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John Schuhmann

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Minnesota GM David Kahn and the Wolves have a 25 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Hopes high for lottery teams despite dearth of Draft talent


Posted May 17 2011 9:35AM

All of them would prefer to have not qualified for the event, but the odds are that the 2011 NBA Draft lottery (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be the start of something big for at least one of the 12 teams on stage in Secaucus, N.J., on Tuesday.

For many of these teams, the trip to the swamps of Jersey is an annual rite. The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been to the playoffs in seven years. The Toronto Raptors have tasted the postseason just twice in the last nine seasons. And the Golden State Warriors have made one playoff appearance in the last 17 seasons. But this lottery may be the one that (eventually) gets them out of their funk.

Draftniks are tagging this as a weak draft, with many top prospects deciding to stay in school for at least another year. But there are two possible difference-makers at the top, and contributors can always be found.

A little bit of luck always helps. Whichever team has the odds go its way Tuesday can be comforted in knowing more wins likely will be coming its way soon. The average lottery winner adds 8.4 wins the following season and more than twice that in the third season after the lottery.

Average wins for winners of top three picks since 1985
Pick Wins Avg. Before Picking Avg. Wins in 1st Year Avg. Wins in 2nd Year Avg. Wins in 3rd Year 1st Year Avg. Wins Increase 2nd Year Avg. Wins Increase 3rd Year Avg. Wins Increase
1 24.4 32.9 36.7 41.7 +8.4 +12.3 +17.3
2 27.5 34.0 36.1 39.8 +6.5 +8.6 +12.2
3 24.1 33.9 34.4 35.3 +9.8 +10.3 +11.2
1, 2 or 3 25.4 33.6 35.8 38.9 +8.2 +10.4 +13.6

The numbers are partially skewed by some extreme cases. Often, teams completely bottom out the season before they win a top-three pick, thanks to both injuries and cap-clearing deals. The model case is the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs, who won just 20 games as their star, David Robinson, played six games in an injury-riddled season. The following season, they had a healthy Robinson and added Rookie of the Year Tim Duncan -- the No. 1 pick in the 1997 Draft -- to increase their win total to 56.

None of the 12 teams in this lottery has nearly as much potential for a dramatic win increase as those Spurs did. The Timberwolves have the best odds to win the lottery, but they need help at almost every position and are three times as likely not to win the first pick.

The team with the league's worst record has won the No. 1 pick just four times in the 26-year history of the lottery, and the team with the best odds has won it just twice in 17 years under the current (weighted) system.

2011 Draft Lottery odds
Team 2010-11 Record Chances 1st Pick 2nd Pick 3rd Pick
Minnesota 17-65 250 25% 21.5% 17.76%
Cleveland 19-63 199 19.9% 18.8% 17.11%
Toronto 22-60 156 15.6% 15.73% 15.57%
Washington 23-59 119 11.9% 12.59% 13.29%
Sacramento 24-58 76 7.6% 8.44% 9.49%
Utah (from NJN) 24-58 75 7.5% 8.34% 9.39%
Detroit 30-52 43 4.3% 4.94% 5.78%
Cleveland (from LAC) 32-50 28 2.8% 3.26% 3.88%
Charlotte 34-58 17 1.7% 2.0% 2.41%
Milwaukee 35-47 11 1.1% 1.3% 1.58%
Golden State 36-46 8 0.8% 0.95% 1.15%
Utah 39-43 7 0.7% 0.83% 1.01%
Phoenix 40-42 6 0.6% 0.71% 0.87%
Houston 43-39 5 0.5% 0.59% 0.72%

If the Wolves leave Secaucus with the No. 1 pick -- something they've never done in 13 previous trips to the lottery -- they may have no choice but to use it to draft another point guard. Two years ago, they selected Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the fifth and sixth picks, but Rubio hasn't indicated that he's ready to leave Spain and Flynn hasn't shown that he's anything more than a backup.

Though he's 6-foot-2 and played only 11 games this season, Duke point guard Kyrie Irving seems to be the best player in the Draft. The team that could use him most is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had the league's worst record until they won four of their last six games.

Cleveland could do a lot worse than landing Arizona forward Derrick Williams, thought to be the second-best player in the Draft. But after Irving and Williams, things start to get sketchy. UConn guard Kemba Walker was maybe this season's best college player, but is undersized. There are some international big men with potential, but none is a sure thing.

That's why two non-playoff teams were willing to deal their lottery chances. The New Jersey Nets sent their first-round pick to the Utah Jazz in the trade that got them Deron Williams. The Los Angeles Clippers sent their first round pick to Cleveland in order to get rid of Baron Davis' contract. That means, barring a trade, the Jazz and Cavs will make four of the 14 lottery selections.

Despite their lack of lottery picks, the Nets and Clippers are the non-playoff teams most likely to see the postseason a year from now. New Jersey has Williams and center Brook Lopez, while L.A. has Eric Gordon and reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin. Plus, both teams will have the cap space to add additional pieces.

If Utah wins the lottery with their pick, the Nets probably won't stress it too much. They already have a better point guard than Irving's likely to be. But the Jazz will gladly take that No. 1 spot with the knowledge that it can only help them down the line.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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