clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NBA Draft Lottery history: When the worst has won

Highs and lows of the NBA Draft Lottery and the team's resulting picks.


Drama has been a piece of the NBA's pre-draft preparations since the NBA Draft Lottery moved to a weighted system in 1990. The league made the change to avoid the practice of tanking, but the result has been about the entertainment value of luck.

The Orlando Magic, with their league-worst record, have a 25 percent chance of the ping pong balls handing them the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, but history shows there should be little confidence that they'll get it. The Charlotte Bobcats (19.9 percent), Cleveland Cavaliers (15.6 percent), Phoenix Suns (11.9 percent) and New Orleans Pelicans (8.8 percent) all have solid opportunities for the balls to bounce in their favor. So do the rest of the 14 lottery squads.

Here's a look at the best and worst of the NBA Draft Lottery, along with the number of times each team has won.

The best top picks

While there are no guarantees in the lottery, the ability of NBA teams to smell out superstardom once they earn the top pick is more than chance.

Shaquille O'Neal went first to the Magic in 1992, Tim Duncan went first in 1997 and LeBron James did the same in 2003 -- all three are more than locks to make the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Allen Iverson became a cultural icon after the Philadelphia 76ers took him first in 1996, and Yao Ming became the face of basketball in China after the Houston Rockets picked him in 2002. Chris Webber (1993), Dwight Howard (2004), Derrick Rose (2008) and Blake Griffin (2009) all established themselves as perennial All-Stars.

So in the 23 years of the lottery, a good chunk have turned into franchise-defining players or at least consistent All-Stars.

The worst top picks

There are varying levels of bad picks when the entire field of a draft class is concerned.

Kwame Brown was infamously the Washington Wizards' selection in 2001 by then-executive Michael Jordan, and three years earlier the Clippers picked bust Michael Olowokandi. More recently, 2007 top pick Greg Oden failed to get on track with the Portland Trail Blazers after knee injuries struck him.

Others such as Joe Smith (1995) and Andrew Bogut (2005) have been established NBA players, but not All-Stars.

More-than-acceptable top picks

These picks are All-Stars but not franchise cornerstones. Derrick Coleman was the first overall pick in the inaugural year of the lottery and had an extended NBA career with one All-Star appearance, as did Kenyon Martin (2000), who is still in the league. Larry Johnson (1991), Glenn Robinson (1994) and Elton Brand (1999) all made multiple All-Star games.

John Wall, the first pick in 2010, appears to have All-Star level talent and could grow into a multiple-time All-Star, and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving -- though only having played two seasons -- made the All-Star game in his second year and in time could prove he belongs in the category of elite first-overall picks.

The biggest surprises of the lottery

The biggest leap to the No. 1 pick was in 1993. After picking O'Neal the year before, the Magic won the lottery despite having the 11th-best odds. They used the selection on Webber and immediately traded the forward to the Golden State Warriors for Penny Hardaway, who became a four-time All-Star for Orlando.

In 1990, the second overall pick went to the Seattle SuperSonics despite them having the 10th-worst record. The Sonics took the opportunity to nab point guard Gary Payton, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame.

And the best steal for the No. 3 pick was in 1999, when the Charlotte Hornets and their 13th-worst record jumped up the selection board to grab Baron Davis.

The history of the lottery

  • The worst team has won the NBA Draft Lottery three times in 23 tries.
  • The third-worst and fifth-worst teams have won the lottery the most times (five) in the lottery era. The Cavaliers select third and the Pelicans pick fifth this year.
  • The team with the least likely odds to win the NBA Draft Lottery was the 1993 Orlando Magic, who had the 11th-best chance to win. The seventh-, eighth- and ninth-worst teams have all won the lottery once since 1990.
Team by record # of wins (since 1990)
Worst 3
2nd-worst 4
3rd-worst 5
4th-worst 0
5th-worst 5
6th-worst 2
7th-worst 1
8th-worst 1
9th-worst 1
10th-worst 0
11th-worst 1
12th-worst 0
13th-worst 0
14th-worst 0

More from SB Nation:

NBA mock draft: We know nothing

Ziller: Defense is the way to win cheaply

Spurs blast Grizzlies in Game 1

Dwight Howard considering Rockets, Mavericks

Can Nerlens Noel play in the middle? | More combine coverage

Longform: Basketball and chaos in Europe