Another NBA draft lottery, another shot for the Wizards to strike it rich occurs when representatives of the 14 non-playoff qualifiers gather tonight in Times Square for the made-for-television event.
Sadly for Washington fans, this is the 18th time in the 23 years of the weighted lottery that your team has been included in the losers’ competition.
In contrast, San Antonio, which leads the Western Conference finals 2-0, has been in the weighted lottery just once. That was in 1997 after superstar center David Robinson had missed almost all of the season with a back injury. San Antonio crashed to the league’s third-worst record without its pivot (and pivotal) man only to win the lottery and select the perfect complement to Robinson in Wake Forest big man Tim Duncan. Two years later, the Spurs won the first of their four NBA championships. They’ve never missed the playoffs during Duncan’s 15 seasons and are now just six victories shy of a fifth title.
In contrast, the Wizards have won the weighted lottery just twice in their 17 tries.
Washington had the third-best chance at picking first in 2001 but the ping pong balls came up their way. Turns out it was a lousy draft with forward Joe Johnson and Europeans Paul Gasol and Tony Parker the best of the first-rounders, but then-Wizards President Michael Jordan still showed why he was infinitely better on the court than in the front office, as he selected high school center Kwame Brown No. 1. Washington finished fifth, fifth and sixth in the Atlantic Division the next three seasons before finally making the playoffs in Brown’s fourth year. However, by then, he was a spare part, playing in just three of 10 postseason games.
Nine years later, the Wizards came up sevens, winning the lottery despite having just the fifth-best chance to do so. Their reward was Kentucky point guard John Wall. Just 19 when he was drafted No. 1, Wall has averaged 16.3 points and posted better than a 2-1 assist/turnover ratio although making just 41.6 percent of his shots. More important, Washington has been dreadful with Wall running the show the past two seasons, going 19-50 and 20-46 for a combined 39-96 record compared to a 4-9 mark when he sat out with injuries. The two top overall selections before Wall, point guard Derrick Rose and power forward Blake Griffin, led Chicago and the Los Angeles Clippers, respectively, to the playoffs by their second seasons while becoming two of the league’s best players.
Maybe, as was the case with the Spurs of Robinson and Duncan, it will take two of a kind for the Wizards to finally turn things around. In that case, they had better hope that having the second-worst record this season leads to them winning the lottery again tonight and the right to pick Kentucky shot-blocker Anthony Davis No. 1. Davis and Wall didn’t play together in college, but each prospered in his sole year under coach John Calipari.
The two times that the second-worst team won the weighted lottery both worked like magic. Orlando landed Shaquille O’Neal in 1992 and the big man led them to the finals three years later. In 1996, Philadelphia picked guard Allen Iverson first overall. It took five years, but “The Answer” pushed the 76ers to the 2001 finals.
The Wizards can’t pick any lower than fifth in the June 28 draft. Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, a Washington native, is probably the best consolation prize if they don’t win the lottery. But if Davis doesn’t wind up in the nation’s capital, expect its NBA team to be right back in the lottery again this time next year.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin