With LaMelo Ball out for the rest of the season, what are the Hornets’ odds of landing the No. 1 pick?

By Chase Whitney

March 1, 2023

Photo: Surf Mitchell / CLTure 

The latest entry into the Hornets’ series of unfortunate injuries is undoubtedly the worst of them all. Star point guard LaMelo Ball suffered a fractured right ankle early in the third quarter of Monday’s game against the Detroit Pistons that will sideline him for the rest of the 2022-23 season.

For the second time in three years, Ball’s season was cut short by injury after appearing in just 36 games due to multiple sprains on his left ankle that sidelined him early in the season. This comes as he’s averaging career-highs in points (23.3), assists (8.4) and three-pointers made (4) per game and leading the Hornets through a late-season turnaround after the roster finally got healthy. The chemistry he developed in a short time playing alongside Mark Williams popped off the television screen, and the team ranked 13th offensively and sixth defensively during the recent five-game winning streak. But, of course, the good times didn’t last very long.

With Ball out for the rest of the season, Gordon Hayward sounded pretty dejected when asked about the injury in his post-game press conference and Steve Clifford highlighted how “incredibly unfortunate” it is to have Ball go down on a non-contact injury. Not to mention, Kevin Durant is set to make his Phoenix Suns debut at Spectrum Center on Wednesday, further decreasing the likelihood of extending the winning streak.

Those that have been rooting for the best possible lottery odds for Victor Wembanyama all season may have indirectly gotten their wish. Ball’s absence leaves 35 minutes per game up for grabs, most of which will likely go to young players. Bryce McGowens was recently converted from a Two-Way contract to a four-year $7.4 million NBA deal, so he’s eligible to play as many games/minutes as possible. Théo Maledon is limited to 50 games on the active roster, and Basketball-Reference has him at 38 active games so far. With 19 games remaining, he’s able to participate in 12 of them. Don’t look now, but James Bouknight has played quite well for the Greensboro Swarm lately, shooting 37.3 percent from three-point range on 6.9 attempts per game. Maybe he gets another crack at the rotation here soon.

As we saw earlier in the season, the Hornets don’t have the depth yet to properly handle an injury to Ball, or really any other starter. With his absence, frequent losses are likely to follow. The Hornets currently have the fourth-best lottery odds with a six-and-a-half game buffer between the Orlando Magic, who have the fifth-best odds. There’s also a four-and-a-half game gap between the Hornets and Detroit in third that was widened with Monday’s win. It’s not locked in yet, but fans can almost certainly plan on having the fourth-best odds come the May 16 NBA Draft Lottery, barring a surprise run from Detroit coinciding with a lengthy skid from Charlotte.

The fourth-best lottery odds isn’t as bad as it may sound– since the 2019 draft, it’s become much harder for teams to tank their way into the No. 1 pick. The top three teams each have a 14 percent chance to pick first with an equal likelihood of landing second, third or fourth. The higher your lottery positioning, the higher your floor; the worst team can only fall to fifth, second can only drop as far as sixth, and so on. 

If the Hornets finish fourth, they’ll have a 12.5 percent chance to pick first and a 48.1 percent chance to pick in the top four, while the lowest they can fall is the 2.2 percent chance they land at No. 8. The odds at landing in the top three are slightly lower than the teams ahead of them, but those teams have a 52.1 percent chance at picking in the top-four, only four percent higher than the Hornets. The more lottery balls, the better, but the Hornets have also been playing competitive basketball, allowing veterans that factor into future plans to build more chemistry. 

The wind has been taken out of the Hornets sails, but there’s still plenty to look forward to between now and the beginning of the 2023-24 season when we’ll see LaMelo Ball on the court again.

Check out the remaining 2022-23 Charlotte Hornets season schedule.

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