The recent dynasty of the Golden State Warriors has shown us that it is possible to build a contending team through the NBA Draft. A team’s trajectory can completely change on draft day and while picking the right player is obviously important, the bouncing of some ping pong balls or other teams overlooking a collegiate star can led to a jackpot for certain teams.
Whether it be at the draft lottery or actually on draft day, these are the luckiest teams in NBA Draft history.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers – 2011
The Clippers already had their own NBA Draft pick in 2011 which landed at No. 4. However, when Cleveland traded Mo Williams and Jamario Moon to the Los Angeles Clippers earlier in the season for Baron Davis, the Cavs also acquired the Clippers’ first-round pick.
Los Angeles would finish the season with a 32-50 record which put them in the middle of the lottery with only a 2.8 percent chance for the pick to rise to number one.
As we all know, that pick would defy the odds giving the Cavs two top-five picks in that NBA Draft. They used the Clippers selection to draft Duke point guard Kyrie Irving who would instantly be a star and would help lead the team to a championship in 2016.
4. Chicago Bulls – 1984
You can’t really blame the Houston Rockets for taking Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon with the number one pick in 1984. A dominant big man was essential in winning an NBA championship at the time and Olajuwon was one of the best prospects in quite some time.
At pick No. 2, the Portland Trail Blazers already had a star NBA shooting guard with Clyde Drexler so it makes sense that they drafted center Sam Bowie.
All of this worked out perfectly for the Bulls who found themselves with the opportunity to draft Michael Jordan who had one of the best collegiate basketball careers of all time.
Legendary college basketball coach Bob Knight reportedly tried to tell the Trailblazers before the draft that they would be making a mistake by not drafting Jordan but luckily for the Bulls, they didn’t listen.
3. Boston Celtics – 1998
As a junior at Kansas, Paul Pierce averaged 20.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting a blistering 51.3 percent from the field.
As a First-Team All-American, Pierce was considered one of the top prospects of the 1998 draft, So, when the Kansas star slipped all the way to the Boston Celtics at pick No. 10, many were surprised.
Pierce’s draft-day slide obviously worked in Boston’s favor as he would become one of the best players in franchise history.
2. Chicago Bulls – 2008
Memphis University freshman Derrick Rose was widely seen as the top prospect in the 2008 draft as he was just coming off an All-American season under head coach John Calipari. Unfortunately for the Bulls, the team wasn’t quite bad enough to be able to draft the Chicago native — or so they thought.
Chicago had just a 1.7 percent chance to get the number one pick. Considering Rose was a Chicago native, it seemed like destiny that the Bulls would land the pick, and they did.
Rose would go on to be the youngest player in league history to be named MVP and although injuries derailed his final few years as a Bull, Rose’s impact in Chicago and the ’08 draft lottery will never be forgotten.
1. Boston Celtics – 1978
The second time the Celtics are on this list, the team took an enormous risk at the ’78 and were lucky that it worked out. Indiana State forward Larry Bird was coming off a season where he averaged 28.6 points and 14.9 rebounds per game and was widely considered one of the best prospects in quite some time.
The big problem was, rules back then forced a player to attend four years of college before being eligible for the NBA meaning Bird still had another year at Indiana State. Celtics GM Red Auerbach used this to his advantage though as he would select Bird sixth overall in the 1978 draft and sign him to a contract even though he still had another year in college.
This loophole was soon closed up by the NBA in what is now known as the Bird Collegiate Rule but for the sake of the Celtics franchise, they’re lucky this gamble worked out.