History of third-best odds in NBA draft lottery
History of the third-best odds in the NBA draft lottery
By Jimmy Toscano
The NBA draft lottery is two weeks away, which means only two more weeks of hitting the “sim lottery” button on our computers while we should be doing work.
Since the weighted lottery system was modified before 1994 giving the team with the worst record a 25-percent chance at the No. 1 pick, the worst team has ended up with the No. 1 pick just three times, most recently the 2015 lottery to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The 25-percent chance, in short, means that out of 1,000 ping pong ball combinations, the worst team going into the lottery has 250 of those combinations. If one of those 250 combinations is pulled, the No. 1 pick goes to that team.
The number of combinations drops per team from worst team in lottery down to the best at No. 14. Since 2005, there are 16 playoff teams and 14 lottery teams. Where the lottery teams rank in record determines how many chances they have at a winning combination. The No. 14 team in the lottery has five chances.
What are the Celtics' chances?
The Boston Celtics go into the lottery holding the Brooklyn Nets’ pick. The Nets finished with the third-worst record this season, giving them 156 combinations, or a 15.6-percent chance at the No. 1 pick.
Combinations are pulled for the top three picks. After that, teams fall into place based on record.
Because three teams could leapfrog them (remember, combinations are chosen for just the top three picks), they could fall to as low as the No. 6 seed, but no further.
So the question you want to know: How many No. 3 seeds have ended up with the top pick? Since 1994, it’s happened five times, though based on teams with the same record that season, ping pong ball combinations varied. (Example: in 1994, the Bucks were tied with two other teams for the second-worst record, giving them 163 combinations. I included them as one of the five “No. 3 seeds” previously mentioned even though technically they weren’t - it’s close enough.)
The No. 3 seed has never gotten the second pick. It’s gotten the third pick three times, the fourth pick four times, the fifth pick nine times, and the sixth pick once.
Since 2005, the No. 3 lottery team has won the lottery twice (2009, 2013). Let’s take a look at every third-seeded lottery team since then, where there they ended up picking, and who ended up going third in that draft.
2005 - Fifth pick, Charlotte Bobcats
The Charlotte Bobcats went into the lottery tied for the second-worst record in the NBA, which means they even had more chances to land the top pick than usual. It didn’t matter. Not only did they not get the top pick, they didn’t even get a top three pick. Charlotte slipped to No. 5. Meanwhile, some guy named Chris Paul went fourth in the draft.
Bobcats No. 5 pick - Raymond Felton
No. 3 pick - Deron Williams
2006 - Third pick, Charlotte Bobcats
Our good friends in Charlotte didn’t get a whole lot better one year later, but did improve enough to finish tied for the third-worst record in the NBA. And even with less lottery chances than the year before, they finished with the third pick. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any better luck with their actual pick . . .
Bobcats pick/No. 3 pick - Adam Morrison
2007 - Sixth pick, Milwaukee Bucks
Celtics fans had their own issues with this draft, but it didn’t end with them. Three teams with better records than the worst three teams in the league ended up with a top-3 seed in the 2007 NBA lottery. That meant Boston, who came into it with the second-worst record, slipped three spots, and the team behind them, Milwaukee, also slipped three spots. This was the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant sweepstakes. The Celtics ended up trading their No. 5 pick for Ray Allen. The Bucks? Well . . .
Bucks No. 6 pick - Yi Jianlian
No. 3 pick - Al Horford
2008 - Third pick, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves came into the lottery tied for the third-worst record, and left with the third pick. It was the Chicago Bulls who really beat the odds - a 1.7-percent chance at landing the top pick - and finished first. The Heat, who had the worst record in the NBA, finished with the second pick, and the Wolves beat out the Sonics who had a worse record than them, and the Grizzlies who they were tied with. But that doesn’t mean Minny made the right pick. Seattle took Russell Westbrook at No. 4 and Memphis took Kevin Love at No. 5. Heck, Danilo Gallinari went No. 6 to the Knicks. Meanwhile . . .
