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Phoenix Suns ping pong ball history is... well... don't hold your breath

1988-1989: Forward Armon Gilliam of the Phoenix Suns looks to shoot the ball during a game.
1988-1989: Forward Armon Gilliam of the Phoenix Suns looks to shoot the ball during a game.
Mike Powell /Allsport

Despite what Clevelanders might think, it's quite uncommon to "win" the NBA Draft lottery. Yet every year, some team does improve its draft slot thanks to the ping pong balls, sometimes dramatically.

Let's take a walk down memory lane to see how the Phoenix Suns and other bad teams have fared in the NBA's Draft Lottery since the concept was incepted.

Early random drawings

From 1985 to 1989, the worst seven teams each got an envelope and were randomly picked for their draft order. The Suns participated three times in five years. They got the #2 pick in 1987 (Armon Gilliam). But in 1986 they picked 6th of 7, and in 1988 they picked 7th of 7. Ugh.

First lotto years were fun (but not for Phoenix)

The lottery odds were fairly distributed. The worst team had less than a 20% chance moving up, even though the 11th-worst team had just a 1.52% chance.

  • 1990: #10 Seattle used a 3% chance at a top-3 pick to jump all the way to #2
  • 1992: Charlotte jumped from #8 to #2 with a 6.06% chance
  • 1993: Orlando jumped from #11 to #1 with a 1.52% chance. They took Anfernee Hardaway to pair with Shaq and made the Finals. That same year, Golden State jumped from #7 to #3 with a 7.58% chance (Chris Webber) and Philadelphia jumped from #5 to #2 with a 10.61% chance.

Then they stacked the odds toward the top

Beginning with 1994, the lottery odds were stacked more in favor of the worst teams and in the last 20 years only ONE TEAM lower than 9th has jumped into the Top 3 picks

  • 1994-1998: ZZZZZZzzzzz. No team lower than 5th ended up with a Top-3 pick for six boring years.
  • 1999: Charlotte jumped all the way from #13 to #3 on a 1.83% chance
  • 2000: New Jersey jumped from #7 to #1 on a 15.39% chance of a Top-3 pick
  • 2001: The Clippers jumped from #8 to #2 with a 10.31% chance
  • 2008: The Bulls jumped from #9 to #1 with a 6.1% chance, nabbed future MVP Derrick Rose and haven't missed the playoffs since.
  • 2011: The Clippers jumped from #8 to #1 on a 10% chance, but had already traded the pick to Cleveland who grabbed Kyrie Irving
  • 2013: Washington jumped from #8 to #3 on a 12.4% chance and took Otto Porter.
  • 2014: Cleveland hopped form #9 to #1 on a 6.1% chance, which they used to acquire Kevin Love for their Conference Finals run

The Suns lowe the late lotto

The Phoenix Suns franchise has not jumped to the top of the lottery at any point. Period. They got lucky once in the "seven envelopes for seven teams" format and nabbed the #2 pick in 1987. But that's it.

They were never in the lotto during the "fun" years of 1990-1993, but have been there 9 times in the last 21 years, with 5 of those times occurring in the last 5 seasons.

The Suns have had the #13 or #14 pick in 5 of those 9 lotto years - 2015 (?), 2014 (T.J. Warren), 2012 (Kendall Marshall), 2011 (Markieff Morris) and 2009 (Earl Clark). Of those picks, only one has been in an NBA starting lineup for a full season, though T.J. Warren shows promise for the future.

The Suns have been one of the league's 12 worst teams (out of 30) just 6 times in the last 28 years, nabbing four starters with the picks: Armen Gilliam (1987), Shawn Marion (1999), Amare Stoudemire (2002) and Alex Len (2013).

Tim Perry (1988) was best known as a throw-in to the Charles Barkley trade in 1992, but was otherwise underwhelming in four seasons as a Sun.

The Suns traded away their only other top in the last 28 years, dumping the #7 pick in 2004 (Luol Deng) for table scraps (Jackson Vroman) and $3 million in cash. Before you get all tizzied, that was Jerry Colangelo, owner, and Bryan Colangelo, son/GM, who did this. Robert Sarver wasn't even a twinkle in their eye, though he's blamed for the same actions in later years.


Even though no team lower than #9 has jumped into the Top 3 since the turn of the century, we can still hold out hope for the Suns to be "lucky".

The Suns have only a 2.2% chance to nab a Top-3 pick, but they are sending center Alex Len and ailing Jared Ornoski to help turn the tide and make history.

It's impossible not to hope, so go right ahead.

Just don't do it while holding your breath.

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