The Timberwolves participated in the NBA draft lottery 16 times in which the pick was derived from their own poor record the season and they still held the pick on draft night.
In nine of those cases, they ended up picking at a lower spot than their pre-lottery position. In seven cases, they stayed the same as their pre-lottery position. In ZERO cases, of course, they picked at a higher spot than their pre-lottery position.
It made us wonder how they might have fared if the NBA had been operating for the past 25 years under the proposed new lottery system, as written about at Grantland a couple of weeks ago and now again in the news because the 76ers reportedly object to them:
Under the current system, the team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of snagging the no. 1 pick, perhaps the most valuable asset in the entire NBA. The team with the second-worst record has a 19.9 percent chance of winning the no. 1 pick, and the third-worst team enters the lottery with a 15.6 percent chance of moving up to the top slot. The odds decline from there, with the final five teams in the lottery — the teams with the five best records — each having a 1.1 percent or worse chance of moving up to no. 1.
The league’s proposal gives at least the four worst teams the same chance at winning the no. 1 pick: approximately an identical 11 percent shot for each club. The odds decline slowly from there, with the team in the next spot holding a 10 percent chance. The lottery team with the best record will have a 2 percent chance of leaping to the no. 1 pick, up from the the minuscule 0.5 percent chance it has under the current system.
Of the 16 cases of the Wolves in the lottery mentioned above, the Wolves had a top-3 pre-lottery position seven times. Another five times, they had either the No. 5 or No. 6 position. The other four times they had a pre-lottery position of seventh or lower.
Without knowing the exact NBA proposal, it’s hard to figure this out with certainty, but our best guess is that in those seven times the Wolves had top-3 lottery position, their odds would have been considerably worse. In the five times they were No. 5 or No. 6, their odds would have been about the same. And the other four times they were seventh or lower, their odds would have improved by a few percentage points.
In other words, the Wolves — who have had historically bad lottery luck — would have been even worse off in this new system. But just for fun, we would be willing to invent a time machine and go back to 1990 to see if any of the drafts worked out in their favor despite the longer odds.