A brief history of the NBA Draft Lottery: Do teams with the best odds actually get the first pick?

As I’m sure you’re all aware, the Phoenix Suns have the best odds to get the first overall pick, draft DeAndre Ayton and take over the world. But, are they actually the BEST odds? Here’s a brief summary of the NBA Draft Lottery*:

*This will go from 1990-2017, as the weighted draft lottery started in 1990.

I’ve saved you all the arduous process of doing the research, and made a spreadsheet which can be viewed HERE.

For those of you who don’t wanna read it, I’m going to summarize it: The team with the best odds doesn’t really ever get the best pick. 6 times out of the last 28 years, the team with the best odds got the pick. The players picked with those picks? Derrick Coleman, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Karl Anthony-Towns, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz.

If you’ll notice, the last three of those players were drafted in the last three years. This is another key stat: all three of the last three drafts have given the desired outcome of the first overall team getting the first overall pick. The chances of that happening 4 years in a row are low, which doesn’t bode well for the Suns.

The other 22 drafts, the first overall pick can only drop to fourth. The pick went seond 9 times, third 6 times, and fourth 7 times. So, it looks like the Suns have a good chance to get a top 3 pick. Of course, Ayton, Bagley, and Dončić are the three top picks, but maybe Jaren Jackson Jr. is in there over Bagley, depending on who you ask.

Also depending on who you ask, Ayton might go first, but Dončić could be a high-risk high-reward first pick. If the Suns get the first pick, draft Ayton at all costs. Tall, confident, and wants to play with Devin Booker in Phoenix? Done deal. If he ends up going first to a different team, I’d personally pick Bagley but that’s just because the last European prospect is having trouble adjusting to NBA play (sorry Dragan).

Despite his struggles, Dragan has ended up being a decent fourth pick. Josh Jackson has obviously been amazing as well, so the fourth pick may not be terrible. The Suns have a 35% chance of getting that fourth pick, so don’t be surprised if Jaren Jackson Jr. ends up on the roster next year.

History shows the Suns have to be very lucky to get the desired outcome this offseason. But, if they do, the first overall pick will be the first step in a long overhaul heading into 2018-19. With enough luck, potentially some prayer, and Adam Silver picking the right ping pong ball, the Suns could end up winning the lottery in more ways than one.


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