This article is the art of the “what if” in two senses. What if the NBA didn’t have a lottery system and, like the NFL, the team with the worst record had the first pick in the draft. How would that team have drafted, based on real-life circumstances. But also, in hindsight, if you were to redraft that year’s draft, who should now be the top pick.
What I learned from this:
- 3 players would still be picked #1 (John Wall, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis)
- The last three years have actually seen the team with the worst record win the lottery
- Biggest losers from not getting the number one pick when they had the worst record include Grizzles, Kings, Bobcats/Hornets (Charlotte franchise), and the Nets
Starting with 2005, here is a recap and a re-draft of each #1 pick through 2017.
2005 #1 Pick Re-Draft – Hawks draft Chris Paul
- Hawks (13-69) drafted Marvin Williams #2
- Bucks won the lottery with a 6.4% chance and drafted Andrew Bogut with the first pick
- Paul was drafted 4th by New Orleans Hornets
Analysis: It’s not that picking Marvin Williams was bad, it’s that for years and years following this draft the Hawks were criticized for not landing one of the two elite PGs – Chris Paul or Deron Williams, who went #3. Williams played 7 years in Atlanta averaging just over 11 ppg in that time. Williams is still in the league, as a starter and role player for the Hornets. You can same similar things about Andrew Bogut – “not a bad pick” but certainly not the type of elite player you expect to take first overall. Meanwhile, Chris Paul is a first ballot hall of famer. No other name is worthy of consideration for the top pick in a 2005 re-draft.
2006 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Blazers draft LaMarcus Aldridge
- Blazers (21-61) drafted Tyrus Thomas #4
- Raptors won the lottery with an 8.8% chance and drafted Andrea Bargnani with the first pick
- Aldridge was drafted 2nd by Chicago Bulls
Analysis: Aldridge was the second pick to Bulls and was later traded to Portland on draft night for Tyrus Thomas. Thomas’ career essentially ended in 2013, with a career average of 7 ppg. Aldridge meanwhile was a 4x all star with the Blazers, where he spent the first 9 years of his career, before signing a max contract with the Spurs. Andrea Bargnani did not have a successful NBA career and some how lasted 7 years in Toronto. The only other potential first pick option would be Kyle Lowry, but using hindsight, with how successful Aldridge was in Portland it makes sense to stick with him in a re-draft.
2007 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Grizzlies draft Kevin Durant
- Grizzlies (22-60) drafted Mike Conley #4
- Blazers won the lottery with a 5.3% chance and drafted Greg Oden first overall
- Durant was drafted 2nd by Seattle Sonics
Analysis: OY! This was a debacle. Lebron James even referenced this debacle in a random press conference during the playoffs last year, alluding to how everyone knows how good Durant is, except Portland, who drafted Greg Oden first overall due to his enormous potential and 7 foot frame. The problem is injuries destroyed Oden’s body and career. He missed a ton of time and never got a chance to develop into anything. Durant, well he’s now a 2x NBA champion on the most hated team of all time. The Grizzlies, despite the worst record wound up picking 4th. Conley has had a nice career with the Grizzlies and has career averages of 14 ppg, 6 apg. He has yet to make an all star team. While picking Conley was the right move at the time, the Grizzlies obviously missed out on a franchise altering moment with Durant.
2008 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Heat draft Russell Westbrook
- Heat (15-67) drafted Michael Beasley #2
- Bulls won the lottery with a 1.7% chance and drafted Derrick Rose first overall
- Westbrook was drafted 4th by Seattle Sonics
Analysis: Coming into this draft, there wasn’t much debate. Derrick Rose was far and away the consensus #1 pick and the Bulls were fortunate enough to win the lottery with such low odds to draft a homegrown talented PG. Rose was awesome. He won the MVP in 2011. But injuries over time took it’s toll on him, both physically and mentally and after a weird year with the Knicks, he spent 2018 with the Cavs and Wolves. Beasley, meanwhile, had two decent season with the Heat before being traded to the Wolves in 2010. OJ Mayo was drafted third and he is currently serving a drug suspension (banned for two years). Unquestionably, Russell Westbrook would be the first pick. He has averaged a tripe double in two consecutive seasons and was the league MVP in 2017. The Sonics, before becoming the OKC Thunder that year, had drafted Durant and Westbrook back-to-back years. The only other option would be Kevin Love. Goran Dragic is a hidden gem in this draft. While he wouldn’t be the first pick, he wouldn’t be 45th either.
