The NBA Draft Lottery: the history of getting screwed

NBA Lottery 2022

Yes, the Pistons got screwed in the lottery again!

Q: How unfair is the draft lottery?

A: Pretty unfair, and designed to make almost everyone feel bad.

The NBA Lottery - A History of Woe:

Old lottery with envolopes

Always blame David Stern.

The first NBA draft lottery was in 1985. Before then, prospects were shot out of a cannon towards all the GMs and whoever caught the guy got to move up to draft him. Those were simpler times.

Since then, the teams with the worst records have been put in a lottery to get a "top pick". The rules have varied - from 1985-1987, each non-playoff team (7 total) got an envelope in a hopper and the NBA just drew out all the envelopes to determine the draft order. It was believed by the league that this would discourage tanking.

Ha ha! Teams still tanked. The league decided to get serious in 1987. Same hopper full of envelopes, 1 per team, but now draw three envelopes, and the winners pick 1, 2, and 3. The rest of the teams would get assigned draft picks in reverse record order. Surely this would discourage tanking.

Oops! Not only did teams still tank, everyone was sure that the NBA was rigging the lottery so that their preferred teams would win the lottery. Everyone knows the NBA drastically favors the Knicks (won in 1985, the bastards), the Spurs (won in 1987, they get everything), the ... Clippers? (won in 1986 AND 1988), and the... wait a minute... KINGS??? (won in 1989). Yeah... Definitely rigged.

Starting in 1990 we got the weighted lottery that we all know and despise today. The non-playoff teams get weighted odds to win the lottery (which meant the top 3 picks until 2019, then it meant the top 4 picks), with the teams that don't win drafting in reverse record order. The odds and method have changed A BUNCH of times, because teams keep tanking, and the league keeps "trying to discourage tanking". All they need is one more change and they'll surely fix the tanking problem!

Why does my team always move down in the draft?

Sad Rip 2022

Dammit, NBA, you made Rip sad

The lottery sucks and almost everyone almost always moves down. Plus it might have been rigged, or be rigged, or will be rigged. Always against your team.

Because of the way the lottery is designed, everyone almost always feels like, if they move at all, they are moving down and getting screwed. Consider the current system - if the team with the best non-playoff record (draft slot 14) wins the lottery, ONE team is super excited and feels like winners, and THIRTEEN OTHER TEAMS move down and feel like they got screwed.

There are pretty good odds that a team that was "supposed to" draft 8-14 will win one of the top four spots (57.8% - better than even odds!). That pick will be, on average, around 2.75, so I'll just call it pick three to get the feel of the thing. So for that ONE team moving up to 3, somewhere between FIVE (if it was the team at 8) and ELEVEN (if it was the team at 14) teams will be forced to move down and feel like they got screwed.

Of course multiple teams can move up. Then your team moves down TWO spots, or THREE spots, or OMG FOUR SPOTS WHY IS MY TEAM ALWAYS SO SCREWED?!???

The "better" your draft position, the more likely you are to feel screwed. If you have the worst NBA record, you have an 86% chance of moving down at least one spot, a 72.6% chance of moving down at least two spots, a 59.9% chance of moving down at least three spots, and a whopping 47.9% chance of moving down the whole FOUR SPOTS. ARGH, YOU GOT SO SCREWED.

If nothing else is clear, the NBA hates their fans, and wants them to feel like they are getting screwed, even if the draft ISN'T RIGGED.

Is there actually any evidence that the lottery has been rigged?

Lottery rigged?

Goddamit, Lakers.

Possible evidence:

1985 - The Knicks, having equal odds to win the lottery as 6 other teams, wins the lottery. OBVIOUSLY RIGGED.

2016 - Dikembe Mutombo sends a congratulatory tweet to the sixers that they won the draft lottery before the lottery occurred. They did indeed win the lottery (they had the worst record). OBVIOUSLY RIGGED.

2017 - Lakers exec Magic Johnson assures head coach Luke Walton (haha) that the Lakers will have a top 3 pick, 12 days before the lottery, when the Lakers moved up and got pick #2. OBVIOUSLY RIGGED.

Most years - Your team keeps moving down. OBVIOUSLY RIGGED.

Recent years - If you've watched the NBA lottery in recent years, you've noticed that the picks are revealed by "Mark Tatum, deputy NBA Commissioner". It is obvious that he is actually a robot, probably running Windows. PROBABLY BEEN HACKED.

