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History of the NBA Draft Lottery Results

History of the NBA Draft Lottery Results

I've been thinking about what changes I would make, if any, to "reform" the NBA draft lottery. I certainly have some ideas in mind, but before tackling the complexities of lottery reform, let's take a look at the historical draft lottery results. Although it's seemingly obvious, there's a simple notion that is regularly overlooked or never acknowledged: a lottery is a form of gambling. There will be winners. And there will be losers. The NBA draft lottery has not escaped this inevitability.

  • I gathered as much data as I could from YouTube. The rest came from multiple web sites. If there's any incorrect data, let me know in the comments.
  • Trades involving protected picks made it difficult to decide which teams should be represented in this analysis. If "Team A" conditionally owed its pick to "Team B" based on the outcome of the lottery, then "Team A" is represented in the charts and statistics below. If "Team A" traded their pick to "Team B" before the lottery and it was not protected or conditional, then "Team B" is represented below. For instance, Orlando had a lottery pick in 1993 after narrowly missing the playoffs. They beat long odds and won the first pick. Shortly after (on the night of the draft) they swapped picks with Golden State. Orlando is recognized with winning the 1993 lottery, not Golden State. Conversely, in 2014, Cleveland and the LA Clippers both missed the playoffs. In addition to their own pick, Cleveland owned LA's unprotected pick via a trade that occurred prior to the draft lottery. Cleveland went on to "win" the lottery by virtue of the LA Clippers "slot". Cleveland is recognized with winning the 2014 lottery, not LA.
  • Some franchises have moved during the lottery era. I grouped Seattle and Oklahoma City together as one organization. Ditto Vancouver/Memphis and Brooklyn/New Jersey. (There are currently no franchises in Seattle, Vancouver, or New Jersey.)
  • "Charlotte" is the Charlotte Hornets 1988–2002, Charlotte Bobcats 2004–2014, and Charlotte Hornets 2014–present 1When the New Orleans organization rebranded itself as the Pelicans in 2013, they returned the Hornets name, records, and official history from 1988 to 2002 to Charlotte.
  • "New Orleans" is the New Orleans Hornets 2002–2005, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets 2005–2007, New Orleans Hornets 2007–2013, and New Orleans Pelicans 2013–present.

Before I amassed and analyzed the data, I had a handful of opinions, some more accurate than others. The big benefactors surely had to be Orlando, Cleveland, and San Antonio (multiple times winning #1 pick) as well as Philly and the Clippers (it seems like one of them picks in the top three every year). Boston had to be one of the big losers 2Note: I'm a lifelong (and admittedly biased) Celtics fan. I couldn't really think of any others, though.

Enough speculation. Let's go to the data. Hopefully the charts below are self-explanatory. Take your time--there's a lot to take in.

So what can we conclude from all this?
  • Philly has made out like a bandit. Though they've only won the #1 overall pick once, they've had a top 3 pick more than anyone but the Clippers. They've also got the second best cumulative plus/minus for draft positions (+14), they've never fallen out of the top 3, and they've jumped up into the top 3 more than any other team (5 times). That, my friends is damn good luck.
  • The Clippers have done well for themselves too. But I attribute this more to consistently being in the lottery, as opposed to good forture. They tied with Orlando for second most #1 overall picks (3 total), and they've had nine top 3 picks (more than any other team). Their plus/minus is a reasonable +3 and three times they jumped up into the top 3. On the downside, they dropped out of the top 3 twice.
  • Boston didn't get screwed as badly as I thought. They've only picked twice in the top 3 3You can't blame the lottery for what happened to Len Bias Their plus/minus of -3 is within spitting distance of break even. They jumped into the top 3 once and fell out of the top 3 once. Meh. About my innaccurate perception of bad luck...I'll attribute that to losing out on Tim Duncan.
  • Orlando with three #1 picks has done well, too. But there was only one other time they picked in the top 3. That came as a surprise. Their +6 for draft positions, while good, is not as high as I expected. They dropped out of the top 3 three times (ouch!), and only jumped into the top 3 once.
  • Brooklyn/New Jersey, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Washington each won the #1 pick twice. Without Googling, the only ones I can remember are Glen Robinson, Derrick Rose, Andrew Bogut, and Kwame Brown.
  • Cleveland got the #1 pick five times (including back-to-back drafts in 2013 and 2014). That alone might make them the luckiest lottery team of all time. They've got the best plus/minus of +16. However, they dropped out of the top 3 twice and they've never picked at #2 or #3.
  • San Antonio's numbers are pretty good. Maybe even great. Still, I think I overestimated how "lucky" they were in the lottery. I guess that's what happens when you have three at-bats and get two home runs (David Robinson, Tim Duncan) and a double (Sean Elliot).
  • Teams with multiple Top 3 picks that came as no surprise to me: Brooklyn/NewJersey, Memphis/Vancouver, Charlotte, Golden State, Minnesota, Orlando.
  • Teams with way fewer Top 3 picks than I realized: Denver(2), Miami(2), Portland(2), Sacramento(2), and Toronto(2). Seriously? Only two Top 3 picks for Sacramento? Egads!
  • Minnesota has had it rough. They did win the #1 pick just this year (2015), but they've only had four Top 3 picks, they have the worst plus/minus (-14), and they've been knocked out of the Top 3 four times (tied with Washington for the most lottery falls). Plus, they've never jumped into the Top 3.
  • Sacramento has gotten shafted too. As mentioned already, only two Top 3 picks (one of which was a #1 overall pick). Their plus/minus of -12 is second worst.

*** Update 2015-12-21 ***
At long last, here is what I'd do to Fix The NBA Draft Lottery.
There's also a historical analysis of the NBA draft lottery format.


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