Only twice since 2005, the first year 14 teams became automatically eligible for the NBA Draft lottery, has a team with the third-best odds of winning the No. 1 pick actually done so.
The Orlando Magic have a 15.6 percent chance Tuesday night in New York of getting a chance to pick first the night of June 26. The Milwaukee Bucks (25 percent) and the Philadelphia 76ers (19.9 percent) are the only two teams with better odds because they both finished with worse records last season than the Magic’s 23-59 mark.
But the Magic need only look back to last year as a reminder that vaulting from third to first in the draft order doesn’t mean a one-way ticket to the playoffs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were in the same position the Magic are now after going 24-58. Winning the lottery only two years after landing Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson with two of the first four picks in 2011 was supposed to put an end to the Cavs’ days of being a doormat in the post-LeBron James era. Instead, Anthony Bennett turned out to be a highly questionable selection and they’re now looking for a new head coach.
The lack of production the Cavs received from Bennett is one of the reasons why Magic senior vice president Pat Williams has frequently said Orlando has hit the lottery jackpot four times rather than three. They wound up taking Victor Oladipo with the second pick in 2013, and the guard from Indiana went on to play in 80 of 82 games, average 13.8 points and lead the team in steals.
The Cavs last year and the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009 are the only teams in recent history to win the lottery from the No. 3 spot. The Clippers had a 17.7 percent chance of winning because they tied the Washington Wizards for the second-worst record that year, and that pick wound up being used on Blake Griffin.
Both math and history suggest the Magic are more likely to stay put or drop down in the order. The Magic’s chances of finishing first, second and third are almost identical, but they stand a 22.5 percent chance to pick fourth and a 26.5 percent chance to pick fifth. They can fall no lower than sixth, and the odds of that happening are only 4.1 percent.
That’s not to say it can’t happen. The Bucks fell from third to sixth in 2007, so instead of possibly landing Al Horford or Mike Conley the year that Greg Oden and Kevin Durant went 1-2, they settled for Jianlian Yi, a 7-footer from China who lasted just one season with them and has been out of the NBA since 2012.
The Toronto Raptors fell from third to fifth in 2011, and the same thing happened with the Sacramento Kings a year earlier. The last team to jump from third to second was the Raptors in 1996, a year in which they could not win the lottery as part of the conditions of them being an expansion team the previous season.
Only the top three selections are determined in the lottery, which is conducted in private earlier in the day Tuesday with a representative from each of the participating teams present. Once again, the Magic will be represented by Williams.
The results will be announced on ESPN before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers.
The Bucks, who went from 38 victories in 2012-13 to 15 this past season, have won the lottery in 1994 and 2005. The 76ers won it in 1986, the year when Williams resigned as their general manager to begin the drive to bring an expansion franchise to Orlando, and again in 1996.
The two other teams with better than a 10 percent chance of winning the lottery are the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics. The Bucks, the 76ers, the Jazz and the Celtics all won at least 15 fewer games last season than the year before. The Magic improved from 20 wins to 23, but their total of 43 victories is the fewest in the league over that two-year span.
The Magic also will have a second lottery pick — the least favorable of the selections belonging to the Denver Nuggets or the New York Knicks’ picks. That pick is likely to be 12th overall.