Looking at the 9 teams to go from an NBA Draft Lottery win to the playoffs

May 25, 2018, 7:10 AM | Updated: 12:16 pm
(AP photos)...
(AP photos)
(AP photos)

The outlook for the Phoenix Suns has shifted considerably since last week’s lottery.

Locally, at least.

While the debate rages nationally over whether Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic should go No. 1, the court of public opinion in the Valley has already ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the big man who played his college ball in Tucson.

98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta even put out a Twitter poll on Monday where Suns fans voted that they’d rather have Ayton than Karl-Anthony Towns or Kawhi Leonard. High praise, since Towns put up better numbers facing NBA double teams last season than Ayton did in college. Point is, there’s excitement around this team again.

So maybe it’s time to ask the question: Could the Suns actually parlay this top pick into a postseason push as soon as next year?

The answer, of course, is probably no. Cleveland didn’t even make it in LeBron James’ rookie year, nor did the Knicks after they controversially landed Patrick Ewing. But let’s take a look at past lottery winners and see how they’ve fared anyway, just to gain a more historic perspective on what Phoenix is up against.

Of the 33 lottery winners since the system was implemented in 1985, only nine have vaulted all the way into the playoffs the following season. And most of those nine instances involved pretty unique circumstances. Here’s a quick look at those nine teams.


2017-18 Boston Celtics

Well, they’re still playing and it’s late May, so this obviously isn’t normal. The Celtics have been good for awhile now, yet they somehow seem to have the rights to a bad team’s top pick every year. This time it was Brooklyn, who, ironically, never seems to have access to their own picks. That’s because they gave Boston three first-round picks and a group of role players by trading Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White to the Brooklyn Nets in 2014.

The Celtics won the NBA Draft Lottery thanks to Brooklyn’s bad season, then dealt the top overall pick to Philadelphia. Boston still got Jayson Tatum — who they said they wanted all along — and might make it to the Finals this year.

Meanwhile, the Sixers drafted Markelle Fultz No. 1 but took the leap because of other factors after a shoulder injury limited the guard to 14 games.

The lesson here is don’t make trades with Danny Ainge. But this is such an odd circumstance that we’re not counting it.

2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers

This is back when Cleveland won the lottery every year, no matter what. In 2014, the Cavaliers used the pick on Andrew Wiggins and traded him to Minnesota for Kevin Love. Oh, and they also went out and signed LeBron James that same offseason en route to jumping from 33 wins the year prior to 53 in 2014-15. This doesn’t count either.

1993-94 Orlando Magic

For context, Orlando picked first in 1992, took Shaquille O’Neal and still ended up with the top selection again in ’93. They used it to select Chris Webber, then instantly dealt him to the Warriors for a package that included Anfernee Hardaway.

To be fair though, the Magic had just gone 41-41 and only had a 1.52 percent shot at No. 1. So they never should’ve been picking this high anyway. With Hardaway, they improved to win 50 games and make the 1994 playoffs.

Webber, meanwhile in Golden State, helped the Warriors improve from 34 wins to 50 to become a playoff team.

1986-87 Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia traded the pick to Cleveland the night before the draft for forward Roy Hinson and cash, and the Cavs used it on Brad Daugherty. Again though, these were extreme circumstances. The 76ers had just gone 54-28 in the 1985-86 campaign, so it’s not like they were struggling. The exact opposite, in fact.

The Sixers just happened to own the Clippers’ pick that landed No. 1 overall after the lottery — they had acquired it by trading Kobe Bryant’s father, Joe Jellybean Bryant.


2008-09 Chicago Bulls

The Bulls finished 33-49 in 2007-08, had a 1.70 percent chance at landing the No. 1 pick, got it anyway and took Derrick Rose. Then they went 41-41 and snuck into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in a weak Eastern Conference.

Safe to say the Suns’ path through the Western Conference in 2018 will be a little tougher. Also, why don’t teams from Phoenix ever jump up in the draft when they only have a 1.70 percent chance?

2006-07 Toronto Raptors

This is the first real example of a struggling team keeping the pick and turning it into immediate success on the court.

The Raptors were supposed to pick fifth, but their 8.80 percent odds lifted them up to the top spot. They took Andrea Bargnani — over LaMarcus Aldridge, but that’s not the point — jumped from 27 to 47 wins and took first place in the Atlantic. Not bad, especially considering Bargnani only contributed 11.6 points per game and a roster that, after Chris Bosh, was filled out by T.J. Ford, Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jorge Garbajosa and Rasho Nesterovic.

2005-06 Milwaukee Bucks

Similar to Toronto in 2006, the 2005-06 Bucks came off a pretty mediocre campaign (30-52) a year prior, vaulted up a few spots in the lottery (from sixth to first), kept the pick and actually made the playoffs right away.

This time the pick was Andrew Bogut, at a time when big men were maybe more of a necessity than they are today. He wasn’t dominant as a rookie by any means (9.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game), but he didn’t have to be. Milwaukee had other scorers like Michael Redd and the Eastern Conference was once again weak enough that a 40-42 record got them the eight seed.

1997 San Antonio Spurs

OK, we’re at the point where you’re just going to hate the Spurs even more than you already do if you keep reading. If you’re somebody that feeds off the pain, though, carry on.

After averaging nearly 59 wins from 1994 to 1996, San Antonio lost center David Robinson to injury, bottomed out for one year, moved up one spot in the lottery and drafted one of the best players of all time in Tim Duncan. Executive Gregg Popovich also fired Bob Hill and hired himself as head coach.

San Antonio then got Robinson back and literally haven’t missed the playoffs since. Oh, and they won five titles with Popovich and Duncan. Seems fair.

1987-88 San Antonio Spurs

This might actually be the best example we have of a team being bad, winning the lottery, drafting the right guy and having him immediately lift them into the playoffs.

Of course, that player was Robinson, and prospects like him aren’t easy to find. It’s also worth noting the Spurs only went 31-51 in his rookie campaign, but that was somehow good enough to sneak into the playoffs because apparently there were, like, 12 NBA teams in 1988.

The Admiral was dominant right out of the gate though, averaging 24.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.9 blocks.

In other words, Ayton just needs to be David Robinson. No big deal.

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