It’s always fun to play the “What If” game and if you are looking for one you have come to the right spot. On Tuesday night, the NBA Draft lottery was revealed as the Philadelphia 76ers took the top spot after having the best probability of the 14 qualifying teams.
The 76ers, at 10-72 this season, had a 25 percent chance of snagging the first overall pick, the best percentage given to any given team with the worst record in the league. This year was the first time in the lottery’s history that the entire first 14 picks went in its projected order with the 76ers, Lakers, and Celtics rounding out the first three.
This was the second consecutive year the team with the best chance to grab the first pick was successful, with the Timberwolves winning last year’s lottery. However, it was just the first time since the 2004 Orlando Magic that the team with the highest chance ended with the top spot and just the third time since the 1990 offseason.
Implemented in 1985, the NBA Lottery was created to eliminate the concept of “tanking,” also known as a team doing less than everything they can to produce the best team they can. Tanking for multiple years can lead to a plethora of young talent and stars and can also keep a team’s cap space at a minimal level for the chance at whichever free agent they choose. This year the 76ers, after a few years of tanking, finally got that number one pick they have been chasing for years.
.@SacramentoKings New phone who dis
— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) May 18, 2016
But with only six teams to have had the worst record in the NBA to ever grab the top pick, there will always be controversy surrounding the draft lottery. Does the worst team deserve the top pick every year or will that just enhance the tanking problem?
It has been reported that 76ers are “leaning heavily” towards taking LSU forward Ben Simmons first overall as he has been the likely choice to go first the past
We take a look at what a few notable players in recent history and where they may have ended up like the worst team in the NBA owned the first pick.
In 1992, the Orlando Magic won the draft lottery with a record of 21-61. This was back when the lottery pulled out of only 66 chances compared to today’s 1000. The Magic had 10 chances out of the 66, giving them a 15.15% likelihood of grabbing the top pick. The Minnesota Timberwolves were projected to get the number one pick after a 15-67 record, but ended up with the third pick, selecting Christian Laettner.
The Magic improved their record by 20 games the following season, ending at .500 with a 41-41 record missing the playoffs due to a tiebreaker with the Indiana Pacers. Minnesota only improved by four wins, finished 19-63 and endured another difficult season.
O’Neal was an instant success with the Magic, earning Player of the Week honors in his first week with the team, becoming the first player to ever to do so, and averaged 23.4 points and 13.9 rebounds on the season.
Although Laettner led the Timberwolves in the 1993 season in points and rebounds, Minnesota ranked 25th in the NBA in total rebounding and 27th in made field goals per game.
The Orlando Magic won the draft lottery the following year, despite being 11th in the lottery projections.
The Milwaukee Bucks were able to snag the top pick in the 1994 draft, coming in tied for second for the league’s worst record. Going first overall was Glen “Big Dog” Robinson, followed by current head coach Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks at pick number two.
Both the Bucks and Mavericks improved by double digit wins, but were unable to make the playoffs. It is difficult to say if the Mavericks had the first pick if they would have taken Robinson over Kidd. Regardless, both teams got what they needed that draft, but how cool would it have been for Kidd to be a Milwaukee Buck?
Other 1990s picks
Here are some other notable places top picks in the 1990s would have gone had the worst team in the league obtained the top selection:
- 1993 – Chris Webber (Magic)
- 1996 – Allen Iverson (Clippers)
- 1997 – Tim Duncan (Grizzlies)
Like previously mentioned, the Magic stole the number one pick again in ’93, selecting Chris Webber to add to their front court with Shaq, but surprised everyone by trading him to the Golden State Warriors. Allen Iverson played nearly his whole career with the 76ers, but if he had gone to the Clippers could have been the face of the franchise they have been looking for. As for Duncan, if he returns next year it will be his 20th season with just one team. Imagine if he had played 20 seasons with the Grizzlies, would they have been what the Spurs are today?
In 2002, there were just three players who were selected in the top ten to ever make an All-Star game, with picks one, nine, and ten being the only ones.
The Chicago Bulls and Warriors were tied for the highest chance to grab the number one spot as Yao was the prize that all eyes were on. At 28-54, the Houston Rockets were fifth in the order and fortunately skyrocketed to the top spot to pick the Chinese superstar. In Yao’s eight seasons with the Rockets, the team posted a combined record of 376-280 and made the playoffs five times.
It is clear Yao’s presence led the Rockets to great things, while the Bulls and Warriors continued to struggle. While Yao was in Houston, the Bulls put up a 223-269 record until 2008, the year they drafted future MVP Derrick Rose first overall.
A similar situation for the Warriors, who regretfully missed out on Yao. Golden State posted a 262-312 record until 2009, the year Stephen Curry was drafted. Had Yao went to either Chicago or Golden State, Rose and Curry likely would not have been drafted to where they are now and both franchises could be in completely different places.
Here is one where Bucks fans wish the team with the worst record ended up with the first overall pick. The Bucks were the sixth worst team in the league and only had a 6.30% chance of grabbing the top spot. In a draft where Deron Williams and Chris Paul were available, Milwaukee went with the Australian big man from Utah.
We all know how that went.
Bogut put up good numbers for the Bucks, but was unable to boost the team to that next level being plagued by injuries that cut multiple seasons short. Additionally, Bogut chose to play overseas during the 2011-12 lockout and then reinjured his ankle the following season, ending his tenure with the Bucks via trade to the Warriors.
The Atlanta Hawks held the best odds of grabbing the number one overall pick putting up just 13 wins the year before. Taking the number two spot, the Hawks bypassed Williams and Paul and went with North Carolina freshman Marvin Williams.
Bogut probably would have been the better choice.
Wiggins and Jabari Parker were the faces of the 2014 NBA Draft. The Bucks struggled, putting up just 15 wins and held the best chance of grabbing the number one spot.
Out of nowhere, the Cleveland Cavaliers, right around the time of LeBron James’ decision to return home to Cleveland, magically took the top pick after being the 9th worst team in the league and just a 1.7% chance of taking number one. Wiggins was then selected and traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love, leaving Jabari Parker to go number two to Milwaukee.
While Parker has shown glimpses of promise as of late, Wiggins has lived up to his hype, winning Rookie of the Year in 2015 and leading the Timberwolves in scoring in both of his seasons thus far.
Parker unfortunately tore his ACL halfway through his rookie campaign and took some time to get back to full strength this past season. He has fit in nicely with the rest of the “Young Bucks” and with Wiggins primarily a shooting guard, the emergence of Giannis and Khris Middleton would have made for a jammed back court moving forward.
Other notable places top picks from 2000-2015 would have gone had the worst team in the league obtained the top selection:
- 2008 – Derrick Rose (Heat)
- 2009 – Blake Griffin (Kings)
- 2012 – Anthony Davis (Bobcats/Hornets)
It has been reported that the 76ers are “leaning heavily” towards taking Ben Simmons with this year’s first overall pick. Duke’s Brandon Ingram has also been in the conversation.
*photo and h/t courtesy of Bleacher Report