Sam Smith: The unlucky side of the NBA Draft Lottery

It won't make or break the franchise, but a little luck can go a long way with the NBA Draft Lottery
Christian Laettner with the Minnesota Timberwolves
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
Draft 2020 | AT&T Bulls Draft Coverage


If any teams should be angry about the draft lottery, it's the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis/Vancouver Grizzlies.

Imagine how different the history of the NBA would be if the Timberwolves, especially, were not perennial victims of an unequal lottery draw.

Consider in 1992 when the Timberwolves had the worst record in the NBA. By a lot, by the way.

It was an historic NBA draft with perhaps one of the 10 best ever NBA players, Shaquille O'Neal at No. 1 and Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning at No. 2. Imagine how either would have changed one of the most inefficient franchises since its inception, especially O'Neal. And then perhaps a decade later missing out on Kyrie Irving.

Or how about that franchise agreement the NBA hung on the Grizzlies? Perhaps the Ja Morant draft last year finally was payback. The Grizzlies, who started in Vancouver, agreed in their entry not to have the first draft pick for four years. It kept them from having a chance to draft Tim Duncan in 1997. And probably having remained in Canada. The year before it kept them from drafting Allen Iverson. How long would Iverson/Duncan lasted as a dynasty? And you'd probably never have heard of Gregg Popovich.

It's the somewhat arbitrary nature of not only the draft but team success.

No matter a team's culture, veteran experience and front office savvy, draft lottery success probably more often builds champions. Without the Grizzlies, the Celtics were in line for No. 1 in 1997. Duncan became Chauncey Billups and coach Rick Pitino's NBA career ended quickly.

How about if Charlotte in 2012 with the poorest record ended up with the No. 1 pick and Anthony Davis? Instead of No. 2. Michael Jordan would be a much smarter executive. And in 1985 didn't the Pacers with the poorest record deserve Patrick Ewing more than the Knicks? After all, it was the Pacers draft choice the Trailblazers used in 1984 for Sam Bowie one pick ahead of Jordan. So, yes, it also helps to take the right guy when you have a chance.

Unlucky in Lottery

Year Team Projected Pick-Actual Pick Players
1985 Indiana 1-2 Wayman Tisdale No. 2. Patrick Ewing No. 1
1987 Clippers 1-4 Reggie Williams No. 4. David Robinson No. 1
1992 Minnesota 1-3 Christian Laettner No. 3. Shaquille O’Neal No. 1 and Alonzo Morning No. 2
1993 Dallas 1-4 Jamal Mashburn. Chris Webber No. 1 and Penny Hardaway No. 3.
1996 Vancouver 1-3 Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Allen Iverson No. 1
1997 Boston 1-3 Chauncey Billups. Tim Duncan No. 1. Vancouver had the poorest record but by the expansion agreement were denied the No. 1 pick its first four years.
2007 Memphis and Boston Memphis: 1-4, and Boston: 2-5 Mike Conley and Jeff Green. Kevin Durant No. 2
2011 Minnesota 1-2 Derrick Williams. Kyrie Irving No. 1
2012 Charlotte 1-2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Anthony Davis No. 1
2019 New York 1-3 RJ Barrett. No. 1 Zion Williamson.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at

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.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter