The ping-pong balls will be flying on May 20th in Seacaucus, NJ. The Trail Blazers don't have a great chance of getting one of the first three picks, but it's a chance nonetheless. 0.60% chance of getting the first pick, 0.71% chance of getting the second pick and 0.87% chance of getting the third pick. Long odds, but it's better than nothing.
In an attempt to get a more real world, probability-free idea of the Blazers' chances of landing one of the first three picks in the draft, I decided to go back through the last 13 years of the draft lottery to see how teams in Portland's position fared. Since the lottery was expanded from 13 teams ('95. '96, '97, '98, '99, '00, '01, '02, '03) to it's current incarnation of 14 teams (since '04), I figured the best way to even out the discrepancies was to equate the team with the second-worst chance in their respective draft to the Blazers this season, seeing as Portland has the second-worst chance of winning this year's lottery. For example, since there were only 13 teams in the 1996 draft, I'm using the team that finished with the 12th worst record as the 2008 equivalent. This isn't exactly a scientific way to look at it, but I think it'll give you a good idea of the history of the teams picking near the end of the draft lottery. If you've got a better idea, lets here it in the comments. Here goes ...
We all remember how things turned out at the top of last year's lottery, but the lower half of the lotto yielded few surprises. The New Orleans Hornets finished with the 13th worst record, and ended up with the 13th pick. They selected Julian Wright, which is looking like a nice pick right about now.
The year we scored LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy (by trade, of course) ended up playing out very much like '07. The Philadelphia 76ers end the season with the 13th worst record, and end up with the 13th pick. They took Thabo Sefalosha, then subsequently traded him to Chicago for Rodney Carney (who was the 16th pick) and cash.
Not so interesting fact: Sefalosha and I have the same birthday.
(By the way, who knows how things would have turned out, but in hindsight, it looks like the Blazers actually got lucky when they ended up with the 4th pick despite having the best shot at the 1st pick. That's maybe the all-time best example of turning lemons into lemonade.)
Once again, the team with the 13th worst record (Cleveland in this case) ended with the 13th pick in the '05 draft. Charlotte ended up with the pick (from Cleveland, via Phoenix) and took Sean May. May has played in just 58 games in three seasons.
Another not so interesting fact: Sean May is exactly one month older than Thabo Sefalosha.
Blazers fans should already know how this one turned out. Utah had the 13th worst record in '04, but ended up with the 14th pick (which is actually where they were most likely to land considering Charlotte was awarded the 4th pick as per the expansion agreement). Portland ended up picking 13th, taking Sebastian Telfair. The Jazz took Kris Humpries with No. 14.
Ah '03, the last time we weren't in the lottery. It would have been a pretty good year to be really bad though. Just ask Cleveland.
That year, Seattle finished with the 12th worst record (remember, second-to-last in the draft lottery) and ended up with the 12th pick. Sonics took Nick Collison, which has turned out alright.
Not so interesting fact: The 2003 lottery had two players who would later go on to have the nickname "Caveman." Collison was one, I'll let you figure out who the other is.
Same old song. The Clippers ended with the 12th pick in the draft after ending the season with the 12th worst record. They took Melvin Ely, but in L.A.'s defense, that was a stupendously horrible draft. Nine (!!!) of the players taken in the first round are no longer in the NBA.
Try to guess what happened in 2001. Give up? If you answered "Exactly the same thing that happened in the aforementioned years," then give yourself a pat on the back.
Seattle has the 12th worst record in '01, and they ended up with the 12th pick. Welcome to the NBA Vladimir Radmanovic.
I've ran out of new ways to say the same thing happened. In '00, the Mavericks finished with the 12th worst record and ended up with the 12th pick. Etan Thomas was Big D's pick. That draft was rubbish as well.
Not so interesting fact: The real first name of Jake Tsakalidis, who was taken by the Suns with the 25th pick, is Iakovos. I don't know how you get "Jake" from that. Then again, I don't know why people named "Richard" are also known as "Dick."
This keeps getting worse and worse for those of us holding out hope that the Blazers can somehow beat the odds on Tuesday. Once again, Seattle had the 12th worst record in '99, but this time they ended up with the 13th pick, eventually taking Corey Maggette and then trading him to Orlando. I can't find who the Sonics trade for Maggette, but I know for sure that whoever they got was more valuable than Aleksander Radojevic out of Barton County Community College. He's the player Toronto took with the 12th pick. What is it with the Raptors and guys from community colleges?
The averages play out again in the year I graduated from high school. Orlando finished with the 12th worst record, and they ended up with the 12th pick, taking Central Catholic's own Michael Doleac. Orlando also got the 13th pick as well through a trade with Washington. They took Keon Clark with that pick. Probably not the finest hour for the Magic.
Holding steady in '97. Indiana ended with the 12th worst record; ended up with the 12th pick. The Pacers took Austin Croshere, who at that time still had a full head of hair. I'm allowed to say that about Croshere, as I'm also balding. I feel his pain, though I'm not sitting on millions like AC is.
Ugh. No bucking the odds in '96. The Washington Wizards (who I believe were the Bullets at the time) finished with the 12th worst record and ended up with the 12th pick. They traded the pick to Cleveland, who took Vitaly Potapenko, which is one of my all-time favorite basketball names. Maybe I'll name my next dog Potapenko.
'95 was another draft re-tooled due to expansion teams. Vancouver and Toronto were assigned the 6th and 7th picks as per the expansion agreement. Long story short; the odds held at the bottom of the lottery. Dallas finished with the 10th worst record in the league and ended up getting the 12th pick, which is exactly what you would expect. Mavs took Cherokee Parks that year.
For our purposes, this is the last year worth looking at. After Orlando won the lottery in 1993 (despite having the best record of all lottery teams that season) and 1992, the NBA Board of Governors changed the percentage chances of the teams at the top and bottom of the lottery. The change to the system (which is the same system currently in place) increased the chances of the team with the worst record drawing the first pick in the draft from 16.7 percent to 25 percent, while decreasing the chances of the team with the best record among the lottery teams from 1.5 percent to 0.5 percent.
So how did it shake out in 1994? Predictably. The Lakers finished the season with the 10th worst record, and ended up with the 10th pick in the draft. They took Eddie Jones, who had a nice career.
So what have we learned? That the team with the second worst chance of winning the lottery has never moved up since the draft odds were re-weighted in 1994. And twice, the team with the second worst chance of winning the lottery has dropped to the last pick of the lottery.
I guess there are two ways to look at it. The pessimist would say the fact that no team has every moved up from the second-to-last lottery spot means the Blazers are unlikely to buck the trend. The optimist would say the team with the second worst chance of winning the lottery is due. I'll let you decide which mindset to take.