Timberwolves pick/ No. 3 pick - O.J. Mayo
2009 - First pick, Los Angeles Clippers
Boom! Third seed, first pick, baby. Well, kinda. The Clippers were tied with the Wizards for the second-worst record in the NBA. So were they really, truly holding down the third most amount of chances to win? Not really. But we’re rolling with it. They had roughly 20 more combinations than this year’s Celtics team does. Even if the Clippers ended up with the No. 3 seed, they’d still be looking very good.
Clippers No. 1 pick - Blake Griffin
No. 3 pick - James Harden
2010 - Fifth pick, Sacramento Kings
The Wizards hit on a 10.3-percent chance at the top spot, and ended up taking John Wall. Philadelphia jumped up to the No. 2 spot and took Evan Turner. So, good new and bad news for the Kings here. The bad news is that they slipped two spots to the fifth pick. The good news is that they still ended up with the best player in the draft.
Kings No. 5 pick - DeMarcus Cousins
No. 3 pick - Derrick Favors
2011 - Fifth pick, Toronto Raptors
First thing’s first, the Cavs somehow ended up with the No. 1 pick, having owned the Clippers’ pick, which had just a 2.8-percent chance of landing the top spot. That helped with life after LeBron, as they took Kyrie Irving with that pick. The Jazz also jumped up to No. 3 due to owning New Jersey’s pick, which was tied for the fifth-worst record heading in. The left the Raptors dropping two spots to No. 5, where they went international.
Raptors No. 5 pick - Jonas Valanciunas
No. 3 pick - Enes Kanter
2012 - Fourth pick, Cleveland Cavaliers
We’ve got another tie-breaker situation here, as the Cavs won the tiebreaker with the Pelicans to secure one extra combination (138 to 137) and technically speaking the No. 3 seed heading into the NBA lottery. It. Did. Not Matter. It was the Pelicans that actually won the lottery, vaulting up to the top spot where they’d win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. The Cavs? They ended up picking fourth, which didn’t turn out great for them.
Cavaliers No. 4 pick - Dion Waiters
No. 3 pick - Bradley Beal
2013 - First pick, Cleveland Cavaliers
The 2013 NBA Draft was a blur for Celtics fans, as that was the draft in which they traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn for a bunch of draft picks (one of which is the reason this gallery was created). But before the draft, it was the Cavaliers who won the NBA lottery and the rights to the worst No. 1 draft pick ever. This wasn’t a very top heavy draft, so it’s not like the Cavs missed a home run pick elsewhere, but they certainly did miss.
Cavaliers No. 1 pick - Anthony Bennett
No. 3 pick - Otto Porter
2014 - Fourth pick, Orlando Magic
For the fourth time in 12 years, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery. According to USA Today, the odds of that happening were 1-in-10,000. They had just a 1.7-percent chance of winning it, and it’s the second straight year they won it (after botching last year’s pick). http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/05/cleveland-cavaliers-draft-lottery-odds. They wouldn’t mess up this pick in Andrew Wiggins (though they ended up trading it in a deal for Kevin Love). The Cavs jumping up to the top pushed everybody ahead of them down a spot, which means the Magic were now picking from the fourth spot.
Magic No. 4 pick - Aaron Gordon
No. 3 pick - Joel Embiid
2015 - Third pick, Philadelphia 76ers
Justice was served last season, as the worst team in the league, the Minnesota Timberwolves, ended up with the first overall pick. They took Karl-Anthony Towns, who is already a stud in this league. Though the Lakers jumped from the fourth spot to the second spot, the 76ers landed the third spot, forcing the Knicks from the second to the fourth. It’s still too early to say which team ended up making the better pick (Towns aside). The Knicks took Kristaps Porzingis at No. 4.
76ers pick/No. 3 pick - Jahlil Okafor