Lottery Primer

As Pistons can attest, lottery luck doesn’t equal draft results

The Pistons have seen positive results from their last two trips to the draft lottery.
(NBAE/Getty)
For a franchise that’s had pretty lousy lottery luck the past two seasons, the Pistons have enjoyed tremendous fortune on draft night. This year, their hearts probably won’t be pounding through their chests as David Stern pulls the envelopes out of the drum Wednesday night in New York to set the 2012 NBA draft order.

If they hit the home run and beat their 1.7 percent odds of landing the No. 1 pick, great. But those odds are so long – significantly worse even than their 4.3 and 2.8 percent chances of the past two seasons – that nobody holds out much hope the Pistons will be game planning around Anthony Davis next season.

Getting the No. 2 or No. 3 pick would be nice, but probably wouldn’t stir the same jubilation it would have in either 2010 or 2011 – and, ironically enough, the results turned out arguably better for the Pistons in landing Greg Monroe with the No. 7 pick and Brandon Knight at No. 8.

There is some sentiment around the NBA, in fact, that teams slotted outside the top five might be better off staying where they are than drawing into the No. 2 or 3 spots. That might be a stretch, but it reflects the uncertainty of the draft beyond Davis, the 6-foot-10 Kentucky freshman who led the Wildcats to the NCAA title and swept national player of the year awards.

Given both the greater pressure on hitting with a high lottery pick and the greater salary commitment inherent in choosing second or third, a draft with uncertain star power but generally agreed upon depth is one where standing pat isn’t likely to be devastating.

There is a general consensus that after Davis goes No. 1, the next three players in some order will be Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal. While scouts would largely agree that those players are less likely than the next wave to come up busts, there wouldn’t be much surprise if players picked several spots lower wind up making greater NBA impact.

The Pistons can vouch for that likelihood. Two years ago, after losing a tiebreaker with Philadelphia for the 6/7 draft slots going into the lottery, the Pistons watched the 76ers parlay their No. 6 lottery slot into the No. 2 pick while the Pistons remained seventh. The 76ers picked Ohio State swingman Evan Turner.

Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins, two big men the Pistons would have strongly considered with the No. 2 pick, went third and fifth. Only a late reversal by Golden State, which opted for Ekpe Udoh at No. 6, enabled Monroe to slide to the Pistons at No. 7. After leading them in both scoring (15.4) and rebounding (9.7) in his second season, Monroe has emerged as one of the NBA’s most promising young big men.

Last year, the Pistons seemed certain to draft a big man. But a run of five straight big men – Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo – pushed Knight, projected at No. 3 to Utah or No. 5 to Toronto by virtually everyone, to the Pistons at No. 8. Coming off a season in which he was named first team All-Rookie, Knight appears entrenched as Pistons point guard for the next generation.

If the Pistons were to land the No. 2 pick, Robinson would be a logical pick for them. At a listed 6-foot-9 on a sculpted frame, Robinson’s only flaws are prototypical power forward length and scoring ability outside of the paint. But Kidd-Gilchrist, given his motor, leadership potential and athleticism on the wing – behind interior size, probably the characteristic the Pistons are most lacking – would also merit strong consideration.

At No. 9, the Pistons are virtually assured that a number of players from among a group of big men that includes North Carolina teammates John Henson and Tyler Zeller, Kentucky combo forward Terrence Jones, Ohio State’s undersized power forward Jared Sullinger, Baylor’s enigmatic Perry Jones III, Illinois 7-footer Meyers Leonard and Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie will be on the board.

But could a player who doesn’t fit their most obvious needs but projects as a higher value – and if you doubt they would target such a player, see Tom Gores and Joe Dumars discuss such an issue at the recent State of the Pistons event – upset the apple cart again this year?

A few names to consider: UConn shooting guard Jeremy Lamb and Washington shooting guard Terrence Ross could be sleepers who catch the Pistons’ eyes through next week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago and in subsequent individual workouts. Syracuse’s Dion Waiters or Duke’s Austin Rivers would also fit that category. If there’s a player who falls unexpectedly, as Knight did a year ago, it could be North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, a small forward with ideal size for the position and the potential to be a No. 1 scoring option.

Knight will represent the Pistons on stage at the lottery. Personnel director George David will be in the room when the four-digit combinations are pulled that actually determine the lottery order an hour before ESPN goes on air at 8 p.m. Wednesday to announce the results. The Pistons will have 17 of 1,000 possible four-digit combinations, thus their 1.7 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick.