Ranking NBA teams in terms of their lottery luck

In Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery, the Detroit Pistons came out as the big winners, taking home the No. 1 pick, their first top pick in the draft since 1970, making them the likely landing spot for top prospect, Cade Cunningham.

The other big winner of the evening was the Toronto Raptors, who moved up three spots based on lottery odds and will now choose fourth in the 2021 draft, placing the franchise in a prime spot considering how much talent they already have on their roster.

Among the teams staying in the same position based on the lottery odds are the San Antonio Spurs, which, historically has been rare for them. We say that because although the Spurs have only been in the lottery four times in their franchise history, they moved up three of those times and stayed at the same spot the other time, making them the luckiest franchise in the lottery in league history on average.

Trailing the Spurs as the second-luckiest franchise in the lottery historically? The Los Angeles Lakers, which will do nothing to appease those who believe the NBA rigs things for its biggest franchise. The Lakers have had seven lottery picks in their history and moved up three times, stayed at the same spot three times and moved down just once.

In third as far as great lottery luck are the Philadelphia 76ers, who have had way more good fortune than San Antonio and Los Angeles based on their 20 times participating in the lottery. The far larger sample size gave the 76ers more opportunities to move down in the lottery, but that didn’t happen to them.

Out of those 20 lottery attempts, the Sixers moved up eight times, stayed in the same spot 11 times and moved down just once.

Among those with no luck, the Miami Heat had the worst lottery fortune in NBA history.

Out of their nine times in the lottery, the Heat have never moved up, stayed at the same spot five times and moved down four times. The most notorious of those occasions for Heat fans came in 2008, a rare year where Miami under Pat Riley tanked a campaign for better draft positioning after Dwyane Wade got injured and Shaquille O’Neal was traded.

Despite having a 25.0 percent chance of taking home the first overall pick and receiving a shot to draft Derrick Rose, the Heat fell to second that year because, of all teams, the Chicago Bulls, who had a 1.7 percent chance of winning the lottery that year, won the No. 1 pick instead.

It was the second-biggest lottery upset in NBA history.

After Miami, the Dallas Mavericks have had the second-worst lottery luck ever, staying in the same spot eight times, moving down six times and never winning a higher pick than their lottery odds indicated.

And with the third-highest lottery misfortune in NBA history, the New York Knicks, which kind of hurts the case of conspiracy theorists who believe the Association rigs certain things for their biggest franchises. Out of 13 times in the lottery, the Knicks have moved up just once, stayed at the same spot six times and moved down six times.

The most recent of those moves downward came in 2019, when the Knicks, along with Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, were tied for best odds at the No. 1 pick at 14.0 percent. Instead, the New Orleans Pelicans won the lottery despite having a 6.0 percent chance to do so while New York fell to third and lost their chance at landing a generational talent in Zion Williamson.

In fairness, RJ Barrett hasn’t been a bad consolation prize since then.

Alberto de Roa contributed research to this article.

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