Hawks hoping to defy odds in Sunday’s lottery for critical NBA draft

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces that the Atlanta Hawks won the third pick during the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Chicago.

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces that the Atlanta Hawks won the third pick during the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Chicago.

The Hawks learn their fate Sunday for next month’s two-day NBA draft. Though this year’s class may not have the flash or splendor of last year’s or what is expected for next year’s, landing on a solid spot in the lottery could open options for the Hawks.

The Hawks ended the regular season at 36-46, then lost their matchup against the Bulls in their first Play-In Tournament game. So, they finished the season with the 10th worst record in the league and have the strongest odds to pick 10th overall.

The teams with the three worst records all have a 14% chance at the first pick, while the Hawks have a 3% chance of winning the lottery. They do hold a 13.9% chance of jumping into the top four in the draft, which is scheduled for June 26-27.

A team with less than 5% odds rarely has made as big of a leap to land at the No. 1 overall pick. But it’s not impossible.

Before the 2014 NBA lottery, the Cavaliers sat in ninth place and held only a 1.7% chance of landing the top pick. They moved up eight spots and then selected Andrew Wiggins.

Two years before that, the Clippers held a 2.8% chance to land the top pick but jumped seven spots. But they had traded their first-round pick to the Cavaliers earlier that season. The Cavs ended up selecting Kyrie Irving.

The biggest jump, though, happened at the 1993 lottery. The Magic had only a 1.5% chance at the No. 1 pick, but leapfrogged 10 other teams. They ended up selecting Chris Webber.

More recently, NBA fans have seen the Pelicans’ fortunes change when they moved six spots to win the No. 1 overall pick and choose Zion Williamson in the 2019 draft. The Pelicans had only a 6% chance to win.

While the Hawks have not always had the best luck in the lottery, they’ve tried to make the most of it. They, of course, famously swapped their third overall pick with the Mavericks in 2018 and ended up taking Trae Young fifth.

They ended up dropping two spots in 2020 after finishing the season fourth. Picking sixth, they took Onyeka Okongwu.

Though this year’s draft class may not come highly touted, the Hawks have to make the right move or moves. Several franchises have raced passed the Hawks after their Eastern Conference finals run in 2021.

After finishing the 2021-22 regular season with a 43-39 record, the Hawks reached the playoffs by beating the Cavaliers, who had gone 44-38, in the Play-In Tournament. The Cavaliers, who had the fourth seed recently evened the series against the Celtics in the Eastern semifinals after beating the No. 5 Magic in the first round. The Magic were 22-60 two seasons ago.

Also playing in the second round of the playoffs are the Knicks, who went 37-45 two years ago. They face the Pacers, who were 25-57 in 2021-22.

The Hawks have a bit of a murky future in the draft. They may have only a second-round pick in next year’s draft, with their own heading to San Antonio and if the Kings’ protected first-round pick is not conveyed to the Hawks.

They also swapped picks with the Spurs for 2026 and dealt them their first-round pick in 2027. They could go without a first-round pick until 2028.

The Hawks will have that draft future looming when they enter this year’s draft, and the drama begins Sunday when the pingpong balls fall.