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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Pistons Are Latest Terrible Team to Get Weak Draft Reward

  • The Pistons received their third straight No. 5 pick despite finishing worst in the league again.
  • The NBA’s worst team hasn’t picked first since 2018.
Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA’s draft lottery once again did not smile kindly on the Pistons, who received their third consecutive No. 5 pick despite having the worst record in the league each of the past two seasons.

Detroit set the league record for the longest single-season losing streak this year and finished with a franchise-worst 68 losses. The Pistons and Wizards—one game better at 15–67—each had a 14% chance of winning the No. 1 pick. The Hawks, who made the play-in tournament this year, won the first spot with only a 3% chance, while Washington took second, the Rockets landed at No. 3 with the Nets’ pick (from the James Harden trade), and the Spurs will look to build around last year’s No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama with the fourth selection. The Pistons last received the top spot in 2021 when they drafted Cade Cunningham.

The worst team in the NBA hasn’t wound up with the No. 1 pick since 2018, when the Suns took Deandre Ayton in a stacked draft class that included Luka Dončić, Trae Young, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That trend has helped cement the Pistons alongside other very bad teams who have gotten unlucky with their draft order in recent years. The Hornets and Trail Blazers, who each finished with a record of 21–61 (third worst in the East and worst in the West), will pick sixth and seventh, respectively. In MLB, rules in the ’22 CBA prohibit teams that receive revenue-sharing payouts from getting consecutive lottery picks, which are the first six selections, and a club ineligible for the lottery isn’t allowed to pick higher than 10th. That meant the Nationals, who had one of the worst seasons in baseball last year, had to take the 10th pick in the ’24 draft despite winning the lottery. The White Sox, who have currently 12 wins on the season, will face the same problem next year.

In some ways, the systems in baseball and basketball are working as intended. MLB and the NBA instituted anti-tanking measures after teams aped the Cubs and Astros, who both tanked their way to the World Series, or the 76ers, who tanked their way back to relevancy through what then GM Sam Hinkie called “The Process.” The NBA and MLB have tried multiple avenues to curb tanking, from the draft lottery, CBA rules, and the In-Season Tournament.

But this isn’t the case across all sports. In this year’s NHL draft, where only the top two picks are determined by the lottery, the league-worst Sharks actually did get first, and the second-worst Blackhawks got second. From there, teams are placed in reverse order based on their finish in the standings. At least in the NHL, and the draft-lottery-free NFL, tanking is still alive and well.

The NBA draft takes place in New York on June 26 and 27 under a new two-day format. The first round will be presented at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, home of the Nets, while the second round will move to ESPN’s Seaport District studio in Manhattan.

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