For the Milwaukee Bucks, hope is represented by ping-pong balls.
Anticipation for the NBA draft lottery began months ago in Milwaukee, as fans of the 15-67 Bucks have had their sights set on landing the No. 1 overall pick and a player who could potentially alter the future of a franchise desperately in need of a jolt.
At 25 percent, the Bucks hold the best chance of winning Tuesday night’s draft lottery and can fall no lower than the fourth pick. However, simply holding the NBA’s worst record doesn’t come close to guaranteeing a team the No. 1 overall spot.
Just three times since the weighted lottery system began in 1990 has the team with the best odds to win the lottery actually walked away with the top selection. Orlando was the last team with the worst record to win the best pick, selecting Dwight Howard in 2004.
Philadelphia has the second-best odds of winning Tuesday’s lottery — which will be held before the Heat-Pacers playoff game — at 19.9 percent, while Orlando has a 15.6 percent chance. Utah and Boston tied for the fourth-worst record record, but the Jazz won the coin flip to give them 10.4 percent odds of the landing the top pick; the Celtics have a 10.3 chance.
Though history may be against the Bucks landing the top spot, Milwaukee has a 64.2 percent chance of getting one of the top three picks.
If Milwaukee does end up at No. 1, it’ll be a familiar spot. The Bucks have have had the first pick four times in franchise history, including twice in the lottery era, and the results have been mixed.
Milwaukee won a coin flip with Phoenix in 1969 and took Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the first pick. Abdul-Jabbar imade an instant impact, helping the Bucks to a 56-26 record and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals in just their second year of existence. The Hall of Fame center led Milwaukee to its only NBA title in 1971 and is still the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
Though Abdul-Jabbar was a superstar, Milwaukee’s choice with the top pick in 1977 turned into one of the biggest busts in draft history. The Bucks won a coin flip with the Kansas City Kings and selected Kent Benson, hoping the Indiana University center would somewhat replace Abdul-Jabbar, whom the team traded two years earlier.
Benson played just three seasons with the Bucks, averaging 9.8 points and 5.9 rebounds. He went on to have an 11-year NBA career but never played like a top pick.
The Bucks have won the lottery twice, moving up each time to grab the No. 1 pick. Milwaukee had the fourth-best odds in 1994 when it ended up selecting first, and the Bucks jumped up from the sixth position to win the 2005 lottery.
Glenn Robinson was Milwaukee’s pick in 1994, as the Bucks chose the Purdue forward over Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. Robinson went on to play eight seasons in Milwaukee, averaging 21.1 points. He is the second-leading scorer in franchise history behind only Abdul-Jabbar.
In 2005, the Bucks chose Utah center Andrew Bogut over North Carolina forward Marvin Williams. Bogut never became the franchise center then-general manager Larry Harris hoped he would be, but the 7-footer wasn’t a bust. Bogut’s seven seasons with the Bucks were marred by injuries, including a severe elbow and hand injury when he was playing the best basketball of his career in the 2009-10 season. Chris Paul, who went fourth overall to New Orleans, turned out to be the best player in the 2005 draft, but the consensus at the time was that either Bogut or Williams would go No. 1.
Milwaukee hasn’t drafted higher than sixth since 2005 but has made the playoffs only twice in that time. The chance to grab the top pick comes at a pivotal point in the franchise’s history. Tuesday’s draft lottery arrives just five days after the sale of the franchise from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens was approved by the NBA. Further complicating matters is the chance the new owners could decide to move on from general manager John Hammond and head coach Larry Drew.
Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins, Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kansas center Joel Embiid are widely projected as the top three picks in this draft, while Australian point guard Dante Exum and Kentucky forward Julius Randle tried to move up at last week’s Draft Combine.
Wiggins is an athletic wonder, Parker is a smooth scorer and Embiid is an intriguing and rare talent at 7 feet, 250 pounds. Embiid might be the best fit for the Bucks given the athletic wing presence of Antetokounmpo, but looming concerns over the center’s back may cause him to fall.
Whatever happens Tuesday, the Bucks will have to be convinced the player they get is a sure thing. They badly need another Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, not another Kent Benson.