How Does the NBA Draft Lottery Work?
The NBA Draft Lottery takes place on Tuesday, May 16th. It's a fairly simple half-hour broadcast in that they just announce the names of fourteen NBA teams in a certain order. Basically, if the NBA Draft Lottery were a meeting, it could have been an email. And yet in a league that thrives on drama, it's one of the most dramatic events of the year.
It's a lottery which means every team just needs a ticket to have a chance to win it all. To get a ticket you have to miss the playoffs. The more games you lose, the more tickets you get. Since 2019, the three teams with the most losses all have the same chances at the top pick at 14 percent each. Here is exactly how the ping-pong ball lottery process works, per NBA.com:
All 14 balls are placed in the lottery machine and they are mixed for 20 seconds, and then the first ball is removed. The remaining balls are mixed in the lottery machine for another 10 seconds, and then the second ball is drawn. There is a 10-second mix, and then the third ball is drawn. There is a 10-second mix, and then the fourth ball is drawn. The team that has been assigned that combination will receive the No. 1 pick. The same process is repeated with the same ping-pong balls and lottery machine for the second through fourth picks.
Got that? Once the top four picks are determined, the other 10 lottery picks will be decided by record. This year, the teams with the best chances at landing consensus top pick Victor Wembanyama are the Detroit Pistsons (17-65), Houston Rockets (22-60), and San Antonio Spurs (22-60). The Charlotte Hornets (27-55) are right behind them with a 12.5 percent chance at Wemby.
From there, in descending order are the rest of the lottery teams.
Portland Trail Blaers (33-49) 10.5%
Orlando Matic (34-48) 9.0%
Indiana Pacers (35-47) 6.8%
Washington Wizards (35-47) 6.7%
Utah Jazz (37-45) 4.5%
Dallas Mavericks 1 (38-44) 3.0%
Chicago Bulls 2 (40-42) 1.8%
Oklahoma City Thunder (40-42) 1.7%
Toronto Raptors (41-41) 1.0%
New Orleans Pelicans (42-40) 0.5%
The Bulls will lose their pick to the Magic unless they somehow end up with a top four pick. And the Mavericks will have to give up their pick if it falls one spot. You can see why people are so invested.
In addition to all that, it's also a great people-watching event. Owners, executives, players, former players, family and friends, you never know who will turn up to turn heads at the lottery. In 2013 Nick Gilbert, the son of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who passed away this week, was there to win his second Draft Lottery in three years, while a very young Bradley Beal and a Magic exec had their dreams destroyed.
A year later the Cavaliers would win again with general manager David Griffin representing the team. Julius Erving was there representing the 76ers while the world was introduced to Mallory Edens. The Cavaliers won the draft lottery three times in four years and four times in twelve years. Three of those four picks went towards acquring LeBron James.
It's where you can watch Damian Lillard's heart get ripped out of his chest on live television.
This year the Trail Blazers will bring Brandon Roy back into the fold as he represents them at the lottery. If the Blazers jump to the top spot will he react like Pat Croce did when the Sixers won the Allen Iverson lottery in 1996?
The only thing we know for sure is that someone is going to win the lottery and everyone else is going to be disappointed on live television. That's what makes the NBA Draft Lottery so fun.