Commentary

Draft lottery preview: Follow the bouncing balls

Originally Published: May 20, 2008
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

Draft LotteryNed Dishman/NBAE/Getty ImagesA bunch of pingpong balls will determine the fate of 14 NBA teams at the draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J.

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The 2008 NBA draft lottery (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) brings us to one of the more interesting and debated aspects of the NBA Draft. Fourteen teams vie for the No. 1 pick in the draft based on the NBA's complicated lottery process.

The lottery originally was developed to help the NBA's worst teams rebuild by having the highest pick in the draft. But often the results haven't had exactly that effect.

Since 1990, only four teams with the worst record have won the lottery: the Orlando Magic in 2004, the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 and the New Jersey Nets in 1990.

The team with the second-best probability of winning the lottery has fared even worse, winning the lottery just twice: the Magic in 1992 and the San Antonio Spurs in 1997.

The lottery can change the course of a franchise. In 1992, the big prize was Shaquille O'Neal, and the Magic walked away with the Diesel even though the Timberwolves had the best chance of winning. How many championships would the Wolves have won with Shaq anchoring the paint?

In 1997, another amazing center, Tim Duncan, was the consensus No. 1 pick. And while the Celtics had the best chance of winning the lottery, the Spurs got the lucky bounce that would bring them four championships. Meanwhile, Celtics fans are still mourning over the big guy that got away.

2008 NBA Draft Lottery

Probability of Getting the No. 1 Pick

Team Probability
Event with Similar Probability
Heat
25%
Dwyane Wade making 3-pointer.
Sonics
19.9%
Kevin Durant making 12 straight free throws.
Wolves
13.8%
Al Jefferson making three straight shots.
Grizz
13.7%
Rudy Gay taking 20-plus shots in a game.
Knicks
7.6%
David Lee getting 15-plus rebounds in a game.
Clippers
7.5%
Elton Brand scoring over 30 points in a game.
Bucks
4.3%
Michael Redd making five-plus 3s in a game.
Bobcats
2.8%
Emeka Okafor six-plus blocks in a game.
Bulls
1.7%
Ben Gordon making 27 straight free throws.
Nets
1.1%
Vince Carter scoring over 45 points in a game.
Pacers
0.8%
Jermaine O'Neal scoring 30-plus points.
Kings
0.7%
Ron Artest getting eight-plus steals in a game.
Blazers
0.6%
Brandon Roy making five straight 3-pointers.
Warriors
0.5%
Davis making six straight shots from the field.
*Table Statistics Compiled By Alok Pattani, ESPN Research
Last year's lottery was one of the biggest in recent memory, with two top prizes -- Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. And it was the Portland Trail Blazers, who had just a 5.3 percent chance of winning the lottery, and the Seattle SuperSonics, who had just a 9.3 percent chance of getting the second pick, who took home the first and second picks. In fact, none of the three worst teams in the league finished in the top three last year.

This year, there are two top prizes again -- Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley. Last week, we broke down what each team in the lottery likely would do if it won the No. 1 pick. Here are some other interesting things to keep an eye on heading into Tuesday's draft lottery:

• Conspiracy theorists, start your engines. This year's New York Knicks are in the gutter and in desperate need of a franchise player. The perfect fit for the team -- Rose -- is waiting atop the draft.

Sound familiar?

The first lottery, in 1985, featured what many thought was a once-in-a-decade prize -- Georgetown center Patrick Ewing. The hometown Knicks were in desperate need of a franchise player and, miraculously, the Knicks won the lottery.

Theories abounded in 1985 about how the lottery could have been rigged to favor big-market teams such as the Knicks. Some claimed the NBA froze the envelope. Others said they heated it up. Still others said that commissioner David Stern deliberately nicked the side of the envelope so he could find it again.

The NBA has denied any shenanigans, of course. And its method of determining the winner of the lottery has become much more sophisticated over the years. Plus, rigging the lottery would be a federal crime.

"We've made great, great advances," Stern said recently regarding the more complex methods of determining the winner, "and the conspiracy theories haven't made the same advances."

This year, the Knicks have the fifth-best chance (a 7.6 percent chance) of winning the lottery, which isn't as bad as it might seem. Since 1990, the No. 5 team has won the lottery as many times as team in the top slot has: the Toronto Raptors in 2006, the Houston Rockets in 2002, the Golden State Warriors in 1995 and the Charlotte Hornets in 1991 all won the lottery from the fifth spot.

So if the Knicks come up big Tuesday night, don't blame the NBA, just blame those pingpong balls.

• Of the teams in the lottery this year, six teams -- the Heat, Sonics, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Bobcats and Pacers -- have never won the lottery.

The Grizzlies are due -- they have had the worst record in the league three times yet have never won the lottery. And if they finally get the No. 1 pick this year, they'll have a very interesting choice to make. They desperately need a power forward, and Beasley seems like a perfect fit in their offense. However, hometown hero Rose stands with Beasley at the top of their draft board. The Grizz already have a huge glut at point guard and used the No. 4 pick in last year's draft to get Mike Conley, but will they have the courage to pass up a fan favorite and take Beasley?

Miami might stand to make the biggest move by getting the No. 1 pick. With Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion already on the roster, the Heat are more talented than most teams in this position. Adding Rose or Beasley likely would catapult them back into the playoffs immediately.

Meanwhile, the Sonics present their fans in Seattle with another twist of fate by finishing in the top two. The city already fears losing out on the chance to watch Durant develop over the years. If the Sonics land Beasley or Rose, and continue with their move to Oklahoma City, the bittersweet feeling could get ever more bitter for Seattle fans.

The Timberwolves, to judge from their track record, are the only team in the group that could mess things up even if it gets the No. 1 pick. Since Minnesota landed Kevin Garnett in 1995, no one has screwed up more drafts than Kevin McHale. There's the infamous Joe Smith deal that cost the Wolves three first-round picks. Then, there's the series of lottery blunders. In 1996, they swapped the rights of Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury. In 1999, they passed on All-Stars Marion and Richard Hamilton to draft Wally Szczerbiak. In 2005, they passed on Danny Granger and took Rashad McCants. And in 2006, they traded Brandon Roy for Randy Foye.

The Bobcats have never won the lottery, but Michael Jordan did as the GM of the Wizards. He made the now-infamous Kwame Brown pick in 2001. Since then, Jordan's other big pick was in 2006 when he selected Adam Morrison over the likes of Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay.

As for the Pacers, if anyone deserves a break from the pingpong balls, it's them. Since the Ron Artest brawl, the franchise has been snakebit. A lottery win could catapult Indiana back into the mix in the East.

• If you're looking for teams that probably don't deserve to win, look no further than the Bucks, Clippers and Nets. Each team already has been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice. And each team has made questionable-to-bad calls on both No. 1 selections.

The Bucks passed on Jason Kidd and Grant Hill to take Glenn Robinson in 1994. More recently, they passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams to take Andrew Bogut in 2005.

The Clippers passed on Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki to draft Michael Olowokandi in 1998. And although their No. 1 pick in 1988, Danny Manning, was a better selection, he didn't turn into a superstar, either.

As for the Nets, they chose Kenyon Martin with their No. 1 pick in 2000. (To their credit, it was one of the worst drafts ever -- Martin hasn't been great, but neither have any of the other top players in that draft.) In 1990, the Nets took Derrick Coleman with the No. 1 pick, one pick ahead of Gary Payton.

• Finally, according to John Hollinger's draft do-overs (last updated in 2006), the top pick in the draft became the best player from that draft only four times from 1995 to 2005: Tim Duncan in 1997, Elton Brand in 1999, LeBron James in 2003 and Dwight Howard in 2004.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider