Lottery madness is fool’s gold

By Sekou Smith,

VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver address the tanking issue and revising the lottery system

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No one dares utter the dirty seven-letter word without fear of retribution, well, no one other than Mark Cuban. The Dallas Mavericks owner has been vocal about the tanking issue and what needs to be done about it.

But if you ask NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, lottery madness is much ado about absolutely nothing:

As the NBA regular season comes to a close you’re possibly one of two fans; either rooting for your favorite team to win out for better playoff positioning, or wanting your favorite stars to “rest” to gain better lottery positioning. Some call losing strategic others call it “tanking.”

Regardless of the preferred jargon, the practice is out of bounds.

Since 1985, the NBA put a system in place to award the NBA’s worst teams with the best chance for top picks in the subsequent draft. The first five years of the “Early Lottery System”, involved a random drawing of an envelope from a hopper. Under this system each non-playoff team had an equal chance to win the first pick. That didn’t directly help bad teams improve, so in 1990 the new weighted lottery system was implemented to give the team with the worst record the best chance of landing the first pick.

Currently the 14 teams that fail to qualify for the post-season are placed into a draft lottery. The team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of receiving the No. 1 pick. Depending on who’s projected to be drafted first, some may argue it’s worth losing a ton of games for the 25 percent chance of selecting the new face of a franchise. The numbers say it’s closer to being 100 percent wrong.

​Since 2004 (the last 10 lotteries) the team with the worst record won the lottery once in 2004 when the Orlando Magic went 21-61 and used the pick to select a center named Dwight Howard. Not bad. Howard enhanced ticket sales, led the team to a Finals appearance and eventually bolted for greener pastures. Now, the Magic are back in the lottery for a second consecutive season. If that number isn’t startling, dating back to 1985 there have only been four instances were the team with the worst record won the draft lottery.

DRAFT​–TEAM​–#1 Pick
1988–​CLIPPERS​–Danny Manning
1990​–NETS​–Derrick Coleman
2003–​CAVALIERS–​LeBron James
2004–​MAGIC–​Dwight Howard

​Simply put, this league is all about obtaining results. If a team is going to throw a season away in an attempt to get the No. 1 pick, let’s hope the player can return more than jersey sales. Which brings us to a more startling number. Since 1985 there have only been two No. 1 overall picks to win a Championship with their original team; David Robinson (1987) and Tim Duncan (1997).

Call it good fortune but the Spurs organization has been known to draft well regardless if it’s the first overall pick or the first pick in the second round. As for the two worst teams with the best odds to win the lottery, the Milwaukee Bucks (14-63) and Philadelphia 76ers (17-60), have been in a battle for who can lose the most games all season long. Milwaukee has maintained the title despite the Sixers tying a NBA record with 26 consecutive losses.

If the balls bounce their way one should win the coveted No. 1 pick. Milwaukee won the lottery twice in their team history, selecting Glenn Robinson (1994) and Andrew Bogut (2005). As for the Sixers they won the lottery in 1996 which resulted in one of the greatest Sixers in team history, Allen Iverson.

Memo to non-playoff teams and their fans, there’s no art to the science of winning the draft lottery.

Therefore instead of focusing on losing now to get better later, encourage your team to compete throughout an 82-game season. Besides, even if a team fails to win the #1 pick in a lottery doesn’t mean they won’t hit the jackpot, just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, No. 2 Pick in 2007 Draft).

VIDEO: Kevin Durant has had a remarkable season by anyone’s standard


  1. lbj4 says:

    winning lotteries will not get you a ring, trade your lottery picks to play next to the great king – lebron, we will send you already establish hall of famer norris cole in his prime for no.1,2,3,4,5 picks without asking for cash considerations

  2. Rob says:

    Whether the number one pick works out for you can vary so much. On the plus side you have Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James etc, but on the negative Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, Greg Oden, Pervis Ellison etc. Anthony Bennett hasn’t done very well so far either but at least he still has time.

  3. Someone else says:

    Just wait for the lbj character to come out with something like. It doesn’t matter who gets drafted in the lottery because they won’t play with our “King” LeBron in Miami and win their first ring – or something like that.

  4. BBall Fan says:

    Well of course it wont win. Statostically, you have drafting #1 as success, failure otherwise, meaning you only have 25% chance at success. Most times you wont get the first pick.

  5. okc2014 says:

    Like Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you just don’t know what your gonna get”.

  6. JV says:

    First pick is great and all, but it’s not everything. Look at what the Cavs did last year. And look at MJ and Kobe, arguably the two best shooting guards in league history weren’t even first picks. So what’s the point in tanking? You make your already bad team lose even more games and in the meanwhile you’re raising a losing culture and arguements on and off the court. And then you’re gonna bring in some new, young (albeit talented) 18-19 year old kid who’s supposed to right the ship? Maybe GM’s have to start realizing this is why their teams are still bad, even after they got their first pick.

  7. ulro says:

    …and since 1990:

    #1 – 25.0% chance – won 3 times
    #2 – 19.9% chance – won 2 times
    #3 – 15.6% chance – won 6 times
    #4 – 11.9% chance – won 2 times
    #5 – 8.8% chance – won 5 times
    #6 – 6.3% chance – won 2 times
    #7 – 4.3% chance – won 1 time
    #8 – 2.8% chance – won 1 time
    #9 – 1.7% chance – won 1 time
    #10 – 1.1% chance
    #11 – 0.8% chance – won 1 time
    #12 – 0.7% chance
    #13 – 0.6% chance
    #14 – 0.5% chance

    which shows that 3rd and 5th seeded teams won the most.
    Orlando getting Embiid?

  8. lagent says:

    Yes right well said.

  9. nbahuddle says:

    It can’t be understated how important it is to seed 1st when in a year of great prospects. Lets not get into whether the upcoming prospects are great or subpar. I do realise that Wiggins has not lived up to all the hype, although I believe he is doing well enough in his first year at Kansas. Although in a draft that doesn’t have a complete standout like the ’03 or ’04 draft it would still be beneficial for a team to seed 1 or 2 as a Jabari Parker or an Andrew Wiggins can be much more of a benefit than a Marcus Smart or a Doug McDermott.

    Although I do realise that its demoralising for a team to lose that many games in a season and can really destroy the friendships in a team as bickering starts internally. Also its a little unfair to say that only once in the last 10 years the team that was seeded 1st has won the 1st pick.

    While this is true the 1st seed through 14th seed the chances of first pick are:

    #1 – 25.0% chance of receiving the #1 pick
    #2 – 19.9% chance
    #3 – 15.6% chance
    #4 – 11.9% chance
    #5 – 8.8% chance
    #6 – 6.3% chance
    #7 – 4.3% chance
    #8 – 2.8% chance
    #9 – 1.7% chance
    #10 – 1.1% chance
    #11 – 0.8% chance
    #12 – 0.7% chance
    #13 – 0.6% chance
    #14 – 0.5% chance

    • qqqqqqq says:

      Doug Mcdermot wont go in the top 10.

      • nbahuddle says:

        I think Doug can be a lottery pick, only just thought IMHO.

        However it really is up to opinion as to whether its worth the traumatic experience of losing that many games to seed last for the extra few percent. However to say outright that its a fact that seeding last doesn’t help isn’t quite right.

        Its really up to the players in the team. Many players may seem mentally fit and strong, but losing that many games can crush many a players soul. So it really depends on the teams resilience.

        I don’t know on a personal level as to whether or not its worth it emotionally. However statistically its much better to seed 1, and I was just saying that. 😀