The 2023 NBA Draft Lottery will take place tonight, one of the most important individual events on the league calendar. The fates of 14+ teams will be set, and tonight offers a special reward as generational prospect Victor Wembanyama, a 7’5″ wing-center from France, will be waiting for the team that wins the top pick.
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t a part of the Draft Lottery for the first time in a while. In fact, the Cavs hold the longest active streak in the NBA in taking a player in the lottery for five consecutive seasons: Collin Sexton (2018), Darius Garland (2019), Isaac Okoro (2020), Evan Mobley (2021) and Ochai Agbaji (2022). That streak ends this year.
The Cavaliers’ pick is owed to the Indiana Pacers, so they won’t be keeping it, but their 51-win season landed their pick at No. 26. For a team that was in the lottery for four years it was quite the jump up the standings.
Does the Draft Lottery matter for the Cavaliers? It certainly doesn’t matter as much as it will for the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and other teams at the bottom of the standings; which teams gets to pick Wembanyama will be drastically altered, and Scoot Henderson is an incredible consolation prize for the No. 2 team.
Even so, everyone in the NBA is interconnected, so what happens in one corner will be felt in the others. Here are three things that the Cavs hope will happen in the Draft Lottery tonight (8 pm ET, ESPN).
Hope No. 1 – Vic to the West
Victor Wembanyama is not your typical prospect. He is 7’4″ with a deep bag of perimeter skills, having grown up running Pete Maravich dribbling and shooting drills even as his body was sprouting up like the eponymous beanstalk. As a teenager he is leading his French league in scoring, rebounding and blocks.
The team that lands Wembanyama will be landing the best draft prospect since LeBron James and completely altering the course of their franchise. He will have an immediate impact, but as he develops he will likely be a perennial MVP candidate. He is that good.
Therefore, the Cavaliers hope that Wembanyama lands in the Western Conference tonight. Whether that’s the Spurs, the Rockets, the Portland Trail Blazers or someone further down the draft board, keeping Wemby out of the East will increase the Cavs’ title odds just at face value. Wembanyama isn’t a lock to be as good as LeBron, but for over a decade “The King” ruled the East and prevented anyone else from getting through. Stephen Curry and the Warriors did that in the West for six-of-eight seasons.
Get Wembanyama in the West so that the Cavs don’t have to find a way to get past his eight-foot wingspan.
Hope No. 2 – The Jazz stay put
The Utah Jazz control the Cavaliers’ draft for five straight seasons starting in 2025, and two of those years include first-round pick swaps. It’s a small thing, but if the Cavs get to set the chessboard, they would prefer the Jazz not to jump up to land Wembanyama or Henderson, in order to be in line to be mediocre or bad in 2026 and 2028.
If the Cavs are good in both seasons it largely doesn’t matter, but if they have an unexpectedly down season they don’t want to give up a high pick and drop back late in the draft because the Jazz are good. The worse Utah is, the less likely the Cavs will have their pick value reduced. It may never matter, but you want every advantage in the modern NBA.
Hope No. 3 – Dallas keeps its pick
At this point, the shockwaves are mere ripples, but one last wrinkle remains. The Dallas Mavericks currently sit 10th in the lottery draft order, which is significant because they owe a Top-10 protected pick to the New York Knicks. If one of the teams behind them in the lottery leapfrog into the Top-4 (just over a 20 percent chance) they fall back and hand a lottery pick to the Knicks.
The Knicks look poised with their combination of young talent and draft picks to be in the Eastern Conference playoff mix for years to come, and they proved this postseason that they match up extremely well with the Cavs. Anything that hands a premium asset to the Knicks is a no-no for Cleveland.
There you have it! The Cavaliers’ wish list for the NBA Draft Lottery tonight. A Lottery where the top-3 picks go to San Antonio, Houston and Portland, with Utah and Dallas staying put, is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Cavaliers. Tune in and see how the lottery will shake out!