Pingpong balls will decide the Mavericks' future Tuesday night, live and in color on ESPN and all of the network's streaming platforms. Whether fans or pundits like it or not, the NBA's draft order is still determined, in large part, by chance. If the Mavs get lucky, they could speed up the rebuilding process that began two seasons ago. If they don't, next season and a couple after it could be spent in the same tank as the team's just-finished campaign.
History says the Mavs aren't going to get lucky.
Since the NBA instituted the lottery in 1985 to diminish the incentive for bad teams to lose in order to get higher draft picks, the Mavericks have missed the playoffs and qualified for the lottery 13 times. One of those years, 1996, the team had two lottery picks after acquiring a selection via trade, and it ended up picking sixth and ninth.
Not only have the Mavericks never won the No. 1 choice, but they've never moved up from the selection they would've had if the lottery weren't in effect.
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The Mavericks finished with the NBA's worst record in 1993. Three teams jumped them in the lottery, and they ended up picking fourth. The next year, after finishing with the worst record again, the Mavericks again lost the lottery — although they ended up drafting a fantastic consolation prize, Jason Kidd, with the 1994 draft's second selection.
This year, when the pingpong balls stop bouncing a little after 6:30 p.m., the Mavericks will have the third-best chance of landing the first overall pick, about 13.8 percent. They have a 42.6 percent chance of landing a top-three selection.
That's a big deal because three players — Arizona center Deandre Ayton, Slovenian teenager Luka Doncic and Duke center Mavin Bagley III — have separated themselves from the rest of the 2018 draft class over the last couple of weeks. Ayton, Doncic or Bagley would make an instant impact on the Mavericks and on Dallas, combining with rising rookie Dennis Smith Jr. to push the clock forward toward the team's next playoff appearance.
If the Mavs miss out on a top-three pick — they're guaranteed to select no lower than sixth — they'll likely end up with a player such as University of Texas shot blocker Mo Bamba, who has tremendous raw talent but is a project who'll need to be nurtured for a couple of seasons before potentially becoming a star.