Sam Smith: The luck of the Lottery

The Lottery may grant you luck, but it takes a lot more to turn that luck into a Championship.
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Sam Smith breaks down how picks have played out for teams that jumped up the draft board.

It's fortunate to be fortunate on Lottery Day in the NBA. But it doesn't guarantee your fortune.

No team that has defied the greatest lottery odds has used that luck to win an NBA championship.

The Orlando Magic may have been closest and probably remain one of the best NBA teams never to win an NBA title.

The Magic started in 1989 and became the story of the lottery after the first one in 1985 when the Knicks moved up from No. 3 to grab college superstar Patrick Ewing with the top pick and the NBA was forever erroneously accused of manipulating the lottery to favor the Knicks. All non playoff teams had equal chances for the No. 1 pick then. The Knicks went on to finish last in Ewing's rookie season and never win a title. The Knicks in the woeful 1986 lottery fell from first to fifth. Four of the top seven picks in that draft fell victim to drug problems.

The following season the rules were changed to make the lottery for the top three picks and then by record. In 1990, it was modified again to a weighted system to give greater odds to the team with the worst record.

Shaq on draft night with David Stern

In came the Magic.

There were huge variances to start with Seattle jumping eight spots for Gary Payton in 1990 and Charlotte six spots for Alonzo Mourning in 1992. In that draft, the Magic moved up from No. 2 to get Shaquille O'Neal at No. 1. The following year the Magic moved up from 11th to No. 1 for Chris Webber. Orlando traded that pick to the Warriors for the No. 3 selection for Penny Hardaway and three future No. 1s, in effect, four first rounders for Webber. It enabled the Magic to build what seemed to be a dynasty with O'Neal and Hardaway, the latter then a talent rival to Kobe Bryant, and high previous draft picks like Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott. But the Magic was thwarted by the Rockets in the 1995 Finals, Michael Jordan's return and community hostility toward O'Neal's contract requests that led to his leaving for the Lakers in free agency in 1996.

The Bulls looked on the road to that title with Rose before his serious knee injury in the 2012 playoffs and now we'll see whether Williamson or Morant can lead a revival of their franchises. Luck can carry you only so far.

The biggest lottery luck

Gain Year Projected Pick - Actual Pick Team and Player
+ 10 1993 11-1 Orlando Magic. Chris Webber
+ 10 1999 13-3 Charlotte Hornets. Baron Davis
+ 8 1990 10-2 Seattle Supersonics. Gary Payton
+ 8 2008 9-1 Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose
+ 8 2014 9-1 Cleveland Cavaliers. Andrew Wiggins
+ 7 2011 8-1 Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving
+ 7 2019 11-4 Los Angeles Lakers. De'Andre Hunter
+ 6 Six teams including New Orleans and Memphis last season for Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. In 1992 Charlotte for Alonzo Mourning and 2007 Portland for Greg Oden.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


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