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Basketball History > NBA > NBA Draft > NBA Draft Lottery


NBA Draft Lottery


The NBA Draft Lottery is an annual event selecting the top three picks of the following NBA Draft. First established in 1985, it was at first a chance drawing for all first-round picks, with all non-playoff teams (in 1985 there were seven non-playoff teams in the NBA) having equal chance of landing the number one pick. The New York Knicks won the lottery in 1985 and made Patrick Ewing the number one pick. Beginning with 1987, the lottery changed so that only the top three picks would be selected by the traditional lottery, represented by ping-pong balls. In 1990, however, the NBA changed the format of the lottery to give the worst team the most chances of landing the top pick. For the 11 non-playoff teams that season, the team with the worst record would have 11 chances, the second worse would have 10, etc. However, the Orlando Magic defied the odds by gaining two number one picks consecutively, despite the fact that they were the best non-playoff team the second year. Thus, beginning with the 1994 lottery the chances were weighed even more, so that the best non-playoff team would only have a slim (0.5%) chance of receiving the top pick.


How the Lottery Works


Fourteen ping pong balls numbered 1-14 are placed in standard lottery machine and four balls are drawn at random to determine the winner. Just as in most traditional lotteries, the order of the numbers are not important, so although there are 24 different orders the same four numbers are drawn, all are treated as the same combination. That is, 1-2-3-4 is considered to be the same as 3-4-2-1. By eliminating the importance of the order of the numbers, the 24,024 (14x13x12x11) sequences are reduced to 1,001 sets. Of these 1,000 are divided among all the non-playoff NBA teams. The one combination not assigned is 11-12-13-14, which has never been drawn.


As of 2005, with 30 NBA teams, 16 qualify for the playoffs and the remaining 14 teams are entered in the draft lottery. These 14 teams are ranked in reverse order of their regular season in the event of a tie, a simple tiebreaker (usually a coin flip) is performed to determine which team gets the better position and assigned the following number of chances.


1. 250 combinations 25% chance of receiving the #1 pick

2. 199 combinations 19.9% chance

3. 156 combinations 15.6% chance

4. 119 combinations 11.9% chance

5. 88 combinations 8.8% chance

6. 63 combinations 6.3% chance

7. 43 combinations 4.3% chance

8. 28 combinations 2.8% chance

9. 17 combinations 1.7% chance

10. 11 combinations 1.1% chance

11. 8 combinations 0.8% chance

12. 7 combinations 0.7% chance

13. 6 combinations 0.6% chance

14. 5 combinations 0.5% chance


In the event of a tie, the combinations for the two spots in question are split evenly between the tied teams with any extra pick given to the winner of the tiebreaker. The lottery is conducted with witnesses verifying the all 14 balls are represented once as they are placed in the lottery machine. The balls are placed in the machine for 20 seconds to randomize prior to having the first ball drawn. The remaining three balls are drawn at 10 second intervals. NBA League Officials determine which team holds the winning combination and that franchise is awarded the #1 overall draft pick. The four balls are returned to the machine and the process is repeated to determine the second and third picks. In the event that a combination belongs to a team that has already won its pick (or if the 1 unassigned combination comes up), the round is repeated until a unique winner is determined. When the first three teams have been determined, the remaining picks are given out based on regular season record with the worst teams getting the highest picks. This assures each team that it can drop no more than 3 spots from its projected.




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Last Updated May 2005
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