Do Lottery Players Equal NBA Success?

June 27th, 2007

The title of the article pretty much sums it up – do the number of lottery drafted players on a NBA team’s roster affect the team’s outcome on the court? At first blush the obvious answer would be yes – more often than not talent wins out on the court, so more talent on a roster should equal more wins. On the other side of the coin, normally the worst teams in the league are the ones drafting in the lottery, so therefore crummy teams should have their rosters saturated with lottery picks.

Your trusty writer went about trying to answer this question by perusing all 30 NBA team’s rosters from the 2006/07 season. Any player who appeared in at least one game for a team qualified to be counted towards that team’s lottery player total, so lottery players who were traded during the season counted on multiple team’s totals. After all the number crunching, NBA teams had on an average about five players on their roster who were selected in the lottery. Here are the teams that disobeyed the average and were at the far ends of the spectrum:

Top of the heap:

Golden State – 9 players (Davis, Richardson, Biedrins, Dunleavy, Diogu, Foyle, O’Bryant, Pietrus, Wagner)

Denver – 8 players (Anthony, Iverson, Camby, Hilario, Miller, Smith, Martin, Johnson)

Miami – 8 players (Wade, O’Neal, Williams, Mourning, Walker, Payton, Jones, Doleac)

All three teams made the playoffs, so talent does get you that far. Miami’s stockpiling of veteran lottery picks (and some kid named Wade) got them the title in 2006. It’s hard to say if the Nuggets’ motley crew of lottery picks will ever be able to play together as a team and really make some noise in the playoffs. Golden State’s big mid-season trade took away some of the lottery talent, but they had enough left over to shock Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

Bottom feeders:

Indiana – 2 players (Dunleavy, Diogu)

Milwaukee – 2 players (Bogut, Villanueva)

San Antonio – 3 players (Duncan, Horry, Ely)

Utah – 3 players (Williams, Harpring, Brewer)

Until their mid-season trade with Golden State, Indiana didn’t have any lottery picks on their team – and they suffered through a horrible season. Milwaukee also had a horrible year but at least their lottery talent is young still. The real interesting two are the Spurs and the Jazz, who battled in the Western Conference Finals this past season. These two teams proved it doesn’t matter what spot you draft a player at, rather it is more important to draft and/or trade smart. While having lottery picks Tim Duncan and Deron Williams on their rosters definitely help, it is the later picks that really make the difference for both teams – Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur.

While it is hard to draw a definitive conclusion from all of this, the main point that these numbers illustrates is that a pick in the lottery isn’t a guaranteed ticket to a championship. Unless that pick is named Duncan or O’Neal or probably Oden and/or Durant. So draft wisely NBA GMs, even those of you who aren’t in the lottery this year.