I simulated 2021 NBA draft lottery 100 times. Here’s what happened to Detroit Pistons

Detroit Free Press

The most suspenseful night on the professional basketball calendar is once again upon us.

Tuesday’s 2021 NBA draft lottery (8:30 p.m, ESPN) will be more nerve-wracking than usual, with three teams in danger of losing their pick in the July 29 draft.

The rebuilding Detroit Pistons, fresh off a 20-52 season — their worst since going 20-62 in 1994 — are among the organizations hoping for franchise-altering luck. They enter the lottery in the second spot, but tied with Houston and Orlando for the best odds of the No. 1 pick at 14%.

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver had a seemingly successful draft last season in his debut running the team, and is guaranteed to have a better pick this year — they can fall no farther than sixth.

ANALYSIS: Troy Weaver made do without lottery luck in 2020. But Pistons need it tonight

READ: Pistons hired Troy Weaver a year ago. Ranking his best moves so far

The Pistons have never moved up in the draft lottery with their own pick, dating back to the start of the lottery in 1985, and haven’t picked in the top five since selecting Darko Milicic second overall in 2003. (That pick came from the Grizzlies to complete a 1997 trade for Otis Thorpe; the Grizzlies moved up from No. 6 to No. 2 in the ’03 lottery.) The Pistons’ other top-five pick in the lottery era came in 1994, when they took Grant Hill third overall after dropping a spot in the lottery.

Last year, the Pistons entered the lottery in the fifth spot and fell to No. 7, where they selected French point guard Killian Hayes.

But enough history.

In our 100-spin simulation on Tankathon.com, the Pistons outperformed expectations by winning 20 of the 100 spins, including the final one. (The odds say they should win 14 out of 100.) No other team fared as well as the Pistons, which could bode well if you’re an optimist. But if you’ve been watching them for the past decade, you may not have much optimism left.

Remember, the lottery is for the 14 non-playoff teams; it features draws for the top four picks. Then, the 10 remaining teams are slotted at Nos. 5-14 in reverse order of the standings. The three scenarios to watch:

• The Rockets, with the league’s worst record, lose their pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder if it falls to No. 5. The Rockets have a 14% chance at the top spot, a 13.4% chance at No. 2, a 12.7% chance at No. 3 and an 11.9% chance at No. 4. That still leaves a 47.9% chance of falling to No. 5 and handing the Thunder their second top-eight pick.

• The Timberwolves, slotted sixth, must leap into the top three or Golden State gets their pick, giving the Warriors two lottery picks. (Golden State, which made the play-in tournament, has a 2.4% chance of jumping into the top three with its own pick.) Minnesota has a 27.6% chance of making the top three.

• The Bulls, slotted eighth, must leap into the top four or they’ll hand their pick to Orlando, giving the Magic two lottery selections. Chicago has a 20.2% chance of keeping the selection.

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As for the potential draftees, there appears to be a consensus top four that have separated themselves from the pack, starting with 6-foot-8 guard/forward Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State, mobile center Evan Mobley of USC, talented teenage scorer Jalen Green of the G League Ignite, and the breakout star of the NCAA tournament, guard Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga. Here’s a look at the top-eight prospects with a Pistons slant, focusing each player’s strengths and weaknesses.

But let’s break down the simulations, with a look at how the Pistons performed in all 100 simulations, and then how many times each team won the lottery.

MOCK DRAFT 1.0: How the top 10 could look based on current lottery order

MOCK DRAFT 2.0: Who makes most sense for Pistons at No. 5?

Pistons’ performance

How often the Pistons landed at each of their potential draft spots:

No. 1: 20 times, despite 14% odds.

No. 2: 18 times, despite 13.4% odds.

No. 3: 14 times, despite 12.7% odds.

No. 4: 11 times, despite 11.9% odds.

No. 5: 20 times, despite 27.8% odds.

No. 6: 17 times, despite 20.1% odds.

SHAWN WINDSOR: Forget superteams, the Pistons just need a dude. Like the Utah Jazz have

SHAWN WINDSOR: Pistons need some luck; here’s hoping it’s in the NBA draft, instead of lottery

The frequency of lottery winners

How many times the lottery field won the top pick in our 100-spin simulation (with real odds of No. 1 in parentheses):

1. Rockets (14%): 15 times.

2. Pistons (14%): 20 times.

3. Magic (14%): 16 times.

4. Thunder (11.5%): 10 times.

5. Cavaliers (11.5%): 7 times.

6. Timberwolves (9%): 11 times.

7. Raptors (7.5%): 7 times.

8. Bulls (4.5%): 3 times.

9. Kings (4.5%): 5 times.

10. Pelicans (4.5%): 4 times.

11. Hornets (1.8%): 1 time.

12. Spurs (1.7%): 1 time.

13. Pacers (1%): 0 times

14. Warriors (0.5%): 0 times.

NEVER FORGET: Why 2004 Pistons are responsible for the NBA’s scoring boom

What does it all mean?

Other than Pistons, the Timberwolves outperformed their odds, while the Cavs were the big losers. As for Tuesday night’s results … well, stay tuned.

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