Karma guided Detroit Pistons to No. 1 NBA Draft pick, smiting others

NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum reveals the number two pick for the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum reveals the number two pick for the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /

We all know the NBA Draft Lottery is suppose to be a completely impartial undertaking. It is simply the ping pong balls falling wherever they do. Yet, it hard not to come away with the feeling the Detroit Pistons were rewarded for how they conducted themselves this season.

Ever since then-Commissioner David Stern was accused of rigging the NBA lottery so the New York Knicks could get Patrick Ewing, the actual drawing has been conducted to look as transparent and fair as possible.

Members of the press, NBA officials and, of course, the accounting firm of Ernst & Young are in a separate room, before the telecast, that has the actual drawing. For a more detailed breakdown, go here.

Despite the appearance of the drawing being completely unbiased (and we have no evidence that it is not), the Detroit Pistons have had absolutely zero luck in the lottery.

Prior to this year, the Pistons had been in the lottery 14 times with their own pick since it started in 1985. They were 0-14, never having moved up, even one spot, when the draw was conducted.

One would think the law of averages should have given Detroit a high draft choice at least a couple of times. Unfortunately, the law that Detroit teams never catch a break, seemed to outrank the other law.

But then, wonder of wonders, the Pistons won the lottery this year. They will have the No. 1 selection in the NBA Draft. And in, importantly, a year when there is a lot of talent at the top.

To show how lousy Detroit’s luck has been, in the history of the NBA, the Pistons had drafted first the same amount of times (two) as the Providence Steamrollers (who went out of business in 1949).

So how did the Detroit Pistons finally turn their luck around and get No. 1?

Technically, the ping pong balls simply fell Detroit’s way, that is how they get to draft first. With the second-worst record in the NBA, they were tied with Houston and Cleveland for the best chance of landing first, at 14 percent.

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But odds being in their favor had done nothing  for Detroit in the past. Maybe it came down to one factor you can not quantify:


The Pistons simply had a different vibe this past season under new general manager Troy Weaver.

The team emphasized youth, but also made sure there was a veteran presence.

Coach Dwane Casey was clear that birth certificates did not guarantee playing time. He made the young players earn their minutes (with the exception of Killian Hayes). Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, who would go on to make NBA All-Rookie teams,  sat on the bench to start the season, until they proved their worth.

When the biggest names on the team, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, asked to move on, as it became obvious making the playoffs was not going to happen, the Pistons acceded to their requests. No fuss, no controversy. That Detroit was doing right by its players was noticed throughout the league.

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In games, the Pistons always tried to win. At the end of the season, after they were mathematically eliminated, they went with an all-youth lineup. They did not win much, but no one doubted Detroit’s players were trying.

They also made sure the kids were not embarrassed. When Detroit played as East-leader Philadelphia on May 8, they played their regular starting lineup.

When some young guards got injured and could not play a game versus the Grizzlies, Casey put in vets Cory Joseph and Wayne Ellington. The pair led the Pistons to a win over Memphis, even though the victory almost proved costly in lottery position.

Casey always had the Pistons playing hard. When the elite teams in the NBA took them lightly, they paid dearly for it. It became almost a joke, as Detroit seemed to only beat the best teams in the league.

The Pistons went 20-52 but, among their victories were the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers (and they let a win over the Clippers slip through their fingers).

Detroit was not good, the record is the record, but they entertained fans by competing late into the fourth quarter of almost every game – they just never won.

The next two teams in the draft order, sort of also had good karma working for them.

Houston ended up with the second pick, but they were not looking to tank this year,. The Rockets were shooting for an NBA title, until James Harden demanded to be traded. When Harden left, they were still decent, going 11-10 and looking like a playoff team, until Christian Wood got hurt and the Rockets lost 20 games in a row.

Cleveland was shooting for the playoffs this season, not to have the No. 3 pick in the draft. That is why they traded with Detroit late in the 2019-20 season for center Andre Drummond. The Cavaliers were 10-11 and looked like they had a good chance at the Play-in tournament, but then lost 10 games in a row to ruin their season.

Karma worked against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were 19-24 when guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got hurt. They then went all in on a tank, telling Al Horford to stay home and playing guys who had been benchwarmers.

The Thunder finished the season losing 23 of its last 26 games. OKC ended up with the fourth-worst record but they will draft sixth. Since this year’s draft is suppose to be five deep, throwing all those games did not quite work out for them.

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The Detroit Pistons just seemed to have a positive aura about it this season, despite all the losses. Call it the law of averages finally kicking in, Karma, good mojo from lottery representative Ben Wallace, or just pure luck.

The Pistons have the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for the first time in 51 years, and the exact reasons are not important. Finally, something went their way.