2009 #1 and 2 Picks Re-Draft: Kings draft Steph Curry #1; Wizards draft James Harden #2
- Kings (17-65) drafted Tyreke Evans #4
- Clippers won the lottery with a 17.7% chance and drafted Blake Griffin first overall
- Curry was drafted 7th by Warriors and Harden was drafted 3rd by Thunder
- Grizzlies drafted Hasheem Thabeet with the second pick over both of those players
Analysis: This is a fun draft to analyze in hindsight. Let’s start with the real #1. Blake Griffin had a very solid career with the Clippers and despite the success of others (namely Curry and Harden) you can’t kick yourself for drafting Griffin, in a silo, given how the 5x all-star played for the Clippers. The Kings had the worst record and missed out on a generational player. They did draft Tyreke Evans who amazingly won rookie of the year for them, but it was mostly down hill from there. Meanwhile, Thabeet? Yikes. His career really never took off and he’s been out of the league since 2014. Grizzlies are by far the biggest loser in this draft. And everyone who didn’t draft Curry in before the Warriors did is a very close second. It’s worth noting, the Wizards had the second worst record and wound up trading their pick to Minnesota for a package of veterans and the Wolves took Ricky Rubio (over Curry).
2010 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Nets draft John Wall
- Nets (12-70) drafted Derrick Favors #3
- Wizards won the lottery with a 10.3% chance and drafted John Wall first overall
- Evan Turner was the #2 pick (to 76ers)
- Draft also included Demarcus Cousins, Paul George, Gordon Hayward
Analysis: This is the first draft since 2005 where you can say the #1 pick was the right choice, although there would be many debates about it, as the names above would be in the conversation but really it comes down to Wall vs George and despite questions of leadership and the Wizards culture recently, I think it’s fair to say Wall would still go #1 and the Nets would get a legitimate franchise changer. After missing out on the PG of their dreams, the Nets traded Favors, after 56 games, for Deron Williams. This was the first in a long series of trades that would derail the Nets franchise for many years to come.
2011 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Wolves draft Kawhi Leonard
- Wolves (17-65) drafted Derrick Williams #2
- Cavs won the lottery with a 19.9% chance and drafted Kyrie Irving first overall
- Leonard was drafted 15th by the Spirs
- Draft also included Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, and Kemba Walker
Analysis: This pick has a few components to it, as I debated Irving vs Leonard. Back in 2011, the Wolves were in the midst of drafting PGs left and right and two years prior had taken Ricky Rubio (who they were still waiting for) and Johnny Flynn. It would have been bad optics to take yet another PG and with the incredible success Leonard has had (NBA champion, Finals MVP, 2x all star, 2x all NBA first team) it’s fair to take him first. Incredibly, he wasn’t even a lottery pick. Kyrie certainly would have been worthwhile at #1 as a dominant PG and former NBA champion himself. In the scenario of drafting in order or worst record, Cavs would pick second and still wind up with Irving. Kemba Walker was drafted 9th and Klay Thompson 11th. In-between them at 10? Jimmer Fredette.
2012 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Bobcats draft Anthony Davis
- Bobcats (7-59) drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #2
- New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans) won the lottery with a 13.7% chance and draft Anthony Davis first overall
Analysis: This is just absolutely unfortunate luck for the Charlotte franchise. First of all, let’s clear up any confusion. The old Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans and kept the Hornets name. The NBA granted Charlotte an expansion team, the Bobcats. Later, the Bobcats took back the Hornets name and all of it’s pedigree history. The New Orleans team became the Pelicans. Confusing, yes. Anyways, Davis is one of the best players in the league today and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2018. Obviously the Bobcats could have used a franchise altering talent coming off the fewest wins in NBA history (7 wins in 66 games, due to lock out-shortened season). So the Bobcats settled for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Picked after him was Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard, a pair of 2018 all stars. MKG has spent his whole career with Charlotte, averaging 9 ppg and 5 apg and has never really stood out as a franchise changing talent. He could have a nice role as a supporting player on a good playoff team, but that opportunity hasn’t presented itself often. Worth mentioning that this draft also featured Draymond Green being picked #35.
