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NBA Draft Lottery: Movin' On Up, History's Biggest Winners

Despite long odds, some NBA teams have moved up in the draft to get a pretty sweet pick. Can the Suns be as lucky as these guys?

NBA Draft Lottery ping pong ball machine will determine the fate of several teams on Tuesday when the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery is held.
NBA Draft Lottery ping pong ball machine will determine the fate of several teams on Tuesday when the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery is held.

On Tuesday night a bunch of random NBA personnel representing the 14 teams that missed the playoffs will sit in a room while Russ Granik reveals some envelopes. Exciting, right? I'm talking of course about the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery which will be held from New Jersey and somehow fill up 30 minutes of television time.

If you're looking for the reason that anyone finds it compelling it's because unlike the NFL, MLB, or NHL - having the worst record in the league the previous season doesn't automatically guarantee that you'll be picking first. Provided you don't make the playoffs you've at least got some chance at picking at the top of the draft.

That's part of what makes it exciting. A team that actually has some decent parts and missed the playoffs based on a few bad breaks can land a player who could conceivably be a franchise changing talent.

The Phoenix Suns are slotted 13th in the 2011 NBA Draft and have just a two percent chance at landing a top three pick on Tuesday when the ping pong balls are drawn.

Notwithstanding the fact that there likely isn't a franchise-changing talent in this year's draft (sorry Derrick Williams fans) teams moving up in the lottery is far from unprecedented. So for fun let's take a look at some of the more notable teams that moved to the top of the draft. 

Before we get started there are a few lottery rules you should know:

  • The lottery began in 1985 and through 1989 each team had an equal chance of the first pick since they'd just pick an envelope out of a box. Not really an impressive move up if you had an equal chance to the worst team.
  • From 1990 until 1993 the lottery system was such that the team with the worst record had 11 chances out of 66 to get the first pick and the 2nd through 13th worst teams would have 10 chances down to 1.
  • From 1994 until present its functioned such that the worst team will have 250 chances out of 1000 (excluding 1996-1998 when Vancouver or Toronto could not get the top pick).

Remember - this isn't about how ultimately awesome the player turned out to be, this is about beating the long odds to move up in the draft.   

1990:  Seattle Supersonics - 2nd Pick

  • 1989-90 record: 41-41
  • 2nd Pick Odds: 3.7%
  • Draftee: Gary Payton

1989-90 was a bit of a bridge year for the Sonics. They were coming out of 3 straight playoff appearances including a 1988 Western Conference Finals berth.

The team's primary core was Xavier McDaniel, Dale Ellis, Derrick McKey, Michael Cage, and Nate McMillan. A big missing piece was a good, young point guard. Enter the lottery. 

Despite more needy teams like Orlando or Miami, the .500 Sonics got the second pick and used it to select Oregon State point guard Gary Payton.  With Derrick Coleman going first and few All-Stars dotting the draft, Payton was by far the best pick. 

The Glove was a 9-time All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, and staple of both the All-Defensive and All-NBA teams. When he teamed up with Shawn Kemp he helped lead the Sonics to regular 50 win seasons and a 1996 NBA Finals appearance. 

1993:  Orlando Magic - 1st pick

  • 1992-93 record: 41-41
  • Lottery Odds: 1.52%
  • Draftee: Chris Webber

The Magic probably thought they had used up all their luck when they won the most highly anticipated lottery in history (still) when they got the right to pick Shaquille O'Neal in 1992. Then they had the 2nd best chance of the top pick.

With Shaq in the fold and dominating the paint, Orlando narrowly missed the playoffs - losing  a tiebreaker for the 8th and final spot. Yet despite how well they were set up for the future, they added to their riches when their 1 chance (of 66)  to win the lottery came up gold.

Orlando technically used the top pick on Chris Webber but dealt him on draft day for #3 overall pick Penny Hardaway and first rounders in 1996, 1998, and 2000. Together, Penny and Shaq would turn the Magic into a series contender and though they never hit their potential they did make the 1995 NBA Finals. 

