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Spurs, Hawks Have Fewest Ex-Lottery Picks In NBA

So much of a team’s fate in the NBA is tied to its ability to land superstar talent. So much superstar talent comes through the top end of the draft that many organizations base their rebuilding philosophy around the draft lottery. The success of the Spurs and Hawks largely stands in defiance of that idea.

Every team in the league has at least three former lottery picks on its roster, aside from San Antonio and Atlanta. It’s undeniable that one of those lottery picks on the Spurs, Tim Duncan, is a generational talent and foundational player who helped mold the franchise into what it is today. But Duncan is 39, and while still productive, he’s no longer capable of carrying a team by himself. Offseason free agent signee LaMarcus Aldridge is the other former lottery pick on the Spurs, but the team has compiled its 7-2 record — second best in the Western Conference heading into today — without anyone else with a lottery pedigree.

The Hawks are the same way, thanks in large measure to coach/president of basketball operations Mike Budenholzer and former GM Danny Ferry, both of whom have strong ties to the Spurs. Al Horford has been a mainstay, but while Thabo Sefolosha has been a key part of the team’s success, no one would mistake him for a superstar. Those are the only two former lottery picks on the Hawks, and yet they’re 8-3, and began today in second place in the Eastern Conference, the same position in which the Spurs find themselves in the West.

The assortment of teams with a league-high eight former lottery picks demonstrates the capriciousness of the draft. Three of them make sense, as the Clippers, Thunder and Warriors are all expected to contend, and Golden State is threatening to run away with the regular season’s best record for the second year in a row. The Hornets and Trail Blazers are sub-.500 teams with little expectation of winning this year, especially now that Charlotte has lost former No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to injury.

Indeed, not all former lottery picks are created equal. Injuries keep some from helping their teams, while age hampers others. No. 1 picks have a greater chance of success than No. 14 picks do. Still, it’s telling that two of the most successful organizations in the NBA can rise to that level almost entirely without players from the lottery.

Here’s a look at the former lottery picks on every team, categorized by the volume of them on each roster:

Eight lottery picks

Seven lottery picks

Six lottery picks

Five lottery picks

Four lottery picks

Three lottery picks

Two lottery picks

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2 thoughts on “Spurs, Hawks Have Fewest Ex-Lottery Picks In NBA

  1. smittyvbanton

    Your point is well taken about being a good team through drafting well. But San Antonio was a championship contendor built around a #1pick. And now that his talents are fading, they acquired a former #2pick to build around.

    As for the Hawks, they are only going as far as their top5 pick Al Horford will take them. Without him, they are good, not great. Even with him, they aren’t seriously, seriously vying for a championship. Toronto as well.

    The Sixers were basically a perenniel playoff team built around players drafted between 10-25. Every draft pick from 1999-2010, except Rodney Carney, is pretty much still in the league. But a championship was nowhere on the horizon.

    So they risked it all for a transcendent big man, Andrew Bynum. Forget the fact that it blew it up in their face, would they be a championship contendor if they still had Nikola Vucevic, Thadddeus Young, Maurice Harkless, Jrue Holiday, MCW, Spencer Hawes & Evan Turner?

    Playoffs yes. Real relevance, doubtful.

    Again, your point that you can be a good team without high lottery picks is correct. But a championship team requires an MVP level talent.

    And there’s only but so many Steph Curry’s and Steve Nash’s, especially amongst elite big men. Draymonnd Green and Ben Wallace before him are two of the only All-NBA caliber big men who weren’t considered elite at age 19 or 20.

    • Chuck Myron

      I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea to try to build through the draft. I just think this shows that it’s neither a fail-safe method nor the only way to go about it. It’s just really difficult to predict any given player’s success in the NBA if he’s never played an NBA game before.

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