Lottery Tuesday: After 13 unlucky appearances, the Pistons are overdue for a break

Grant Hill
The best result in Pistons lottery history was drafting Grant Hill with the No. 3 pick in 1994 – and even that came after they were bumped one spot
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: The most important NBA draft lottery draw for the Pistons since 1994 will take place three weeks from today, June 22. We’re taking a look at different aspects of the lottery each Tuesday until then, continuing with today’s look in the mirror at past Pistons lottery experiences.)

The Pistons have had one go-around in the lottery since the NBA revised the format for the 2019 draft and it went as expected – both according to the math and in line with the franchise’s history. In other words, the Pistons fell two spots.

They went into the lottery in the No. 5 spot with a 10.5 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick, but the odds – flattened after the 2018 draft when a groundswell of support to give more teams a better chance at a pick at or near the top of the lottery prompted change – said their most likely outcome, 27 percent, was to get the No. 7 pick.

And for a franchise that has never once in the lottery’s 36-year history moved up with its own pick, that seemed fitting. Charlotte, with a 6 percent chance at winning the No. 1 pick, went from the No. 8 slot to No. 1. Chicago, with a 32 percent chance at a top-four pick, went from seventh to fourth.

Here’s a look at the 12 other times the Pistons have been in the lottery since its 1985 inception:

2017 – The Pistons had less than a 1 percent chance to win the top pick and a 2.5 percent chance for a top-three pick, going into the lottery in the No. 12 position. Form held and they wound up picking Luke Kennard. All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo were taken with the next two picks.

2015 – The good news was that the Pistons weren’t leap-frogged by a team behind them. They went into the lottery in the No. 8 position and stayed there on long odds of 2.8 percent of getting the No. 1 pick and 10 percent of getting a top-three pick. The Pistons picked Arizona’s Stanley Johnson. Then-coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy said it was a razor-thin call over Devin Booker, who lasted until the 13th pick with Phoenix.

2014 – The Pistons had traded their first-round pick, protected through the top eight, to Charlotte in 2013 for the ability to swap the two years left on Ben Gordon’s contract for the one season remaining on Corey Maggette’s. And then the Cleveland Cavaliers capitalized on the 1.7 percent chance they had to win the No. 1 pick to leap-frog the Pistons. That pushed the Pistons, who went into the lottery in the No. 8 spot, down to No. 9 – and left their pick unprotected. Charlotte wound up taking Noah Vonleh at No. 9.

2013 – The Pistons went into the lottery in the No. 7 spot with a 3.6 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick and a 12.9 percent chance at a top-three pick. Washington cashed in its 4.8 percent chance to move into the No. 3 spot and picked Otto Porter Jr. The Pistons picked Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who became a starter on their 2016 playoff team. Portland picked C.J. McCollum two picks later – and Milwaukee gambled and won by drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo at 15.

2012 – It was viewed as the most important lottery in years because of the universal opinion that Anthony Davis was the clear No. 1 pick. New Orleans went from the No. 4 spot to No. 1 on 13.7 percent odds to get Davis. The Pistons went into the lottery at No. 9 and stayed there, drafting Andre Drummond after their 1.7 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick and 6.1 percent chance to pull a top-three pick failed.

2011 – The Pistons went into the lottery in the No. 7 spot but were pushed down one spot when the Cleveland Cavaliers (again), with a pick from the Los Angeles Clippers for taking on Baron Davis’ contract, beat 2.8 percent odds to go from No. 8 to No. 1 and win the right to draft Kyrie Irving. The Pistons, who had a 4.3 percent chance to win the No. 1 pick and a 15 percent shot at a top-three pick, took the player deemed the second-best point guard in that draft, Brandon Knight.

