Hawks, Bobcats duke it out for top pick

The Hawks, Bobcats and Hornets are among the teams playing for lottery balls. Which team has the best shot at the No. 1 draft pick?

Updated: March 25, 2005, 1:22 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
Chat wrap: Chad Ford

While roughly 20 teams are battling it out for 16 playoff seeds, there's another group with a different prize in mind.

For bad teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets, the goal no longer is Ws – it's lottery balls.

The NBA instituted the lottery system in 1985 in an attempt to discourage teams from deliberately tanking games late in the season in an effort to compile the worst record in the league and thus secure the No. 1 pick.

The lottery itself is weighted. The worst team in the league gets a 25-percent chance of getting the top pick. The second worst team gets a 20-percent chance. The third worst team a 15-percent chance and so on it goes.

It's been pretty successful – almost too successful. Since 1985, only three teams (Nets in 1990, Cavs in 2003 and Magic in 2004) with the worst record in the league have actually obtained the top pick in the draft.

Still, it hasn't totally discouraged teams from pulling up a bit short at the end. But even tanking can have unexpected consequences.

Last season, the Hawks traded away four of their best five players – Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Rasheed Wallace, Theo Ratliff and Nazr Mohammed– at the trade deadline in an attempt to cut payroll and get a better position to select local high school phenom Dwight Howard in the draft.

The players they got back – Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, Joel Przybilla – weren't doing anything on their respective teams. The 18-36 Hawks weren't supposed to win another game all season.

Shockingly, their ragtag lineup went 10-18 the rest of the way, giving them just a 10 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, and Howard, on draft night. The team with the worst record, the Orlando Magic, did win the lottery. Meanwhile the Hawks settled for Josh Childress at No. 6. Regardless of whether you like Childress, there's a big difference between Childress and Howard. The Hawks' rebuilding plan took a major hit and, as you can tell by where they land on this year's list, they're still trying to pick up the pieces.

In other words, coaches and GMs, swallow your pride. Play the ball boy if you have to. Get as many Ping-Pong balls as you can. There will be only two or three players in this year's draft with immediate star potential – North Carolina's Marvin Williams, Wake Forest's Chris Paul and Utah's Andrew Bogut. However, only Bogut is a lock to actually declare for the draft. Both Williams and Paul claim they are leaning toward returning to college for another year. The rest of the draft is fairly deep, but there will be a pretty steep drop-off after those three.

Today, Insider takes a look at the schedules and recent trends and, based on the evidence, projects who has the best shot at the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Here's how we break it down:

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer