Tonight is the NBA Draft Lottery, and the Charlotte Hornets will undoubtedly land the 11th pick. If we say this enough, we will change the course of events, and the Hornets will end up with the 14th pick after the Pistons, Nuggets, and Heat each move up into the top-3. Admit it, it sounds more plausible than the Hornets moving up.
Rich Cho will be representing the team for the second time. The last time he did, the Hornets had the highest possible odds and ended up with 2nd overall pick. This time around, ending up with the second pick would feel a little different.
But the draft lottery (8:30pm Tuesday on ESPN) is like all lotteries — a scam that preys on people’s hope. The odds to land the No. 1 pick are less than one percent, and yet as I type this, less than one percent of me is convincing myself there’s a chance.
This irrational thinking is more excusable if the lottery had “rewarded” the team in the past — fans of the New Orleans Pelicans can at least point to the 2012 draft as reason to feel optimistic about their odds this season, while Hornets fans view that night as reason to abolish the lottery altogether. When future scholars write case studies on why the draft lottery was the literal worst thing in sports, they will use the Hornets draft history from 2011-2013 as Exhibit A:
- 2011: 9th best odds, 9th overall pick. A wash.
- 2012: Highest odds, end up with 2nd pick and miss out on Anthony Davis.
- 2013: 2nd best odds, end up with 4th pick.
The only time the odds have gone Charlotte’s way recently was 2014, when they ended up with the 9th overall pick during a season they weren’t expecting to be in it at all, and that landed them Noah Vonleh. What a steal.
The odds haven’t been in the team’s favor, that said, blaming bad odds as the primary reason overlooks the fact that its arguably just as important who teams actaully draft. Deeper looks into where stars are selected show surprising results. While a few years old, SB Nation’s Tom Ziller found that 25 of 51 All-NBA selections over the past decade (so 2004-14), were taken outside the top five, and recent examples of Kawhi Leonard (picked 15th), Paul George, (13th), and Giannis Antetekoumnpo (15th) support the notion that a team doesn’t have to collect a lot of ping pong balls (or any at all) to draft a star.
But other looks into the history of draft found that the chances of drafting a superstar significantly drop outside the top five, and that players selected outside the top 10 tend to be more hit-or-miss. Clearly, a team’s chances of selecting a franchise player increase the higher up the order they are, but the odds exist even in the later picks.
This ties right back into the hope of the lottery. We know the Hornets almost certainly won’t move up, but because the prospect of drafting a star outside the top 10 remains, we hold onto the hope that Charlotte could be next to draft that player, despite that historically, teams have drafted a star with the 11th pick just 15 percent of the time (versus 35 percent with the 10th pick).
So the lottery sucks, but I will watch it tonight and believe a top-3 pick is possible until it isn’t, and even then, I will keep on believing that whoever the Hornets end up drafting will be the team’s missing piece, because when it comes to the draft, the irrational side of me wins nearly every time.