2010 – The Pistons went into the lottery – their first in nine years after a run that included seven consecutive 50-win seasons and six straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals ended – in the No. 7 spot and stayed there because the two teams directly ahead of them, Washington at five and Philadelphia at six, jumped to 1-2 on 10.3 and 6.0 percent odds to do so. The Wizards picked John Wall, the 76ers took Evan Turner. The Pistons, who had 5.3 percent odds at getting the No. 1 pick and an 18.3 percent chance to land a top-three pick, selected Georgetown big man Greg Monroe.

2001 – There was plenty of tumult ahead of the Pistons – the top three picks went to teams that entered the lottery in the third, eighth and fifth spots – but nothing that affected them. They went into the lottery in the No. 9 spot with a 1.8 percent chance at getting the top pick and stayed ninth, taking Rodney White. White was famously called the draft’s top prospect by icon Jerry West. Joe Johnson, a likely future Hall of Famer, wound up going 10th to Boston.

1998 – The Pistons went into the ’98 lottery in the No. 11 spot and stayed there against 1.1 percent odds of moving to No. 1. On draft night, Kansas All-American Paul Pierce unexpected slid and gave the Pistons front office fleeting hopes of landing a difference maker. But Pierce’s slide stopped at No. 10, going to Boston. The Pistons picked Bonzi Wells at 11. He never played for them. When the NBA had to shoehorn months of business into a few days coming out of the lockout to start the season in late January 1999, they traded Wells to Portland for a conditional future first-round pick to save his $1.1 million on the salary cap to create space needed to sign veteran free agents Loy Vaught and Christian Laettner.

1995 – The first four players taken in the 1995 draft would eventually play for the Pistons: Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. But the Pistons wound up staying in the No. 8 spot where they entered the lottery with a 6.6 percent chance of winning the top pick. Then-general manager Doug Collins decided to trade the pick to Portland for the 18th and 19th picks. Portland drafted Michigan State’s Shawn Respert eighth; the Pistons took Theo Ratliff 18th and Randolph Childress 19th.

1994 – It was the greatest result from a draft lottery in Pistons history – and it still came amid a lottery that cost the Pistons one spot. They went into the ’94 lottery in the same position as they’ll go into the 2021 lottery – in the No. 2 spot. They fell to third in a draft that most saw as having three no-doubt stars: Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. Milwaukee went from fourth to first and took Purdue’s Robinson; Dallas fell from first to second and took Cal’s Kidd. That left the Pistons with their preferred target all along, Duke’s All-American Hill. The Pistons, Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves all took 20-62 records into the lottery and split the odds for those three spots, but the Pistons won the coin flip that designated them for the No. 2 position. They had a 16.4 percent chance at the top pick.

1993 – The Pistons were double losers on lottery night as they held their own pick and Miami’s – their return for trading John Salley to the Heat – and saw both get bumped one spot, to 10th and 11th, when Orlando earned the No. 1 pick one year after using the top pick on Shaquille O’Neal. The Magic drafted Michigan’s Chris Webber but traded him to Golden State for the No. 3 overall pick, used on Penny Hardaway, plus two additional first-rounders. The Pistons fared as well as they could have expected, taking Lindsey Hunter at 10 with Miami’s pick and Allan Houston at 11 with their own. Hunter would go on to a 17-year NBA career that included two stints with the Pistons – the second highlighted by contributing to the 2004 NBA championship team – and Houston played 12 years, the first three with the Pistons.

So that’s their lottery history: 13 times in it, never moving up, five times getting bumped one spot – costing them the pick altogether in 2014 – and once falling two spots. The one time the lottery caused the Pistons joy was in 2003 when they held Memphis’ pick, protected at No. 1 only. The Grizzlies drew the No. 2 pick. LeBron James went first. The Pistons took Darko Milicic, a breathtaking 7-footer who at 18 had shooting range and athleticism. The Pistons won the 2004 NBA title during Milicic’s rookie season, but he rarely played and his time in Detroit ended when he was 20, traded to Orlando midway through his third season for veteran help for another playoff push. That push ended in a conference finals loss to Miami, led by the No. 4 pick in that draft, Dwyane Wade.

Yeah, they’re overdue for some lottery luck.

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