NBA Draft Trends: The luck of the lottery in the modern era

Tuesday night marked the 20th year the NBA held its annual lottery using the same formula and odds for all teams involved.

The two-decade anniversary triggered a thought: Which teams have had the most luck of the draw since 1994? Though the NBA went to its "weighted" lottery process in 1990, the number of balls/odds that teams get was adjusted in 1994 to a 25-percent chance for the worst record.

The sliding scale that's been in place goes as such:

Worst record: 25.0 percent
Second-worst record: 19.9 percent
Third-worst record: 15.6 percent

And so on.

So in that time, here's how the NBA's bingo bin of luck has played out for teams involved. The data below does not factor in trades post-lottery. They are purely based on where teams were slotted the night of the selection and a team's correspondence to that pick.

First, you should know that every team has been in the lottery at least once in the past 20 years. Even San Antonio -- who used that one and only showing to get the No. 1 pick and select Tim Duncan. Ridiculous.

You'll notice that of the five most recurring teams in the lottery, the only team this year that failed to make the playoffs was the Timberwolves. And wouldn't you know, the Timberwolves have been the star-crossed franchise since 1994. 

Look at this chart. It measures where a team "should" get its lottery pick according to the percentages. But sometimes you luck out and get a higher pick -- like Cleveland as of late -- and sometimes you drop because others in the bin have their number beat the odds.

No team has been unluckier than Minnesota, picking a collective nine spots lower than the expectation of their picks over the years. While you'd expect Cleveland to be near the top, they are, but not top-four. On the opposite end, Donald Sterling's Clippers have been the luckiest. Three teams -- the Pacers, Grizzlies and Hawks -- are even-stevens.

Now, in terms of earning the No. 1 pick, it's all Cleveland. And this doesn't even include the Cavs trading for the No. 1 spot in 1986 -- the only time the top spot in the draft has been traded away.

In terms of who gets that No. 1 overall pick, here's the 20-year progression of the pre-lottery odds. The higher the yellow dot, the greater the chance. The randomness of this process is trending "down," which means the better teams are ending up closer to the top of the draft board.

This pie chart looks at the top pick in a different way. It shows which team in the pre-lottery spot/forecast has wound up with the top pick. You want to be in that No. 3 spot. No. 5 comes in second. After that, the past 20 years have shown that having the worst record or the ninth-worst record has amounted to the same number of No. 1 picks.

Begs the question: Is this the best process for the NBA to continue using?

The last graph looks at the league as a whole. Where have all the teams averaged in lottery draw in the past 20 years? San Antonio has the highest spot, while Indiana has the lowest. The full data chart is listed below the graph.

Team Average lottery draw since 1994
San Antonio Spurs 1
Chicago Bulls 3.1
Memphis Grizzlies 4.2
Atlanta Hawks 5.1
Los Angeles Clippers 5.6
Washington Wizards 5.8
Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats 6.2
Philadelphia 76ers 6.4
New Jersey/Brookyn Nets 6.5
Minnesota Timberwolves 6.7
Miami Heat 6.8
Denver Nuggets 6.9
Cleveland Cavaliers 7.1
Toronto Raptors 7.1
Boston Celtics 7.5
Milwaukee Bucks 7.5
Orlando Magic 7.7
New York Knicks 7.8
Portland Trail Blazers 7.9
Detroit Pistons 7.9
Golden State Warriors 8
Sacramento Kings 8.1
New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans 8.4
Seattle SuperSonics/OKC Thunder 8.5
Dallas Mavericks 8.6
Los Angeles Lakers 9
Phoenix Suns 10.5
Utah Jazz 10.8
Houston Rockets 10.8
Indiana Pacers 11.4
CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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