A Date with Lady Luck during NBA Draft Lottery

19 May

A couple of days ago NBA held its annual draft lottery and as always it created excitement [for teams which “won” and moved up] and sadness [for teams which moved down].
GM of Timberwolves even joked that NBA is good at creating stories around this event although a joke would be better if he had mentioned that his team sucks even at lottery ;-)

Anyway, was he right that some teams simply don’t have luck?
If so which ones had best and worst lucky charms to date?
I’ll answer it below but let’s start with some facts and rules:

In current form lottery started in 1994 [if you want to learn more about lottery process visit History of NBA Draft Lottery’s Development] so we have 18 years of data to work with. Teams had to miss playoffs to even enter the lottery so this exercise can’t possibly have common denominator. For example, Clippers and Warriors participated a whooping 15 times while Spurs [1], Lakers [2] and Heat [4] were rare visitors.

I assumed continuity of teams so for example in those 18 years Thunder had 9 lottery picks even though most of them were actually held by Seattle SuperSonics. What’s more, Charlotte means only Bobcats not Hornets even though both franchises played in that town at some point and I included new ownership of picks via trades only when they were completed before lottery.

There were 3 expansion teams during that period and their rules in the draft were different, for example in some years they couldn’t win #1 pick, so I changes their chances to reflect that fact.
All others odds were taken from

With all that said, let’s get to the point, here’s the list of luckiest teams in the lottery in last 18 years:
[“Sum of all moves” = change from #3 to #1 got team +2 for that season and I repeated it for all teams in all 18 years,
“Change in Combinations” = how many chances team had for #1 minus chances for #1 on the spot this team landed on. So for example, if a team had 250 combinations to win #1 and finished lottery at #2 – which before lottery had 199 combinations to win – this team finished that year with -51. I added it because jumping from #10 to #9 isn’t the same as jumping from #3 to #2 in terms of beating odds].

Team Sum of
all moves
Team Change in
Philadelphia 9 Philadelphia 363
New Orleans 8 Portland 173
Portland 5 Milwaukee 156
L.A. Clippers 4 Detroit 146
Milwaukee 4 Houston 136
Chicago 4 Cleveland 122
Houston 4 Oklahoma City 106
New Jersey 3 Chicago 96
Cleveland 2 San Antonio 93
Detroit 2 New Orleans 93
San Antonio 2 New Jersey 92
L.A. Clippers 92

So Sixers were the luckiest team by a wide margin and frankly it’s amazing.
They participated 9 times, moved up 4 times… and never moved down!

Hornets are very extreme example, they moved up 10 spots in 1999 [from #13 to #3] which is still a record but in other years they were simply average.

Now let’s move on to those unlucky teams [with the same rules]…

Team Sum of
all moves
Team Change in
Minnesota -9 Minnesota -260
Sacramento -9 Sacramento -250
Golden State -5 Denver -223
Denver -5 Memphis -179
Memphis -4 Boston -154
Washington -4 Charlotte -100
Boston -3 Dallas -86
Charlotte -3 Golden State -82
Toronto -2 Miami -82
Orlando -2 Orlando -68
Miami -2 Washington -43

And here we also have clear “winner”. Wolves are basically bizzaro Sixers, they participated in lottery 11 times… and never moved up! Quite an accomplishment ;-)

As a bonus I’ll thrown in two other topics:
The most boring lottery results were in 2004 when nothing changed other than one swap [#4 with #5].
The biggest changes were in aforementioned 1999 when Hornets jumped big time which moved down pretty much everybody.

In my next post in this category I’ll try to link players to those picks because clearly you were more lucky with #1 in a year with LeBron than in a year with Bargnani as a main prize, right?


Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Scrutiny


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4 responses to “A Date with Lady Luck during NBA Draft Lottery

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