AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons have a measly 0.7 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick when the NBA holds its draft lottery draw tonight. They start the night in 12th place and – if they’re lucky – that’s where they’ll end it.
There’s a better chance of the Pistons getting bumped down a spot – 3.92 percent – than there is that they’ll pull one of the top three picks, 2.54 percent. The Pistons know all about getting bumped. It happened to them three times in their six-season playoffs drought, one time – 2014 – costing them their first-round pick altogether when moving from eighth to ninth meant the pick removed protection from their first-rounder and ceded it to Charlotte.
For a bit of perspective, under the current weighted lottery system in place since 1994 to determine the top three picks, the longest odds to get the first pick were cashed in by Chicago and Cleveland. They both won the No. 1 pick from the No. 9 position, which gave them a 1.7 percent chance. The Pistons’ odds of landing the pick are less than half as good as those teams. The Bulls turned the 2008 No. 1 pick into Derrick Rose and the Cavs used their 2014 top pick on Andrew Wiggins, then traded him to Minnesota as the key piece in the Kevin Love deal.
The longest odds ever overcome to gain any top-three pick? Charlotte moved from 13th and last in the lottery in a 29-team NBA to beat 0.73 odds and gain the No. 3 pick in 1999. The Pistons have a 0.83 percent chance to land the No. 2 pick tonight and a 1.01 percent chance to wind up with the No. 3 pick.
As with most drafts, picking 12th gives the Pistons a chance to land a good player, perhaps a starter, but picking a high-end impact player is much more likely when you’re drafting in the top five – or higher. Notable exceptions in recent years: Paul George was picked 10th in 2010, Kawhi Leonard 15th in 2011 and Giannis Antetokounmpo 15th in 2014.
The early line on the 2017 draft was promising with the expectation that it would provide both impact players at the top and greater depth than typical in starting-quality and rotation-worthy players. As often is the case, the nearer a draft becomes the more pessimistic the evaluations grow as potential flaws in more players are uncovered. But the Pistons see this as a draft that should help many.
“I think it’s going to be a good draft,” general manager Jeff Bower said last week after the draft combine wrapped up in Chicago. “The top of it has some very dynamic players. I think the middle of it has very good players and I think there’s better depth into the second round. Everything is going to get pushed back a little bit, so there’s going to be some good players that have a chance to go undrafted, as well.”
An oversimplified thumbnail sketch of the draft would say that it’s heavy in point guards at the top – perhaps five of the first nine or 10 picks, all players under 20 years old – and then deep in raw but athletic big men after that.
The Pistons have no glaring roster need this year with key players at every position locked up for next season. The old “best player available” axiom is never quite absolute – teams almost always factor roster construction into the final ranking of their draft board – but will hold close to the truth for this year’s Pistons. In some ways liberating when preparing for the draft, it also means a deeper dive into the prospect pool, Bower said.
“I think it makes it harder,” Bower said. “It certainly increases the pool because we’re not limited to any one thing. We’re trying to have a handle on groups of guys that we may be able to be positioned to do something with.”
Bower will represent the Pistons on the lottery dais. The event will take place at 8:30 tonight and be televised by ESPN.