The NBA Lottery is important, but it all comes down to making the right decision in the draft no matter where the pick falls

Detroit Bad Boys

No matter what you say, I remain skeptical about the Detroit Pistons chances to advance in the lottery to grab the first overall selection. In 35 previous seasons since the lottery began, Motown participated 13 times and has never moved up. The no. 2 pick in 2003 NBA Draft indeed moved up from the sixth odds, but it was a pick owned to Detroit by Memphis Grizzlies due to Otis Thorpe trade and it was blown on Darko Miličić.

The numbers, after all, are the numbers. Here’s what mathematical premises underpin this historically grounded conviction. The Pistons have only 14% chances of moving up to the first pick, 13.4 to stay at the second spot and as much as 72.5% chances to fall. If that isn’t enough, history isn’t kind to Detroit’s chances.

When the lottery was introduced in 1985, every non-playoff team had an equal probability to get the first pick. There were 23 teams back then, so the second worst team had a 14.3% shot at the no. 1 pick, 16.7% to stay with the no. 2 pick and a 69% shot to fall down. In 1987, the NBA changed the lottery system, confining the lottery with (the same format) to the three worst clubs. So the odds were 33.3% for all three possibilities (moving up, staying put, moving down) for the second-worst team. In 1990, the weighted lottery system was introduced. It ascribed the second-worst team a 15.2% chance to move up, 17.9 of staying second and 66.9 of falling down. In 1994, those numbers were changed to 19.9/18.8/61.3, respectively. It again was a progression but for which worse teams entering lottery since 2019 pay a heavy price. In the case of the second-worst team, the odds are now: 14/13.4/72.5. These are the worst odds for the position ever in the lottery system.

So I’ll believe in the Pistons moving up when I see it. And no Freudian rationalization in the vein of “the Pistons deserve to finally move up into the no. 1 pick because they were so unlucky there” won’t make me change my mind. However, although I find that Freudian rationalization unconvincing, I find quite assuring the following Weberian rationalization of the reasons why the franchise fans can feel good about their high pick no matter if and how far it falls.

First, this year’s draft looks to be very strong. It seems to have a broad top (after one player with superstar potential), and to be deep as well. After that, there are two players that, even though they aren’t looking to initially have the ability to impact their teams on par with Cade Cunningham, can quickly grow into players no less impactful than were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in comparison to LeBron James. Those two are: Evan Mobley and Jalen Green. I know that many of us would include Jalen Suggs in that tier. I decided to be more reserved towards him, but it only means that he has a little longer way to go to be as impactful as Mobley and Green though he definitely can. Similarly, I think Jonathan Kuminga could eventually be an impact player.

So that’s five prospects potentially able to change the fortunes of their franchises. The final spot the Pistons could fall has quality players with potential as well: Jalen Johnson, Ziaire Williams and, not without the influence of DBB own Duke, Scottie Barnes. All of them come with risk: Johnson – that he won’t be able to develop more advanced dribble to be a tweener in the mold of “Jerami Grant-Aaron Gordon blend”; Williams – that the injuries prevent him from becoming a purer shooter than Kevin Durant even if he actually is 6-10; Barnes – that his shooting woes will undermine his role as they did for Ben Simmons in this year’s conference semis. But with a good development program when picked correctly they can blossom no less than Damian Lillards, Danilo Gallinaris, Brandon Roys or Antoine Walkers. And I’m sure you have some other prospects that would make this group, because this draft is deep near the top too.

The question of picking correctly and developmental program leads us to the second part of the rationalization. What we saw about the Pistons last season was that they have very good developmental program, and that an important reason for this program working so well is that they have a GM with a “knack to find talent” to supply it. Troy has assembled like a whole roster of very skillful players. Four of them came through last year draft, confirming that he knows how to draft and has brought together very competent department in this field. Two of his late(r)-teens picks made First and Second All-Rookie Teams after flirting with NBA records and Player of the Week awards as well as evoking memories of Pistons Legends. Two others showed a lot of promise.

If he did so well in what was supposed to be a meh draft, what can he do with higher pick in very strong draft? Oh yea, I’m not gonna curse the fate if according to historical-mathematical evidence Motor City will again drop in the lottery.

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