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Few dates on the NBA calendar harbor as much significance as the night of the NBA Draft Lottery. For teams that miss the playoffs — especially those stuck in the mire of losing myriad basketball games for years on end — this is an opportunity to change the course of your franchise’s history for years, sometimes even decades to come. Oddly enough, in a league where billions of dollars and thousands of hours are invested every year into producing a quality product on the floor, nothing quite carries as much weight as a series of random ping-pong balls.
While the Nuggets are far from derelict there’s no denying how helpful a top-three pick would be. Pairing someone like Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns alongside Jusuf Nurkic and the rest of the Nuggets’ solid young core could put them in position to compete for a playoff spot for years. So in preparation for Tuesday night’s events, considering everything at stake, I’ve compiled an expansive “NBA Draft Lottery kit” — thanks to the help of Nick O’Hayre and the rest of the Nuggets’ media relations team — to fill you in on everything you need to know leading up to the Lottery…
If you’d like some background information on how the Lottery works be sure to check out the first piece I wrote for BSNDenver.com explaining this process as well as how it affects the Nuggets. For the truncated version, know this:
Below are a few facts about where the Nuggets are currently slated to select and their odds of moving up in the Lottery:
— The Nuggets finished with the seventh worst record in basketball and therefore have a fairly small chance of moving up in the Lottery. They have about an 85 percent chance of either remaining at seven or moving back to eight or nine and about a 15 percent chance of moving into the top three.
— The team with the seventh worst record has won the Lottery on three different occasions since 1985 when the lottery system was first implemented. This last happened 15 years ago in 2000 when the New Jersey Nets selected Kenyon Martin, who as we all well know would later go on to play for the Nuggets from 2004-11.
— Teams that have finished with the seventh worst record or lower have moved into the top three on 14 different occasions. Given the Lottery has been in existence for exactly 30 years this comes out to once every other year. The last time this happened was in 2014 when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Lottery after finishing with the ninth worst record in basketball.
While fans should remain optimistic about the Nuggets’ chances of moving up in the Lottery, it’s also important to maintain a healthy sense of reality. Chances are much higher that the Nuggets either stay put at seven or move back. Furthermore, the Nuggets have history on their side — and not in a good way.
Take a look at the graph below. This shows each year the Nuggets have participated in the Lottery (on the far left), their position heading into the Lottery, whether they moved up or down, how far they moved each way and whom they ultimately selected with their pick in that year’s draft:
Not good. Not good at all. As you can see the Nuggets have played the Lottery quite a few times and never once moved up. On seven different occasions the Nuggets have finished with a top-five worst record in the NBA and yet each of those years they’ve moved down rather than staying put or moving up. That’s astoundingly bad luck. But as we’re all well aware, luck always runs out eventually — even bad luck. So perhaps this is the year the Nuggets’ drought of having never leapfrogged their competition on Lottery night finally ceases to exist.
Below is another graph, this one displaying the Nuggets’ history of draft selections in the Lottery. Notice they’ve never had the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 7 overall picks. So if they stay put at seven or manage to move into the top two, it will be a first in Nuggets’ franchise history.
The Nuggets will have two picks in the upcoming draft: their first-round selection and the 57th pick obtained from the Los Angeles Clippers. The Nuggets traded away their own 2015 second-round pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011 which is now owned by the Philadelphia 76ers. Below is a glimpse of the Nuggets’ future draft selections over the next several years:
So what can we take away from all these data, these odds and trends throughout history?
Some advice: Don’t get your hopes up.
Chances are — 83 percent to be exact — the Nuggets will remain at seven or move back to eight. Just make peace with this fact and you’ll be fine. What you don’t want to do is expect the Nuggets to move up because it’s about damn time and they’ve been shafted long enough. While true, preserving this mindset will be much more painful for you, the viewer, to watch as the Nuggets fall back to eight. You’re much better off taking the Low Expectations route. Because if the Nuggets do somehow manage to land a top-three selection it will be all the more satisfying knowing you never expected it. Surprise is the forefather of joy.
I did however have to do one thing before I concluded this article and prepared myself for Tuesday’s Lottery — I had to play the ESPN NBA Draft Lottery Machine just once, just to see what happened. Below is a snapshot of the results. Take it for what you will…