a necessary caveat is that teams played a couple of fewer games in the 2019-20 season because of the pandemic, but you get the idea: Teams at the very bottom of the league are just really bad.
This brings us to the Jazz. Even with just a week to go until training camp begins next Tuesday, there are still questions about what the roster will look like a few days, weeks and months from now.
Sure, Utah is minus Gobert and Mitchell, but it still has the likes of Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley, important players on teams that have won a lot of games with the Jazz over the past few years.
Contrast that with players such as Kenyon Martin Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, Eric Paschall and Kevin Knox — who led the worst teams above in games played the season they were awful — and it’s pretty clear to see that Utah has a superior roster, even if it may not be a great one.
In other words, it’s fair to think that it could be tough for the Jazz, as presently constituted, to lose enough games to get a top three pick next summer, because they’ll have to be really bad in order to do so.
Whether or not that is a good thing can be up for debate, but the good news is that the 2023 draft is a deep one. Of course drafts are always a crapshoot, but there are numerous players expected to still be on the board even later in the lottery who are expected to be very good in the NBA.
As such, it may be healthier to shift expectations away from landing a player such as Wembanyama or Henderson (barring lottery luck, of course) and start thinking that drafting somewhere in the back half of the lottery is more realistic.