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NBA Draft Lottery notebook: Odds and Ends

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Aaron talks NBA Draft Lottery odds and breaks down possible outcomes in advance of May 16th.

NBA: NBA Draft Lottery Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft lottery, which will be held Tuesday, May 16th, is quickly approaching. As I watch other organizations take part in the NBA playoffs, I can’t help myself from thinking (and hoping) that this year’s lottery results could be the break Magic fans have been waiting for. This year could be the year that the organization garners up some of that lottery “Magic” they once had in the days of Pat Williams and company.

I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping and wishing. Magic fans, the odds are not insurmountable. But the odds are not exactly in our favor either. Let me explain...

1) Most likely lottery scenario: 6th pick (35.9% chance)

According to Tankathon.com, Orlando currently holds a 35.9% chance to come away with the 6th pick in this year’s lottery. These odds are the most likely outcome of any of Orlando’s possible outcomes in the lottery.

Does that sound strange? Why would a team with the fifth-best odds have a most likely scenario of selecting sixth? Remember, the true draft lottery only affects the top three selections. The remaining picks outside of the top three are rewarded to teams in ascending order based off of won-lost records from last season (lowest winning percentage to highest). In other words, just one team jumping Orlando by getting rewarded with a top-three pick in the lottery would push the Magic to sixth.

The following is a list of sixth overall selections in the NBA Draft over the past ten years:
2007 - Yi Jianlian (drafted by Milwaukee)
2008 - Danilo Gallinari (drafted by New York)
2009 - Jonny Flynn (drafted by Minnesota)
2010 - Ekpe Udoh (drafted by Golden St.)
2011 - Jan Vesely (drafted by Washington)
2012 - Damian Lillard (drafted by Portland)
2013 - Nerlens Noel (drafted by New Orleans, traded to Philadelphia)
2014 - Marcus Smart (drafted by Boston)
2015 - Willie Cauley-Stein (drafted by Sacramento)
2016 - Buddy Hield (drafted by New Orleans)

The sixth pick has turned into an All-Star just once in the last ten years (Lillard). Conversely, four of the last ten sixth-picks are currently out of the NBA.

2) “So you’re saying there’s a chance”: Top-3 pick (29.2% chance)

Heading into the lottery with the fifth-worst record, the Magic own the fifth-best odds of winning the first overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft (8.8%). Of course, the Orlando Magic organization has previously been awarded the #1 overall selection on three past occasions. Orlando drafted Shaquille O’Neal first overall in 1992, Chris Webber first in ‘93 (who was traded on draft night for Anfernee Hardaway), and Dwight Howard first in 2004. All three of those draftees turned into franchise-changing players.

The Magic possess just over a 20 percent chance of being rewarded with either the second or third selection in this year’s draft (2nd - 9.7%, 3rd - 10.7%).

The last game of the 2016-2017 regular season had huge lottery implications for the Magic. Orlando and the Philadelphia 76ers went into the last game of their respective seasons with identical records. Orlando was victorious to close out their regular season, Philadelphia dropped its contest (one in which they were leading in late against the New York Knicks). That loss dropped Orlando’s odds of winning a top-three pick by roughly nine percent, and disqualified them from earning the fourth pick whatsoever.

3) Know your (recent) history

Teams that finished with the fifth-worst record in the league in the last ten years AND their subsequent lottery results:

2007 - Seattle Supersonics, 2nd pick (Kevin Durant)
2008 - New York Knicks, 6th pick (Danilo Gallinari)
2009 - Minnesota Timberwolves, 6th pick (Johnny Flynn)
2010 - Washington Wizards, 1st pick (John Wall)
2011 - Sacramento Kings, 7th pick (Bismack Biyombo, traded to Charlotte)
2012 - Sacramento Kings, 5th pick (Thomas Robinson)
2013 - New Orleans Pelicans, 6th pick (Nerlens Noel, traded to Philadelphia)
2014 - Boston Celtics, 6th pick (Marcus Smart)
2015 - Orlando Magic, 5th pick (Mario Hezonja)
2016 - Minnesota Timberwolves, 5th pick (Kris Dunn)

In the last decade, the organization that entered the lottery with the fifth-worst record in the NBA has ended up with the 5th, 6th, or 7th pick in the draft 80% of the time. None of the prospects selected in those drafts in that range (5th-7th) have made an All-Star team in their respective NBA careers.

The two occurrences in the last decade where the team with the fifth-worst odds ended up with a top-three pick resulted in the selections of a perennial all-star caliber point guard (Wall) and a future Hall of Fame forward (Durant), respectively.

Since the inception of the NBA lottery system in 1985, the team with fifth-worst record in the NBA has won the lottery five times (‘91 - Larry Johnson, ‘95 - Joe Smith, ‘02 - Yao Ming, ‘06 - Andrea Bargnani, and ‘10 - John Wall).

4) If not us, at least not them (the Lakers)

If rooting for balls to bounce Orlando’s way is not enough for you, the Magic also have a vested interest in the outcome of where the Lakers’ pick falls this year. The Lakers owe a future 1st round pick to both the Sixers and the Magic. If Los Angeles’ pick falls out of the top-3 this year, that pick will be sent to Philadelphia. If the pick is in fact sent via the Lakers to the Sixers this year, then Orlando would receive L.A.’s 1st round selection in 2019. However, if the Lakers do get rewarded with a top-3 pick this year (roughly 47 percent chance), then Orlando will receive their second-round pick in this upcoming draft (33rd overall selection).