Considering that NBA refs have been involved in gambling scandals (throwing games they reffed for gambling purposes - ref Donaghy was thrown in jail, and it is extremely unlikely that his is an isolated case), accusations of draft rigging should be taken seriously. I refer everyone to the Boourns, who knows more about this topic than anyone.

So how screwed have the Pistons been by the Draft Lottery?

Pistons Win!

Less screwed than it feels like, but still screwed

Only somewhat screwed, relative to other teams.

We've won the lottery once since 1985 (last year when we got CADE), though we only moved up one spot to win it. We traded for lottery picks twice, and one moved up four spots (we picked.... Darko), one fell one spot. With our non-CADE first round picks, we moved DOWN every single time (that we moved). We've moved down 1 spot 5 times (one of which we traded to the Hornets), and moved down 2 spots twice (2020, and this year).

So considering all the lottery picks we actually made (counting the picks we traded for, and not the ones we traded away), the Pistons have moved down a net 4 spots in 9 different moves.

Which isn't so bad over 35+ years. But it feels like we are ALWAYS GETTING SCREWED.

Has anyone actually gotten screwed worse?

The Most Screwed Teams

Oh, YES. Some teams have gotten REALLY SCREWED. Three teams have NEVER moved up in the lottery, even counting picks they got in trade.

  • Heat: -9 spots in 5 moves
  • Nuggets: -10 spots in 8 moves
  • Mavs: -12 spots in 6 moves

But who has lost the most net spots in the draft? (only the picks they actually used - counting the ones they traded for, and not the ones they traded away)

The poor, poor, Timberwolves have been the MOST EGREGIOUSLY SCREWED team by the NBA lottery. They have:

  • Lost a net -18 draft slots (in 14 moves)
  • Had moved DOWN in the draft 13 times in a row (when they moved at all), without ever moving up... Until they moved up (+2) and won the lottery in 2020 (they got ANT). Which soothes a bit, but man. They have been SO SCREWED.

Does everyone get screwed?

No, goddammit. Counting spots moved, only 11 teams are net negative movers:

  • Wizards (-4)
  • Mavs (-12)
  • Nuggets (-11)
  • Pistons (-4) moved up twice, moved down SEVEN TIMES. SO SCREWED.
  • Warriors(-8)
  • Wolves (-18)
  • Knicks (-10) OBVIOUSLY RIGGED
  • Suns (-3)
  • Kings, Hawks (-5)
  • Heat (-9)

Some teams are (net) unaffected, though they still feel SCREWED:

  • Clippers (+0, 13 total moves). They have won the lottery 3 times though (plus two more times that they traded away, hahaha).
  • Bucks (+0, 7 total moves)
  • Grizzlies (+0, 12 total moves)

The rest of the rat-bastard teams have gotten a net positive number of spots from the draft lottery. Most of them still feel like they got screwed, though, because it is usually because they have a couple big moves up, and a lot of smaller moves down

  • Bulls, Rockets, Pacers, Blazers, Raptors (+1)
  • Celtics, Jazz, Nets, Magic (+3) (Jazz only moved down with a pick they traded for - with their own picks they've moved up twice, and never down)
  • Spurs, Pellies (+6) (Spurs are the only team to have NEVER MOVED DOWN, the bastards)
  • Thunder (+8) GODDAMMIT
  • Lakers (+9) OBVIOUSLY RIGGED
  • Hornets (+17) ARRRRRRRRGH

More Numbers: Screwed by the Draft Lottery

Since 1990:
  • 65 teams have moved up in the lottery
  • 154 teams have moved down in the lottery
  • So for every team that moves up, 2.4 teams GET SCREWED
  • For every two times your team moves up, you should expect to move down 5 times (well, 4.8 times). Pistons have moved up twice, and moved down SEVEN times. So we're either a bit extra screwed, or DUE TO MOVE UP NEXT YEAR!
1999 saw the most teams get screwed: 2 teams moved up (Bulls +2, Hornets +10), and 11 teams got screwed (every other lottery team moved down 1, except the Clips who moved down 2)

2019 saw the greatest screwage of the most teams:
  • Pellies moved up 7->1 (6% chance - got Zion!)
  • Grizzlies moved up 8->2 (6% chance - got Ja!)
  • Lakers moved up 11->4 (2% chance - got DeAndre Hunter, haha)
  • Knicks moved down 1->3
  • Cavs, Suns, Bulls, Hawks, and Wizards ALL MOVED DOWN 3 (screwed!)
  • Mavs and Wolves each moved down 1 (of course)
In Conclusion: You really are getting screwed in the NBA lottery almost all the time. David Stern is smiling in his grave.

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