Which lottery team has had the greatest success in the NBA draft?

1:43 | NBA
Timberwolves win big, Knicks hit hard in 2015 NBA draft lottery
Tuesday June 23rd, 2015

Picking in the NBA lottery is no easy task. Sure, lottery picks pan out more often that those later in the draft, but selecting among the first 14 picks—or even the top five—doesn’t guarantee a star or even a contributor. Sometimes you get Kevin Durant, sometimes you get Hasheem Thabeet.

Some teams seem to have a knack for deciding among top draft prospects, all with many strengths and a few weaknesses, while others… do not.

With the benefit of hindsight, SI.com ranked the 14 teams in this year’s lottery on how successful they’ve been picking in the lottery over the past 15 drafts, dating back to 2000.

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Here are a few notes before the rankings:

  • We’re including picks acquired in draft-day trades, even if those picks were officially submitted by other teams
  • We’re using Basketball-Reference’s win shares stat to help assess how successful each team has been in the draft. Win shares attempts to provide a catchall measure of how many victories a player contributes to his team. You can read more about the stat here.
  • Because we’re evaluating how good a team is at drafting in the lottery, not how good it is at hanging onto those players once they’re drafted, we’re counting a player’s total career win shares, not just those accumulated for the drafting team.
  • Average win share figures do include recent draft picks, who admittedly haven’t had time to pan out or flop. This is more art than science.
  • With that in mind, win share numbers are not the end-all in these rankings.

  • 14
    13Minnesota Timberwolves
    Lottery picks: 11
    Total win shares: 126
    Win shares per pick: 11.5
    Best picks: Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio
    Worst picks: Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, Rashad McCants
    That Minnesota is tied with Charlotte for most lottery picks since 2000 is no coincidence. The Timberwolves made a shrewd move in 2008 when they swapped the third pick (O.J. Mayo) for the fifth pick (Kevin Love), but other than that, Minnesota’s past 15 drafts have been consistently terrible. They’ve taken Wesley Johnson fourth and Derrick Williams second. They’ve chosen two point guards in a row, including Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry. They’ve traded Brandon Roy and Trey Burke on draft night. Year after year, the Timberwolves earn a lottery pick, and year after year they blow it.

  • 13
    12New York Knicks
    Lottery picks: 4
    Total win shares: 78.8
    Win shares per pick: 19.7
    Best pick: Danilo Gallinari
    Worst picks: Mike Sweetney, Jordan Hill
    The Knicks are fond of trading their first-round picks, so they haven’t actually picked in the lottery much over the last 15 years. Of their four lottery selections, they’ve come up with two veritable busts (Mike Sweetney and Jordan Hill) and two decent players who didn’t last long in New York (Channing Frye and Danilo Gallinari). Some of that is bad luck: The Knicks were one pick away from Kevin Love in 2008 and one pick away from Curry a year later.

  • 12
    11Charlotte Hornets
    Lottery picks: 11
    Total win shares: 159.3
    Win shares per pick: 14.5
    Best picks: Kemba Walker, Emeka Okafor
    Worst pick: Adam Morrison
    The Bobcats/Hornets have existed for only 11 seasons and yet have accrued 11 lottery picks during that time. And with those picks, they’ve largely avoided both massive busts and franchise-changing stars. Other than the 2006 No. 3 pick Adam Morrison, Charlotte has selected almost exclusively role players. Maybe Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrest become stars in coming seasons, or maybe they wind up a few notches above Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson in the annals of unspectacular players drafted by the Bobcats/Hornets.

  • 11
    10Detroit Pistons
    Lottery picks: 6
    Total win shares: 77.3
    Win shares per pick: 12.9
    Best pick: Andre Drummond
    Worst picks: Darko Milicic, Rodney White
    Oddly, the Pistons managed to build their 2004 title team despite totally missing on their two lottery picks leading up that season. Detroit took Rodney White ninth in 2001 and—infamously—Darko Milicic second in 2003, then dominated the Eastern Conference long enough to avoid the lottery until 2010. The Pistons have done well in recent drafts, finding Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond all outside the top five. 2013 No. 8 pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope remains a question mark.

  • 10
    9Sacramento Kings
    Lottery picks: 7
    Total win shares: 93.3
    Win shares per pick: 13.3
    Best picks: DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans
    Worst pick: Thomas Robinson
    Between 2007 and 2010, the Kings drafted fairly well in the lottery. They took Spencer Hawes 10th in 2007 and Jason Thompson 12th in 2008, and both developed into productive players. They grabbed Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans fourth in 2009 (but passed on Curry to do so) and snagged All-Star DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. But Sacramento’s recent drafts have gone poorly. Thomas Robinson—taken directly before Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross and Andre Drummond in 2012—has bounced to four teams in three years, and early returns aren’t great on Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas.

  • 9
    8Phoenix Suns
    Lottery picks: 6
    Total win shares: 113.4
    Win shares per pick: 18.9
    Best pick: Amar'e Stoudemire
    Worst picks: Earl Clark, Kendall Marshall
    The success of the Suns’ 2002 pick, Amar'e Stoudemire, helped ensure they wouldn’t pick in the lottery again for a while. But since Phoenix returned to the lottery in 2009, results have been poor. Earl Clark was a bust, as was Kendall Marshall. Alex Len and T.J. Warren could still become reliable NBA contributors, but they’re not there yet. Of the Suns’ post-Amar'e lottery picks, only Markieff Morris has developed as hoped.

  • 8
    7Indiana Pacers
    Lottery picks: 3
    Total win shares: 56.2
    Win shares per pick: 18.7
    Best pick: Paul George
    Worst picks: Brandon Rush, Jerryd Bayless
    The Pacers have not held a single-digit draft pick since 1989, so their lottery success has been understandably limited. Still, finding a star in Paul George with the No. 10 pick in 2010 makes up for the two lukewarm selections that preceded him: Tyler Hansbrough and Brandon Rush.

  • 7
    6Los Angeles Lakers
    Lottery picks: 2
    Total win shares: 37.3
    Win shares per pick: 18.7
    Best pick: Andrew Bynum
    Worst picks: N/A
    The Lakers have chosen in the lottery only twice since 1994. And since one of those picks (2014 first-rounder Julius Randle) has played only one NBA game, we’re left with Andrew Bynum, who provided excellent value for his draft slot. The 7-foot center averaged at least 10 points and eight rebounds in five straight seasons and helped Los Angeles win two titles during seven seasons. Bynum was brittle and sometimes malcontented but clearly worthy of the 10th overall pick the Lakers used on him in 2005. Props to L.A. for nailing its only lottery selection of the decade.

  • 6
    5Philadelphia 76ers
    Lottery picks: 7
    Total win shares: 133
    Wins shares per pick: 19
    Best picks: Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young
    Worst pick: Evan Turner
    The Sixers’ spot on this list is largely to-be-determined. Three of Philadelphia’s seven lottery picks since 2000 have played a season or less, with Nerlens Noel coming off a strong rookie campaign and Joel Embiid and Dario Saric yet to play. Of the team’s other lottery picks in the last 15 years, Andre Iguodala became an All-tar, Thaddeus Young carved out a productive career, Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year (essentially by default, but still) and Evan Turner was only a partial bust. All in all, Philadelphia’s lottery resume isn’t bad.

  • 5
    4Denver Nuggets
    Lottery picks: 2
    Total win shares: 84.4
    Win shares per pick: 42.2
    Best pick: Carmelo Anthony
    Worst pick: Nikoloz Tskitishvili
    Talk about extreme ends of the spectrum. Denver's No. 3 pick in 2003, Carmelo Anthony, is a future Hall-of-Famer with a 25.2 ppg scoring average, while the No. 5 pick in 2002 Nikoloz Tskitishvili is a washout who scraped his way to 2.9 points per game over four NBA seasons. In back-to-back drafts, the Nuggets wound up with a historic bust and a franchise cornerstone. Denver probably won’t complain; Carmelo provided more than enough value to make up for Tskitishvili’s disappointment.

  • 4
    3Utah Jazz
    Lottery picks: 7
    Total win shares: 168.4
    Win shares per pick: 24.1
    Best picks: Deron Williams, Gordon Hayward
    Worst picks: N/A
    The Jazz have had seven lottery picks since 2000 and have not really messed up any of them (we’re watching you, Dante Exum). They drafted an All-Star point guard in Deron Williams, a 19-point scorer in Gordon Hayward and good complimentary players in Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Ronnie Brewer. Even Kris Humphries went on to play 11 years and counting. Credit to Utah for consistently avoiding lottery busts.

  • 3
    2Orlando Magic
    Lottery picks: 8
    Total win shares: 210.1
    Win shares per pick: 26.3
    Best picks: Dwight Howard, Mike Miller, J.J. Redick
    Worst picks: Fran Vazquez, Courtney Alexander
    Orlando would probably like the Fran Vazquez pick back (and likely the Courtney Alexander one too), but other than that the Magic’s picks have largely panned out. Mike Miller and J.J. Redick were good players in weak drafts, and Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon help form a compelling young nucleus. And then there’s Dwight Howard, a six-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Orlando and arguably the best player in the franchise’s history. At the time, some analysts suggested the Magic select Emeka Okafor over Howard with the first overall pick in 2004, but Orlando’s choice certainly proved wise.

  • 2
    2Miami Heat
    Lottery picks: 3
    Total win shares: 169.8
    Win shares per pick: 56.6
    Best picks: Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler
    Worst pick: Michael Beasley
    Two out of three isn’t bad, right? Selecting Dwyane Wade fifth in 2003 changed the entire history of Miami’s franchise. Without that pick, the Heat certainly don’t win the 2006 title and probably don’t sign LeBron James. And without stealing Caron Butler 10th in 2002, the Heat can’t trade for Shaq two years later. The No. 2 pick in 2008, Michael Beasley, busted big time, but Wade and Butler more than sustain Miami’s lottery resume.

  • 1
    1Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder
    Lottery picks: 10
    Total win shares: 321.8
    Win shares per pick: 32.2
    Best picks: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden
    Worst picks: Mouhamed Sene, Robert Swift
    More than any other team in the NBA, the Thunder built a winning roster through the draft lottery. That’s where they acquired current pillars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, plus role players Steven Adams and Nick Collison. They also grabbed James Harden and Jeff Green in the top five; that they traded away both players for underwhelming returns doesn’t take away from Sam Presti and company’s impeccable draft-night decision making. Among all NBA teams, only the Cleveland Cavaliers can claim close to Seattle/Oklahoma City’s lottery success.

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