NBA Draft Lottery: Tim Duncan's Dramatic Impact

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held tonight. Let's take a look back at how one lottery altered the course of history for several NBA franchises.

May 18, 1997 altered the course of NBA history. It was on this date a little more than 17 years ago that the San Antonio Spurs, who had a 21.7% chance of winning, won the NBA Draft Lottery and ultimately the right to select Wake Forest star Tim Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. It was a crushing blow to the Boston Celtics, who had a 27.51% chance of winning, because Duncan was a three-time AP All-America selection and was the 1996-1997 AP National Player of the Year and John Wooden Award winner.  After winning the #1 pick, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said, "The chances of trading the number one pick are about the same as (then scout) R.C. Buford starting for us at guard."

Tim Duncan's timeless greatness truly cannot be overstated. In Duncan's first NBA season he was named Rookie of the Year, made the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defensive Second Team. Duncan is a 14-time All Star, 4-time NBA Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 2-time NBA MVP, 10-time All-NBA First Team, 3-time All-NBA Second Team, 8-time All-NBA Defensive Team, and 6-time All-NBA Defensive Team member. He is also 6th all-time with 191.6 win shares. There is almost no historical match in terms of both peak and sustained excellence.

Duncan's teams have failed to win 50 games only one time in his career, and that was during his second season when the NBA only played 50 games due to a lockout. The Spurs even managed to win 50 games during a 66-game lockout shortened season in 2011-2012. During Duncan's time the Spurs have been arguably the most successful franchise in American sports. The Celtics, who had the third pick, did not win at least 50 games until 10 seasons later when they ultimately won the NBA Finals with a team featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. By that time Tim Duncan had already won four championships with the Spurs. The Philadelphia 76ers, who had the second pick and selected Keith Van Horn, have only won 50 or more games once since that draft and it was in 2000-2001 when Allen Iverson put on an inspiring playoff performance to lead them to the Finals.

It's now May 20, 2014 and last night 38-year old Tim Duncan scored 27 points to help the San Antonio Spurs defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.  The Spurs are now just three wins away from what would be Duncan's sixth Finals, with an opportunity to win his fifth ring. The Las Vegas oddsmakers currently have the Spurs as the favorite to win the championship at 11/10 odds. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers have a 19.9% chance to win tonight's lottery and the Boston Celtics have an 8.8% chance. Duncan is the only active member of the 1997 draft class, with the exception of Chauncey Billups (who played in just 19 games this past season). He continues to outlast "Father Time" and is an ageless superstar.  I don't know who will win the lottery tonight, but I feel confident in saying that their future will not be altered in the same way the Spurs' was on May 18, 1997.

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