On Tuesday morning, I wrote about the Timberwolves and how if they moved up in the draft lottery to the No. 3 or No. 4 spot, it might have some negative implications because of salary implications vs. value. I still believe that.
But there’s also no ignoring this: The Wolves did not, in fact, move up. They did, in fact, move down one slot from their pre-lottery position of No. 10 to No. 11.
That was the 12th time in their history that they’ve moved down from their pre-lottery slot. They have never moved up; the best they’ve done is stay in their same slot, which they did in their 10 other trips to the lottery — most notably in 2015, when they stayed at No. 1 and picked Karl-Anthony Towns.
Within this terrible history, there is some interesting math. Some of it shows that the Wolves haven’t necessarily been all that unlucky when it comes to individual outcomes — particularly with the No. 1 overall pick. But plenty of math is ugly and paints the sort of bleak lottery picture fans have come to know and hate. Here are some of the more interesting things I found after being spurred on by a tweet from local agitator @ChikenFingerz69.
*OK, so the Wolves lost out on the Zion Williamson sweepstakes. But they only had a 3 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, so it’s not that surprising. Overall throughout their history, the Wolves have been in the lottery 22 times.
Based on their percent chances and number of ping pong ball combinations in those lotteries, they should have earned the No. 1 pick about 2.25 times in their history. It’s impossible, of course, for a decimal in something like that. So let’s say they should have had it twice. They’ve only gotten it once. That’s not good, but it’s not egregious. If they win it again soon, they’ll be pretty much on pace with normal (ha, you might say).
*Yeah, but the Wolves have NEVER moved up in 22 tries in the lottery. That seems impossible.
Well … unlikely, but not impossible. In crunching the numbers, they never had more than a 33 percent chance of moving up in any single year. Add it all together, and you basically get a little over 1 percent chance that they would never move up in those 22 cases — or a 99 percent chance that they would move up at least once.
In a fair world where their luck had been average, they would have moved up about 4 times.
It’s about the same as rolling dice (one six-sided die) 24 times and never rolling one specific number. You would expect to get that number four times.
*Yeah, but what about all those times they moved down. Well, here is the percent chance they were going to move DOWN in the 12 years they did move down. Based on their odds each year, with help from a few sources including this one, I came up with this:
1990: 31.8 percent
1992: 83.3 percent
1993: 68.2 percent
1994: 50.9 percent
1995: 47 percent
1999: 44.8 percent
2007: 34.5 percent
2009: 44.8 percent
2010: 61.3 percent
2011: 75 percent
2017: 34.5 percent
2019: 20.2 percent
So you see in 5 of the 12 cases, it was more likely than not that they would move down. In those years, the Wolves were high in the pre-lottery position. In 1992 and 2011, for instance, they had the best odds of getting the No. 1 pick as the team with the worst record. But their chances at the top pick were only 16.67 percent (in 1992 under an old formula) and 25 percent (in 2011). Any other pick than No. 1 meant they were going to move down. The higher your slot going in, the better the chance you are going to get a high pick than another team … but also the better the chance that you’re going to move down and be disappointed.
In three other cases, it was close to a coin flip that they were going to move down.
Interestingly, Tuesday’s drawing was their “worst beat,” so to speak, in terms of moving down. They only had a 20.2 percent chance of doing so, the lowest of any time they’ve moved down. That said, moving from 10 to 11 isn’t a huge consequence. (It’ll even save them a little over $200K next season).
*BUT: What are the odds of moving down 12 times? Well, the best I can do with my old North Dakota high school math team skills is calculate the cumulative odds of moving down in each of the 12 specific years they moved down. To do that, we invoke the rule of individual events and simply multiply the percent chances from each of the 12 years.
If we do that, we find that … oh no. The Wolves had a 0.0096% chance of moving down each of those 12 years combined. Expressed another way: The odds that that Wolves would move down in all 12 of those specific years are 1 in 10,429.
Maybe at this point you’re convinced that these aren’t actually individual events but a singular, long-running cruel joke.
Now, that’s cherry picking the worst years and the news hasn’t always been bad. In 2015, for example, they actually were lucky to stay at No. 1 since they had just a 25 percent chance at the pick and a 75 percent chance of moving down.
But there’s no doubt that a lack of lottery luck has cost the Wolves an incredible amount of draft equity. Missing out on talented players (like Shaq in 1992 and Kyrie Irving in 2011) stalled progress and made it more likely the Wolves would wind up back in the lottery, where their bad luck continued.
In four of those 12 drop-down lotteries, by the way, the Wolves fell by more than one spot.
Perhaps it even makes you feel a tiny bit bad for David Kahn? The first three of the four drafts he presided over (2009-11) involved the Wolves falling from their pre-lottery position.