Here’s how the teams with the best NBA draft lottery odds have fared lately
For the fourth straight season, the Detroit Pistons will have their summer plans decided — or at least clarified — by the tumblings of a quartet of ping-pong balls during the NBA draft lottery. This year’s edition is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Chicago, and for the first time in that span, the Pistons have the No. 1 spot after finishing with the league’s worst record (17-65).
The prize is clear: Superstar teen Victor Wembanyama, a 7-foot-3 French phenom, has been the consensus No. 1 prospect for a couple of years, blending an outside touch (though he shot just 28.3% from beyond the arc this season in France’s top league) with a physicality that allowed him to average 21.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks a game.
So: The Pistons were the worst team, and Wembanyama is the best prospect. Will they connect through Tuesday’s lottery?
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Probably not. Despite 14% chances of winning the top pick — equal to the chances for the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs — that still leaves an 86% chance they won’t draft at No. 1. (Though the farthest they could fall is fifth.)
The team entering the lottery with the league’s worst record has gotten the top pick just four times in the past 10 lotteries. That includes four straight whiffs since the NBA flattened the odds for the three worst teams from 25%/19.9%/13.8% to 14% for all three (although three of the four lottery winners have come from the top three, with only the New Orleans Pelicans swooping in from the No. 7 spot — with just 60 of the 1,000 possible combinations — to grab Zion Williamson in 2019.)
Here’s how the squads with the worst record and No. 1 draft lottery spot have fared over the past four lotteries since the NBA juggled the odds:
2022: Houston Rockets (20-62) — fell to No. 3
The winner: Orlando Magic (22-60), jumped from No. 2.
The pick: The Rockets fell all the way to No. 3, as the Oklahoma City Thunder, which had a 12.5% chance at No. 4, jumped two spots. The Magic went with Duke forward Paolo Banchero, while the Thunder nabbed Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and the Rockets took Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. It worked out well for Orlando, as Banchero lived up to the hype with 20 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game en route to winning Rookie of the Year with 98 of the 100 first-place votes.
The Thunder ended up with the ROY runner-up — but it wasn’t Holmgren; instead, No. 12 overall pick Jalen Williams received 75 second-place ballots after averaging 14.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Smith, meanwhile, had a solid season — 12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists — but didn’t receive a ROY vote.
2021: Houston Rockets (17-55) — fell to No. 2
The winner: Detroit Pistons (20-52), jumped from No. 2.
The pick: The Pistons picked up the No. 1 pick for the first time since 1971, but the jury is still out on who “won” the lottery. After Detroit selected Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, the consensus No. 1 prospect, Houston went with Jalen Green, out of the G League. But the Rookie of the Year went to the No. 4 overall pick, Florida State’s Scottie Barnes, who received 48 of 100 first-place votes after averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game. Cunningham got nine first-place votes and finished third in the voting, thanks to averages of 17.4/5.5/5.6 while Green (17.3/3.4/2.6) received just three third-place votes.
The bigger issue has been Cunningham’s lack of availability for the Pistons; he has played just 76 games over two seasons, compared to 143 for Green and 151 for Barnes. (Center Evan Mobley, who went No. 3 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, has arguably been the most valuable pick of the draft, with 13.7 Win Shares, according to basketball-reference.com.)
The winner: Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45), jumped from No. 3.
The pick: An injury-driven collapse by the Warriors, who went from the NBA Finals to the league’s worst record in a single season, didn’t quite pay off, as the Timberwolves leapt up a couple spots and grabbed Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards. The Warriors opted for center James Wiseman, who played just three games in college before eligibility issues ended his career at Memphis.
Neither squad hit on the Rookie of the Year, however; that was guard LaMelo Ball, who went No. 3 overall to the Charlotte Hornets and averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists a game ahead of receiving 84 of 99 first-place votes. Still, Ball and Edwards have each made an All-Star squad in their first three seasons; Wiseman is on team No. 2 after a trade to the Pistons at this year’s trade deadline.
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2019: New York Knicks (17-65) —fell to No. 3
The winner: New Orleans Pelicans (33-49), jumped from No. 7.
The pick: Not only did the Knicks get jumped by the Pelicans (who had 6% odds of No. 1) in the de facto drawing for Duke star Zion Williamson, they also dropped behind the Memphis Grizzlies, who came up from the No. 8 spot (with 6% odds after finishing 33-49) to nab the No. 2 pick. The Grizzlies went with Murray State star Ja Morant, leaving the Knicks to select R.J. Barrett, Williamson’s teammate at Duke. All three received votes in the Rookie of the Year balloting, but Morant was the runaway winner, picking up 99 of 100 first-place votes after averaging 17.8 points, 7.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds a game in a highlight-filled campaign.
The voting might have been different if Williamson hadn’t missed the first half of the season with a torn meniscus in his right knee; in the two months between his Jan. 22 debut and the coronavirus pandemic’s shutdown of the league in mid-March, Williamson averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 46.2% on 3s over 19 games. He wasn’t quite as effective when games returned in the Orlando bubble, but he still drew a first-place ROY vote, as well as a third-place finish overall. Barrett, meanwhile, averaged 14.3 points, 5 rebounds and 2.6 assists over 56 games.
Still, that was a foreshadowing of the trio’s career: Morant — despite his off-the-court issues — has played in 248 games and made two All-Star squads, Williamson has two All-Star nods but only 114 games played and Barrett has been the most durable, with 271 games, but the least honored, as he’s still waiting for his first All-Star-caliber season.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Will Detroit Pistons snap skid of No. 1 teams in NBA draft lottery?