What the Lottery Has Meant for the Bucks

The NBA Draft Lottery was created to dissuade tanking. Whether or not the lottery has succeeded, is up to your own judgment (Quick answer: no). Milwaukee did their best to tank their way to the top of the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant lottery, but the basketball Gods did not reward the regular efforts of Damir Markota and Jared Reiner. Milwaukee slipped right into the retreating arms of Easy Yi and the rest is history.

The Bucks made the playoffs every year for the first two incarnations of the lottery. In 1985, the order of the non-playoff teams were fully determined by the lottery and they all had an equal chance at the top pick. In 1987, they modified the lottery so only the first three picks were determined by lottery. All non-playoff teams had an equal shot at the top three picks and all other picks were determined by record. In 1990, they weighted the lottery. The worst team had 11 out of 66 chances to get the top pick; the second-worst team had 10 out of 66 chances and so on and so forth. The Bucks first foray into the lottery was in 1991. Since then the Bucks have been in the lottery more often than not and the NBA has changed the lottery system to be weighted out of 1000 combinations instead of 66.

Year Record Projection Prob at No. 1 (%) Draft Position Player
1992 31-51 7 7.6 8 Todd Day
1993 28-54 6 9.1 8 Vin Baker
1994 20-62 4 16.3 1 Glenn Robinson
1995 34-48 9 1.5 11 Gary Trent*
1996 25-57 4 20.2 4 Stephon Marbury**
1997 33-49 10 1.5 10 Danny Fortson***
1998 36-46 9 2.1 9 Dirk Nowitzki****
2002 41-41 13 0.5 13 Marcus Haislip
2005 30-52 6 6.3 1 Andrew Bogut
2007 28-54 3 15.6 6 Yi Jianlian
2008 26-56 7 4.3 8 Joe Alexander
2009 34-48 10 1 10 Brandon Jennings

*traded to Portland along with a conditional ’96 first-round pick for Shawn Respert

**traded to Minnesota for Ray Allen and a future first-round pick

*** traded to Denver along with Johnny Newman and Joe Wolf for Ervin Johnson

****traded to Dallas along with draft rights to Pat Garrity for Robert “Tractor” Traylor

It should also be noted that the Bucks drafted T.J. Ford in 2003 at the eighth spot. The pick came from a trade with the Atlanta Hawks that saw the Bucks trading Glenn Robinson for the lottery pick, Tony Kukoc and Leon Smith. So in all, the Bucks have had 13 lottery picks and have traded four of those picks.

The lottery adds an extra measure of crazy to the draft which is already a crap shoot. It can do two things that have very critical consequences for teams. The lottery can put teams on the fast track for success (early 90s Orlando Magic, late 90s San Antonio Spurs and current edition of the Oklahoma City Thunder). Or it can leave a team flailing in mediocrity for eternity (current edition of the Bucks and current Minnesota Timberwolves).

It takes a lot of luck and near flawless execution just to build a good team. If you look at the 90s part of the chart, you realize the Bucks made so many mistakes and had so much bad luck that it’s a wonder that they even made it to the Eastern Conference Finals once. They drafted the hulking Gary Trent and traded him for Shawn Respert — who promptly was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  What those Bucks did have going for them was the opportunity to draft for elite talent twice. And the talent they cultivated from those picks was invaluable at the turn of the century.

The team hasn’t had such fortunate opportunities in recent times. The inability to choose peak talent has really hurt the Bucks and stuck them in a decade of mediocrity. Only four of the last ten years have resulted in a playoff trip for the Bucks. They’ve never won a round, nor held home-court advantage. In the six years without playoff trips, the Bucks have most often been left with middling positions in the lottery. Beating the odds doesn’t guarantee nabbing a franchise guy (Portland only had a 5.3 percent chance at Oden), but moving back in the lottery can downright cripple a team. The Bucks slipped from their projected spots in 2007 and 2008. Those picks ended up being Al Horford and Eric Gordon, not Yi Jianlian or Joe Alexander.

I’m not trying to play the “what-if” game, just lamenting the lost opportunities for the Bucks to select elite talent. Teams can get elite players through free agency or trades, but it’s the guys teams get through the draft who are the face of the franchise. Pau Gasol is a great player, but Kobe Bryant is Laker incarnate

Plus, their are innate advantages built into drafting players. A good player on his rookie contract may just be the most valuable commodity in the NBA. Derrick Rose is only making 6.9 million this year. That’s a hell of a deal for the Bulls and he is definitely the MVP in terms of monetary value. Teams will always strive to get Larry Bird rights for their top draft picks, so bad contracts a team acquires through free agency or trades have no bearing on a team’s ability to offer a guy a boatload of money. And as the new CBA is restructured, there are sure to be newer tools teams can use to keep their top picks.

Every team needs a lot of luck in the lottery to have sustained success in the future. The Bucks have only had the opportunity draft an elite player once (Andrew Bogut with the first pick in 2005). Getting a player as talented as Brandon Jennings in 2009 was improbable, but the vast number of talented point guards in the game right now might never allow Jennings to ever be considered elite at his position. Acquiring two great players was through the draft was good enough for the Allen/Robinson edition of the Bucks. It won’t be good enough for these Bucks.

Ian Segovia is a contributor to the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).

Categories: Draft Talk

Ian Segovia has been watching the Milwaukee Bucks for several years and…

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