Numbers suggest the Pistons are worst team ever with #1 pick

Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

In 1985, to much fanfare, the NBA introduced the NBA Draft Lottery, which no longer ensured the worst team in the league would get the first overall pick in the next draft. Since then, the Detroit Pistons have only been awarded the first overall pick once, in 2021, when they selected Cade Cunningham. 

In order to be in the Draft Lottery, a team still has to be in the bottom 14 teams of the league, so good teams are kept out, aside from teams that trade into the lottery. Basketball is a team game, so adding one good player shouldn’t allow fans to expect instant progress, right? Wrong.

Detroit Pistons: Losing with #1 pick Cade Cunningham

Of the 37 teams who have had the first overall pick since 1985, 26 showed improvement the next season. There are some outliers, sure. The 1998 Spurs drafted Tim Duncan and won 36 more games than the year previous, but David Robinson was injured that season. The 2018 76ers won 23 more games, but Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were finally healthy. The 2015 Cavaliers won 20 additional games, but LeBron James came home that year.

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The point is, on average teams win slightly over eight more games than they had the previous season, when they played their way to the first overall pick. For the sake of consistency, when finding that average, the lockout season and COVID shortened seasons have been adjusted to a full 82 game season.

Last year’s Detroit Pistons were, had it been a full season, 23-59. That’s about average for a first overall pick team, slightly leaning towards worse than normal. This season so far, they are 4-19, so on pace to be 14-68 if things keep going the way they are. Of the 37 teams to win the lottery, 11 have gotten worse, by an average of 3.5 additional losses. The Pistons are on track to have six more losses than they had last season if last season were an 82 game season.

Six more losses might not sound that bad, but it ties the 2011 Wizards for the worse slide ever after receiving the first pick when they drafted John Wall. So why are the Detroit Pistons on track to be so historically bad?

Last season they weren’t in any special circumstances that any other lottery team was not in. Did they botch the pick? Nope, Cade is playing well, and even if they did it’s worth noting the Cavs won nine additional games after drafting Anthony Bennett in 2013. Maybe it’s coaching? Dwane Casey has been disappointing, and he’s never dealt with a lottery pick this high, so these are new waters for him.

Maybe the team just is not very good, and with no sign of getting better, it might be time to blow the whole thing up. After tanking for a full season, we are now asking if winning games is a good thing. Do Detroit fans really allow this? I get flopping for a season or two, but now that a potential generational talent has fallen into your lap, you’re just saying run it back? That makes no sense.

A team in the Pistons’ position should show progress, so the fact that this team is unwilling or unable to move forward says a lot about all aspects of the team, It’s embarrassing, and the dumpster fire shows no sign of stopping.

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