2013 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Magic draft Giannis Antetokoumpo
- Magic (20-62) drafted Victor Oladipo #2
- Cavs won the lottery with a 15.6% chance and drafted Anthony Bennett first overall
- Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th by the Bucks
Analysis: There’s a lot to digest with this one. Once again, the Lebron-less Cavs were picking in the lottery and first overall. Previously, the Cavs had drafted Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. Now, picking first in a draft without a consensus top talent they took UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, who quickly became one of the biggest draft mistakes in NBA history. Bennett is already out of the league. He lasted 4 seasons, only one with Cleveland. He played 52 games, 12.8 minutes per game and averaged 4.2 ppg, 3 rpg, while shooting 35% from the field. None of that is good. The Magic were fortunate enough take Oladipo second, who carved out a nice career with the Magic before a brutal trade to the Thunder. Orlando sent Oladipo, their 2016 first round pick Domantas Sabonis, and Ersan Ilyasova for Serge Ibaka. Ibaka would be traded half way through his first season for Terrance Ross (to Toronto). Essentially, the Magic gave away Oladipo, the Thunder got Paul George for him and the Pacers got a new all star and franchise player in Oladipo. In hindsight, whoever picked first (in this case the team with the worst record is the Magic) should have taken “Greak Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo who has staked his claim as one of the best players in the league. Milwaukee got Giannis just outside the lottery at 15 and have reaped the benefits ever since. This draft hasn’t produced a ton of talent, with Rudy Gobert (drafted 27th by Jazz) potentially being the third best player behind Giannis and Oladipo. CJ McCollum and Steven Adams have also carved out nice careers and were both lottery picks.
2014 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Bucks draft Joel Embiid
- Bucks (15-67) drafted Jabari Parker #2
- Cavs won the lottery with a 1.7% chance and drafted Andrew Wiggins first overall
- Joel Embiid was drafted 3rd by 76ers
- Nuggets franchise player Nikola Jokic was drafted 41st overall
Analysis: Yes, it seems as if we are talking about the Cavs again, who drafted Wiggins as a can’t miss prospect. Wiggins never played a game for Cleveland. Once Lebron James returned home that summer as a free agent, the Cavs shipped him and Anthony Bennett out to Minnesota for Kevin Love. It’s not that Wiggins is a bad player, he’s just not worth the max money contract Minnesota gave him last year, and has reportedly clashed with Jimmy Butler. Bucks took Parker, which at the time was the right move. Two knee injuries later, the Bucks let Parker walk this summer for nothing. He signed with his hometown Bulls and the Bucks received nothing in return. On to the third pick and the man who retroactively would be picked first. Joel Emiid missed his first two seasons entirely due to recovering from injuries. He played 31 games as a rookie in 2016-17, and came on strong averaging 20 ppg. 31 games through three years was enough to earn a near max extension from Philly, and 2017-18 showed why. Embiid averaged 23 ppg and 11 rpg, playing in 63 games and helping Philly get back to the playoffs for the first time since they began to trust the process. Jokic was a second round pick who, in three years have averaged 15 ppg and 9 rpg, also earning a max extension from Denver. This draft also included Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle.
2015 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Wolves draft Karl-Anthony Towns
- Wolves (16-66) with 25% odds, won the lottery and drafted Towns first overall
Analysis: This one is easy. Wolves had the worst record, won the lottery and took Towns. In retrospect, there’s a good chance they would still take Towns, despite the early success of Kristaps Porzingis and Devin Booker. Pick #2 D’angelo Russell is entering a make or break year 4 with the Nets (following a 2017 trade from the Lakers) and Jahlil Okafor, picked 3rd is currently a free agent after being traded from the 76ers to Nets mid way through last year. Towns made his first all star game (of likely many) in 2018, helping Minnesota snap an NBA-long playoff drought.
2016 #1 Pick Re-Draft: 76ers draft Ben Simmons
- 76ers (10-72) with 25% odds, won the lottery and drafted Simmons first overall
Analysis: Like the 2015 scenario above, this doesn’t change although unlike 2015 where you could potentially justify Porzingis or Booker, there is zero argument or debate here. Simmons is far and away the best talent from the 2016 draft and Philly was coming off a miserable 10 win season. For the second straight year, the team with the worst record won the lottery and cashed in. Simmons, along with previously mentioned Embiid, helped guide Philly back to the playoffs, winning their first round series. Simmons won rookie of the year in 2017 and the 76ers have one of the brightest futures in the league.
2017 #1 Pick Re-Draft: Celtics draft Jason Tatum
- Celtics won the lottery, courtesy of the Nets pick, with a 25% chance to win and traded down from #1 to #3 and drafted Jason Tatum
- Markelle Fultz was drafted first overall by 76ers
Analysis: This one is compicated. The Nets had the worst record but owed their pick to the Celtics (via trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce back in 2014). Celtics won the lottery but traded down with the 76ers. They drafted Tatum third overall, but in hindsight, might have drafted him first (over Markelle Fultz). Other option includes Donovan Mitchell but knowing hindsight and seeing how good of a fit Tatum was in Boston, it makes sense that the Celtics keep things the same. In exchange for not drafting an injured PG Fultz, the Celtics also earned themselves a potential 2019 lottery pick.