1999:  Charlotte Hornets - 3rd pick

  • 1998-99 record: 26-24
  • 3rd Pick Odds: .73%
  • Draftee: Baron Davis

After a few years of nobody striking it big top 3 wise, Charlotte did the trick in the wake of the lockout shortened 1998-99 season. The Hornets actually managed to finish over .500 in the previous season behind a core of David Wesley, Bobby Phills, Eddie Jones, and Elden Campbell so they probably didn't need a ton to make the playoffs. 

In fact when the struck it big in the lottery and got the third pick and the right to pick UCLA guard Baron Davis they didn't even need to start the guy. Davis appeared in 82 games but didn't start one on a Hornets team that was the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.

Davis became a regular starter and workhorse in his second season and in his stint with the Hornets was a 2-time All-Star. Not a bad return for a less than 1% chance of a top 3 pick. 

2000: New Jersey Nets - 1st pick

  • 1999-2000 record: 31-51
  • 1st pick odds: 6.4%
  • Draftee: Kenyon Martin

The Nets sort of stunk in 2000 and when Stephon Marbury and Keith Van Horn are your two best players things don't seem that exciting. Yet they must have felt pretty excited when they moved up 6 slots in the 2000 draft lottery to snag the top pick.

Though the 2000 NBA Draft was one of the worst in league history, Jersey got one of the best of a crappy crop in Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin. New Jersey being awful continued in Martin's first season but then the Suns bailed them out by dealing Jason Kidd for Marbury and the Nets morphed into a title contender. 

With Martin playing an alley-oop running mate for Kidd, the Nets made 2 consecutive NBA Finals berths. Martin was never what you'd expect from a top pick but he did make the All-Star game in 2004 and developed into a solid 16/9 guy for the Nets. They dealt him to Denver after 2004 for 3 first round picks. 

2001:  Los Angeles Clippers - 2nd pick

  • 2000-2001 record: 31-51
  • 2nd pick odds: 3.38%
  • Draftee: Tyson Chandler

In one of the rare seasons where the Clippers didn't have very high odds of getting a top pick they managed to pull it off. This was also a period where the Clippers had a bunch of exciting young players in Lamar OdomDarius Miles,Corey MaggetteQuentin Richardson, and Michael Olowakandi.

Sure like none of those guys really panned out but at the time people were stoked about the Clips. That's why when they won the right to the second pick they could afford to deal Tyson Chandler to Chicago.

In exchange for Chandler, the Clippers picked up Elton Brand who would eventually take them to the second round and earn a huge contract that everyone laughed at. As for Chandler, he's only now achieving his destiny as a rim protecting center for a team that requires no offense from him. 

2007:  Portland Trail Blazers - 1st pick

  • 2006-2007 record: 32-50
  • 1st pick odds: 5.3%
  • Draftee: Greg Oden

By 2007 Portland was removing themselves from the Jail Blazers era and transitioning to a Brandon Roy /LaMarcus Aldridge period. When they won the lottery it was viewed as an opportunity to add another very talented piece to a solid young core.

Getting the top pick allowed them to trade the last vestiges of the Jail Blazer era (Zach Randolph) to New York and go through the decision process on whether they were going to pick Ohio State center Greg Oden or record setting Texas forward Kevin Durant.

As you know they went with Oden and unfortunately for Oden a healthy body has not accompanied him to the Pacific Northwest. While Durant has become a scoring champ two times over in Oklahoma City, Oden has played just 82 total games and suffered multiple season ending injuries. 

2008: Chicago Bulls Come Up Roses

  • 2007-2008 record: 33-49
  • First Pick Odds: 1.7% (9/14)

Chicago didn't have a great record in the 07-08 season but there were still 8 teams who were worse off than they were. Not to mention they had a few decent players on their roster like Luol DengJoakim Noah, and Ben Gordon. They won the lottery anyway. 

The Bulls used the pick on Memphis point guard Derrick Rose who in just one college season helped lead his team to the brink of a National Championship. Unless you're blind you have realized Rose has carried that success over the NBA.

In 3 seasons, Rose has won Rookie of the Year, been an All-Star twice, and oh yea he was the 2010-11 NBA MVP - the youngest in history. If he can deliver Chicago's first championship since the Jordan era (those poor 8th graders who've never seen a Chicago title!) it might make the Bulls the luckiest lottery team ever. 

Will the Suns be this lucky? Probably not.