If the Detroit Pistons are lucky enough to select Victor Wembanyama in the 2023 NBA Draft, they will have defied recent history. The team with the worst win-loss ratio is yet to select first overall since the lottery odds were adjusted in 2019.
In September 2017, the NBA Board of Governors passed a lottery reform that altered the percentage odds significantly for the league's bottom dwellers.
Instead of the franchise with the worst record holding a 25% chance at landing the lottery’s prized No. 1 selection, from 2019 onwards, the three worst teams would share 14% odds at attaining the first pick.
The move was administered to help alleviate the scourge of ‘tanking’ that historically took place from the latter stages of March. Such lottery jostling was by no means new to the NBA, but The Process era of the Philadelphia 76ers between 2013-17 certainly ramped up conversations around the league to disincentivize front offices purposefully trodding out rosters devoid of NBA-level talent.
As previously mentioned, since the 2019 lottery reform the team with the lowest win total is yet to select atop the NBA Draft. So naturally, I decided to take a look at how each pick in the lottery has fared with the re-jigged odds. Below are my key findings.
How has the team with the worst record fared since 2019?
Third, second, second and third.
In the past four lottery events, franchises pegged at the top of the lottery have watched painfully as their team missed out on the Draft's ultimate prize.
Following 60-plus loss campaigns, the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors have missed out on prospects such as Zion Williamson, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cade Cunningham and Paolo Banchero as a result of the ping pong balls.
Instead, each franchise left its respective Draft with; RJ Barrett (3rd overall), James Wiseman (2nd) and Jalen Green (2nd) and Jabari Smith (3rd). Whilst there is some talent here, it’s a tier below the prospects selected ahead of them.
After suffering through one of the franchise's most dire seasons in history—2nd worst in fact—Pistons fans will be hoping their loyalty is rewarded on Tuesday night.
On a more positive note, each of the aforementioned franchises selected in the top-3. If history repeats itself then Detroit will have the chance to select one of Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller (or Amen Thompson if you’re like me).
The 2019 Lottery Results appear to be an outlier
With readjusted odds in place, the 2019 Lottery saw a number of teams make drastic leaps up (and down) the Draft order with three franchises moving six positions higher or more.
The New Orleans Pelicans rocketed up to the first overall spot entering the night with 7th best odds at landing the prized Zion Williamson. The Memphis Grizzles also jumped six positions, landing the second overall pick. While the Los Angeles Lakers vaulted up seven places from 11th to 4th.
The dramatic movement in draft positioning left many curious about the long-term implications for battling franchises.
However, since 2019 the movement has slowed. Only the Charlotte Hornets have moved five or more positions up the lottery ladder when they landed pick three in the 2020 Draft.
Now the NBA Draft Lottery is still...well a lottery. Which means the outcomes are completely random (or so we’re told).
For all we know Tuesday night could be a repeat of 2019. And that would be far from ideal (from a Piston's perspective).
Lottery Night Risers
The seventh and eighth worst records have been gifted the most lottery luck to date. Each franchise to enter the night with the aforementioned odds has risen in the draft more times than not.
Teams slotted at seventh have jumped up the order to nab the likes of; Zion Williamson (1st overall), Scottie Barnes (4th), Pat Williams (4th) and Keegan Murray (4th — could have been Jaden Ivey).
Whilst franchises positioned at eighth have landed; Ja Morant (2nd), Lamelo Ball (3rd), Franz Wagner (8th) & Dyson Daniels (8th).
Per my research, teams entering the night with the seventh-worst record have an average draft position of 3.25. Which means they rise up the draft board by an average of 3.75 selections.
Similarly, clubs with the eighth worst odds have boosted their draft position by an average of 2.75 positions. Resulting in an average draft slot of 5.25.
Lottery Night Fallers
This is where you don’t want to be if you’re the General Manager of a franchise.
Teams slated at the first and sixth positions pre-lottery are the only teams to suffer a fall in draft selection each of the prior four Draft Lottery nights.
I previously highlighted the player's franchises with the worst record selected earlier, but since 2019 teams with the sixth-best lottery odds have picked; Rui Hachimura (8th), Obi Toppin (8th), Jonathan Kuminga (7th) and Shaedon Sharpe (7th).
Additionally, clubs 3rd & 4th have dropped three of the past four years.
So, now that you know the history of the Draft Lottery since 2019, where do you think Detroit will pick in the 2023 NBA Draft?