The NBA lottery is upon us. One of the weirdest events in the NBA will happen tonight and determine the order of picks in the draft. As building through the draft is considered one of the best ways to go about creating a contender, how well do you understand what actually happens tonight? We will give you the facts and then simply explain what are you looking for while eating popcorn and sipping a cold one.
14 non-playoff teams participate in the lottery so 14 ping-pong balls numbered 1-14 are placed in a lottery machine. The balls are mixed for 20 seconds before the first ball is drawn. The remaining balls are then mixed for 10 seconds before the second ball is drawn. This process is repeated until four balls have been drawn to create a four-digit combination to determine the No. 1 pick.
This doesn’t happen in front of the cameras. The actual lottery happens before the broadcast in a private room. A representative of each team and a few reporters have to leave their cellphones outside and are completely cut off from the outside world. You can imagine the silence in that room during those 20 and 10 seconds. During the broadcast, everyone in the studio already knows the outcome so it’s quite fun to try and see who breaks character.
There are 1,001 total combinations available, with one of those combinations thrown out and the other 1,000 combinations distributed among the teams. The worst team in the league gets 250 combinations, and the odds get worse for each subsequent team. For comparison, the best non-playoff team gets only 5 combinations.
The lottery only determines the top three picks. The other positions are not determined by draw but by the regular-season record. On the broadcast, the draft order is announced from the 14th pick to the top 3. What you are looking for is the team that is missing so look at the draft odds from the back and if a team that is supposed to be there is skipped, you know they jumped to the top 3.
You may be wondering is there a point in hoping and getting your heart broken if your team is not in the top 3. Between 2011 and 2014 the Cavs had 3 out of 4 no.1 picks and they never had the top odds!!! In 2011 they owned the Clippers pick which had the 8th best odds, 2.8% (28 combinations out of 1000) and they landed Kyrie Irving. In 2013 they had 3rd best odds, 15.6% (156 combinations out of 1000) and they landed, well, Anthony Bennett. In 2014 they had the 9th best odds, a 1.7% (17 combinations out of 1000) and they won the pick that landed them Andrew Wiggins and brought Kevin Love from the Timberwolves.
If two teams finish the season with the same record, each tied team gets the average of the total number of combinations for the draft positions they hold. If the resulting average isn’t an integer, a coin flip is done to see who gets the extra combination. That happened with the Pelicans (then New Orleans Hornets) and Cavs in 2013 and the Pelicans landed Anthony Davis.
Imagine the Cavs winning that one too, and having a four-year string of Kyrie, AD, Bennet, and Wiggins. To play the scenario out, LeBron returns, they do the trade again and they have a core of LeBron, Kyrie and The Brow. All determined on a coin flip.