Zion and the Pelicans: How Often Does the NBA Team with No. 1 Pick Outperform Betting Odds?

Zion and the Pelicans: How Often Does the NBA Team with No. 1 Pick Outperform Betting Odds? article feature image
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Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

  • The New Orleans Pelicans have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft -- the second time in franchise history they have owned the first overall pick (2012, Anthony Davis).
  • Since 2002, teams that selected No. 1 overall have gone over their preseason win total 11 times in 17 years (64.7%).

For the second time in Pelicans franchise history, New Orleans has the rights to the first pick in the NBA Draft.

Back in 2012, New Orleans, which was then known as the Hornets, selected Anthony Davis with the first overall pick out of Kentucky.

The year prior to selecting Davis, New Orleans went 21-45 in a strike-shortened season, the third-worst record in the league. On lottery night, the Hornets, who had the fourth-best odds to select first overall, moved up three spots and won the rights to pick Davis.

Prior to that season, Vegas set the Hornets’ win total at 26.5, and Davis went on to average 13.5 points per game on only 28.8 minutes per game.

The Hornets ended up winning 27 games, eclipsing their win total by just a half win in the 77th game of their season (close call!).

With the Pelicans having the first overall pick again, the question must be asked:

If (when) the Pelicans select Duke prospect Zion Williamson with the No. 1 overall pick, how will the core of players he joins in New Orleans compare to some of the other No. 1 overall picks in recent history?

Let’s use New Orleans’ win total and futures odds to dig in.

Just Win, Baby

The Pelicans

In 2019, the Pelicans’ preseason win total is set at 33.5, basically the exact amount of wins New Orleans had last season (33).

The last time New Orleans entered the regular season with this low of a projected win total was in 2012-13, Davis’ rookie year.

New Orleans’ 33 wins last season are tied for the most by a team with the first overall pick since 2002. The Pelicans are tied with the Chicago Bulls, who won 33 games in 2007 and ended up selecting Derrick Rose a year later.

(Note: In 2014, the Timberwolves traded Kevin Love to the Cavaliers for the first overall pick, Andrew Wiggins. In 2013, the T-Wolves won 40 games, but that really shouldn’t count in this example because the Cavaliers are the actual team that selected No. 1 overall.)

When looking at the Pelicans’ win total compared to other teams to select No. 1 overall since 2002, it’s basically right in the middle of the pack — eighth out of 17 teams (not including 2011 Cavaliers in a strike-shortened season).

Alvin-Gentry-Pelicans-Jrue-Holiday
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

What really stands out about the Pelicans having the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 is what their win total was set at last season. With Davis in “The Big Easy,” the Pelicans entered 2018-19 with a win total of 45.5, the second-highest since 2003 for any team that ended up with the No. 1 pick the following year.

The only team with a higher win total the year prior? The 2008 Chicago Bulls, who were actually projected to win 50.5 games in 2007 after winning 49 games in 2006. Chicago won just 33 games in 2007 mostly due to injuries to numerous key players, going under its win total by a whopping 17.5 games.

Highest Win Total

The highest win total for a team with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft is actually a three-way tie at 40.5 wins since 2002:

Two of the three teams with a win total of 40.5 and the No. 1 overall pick in the draft went over their win total. The only team to go under were the Cavaliers in 2013 with Anthony Bennett, who averaged just 4.2 points per game in 12.8 minutes his rookie year.

It makes sense Cleveland went under its win total — Bennett’s 12.8 minutes per game are the fewest for any No. 1 overall pick since 1950!

Lowest Win Total

On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest win total for a team with the No. 1 overall pick goes to the 2016 Philadelphia 76ers, who had a win total of 23.5 the year they selected Ben Simmons with the first pick.

In 2015, the Sixers won a league-low 10 games and their 72 losses were the second-most in NBA history, behind the 1972-73 Sixers, who lost 73 games.

Philly ended up winning 28 games in 2015, the exact number of wins they had in 2014 and 2015 combined.

(Note: In 2011-12, the Cavaliers had a win total of 17.5 in a strike-shortened season)

Time To Cash In

Since 2002, seventeen players have been selected first overall in the NBA Draft. Those 17 players have led their respective teams to cover their preseason win total 11 times (64.7%).

When the team with the first pick has a regular season win total of 30 or more, they’ve gone 6-4 to the over, and on average, those teams have exceeded their win total by 2.2 wins per year.

With New Orleans’ revamped starting lineup and a whole new set of assets, 2019-20 should not be a rebuilding year in Louisiana.

All About The Future

When looking at the futures market, the 2019 Pelicans’ season outlook is very similar to their win total status.

New Orleans is 60-1 to win the 2020 NBA Championship, which is currently ranked 16th in the league.

Only three other teams with the No. 1 overall pick have had future odds shorter than New Orleans’ 60-1 since 2002…

2002 Houston Rockets

Rockets were 45-1 to win the title after selecting Yao Ming. Houston went 43-39, but missed the playoffs by just one game behind the Suns.

2008 Chicago Bulls

Bulls were 30-1 to win the title after selecting Derrick Rose. Chicago went 41-41 and ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Celtics.

2010 Washington Wizards

Wizards were 50-1 to win the title after selecting John Wall. Washington went an abysmal 23-59 and failed to make the playoffs a year after the NBA suspended their guard Gilbert Arenas indefinitely for his participation in a gun-related incident.

Note: All win total and future odds data via Sports Odds History