Lottery Lowdown

Pistons have built a talented base despite little luck on lottery night

Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond will represent the Pistons at the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery
Steve Freeman (NBAE/Getty)
Here’s what the Pistons would tell you about the process through which the NBA determines draft order: It’s better to be lucky on draft night than on lottery night.

The Pistons haven’t moved into the top three in any of the previous three lotteries, their standing unchanged in 2010 and ’12 while getting bumped down one rung in 2011. But they’ve come away with franchise cornerstone big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to go with the fiercely competitive Brandon Knight, a backcourt staple. Combined with the ample cap space Joe Dumars takes to the marketplace this July, those three players are at the heart of what the Pistons believe will be a playoff push under a new coach in 2013-14.

The odds are long that the Pistons will land the No. 1 pick or pull into the top three when the NBA holds the lottery at 8 tonight from Times Square in New York, televised by ESPN prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference finals between San Antonio and Memphis. In fact, they’re longer than they were in both 2010 and ’11, though slightly better than they were a year ago.

The Pistons go into the lottery in the No. 7 position, same as 2010 when they drafted Monroe after Golden State passed on him to take Ekpe Udoh sixth. But their odds to move into the top three are a bit worse than they were three years ago. The reason: In 2010, they were splitting their odds with the No. 6 position, Philadelphia’s, after the 76ers won a tiebreaker with them; this year, they’re splitting their odds with the No. 8 position, Washington, after winning a tiebreaker with the Wizards.

In each of the last three drafts, the Pistons have come away with players expected to go anywhere from one or two to five or six spots higher. A year ago, Drummond was thought to be a likely top-five pick, but Sacramento, choosing fifth, selected Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson. By mid-season, they’d traded him to Houston.

The Pistons’ odds to land the No. 1 pick in 2010 were 5.3 percent, roughly 50 percent better than the 3.6 percent odds they’ll take into tonight’s drawing. The Pistons have a 12.67 percent chance to land in the top three, including a 4.16 percent chance to get the No. 2 pick and a 4.91 percent chance at No. 3. They have an 85.23 percent chance to pick either seventh (59.93) or eighth (25.3) and only a 2.09 percent chance of picking lower than eighth. The Pistons could not move down more than three spots, so the only choices possible for them are 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 or 10.

Orlando goes into tonight’s lottery with the best chance to land the top pick at 25 percent, but only three times in 28 years since the lottery’s institution has the team that enters the lottery at No. 1 actually won it. The most recent came in 2004, when Orlando – tied with Charlotte for the worst record – won the lottery and selected Dwight Howard over Emeka Okafor. Cleveland won in 2003 after finishing with the worst record and took LeBron James. New Jersey took Detroiter Derrick Coleman No. 1 in 1990 after finishing with the worst record and winning the lottery.

There doesn’t appear to be a James or Howard as the prize for this year’s lottery winner. Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Kansas’ Ben McLemore are widely viewed as the likeliest contenders to be the No. 1 pick, though because there is no sure-fire star, team need could trump all. If Orlando wins the lottery, given its need at point guard, Michigan’s Trey Burke could rise to No. 1, observers believe. Cleveland or New Orleans might find Georgetown’s Otto Porter a compelling option at No. 1. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is another who could entice the right team to make him the top pick.

The actual lottery results are determined prior to the televised event. Pistons assistant general manager George David will again be ushered into a secured room, where he must hand over cell phones or any other communications devices at the door, to join executives from each of the 13 other lottery teams. Inside that room, four-digit combinations are pulled to determine who picks first and, subsequently, second and third. Those inside the room won’t be allowed to exit or partake in outside communication until the lottery results are televised.

The winning pick is determined by pulling four-digit combinations from among Ping-Pong balls numbered 1 through 14. There are 1,001 possible four-digit combinations when order is discounted – for example, 1-2-3-4 is considered the same as 4-3-2-1 or any other ordering of those four numbers – and, of those, one (11-12-13-14) is eliminated.

Each of the 14 teams is assigned a certain number from among the remaining 1,000 combinations, that number based on their record. Orlando, by virtue of having the worst record, gets 250 of the 1,000 combinations, for a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick. The Pistons go into the lottery with 36 combinations.

It’s certainly possible for one franchise to have more than one combination pulled during the course of determining the order of the top three picks. In fact, during the 2010 lottery, Washington – which won the No. 1 pick and selected John Wall – had three separate four-digit combinations pulled. In the case of a duplicate winner, the NBA merely sets any repeat winners aside and continues to pull combinations until three different teams are set in the top three spots. The remainder of the lottery order is based on record.

Drummond will represent the Pistons on stage from New York tonight, following in the footsteps of Monroe (2011) and Knight (2012) after their rookie seasons.

Check back tonight. I’ll have an analysis after the lottery results as to their impact on the Pistons.