NBA Tanking: Draft Lottery Success Doesn't Mean Future Titles

Mark VandeusenContributor IIIMarch 18, 2014

In 2013, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery for the fourth time, but they don't have any championships to show for it.
In 2013, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the lottery for the fourth time, but they don't have any championships to show for it.Associated Press

As the NBA season winds down, it becomes more and more clear which teams are headed for the draft lottery. 

To many of these clubs, "tanking" for a better pick may look like the most appealing course of action. While losing more games does increase the chances of drafting higher, history suggests that there is very little correlation between lottery success and winning championships.

The NBA first instituted the draft lottery in 1985.  In the 28 drafts since then, only one franchise that has ever won the lottery has become the champion at any point afterwards: the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs are the anomaly when it comes to the draft lottery.  Both of their No. 1 overall picks, David Robinson and Tim Duncan, have helped guide them to titles.  

Of the other 26 players taken first in the draft since 1985, just three have gone on to win championships: Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James and Glenn Robinson.  However, all three did it after leaving the teams they were drafted by, and Glenn Robinson was a non-factor for the Spurs in 2005.

It's not only the No. 1 selections who have failed to bring titles to the franchises that chose them; the same applies to the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 spots as well.  There have been 84 players drafted second through fourth in the lottery era, and just three of them have won championships with their original clubs.

Two of those players, Sean Elliott and Jason Kidd, were traded away by the Spurs and Dallas Mavericks respectively.  They later returned and won titles with each of those teams more than a decade after being drafted.  

The third name on the list is Darko Milicic, who was taken No. 2 overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2003. Milicic won a championship with the Pistons the following spring but was an insignificant benchwarmer who played a total of five minutes in the NBA Finals.

Overall, 112 players have been top four picks since 1985, with David Robinson and Tim Duncan being the only two to lead their original teams to a title.  On the other hand, lower lottery selections Dwyane Wade (chosen at No. 5), Dirk Nowitzki (No. 9), Paul Pierce (No. 10) and Kobe Bryant (No. 13) have all been named Finals MVP while capturing championships for the franchises that drafted them. 

Tanking may well lead to a better position in the draft, but receiving top lottery picks has not been an effective means for winning NBA titles down the road.


All draft numbers sourced from