Who Are the ‘Luckiest’ Teams in NBA Draft Lottery History?

March 19, 2013

By Ryan Glassman

 

The concept of ‘luck’ is often thrown around in sports, but the term is not always used appropriately.

Was David Tyree’s infamous helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII incredibly opportunistic for the Giants? Of course it was. But to call the play an act of pure luck would be to disregard the factors that helped to increase the play’s success rate. It was not lucky for Eli Manning to pinpoint a throw only where his receiver could reach it, with enough arc for Tyree to get under it. Nor was it lucky for Tyree to position his body to block off Rodney Harrison from making a clean play at the ball. Tyree’s ability to hold onto the ball, although certainly fortuitous, is also a credit to his own strength. The point is that, while luck was involved, a number of external factors controlled by the players themselves had a large impact on the result.

 

 

For this reason, there are so few events in sports that are the result of sheer luck. Was it unlucky that the Portland Trail Blazers drafted Greg Oden in 2007, passing up on Kevin Durant, who is unanimously considered the 2nd best player in the world? The result is certainly unlucky, but there were factors in play (Oden’s track record of injury) that carry tangible risk. The Trail Blazers were taking a bit of a gamble, and the gamble did not pay off. Unfortunate, yes, but still a result of a decision well within their own control.

 

Pure luck, in sports terms, would therefore seem to represent the result of circumstances that affect a franchise, yet are the results of factors that the franchise and its stakeholders have no impact on. And nowhere in sport does pure luck come into play more visibly, and dramatically, than with the NBA Draft Lottery.

 

One could argue that the results of the NBA Draft Lottery do not represent pure luck, because teams can tank to increase their odds in the lottery. But consider that in the 23 seasons under the weighted lottery system, the team with the worst record in the previous season has received the top pick the following season only 3 times (13%). Consider that since 1985, the slots to most often win the lottery are the 3rd and 5th slots, and not the 1st. The weighted system provides so small an advantage for teams with a worse record, that the risk of ‘tanking’ (PR backlash, attendance, potential league sanctions) has not yet proven a worthy risk for a single season. 

 

But the lottery is not the only influence of nearly pure luck that is at work surrounding the NBA Draft. An underrated factor surrounding the draft, in the NBA and in all professional sports featuring the draft, is the strength of the draft pool that teams have to select from. The available players at the disposal of teams selecting in the draft is a factor that teams have no control over, but massively influences the fate of their franchises. Cleveland was lucky to receive the #1 pick in 2003, but much luckier that LeBron James chose to make himself available by bypassing the option to go to college. Teams cannot sync their results with the ebbs and tides of incoming talent, and instead can only hope to have a high pick in years with stronger draft classes.

 

So, to appropriately estimate the ‘luck’ factor, we must quantify the influence of a) the lottery process and b) the strength of the particular draft class. Solving for the first factor is relatively simple. To see how a franchise benefits from the lottery in a given year, simply compare the projected order (the worst team gets the first pick, etc.) with the actual order for a given year to see which teams moved up or down. But the overall influence of the lottery process is not accounted for my simply saying that a team has moved up or down ‘X’ amount of spots over a period of time. Because the strengths of drafts change from year to year, each draft must be looked at individually to quantify the actual value of a given move up or down.

 

Take, for example, the 1992 draft class. Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning went 1 and 2 in this draft, and were clearly the two best players in this class. The third pick, and probably the third best player in this class, was Christian Laettner, an All-Star but certainly not on the caliber of the two players picked ahead of him. The 1992 class was a 2-person draft. 

 

The significance of having the #3 pick in the 1992 draft, compared with a more balanced class, presents a quandary in terms of value. Having the third selection in a 2-player class clearly diminishes the value of the pick, whereas sitting in the same slot in a relatively strong class carries greater value. It is not enough to value the impact of the lottery simply through looking at slot shifts up or down. You must assign a value to each slot based on the talent level in each draft pool.

 

To do this, I have looked to John Hollinger’s PER stat that assigns a value to a player’s statistical contributions over the course of their careers. For each year, I have taken the PER of every first round pick and sorted the values in order from highest to lowest. The highest PER for that year is slotted as the first pick, the second highest to the second pick, and so on. The working assumption here is that, retrospectively, the best available player is taken with each and every pick. This may seem like an unrealistic assumption, but it is the only way to remove any factors that an individual team can influence. All a team can ask for with the lottery is to be put in position to select the best player available. 

 

The best example of this is the 2007 draft class. One may call it unlucky that the Portland Trail Blazers went with Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, as Oden’s injuries have derailed his career while Durant evolves into a once-in-a-generation player. But in reality, the Trail Blazers were extremely lucky that season with the results of the lottery. According to Hollinger’s PER rankings, the second best player from that draft class was Al Horford, a nice player but nowhere near the superstar caliber of a Durant. On top of that, the Blazers were not slotted to pick first, or even second that year. Portland finished with just the 7th worst record the year before, but leapt up 6 spots into the top slot through the lottery process. By Hollinger’s metric, the 7th best player that year was Jared Dudley, a rotation player on one of the worst teams in the league this year. Moving from the 7th slot, with Dudley’s 14.5 PER, to the top spot, with Durant’s career 23.5 PER, is a massive jump brought about simply by the luck of the lottery. The Trail Blazers made the wrong pick, but were aided tremendously by the pure luck of a few ping-pong balls. 

 

To summarize, I have included a photo of the calculation I made for each draft class since 1990:

 

This picture provides full calculations for the heralded 2003 draft class. The first column contains what the order of the draft would be if there were no lottery system, and next to that is the actual results of the lottery. The third column contains the player selected with that pick, and the fourth column is the career PER of that player. The column entitled ‘Slot PER’ places a value on each pick, based upon the PER of the best available player at that pick. So by PER, the top 5 in 2003 should have gone LeBron-Wade-Bosh-Anthony-West. Again, this metric assumes that each team would take the best player available. Of course, this is impossible, but it is the best way to put a quantitative value on a certain pick in a certain draft, based solely on the luck of the lottery.

 

The final column, titled ‘Difference’, is the change in value of PER for all teams that moved up or down due to the lottery. The green numbers signify teams that were helped out, and the red represents teams that were unlucky due to the results of the lottery.

 

On the surface, it may seem silly that the Detroit Pistons were by far the unluckiest team in the 2003 draft, when they were the only franchise picking in the top 5 to come away without a foundational player. But again, the importance of this study is not to evaluate which teams have been the most successful drafters. Fundamentally, the study is looking to answer what franchises were put in the best position to gain advantage over the competition based purely on the luck of the draft lottery. In one of the best drafts of all time, the Pistons moved up four spots, from the #6 pick to the #2 pick. In the end, they made the wrong pick, but they were still extremely fortunate to be presented the opportunity. This study is not grading the picks that teams have made, but is measuring how a completely random factor has unfairly positioned some franchises ahead of others. 

 

Now in terms of how I ranked each team, I simply added the cumulative results of the ‘Difference’ column for each year dating back to 1990, using the same scale that John Hollinger uses for his PER ratings. I have created tiers establishing how much certain teams have gained or lost. I have included each team’s cumulative rise or fall, their biggest jump and fall, as well as the theoretical players they were positioned to select, first before and then after the lottery. Remember that, by Hollinger’s scale, the difference of just plus/minus 5 is the difference between an average player and a superstar. Alas, the rankings:

 

The Luckiest of the Lucky

1. New Orleans/Charlotte Hornets (+19.1)

Biggest Jump: +6.1 in 1992 (Latrell Sprewell to Alonzo Mourning)
Biggest Fall: -0.8 in 2005 (Andrew Bynum to Deron Williams)

Labeling the Hornets as the luckiest team is the result of a few substantial moves in the draft lottery, and a general lack of bad luck, rather than one or two massive examples of good luck. In ’99, Charlotte made a massive leap from #13 to #3 on lottery night, putting them in position to draft a player the caliber of Andrei Kirilenko rather than Jeff Foster. And in the 1992 draft, chronicled earlier as a 2-player draft, Charlotte jumped from the #8 spot into the top-2, where they took Alonzo Mourning, an increase of 6.1 

2. Philadelphia 76ers (+16.1)

Biggest Jump: +5.9 in 1997 (Danny Fortson to Tracy McGrady)
Biggest Fall: N/A

Philadelphia’s draft history has been similar to the Hornets in that they have avoided the big slip, making healthy gains in a few lotteries over the years. The largest stroke of luck granted to the 76ers came in 1997 when the team moved from #5 to #2 in what again was a 2-player draft. The Sixers took Keith Van Horn with the selection, but could have had Tracy McGrady, the lone franchise player in the draft after Tim Duncan. 

3. Orlando Magic (+11.6)

Biggest Jump: +7.6 in 1993 (Chris Mills to Chris Webber)
Biggest Fall: -0.7 in 2000 (Kenyon Martin to Hedo Turkoglu)

The lottery has not always been kind to the Orland Magic (#3 to #5 in 2000, #3 to #4 in 1990), but the Magic have been lucky in that the years they have slipped have been weak classes, and the years they have moved up have been in years with foundational players at the top. In 1993, the Magic made the unprecedented move from the last pick in the lottery (11th) to the 1st, positioning them to draft Chris Webber in a draft whose next best player was Sam Cassell. In 1992, the Magic, slated to pick 2nd, won the draft lottery, allowing them to select Shaq over Alonzo Mourning, a PER increase of +5.2. 

 

Significant Gains Due to the Lottery

4. Houston Rockets (+7.4)
Biggest Jump: +7.4 in 2002 (Caron Butler to Yao Ming)
Biggest Fall: N/A

No team has been impacted by the lottery as clearly measurably as the Houston Rockets have. The Rockets have only moved up or down once in the history of the lottery, when they jumped from the 5th pick to the 1st pick in 2002. There was a drastic drop-off in talent after the top two players in this draft, the first being Yao Ming, the player that Houston selected with the first overall pick. Ming’s career PER of 23, not to mention his status as a global icon and figure transcending sport, provided the Rockets a franchise player that they constructed their roster around in the years that followed. 

5. Detroit Pistons (+7)
Biggest Jump: +8.9 in 2003 (Josh Howard to Dwyane Wade)
Biggest Fall: -0.9 in 1993 (Rodney Rogers to Scott Burrell)

The Pistons have moved through the lottery process five times, with four minor falls and one major jump. On lottery night in 2003, Detroit’s projected 6th pick in an All-Star laden 4-player draft became the 2nd pick overall. From a PER perspective, Detroit went from drafting a player the caliber of Josh Howard to a franchise talent in Dwyane Wade, a massive jump of 8.9. Again, although the Pistons took the wrong player, they were still extremely lucky to move up four spots in the top-10 of an elite draft.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (+7)
Biggest Jump: +9 in 2007 (Jared Dudley to Kevin Durant)
Biggest Fall: -3.7 in 2006 (Brandon Roy to Kyle Lowry)

Continuing the theme of teams that won the lottery but threw out their ticket, the lottery history for the Trail Blazers, in spite of their gains, can be described as bittersweet at the very best. After a 32-50 finish in ’06-‘07, Portland was slated to pick 7th overall in a class with strong depth, but one player at the top far above anyone else. But the Blazers, with just a 0.53% chance at the #1 pick, improbably won the ’07 lottery and moved into the top spot. Portland went with Greg Oden, while Durant went 2nd overall to the then-Seattle SuperSonics. 

7. Milwaukee Bucks (+6.7)
Biggest Jump: +8.6 in 2005 (Andrew Bogut to Chris Paul)
Biggest Fall: -2.4 in 2007 (Joakim Noah to Jared Dudley)

In retrospect, the 2005 NBA Draft is one of the more lopsided 1-player draft pools in recent memory. Andrew Bynum, David Lee, Deron Williams, and Danny Granger (players ranked 2-5 in PER from the ’05 class) have all played at All-Star levels, combining to make 6 appearances in the All-Star game over their careers entering this season. Chris Paul, in spite of going 4th overall in this draft, has made 6 All-Star games on his own, while playing at an MVP level and reversing the fate of the lowly Los Angeles Clippers franchise over the past few years. Although the Bucks went with Utah center Andrew Bogut after jumping from #6 to #1, their jump to the top overall pick in a 1-player draft is a massive haul brought about by the luck of the lottery system.

8. San Antonio Spurs (+5.7)
Biggest Jump: +5.7 in 1997 (Chauncey Billups to Tim Duncan)
Biggest Fall: N/A

The Spurs have only played the lottery once, less than any other franchise, and they may as well have hit on the Mega Millions. In 1997, the Spurs finished behind Vancouver and Boston for the worst record in the NBA. But through the lottery, San Antonio would leapfrog both of these teams, receiving the #1 overall pick and allowing them to select Tim Duncan. Duncan immediately took a struggling franchise and created a dynasty, winning 4 rings, 3 Finals MVPs, and 2 league MVPs in the process. His career 24.8 PER does not do justice to his impact on a franchise, an impact that no more than a half-dozen players have displayed in league history.

9. Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder (+4.9)
Biggest Jump: +3.4 in 1990 (Dee Brown to Derrick Coleman)
Biggest Fall: -0.9 in 1999 (Ron Artest to Jeff Foster)

In the Oden-Durant class of ’07, then-Seattle entered the lottery slotted in the 5th spot. The SuperSonics jumped Memphis, Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta to receive the 2nd pick in what at the time was perceived as a 2-player draft. As it played out, Kevin Durant emerged not only as the best player in his class, but perhaps the best college talent to enter the NBA in a decade. Seattle were also the beneficiaries of luck in drafting perhaps the franchise’s best player before Durant, when they tabbed Gary Payton with the #2 pick in 1990. The Sonics moved up 8 spots in the lottery that year to select the player who would prove to be the best in his class. 

10. Los Angeles Clippers (+4)
Biggest Jump: +4.2 in 2009 (Stephen Curry to Blake Griffin)
Biggest Fall: -6 in 1995 (Antonio McDyess to Kevin Garnett)

The consistent incompetence of the Clippers franchise has made them the most common players of the lottery (17 times in 23 years), and as a result they have both gained and lost substantially from the system over the years. Until recently, the losses and gains virtually cancelled each other out. But in the recent 2009 draft, a class that thus far has proven very strong but unspectacular, Los Angeles moved up from the 3rd spot to the 1st. The Clips made the right pick in selecting Blake Griffin, a move that has altered the franchise’s fortune for the better.

 

Minimal Impact from the Lottery

11. Cleveland Cavaliers (+1.7)
Biggest Jump: +6.8 in 2011 (Tobias Harris to Kyrie Irving)
Biggest Fall: -3.3 in 2011 (Kenneth Faried to Nikola Vucevic)

Remember that Cleveland had the worst record in 2003 and therefore had the best odds entering the draft lottery, where they received the top pick and selected LeBron James. Because they didn’t move up or down, they do not receive a loss or gain. In 2011, Cleveland jumped from #8 to #1 to select Kyrie Irving, a move that will likely increase in value as Irving continues to distance himself from his draft class peers in the next 5-7 seasons.

12. Toronto Raptors (+0.4)
Biggest Jump: +4 in 2006 (Rudy Gay to Brandon Roy)
Biggest Fall: -2.3 in 1998 (Paul Pierce to Antawn Jamison)

Three relatively minimal moves, two down and one up, place the Raptors amongst the teams mostly unaffected by the results of the lottery. Toronto fell from #3 to #5 in a weak 2011 class, and fell from #2 to #4 in a 1998 draft where they still landed Vince Carter, the third best player in the class. 

13. Chicago Bulls (+0)
Biggest Jump: +5.4 in 2008 (Roy Hibbert to Kevin Love)
Biggest Fall: -4.7 in 2001 (Pau Gasol to Gerald Wallace)

The Bulls have been significantly impacted by the luck of the lottery twice in their history, once for better and once for worse. In 2008 the Bulls made the lottery leap all the way from #9 to #1, allowing them to select a future MVP and franchise player in Derrick Rose. The Bulls were notably burnt by the lottery in the 2001 Kwame Brown class, where they fell from #1 to #4, missing out on the opportunity to draft a Pau Gasol and instead landing Eddy Curry. 

14. New York Knicks (-0.1)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -0.1 in 2008 (Ryan Anderson to Javale McGee)

Because the devaluation of lottery picks was a staple of the Isaiah Thomas Era, the Knicks have only moved once through the lottery, falling from #5 to #6 in 2008.

15. Phoenix Suns (-0.7)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -0.7 in 1999 (Jason Terry to Lamar Odom)

Phoenix has also been hardly impacted by the draft lottery, moving down just once, from #8 to #9 in a balanced but star-barren 1999 draft class. 

16. Utah Jazz (-1.3)
Biggest Jump: +0.8 in 2011 (Enes Kanter to Kemba Walker)
Biggest Fall: -2.1 in 2005 (Deron Williams to Andrew Bogut)

The Jazz have only moved twice as a result of the lottery, with the fall having slightly more impact than the rise. In 2011, Utah moved up from #6 to #3 in what so far has proven to be a 2-player class at best. Utah fell two spots in the deep 2005 lottery, dropping from #4 to #6. 

17. New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets (-1.3)
Biggest Jump: +1.6 in 2000 (Hedo Turkoglu to Stromile Swift)
Biggest Fall: -3.2 in 2010 (Greg Monroe to John Wall)

Although the Nets jumped all the way from #7 to #1 in 2000, that year’s class was so historically bad, that the seemingly drastic jump is actually outweighed by the Nets fall from #1 to #3 in 2010.

18. Golden State Warriors (-1.9)
Biggest Jump: +7.2 in 1995 (Michael Finley to Kevin Garnett)
Biggest Fall: -5.6 in 2002 (Yao Ming to Nene)

Golden State has been a frequent mover (8 times in all), with 6 of those 8 results signifying a fall in the draft order. The Warriors were unfortunate to fall out of the top spot in 2002, missing out on the chance to draft Yao Ming. But Golden State emerged from the #5 slot to win the lottery in 1995, making a major jump in a notorious one-player draft (Kevin Garnett’s 23.2 career PER is 6 more than anyone else selected that year). 

19. Atlanta Hawks (-2.2)
Biggest Jump: +2.8 in 2001 (Joe Johnson to Tony Parker)
Biggest Fall: -5.7 in 2005 (Chris Paul to Andrew Bynum)

Atlanta moved up from #4 to #3 in 2007 to select Al Horford, and more significantly received the #3 pick from the 5th slot in 2001 to select Pau Gasol (Gasol was traded with a package of players to Memphis on draft night for Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the 27th pick). But the Hawks suffered a significant blow in the 2005 draft, falling from the #1 to #2 pick in the Chris Paul class, where they selected Marvin Williams amongst a strong group of players available. 

 

Significant Losses in the NBA Lottery

20. Charlotte Bobcats (-3.6)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -1.7 in 2005 (David Lee to Danny Granger)

Although the Bobcats franchise has only been in existence since 2004, the Bobcats have moved down in the draft on three separate occasions without ever jumping up. Charlotte fell from the top of the draft to the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, missing out on the opportunity to select Anthony Davis, the consensus top pick in an overall promising class. Also of note is the drop from #3 to #5 in the 2005 draft lottery, a fall that cost Charlotte the opportunity to draft Chris Paul and instead forced them to go with Raymond Felton. 

21. Washington Bullets/Wizards (-4.4)
Biggest Jump: +3.8 in 2010 (Paul George to Greg Monroe)
Biggest Fall: -3.7 in 2012 (Anthony Davis to John Henson)

Washington has been as active a mover in the lottery process as any franchise in the league, shifting up or down 9 times in the last 21 years. No single move ranks as a significant advantage or disadvantage, but their frequency of falling in the lottery (7 down to 2 up) places them in the red. The Wizards aren’t further down because their biggest move happened to be one of their two gains, when they moved up from #5 to #1 in 2010. 

22. Boston Celtics (-5.5)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -3.1 in 1997 (Tracy McGrady to Chauncey Billups)

The Celtics have only moved twice as a result of the lottery, but both moves resulted in significant drops that have cost the franchise a top-2 pick in a strong draft class. In 2007 the Celtics finished with the 2nd worst record in the league and a 19.9% chance at the top pick, but instead fell to #5 in the draft. The other drop that cost the Celtics occurred back in 1997 when Boston fell in the lottery from #2 to #3 in a draft with just two players with 20+ PERs for their careers. After Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady, the third-best player in the ’07 class was Chauncey Billups, the exact player Boston selected and traded a season later. 

23. Miami Heat (-6.4)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -2.1 in 1990 (Derrick Coleman to Elden Campbell)

Miami has never suffered a substantial drop in the lottery or even a small drop in a strong class, but has suffered a few more-than-minor losses that have added up over the years. Each of Miami’s four moves in the draft lottery process have all been for the worse, most recently with the 2008 draft. But the most damaging fall in the lottery for the Heat took place back in 1990, when Miami fell from #2 to #3 in what turned out to be a two-player draft. After Derrick Coleman and Gary Payton went with the first two picks, Miami traded their pick to Denver, who selected the former Chris Jackson third overall. 

24. Dallas Mavericks (-6.7)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -4.6 in 1993 (Chris Webber to Vin Baker)

Dallas has not moved in the draft lottery process since 1994, but falling in the lottery in three consecutive seasons from ’92-’94 cost them the opportunity to strengthen the roster before Dirk Nowitzki’s arrival just a few years later. The most costly of slips occurred in the 1993 lottery. Dallas finished the 1992-1993 season with an abysmal 11-71 record, but emerged from the lottery with just the #4 pick in an average class at best. Chris Webber would be selected #1 overall, and went on to make 5 All-Star teams in his successful career. Dallas missed out on Webber, and settled for Jamal Mashburn at 4th overall.

25. Sacramento Kings (-8.2)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -4.8 in 2009 (Blake Griffin to Ty Lawson)

Each of Sacramento’s six draft position moves as a result of the lottery have been downward, including one just a few years ago that has already proven significantly costly to the direction of the franchise. Sacramento entered the 2009 lottery with a 25% chance at the #1 pick, and could finish #4 overall at the very worst. But the Kings worst lottery fate came to fruition, as they missed out not only on the top pick, but a selection in the top 3. Blake Griffin went first overall to the Los Angeles Clippers, while Sacramento selected Tyreke Evans, the Rookie of the Year in 2010 who has since struggled to establish his role on the recent poorly assembled Kings rosters. 

 

The Worst of the Unlucky

26. Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (-9.8)
Biggest Jump: +4.4 in 1998 (Mike Bibby to Paul Pierce)
Biggest Fall: -6.8 in 2007 (Kevin Durant to Thaddeus Young)

The Grizzlies franchise has twice moved up in the draft order but has been snake-bitten by the lottery seven times, including one substantial drop that ranks amongst the most damaging of the lottery era according to this measure. This most recent lottery drop brings us back to the Oden-Durant draft class of 2007, following a year in which Memphis finished with a league-worst 22-60 record. With a 1 in 4 shot at the top pick, and a 65% chance at a pick in the top 3, Memphis fell all the way down to the #4 overall spot, where they selected guard Mike Conley. This PER deficit of -6.4, brought about by the lost opportunity to land Durant, raises an interesting question of whether or not the Grizzlies would have taken the swingman from Texas over Greg Oden. Consider that, in what at the time was a heated debate over the two prospects, Memphis center Pau Gasol was coming off of a season that still rates as the best of his career according to PER, a year in which he averaged 21 & 10 per game. Pau’s presence in the middle may have swayed the Grizzlies away from Oden and towards Durant, a debate that the lottery process has deprived us of. 

27. Denver Nuggets (-12.7)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -4.8 in 2003 (Dwyane Wade to Chris Bosh)

Denver has moved from its expected slot in the lottery seven times in total, and have fallen down in the order each of those seven times. The most infamous of these dives is their most recent, occurring the last time Denver made a selection in the lottery. The fact that the Nuggets have made the playoffs every season since this selection tells you that it couldn’t have been too bad a pick. But somehow, they still could have done better. Flash back to 2003. Only Cleveland finished with a worse record than the Nuggets. But on lottery night the Detroit Pistons, fresh off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, leapfrogged the Nuggets in the draft order. Denver still ended up with Carmelo Anthony, the 4th best player in the class and a superstar in his own right. But the difference between the 2nd and the 3rd pick in this historic class essentially amounts to the difference between Wade and Chris Bosh, a PER gap of 4.8. While Anthony has emerged as one of the elite scorers in league history, his game has not translated to playoff success, as his teams have lost in the first round in 8 of his 9 seasons in the league. Wade, on the other hand, has two rings and a Finals MVP to his name, while winning 14 of the 20 playoff series he has played in. 

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (-20.9)
Biggest Jump: N/A
Biggest Fall: -9.5 in 1992 (Shaquille O’Neal to Christian Laettner)

If the law of averages should apply to the distribution of luck through the draft lottery process, then consider the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise amazing outliers. On ten instances, a Minnesota pick has moved from its pre-lottery projected slot, and all ten times, that pick has moved down. But then how do we account for the fact that, by these numbers, Minnesota ranks so much worse than any other team in terms of luck? The reason is that not only has Minnesota fallen on hard luck much more frequently than any other team; they also fell victim to the single most damaging lottery drop by PER standards in the history of the weighted lottery system. 

The 1992 Timberwolves, in just their third season of existence, were easily the worst team in the NBA. Meanwhile, no player dominated the college landscape at this time quite like Shaquille O’Neal. But through the NBA draft lottery, Minnesota fell from the top overall spot down to the #3 pick at the expense of the Magic, who made a miraculous jump from the #11 spot to land Shaq. The Timberwolves selected Christian Laettner, the Duke star at #3 overall. O’Neal’s career PER is 26.4, amongst the best all-time, while Christian Laettner’s is 16.9, a nice rotation player on a solid team. The gap of 9.5 between Shaq and Laettner is by far the greatest gap between a first and third-best player in the lottery era. Minnesota picked the single worst year to fall from #1 to #3 in the lottery, costing them the shot to land one of the 15 best players of all time and instead ending up with a player who would make one All-Star team in his career. 

 

NOTE: Two franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers, have been unaffected by the movement of draft picks through the NBA lottery.