When we start talking about the Denver Nuggets and their "success" in the NBA draft lottery, my colleague Jeff Morton wants to crank up the Megadeth and hide away from the world - or at least that's what I think he does when we start talking about the Nuggets and the lottery.
"The NBA Draft Lottery has been nothing but a flaming cesspool of misery since its inception in regards to the Denver Nuggets," said Jeff Morton. "I hate hate hate hate it for dooming the Nuggets to constant misery."
Does Jeff have a point?
Since the lottery originated in 1985 (when the Knicks were awarded the No. 1 pick and Patrick Ewing) the Nuggets have had nine lottery selections and the team has made their pick seven of those times and they have traded their lottery selections twice (before the pick was made). A hat tip to Real GM for making this table more time friendly:
|Year||Record||Odds||Pick||Pre-Lotto Pos||Pick Change||Player Taken||Draft Team|
|2014||36-46||0.80%||11||11th||0||Doug McDermott*||Bulls via Nuggets|
*McDermott was selected by the Bulls, in exchange for his draft rights the Nuggets received the 16th and 19th picks in the 2014 draft and selected Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, respectively.
Pay attention to the above column "Pick Change" - the Nuggets have never moved up in the lottery. They have stayed the same twice (2001 and 1996) and actually moved back as another team jumped over them on seven occasions. Ouch! This wouldn't lead me to think that the system is very fair to poor teams, but lets go through the seasons to see what actually happened.
1991 - The Nuggets lucked out in losing out. With the best percentage to get the No. 1 pick the Nuggets could have selected UNLV star Larry Johnson, but Denver fell to the No. 4 pick and had Mutombo fall into their laps (a theme for the Nuggets as you'll see). Kenny Anderson and Billy Owens went ahead of Mutombo too and the Seattle Supersonics upset never would have been if Mt. Mutombo was never in town. Even though the lottery was a bust in the fact that Denver didn't get the No. 1 pick, it was a success in regards to Mutombo.
1992 - The Nuggets wound up with two lottery picks in this draft as they acquired the No. 13 pick (Bryant Stith) from the Nets, but we'll focus on Denver's actual pick. In what could have been a franchise altering draft with Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning headlining the class, the Nuggets moved back from the 4th position to pick at No. 5. A great bit of scouting here landed the team LaPhonso Ellis and had a knee injury not robbed him of a promising career, it could have been one of the best picks in team history (and it was a great pick anyway!). The Nuggets once again lost out on lottery luck, but wound up with a good player due to scouting.
1993 - The Nuggets only had a 6-percent chance of moving up and if they would have captured one of the top two spots they could have landed Chris Webber or Anfernee Hardaway - or they might have wound up with draft bust Shawn Bradley. Instead, the Nuggets moved back from the 8th position to the No. 9 pick and snagged Rodney Rodgers. Never a star, but he reached a certain level of NBA success and was a key player for the Nuggets for a number of years (tragedy struck Rogers after his playing days). Not a total lottery bust, but again the Nuggets were unable to capture any lotto luck.
1996 - The Nuggets stayed right where they should have in the lotto, but had previously traded the pick to the Pacers along with Jalen Rose and Reggie Williams in exchange for Mark Jackson (yep), Ricky Pierce, and the 23rd pick in the same draft (Efthimios Rentzias). The Nuggets missed out on Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby at the top of the draft and had they kept their pick they could have taken Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, or a handful of other good players. This was a bust all around for the Nuggets.
1997 - The Nuggets once again failed to move up in the lottery, but once again fell back a spot from 4th position to the No. 5 pick where they took Tony Battie and missed out on Tim Duncan and Chauncey Billups. The No. 9 pick turned out to be Tracy McGrady, who blossomed after leaving the Toronto Raptors. An "El Busto" all around for the Nuggets.
1998 - The Nuggets had a 35-percent chance to snag the No. 1 pick, but they fell to No. 3 and they really lucked out as Michael Olowokandi was the "prize" of this draft. The better picks came later as Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce all went after the Nuggets took LaFrentz (who may have had his confidence in Denver ruined by Dan Issel) at No. 4 and before the No. 10 selection. Nuggets got screwed out of the No. 1 pick, but had they scouted better they could have landed a franchise guy.
2001 - The Nuggets traded that pick on Aug. 3, 1999 when the team sent the pick, Danny Fortson, Eric Williams, and Eric Washington to the Celtics for Ron Mercer, Popeye Jones, and Dwayne Schintzius.
The What Ifs: Had the Nuggets not made that trade, Popeye Jones never would have moved to Colorado and perhaps his kids never would have picked up an interest in hockey and then Seth Jones would never be on the Avalanche's radar this season as the No. 1 overall pick.
Also, had the Nuggets kept the pick they might have been able to pick up either Richard Jefferson (No. 13) or Zach Randolph (No. 19). There were not any real big time players taken after the No. 11 pick that would have been realistic. Yes, Gilbert Arenas was in that draft, but was a 2nd Round pick and would have been a reach at No. 11.
2002 - The Nuggets had a 12-percent chance to land the No. 1 pick, which likely would have been Yao Ming (who was taken No. 1 by the Rockets) or maybe Jay Williams out of Duke. Instead, the Nuggets once again moved back a spot after being leap-frogged by a luckier team and went with Skita ... enough said. Again, the Nuggets wound up with two lotto picks and took Nene at No. 7, but it was the Knicks' pick - so we focus instead of Skita and the tough luck of the Nuggets actual pick. Busts all around for the lotto luck and Skita.
2003 - A 22-percent chance to snag LeBron James turned out instead to be the Nuggets once again selecting third as the Memphis Grizzlies leap-frogged them (pick went to the Detroit Pistons). Melo fell into the Nuggets' hands and the bust of Darko Milicic was avoided. A bust for lotto purposes, but a franchise changing player anyway.
2014 - The Nuggets had virtually no shot at the no. 1 pick, it likely would have been a battle between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker for Denver, but alas the Nuggets stood pat. Denver wound up trading the 11th pick to the Bulls (before the selection of McDermott was made) in exchange for the 16th pick (Jusuf Nurkic) and the 19th pick (Gary Harris). So far, it looks like Denver made a good deal snagging two prospects for the price of one - as Nurkic had a breakout season and Harris showed some defensive promise.
So, out of the seven picks the Nuggets took - two of them were franchise changing players in Mutombo and Melo. One could say that 28-percent of the time the Nuggets landed a franchise changing player in the lottery, which is not the best of outcomes, but you must consider that Denver was only supposed to get the No. 1 pick in 1991 and 1998 - which is 28-percent of the time if you're not counting the years they traded their picks (and those picks would have been top-3 protected). The Nuggets got better players (or at least as good of players if you weight LJ and Mutombo) both years while not getting the top pick. And in 2003 the Nuggets again lucked out by getting a worse pick than they should have.
While the lottery is a risky proposition, it hasn't been all bad for the Nuggets.