How Does the NBA Draft Lottery Work?

The NBA has a very intricate system to determine which team will get to pick first overall in the Draft. Here is everything you need to know ahead of the Draft Lottery.

With the NBA Draft Lottery coming up, many NBA fans are curious to see where their team will land – and more importantly, who they will be able to pick in the draft.

The NBA Draft Lottery is designed to reward teams who did not make the playoffs in the previous season with opportunities to bring the next generation of talent onto their teams. If you did not make it into the playoffs in the regular season, you automatically get placed into the lottery for the upcoming draft. Then, about a month before the draft, the NBA conducts the draw to determine the order of the draft.

There are 14 spots in the NBA Draft Lottery. While the draft is determined by other factors for picks 15 and beyond, picks 1-14 are determined through this lottery system.

With that in mind, here is everything you need to know ahead of the NBA Draft Lottery.

Who Has The Best Odds?

You may have heard the term “tanking” before in regards to the NBA, and this directly relates to the NBA Draft Lottery. The worse a team’s record is in the NBA season, the better their odds are in the NBA Draft Lottery. Due to this, teams will try to better their odds by losing more games, especially if they know they won’t be making the playoffs anyway. That’s what tanking refers to.

So, the team with the worst season record in the NBA season gets the best lottery odds. It goes in that order, and the teams who end up making the Play-in Tournament will end up in the later rankings of the lottery.

Sometimes, based on terms of trades, a team’s lottery pick will already be determined to go to another team. This does not affect the odds or order of the lottery – the process happens as normal based on the original team’s odds, not the team who will ultimately get the pick in the end.

There are also instances where picks are “protected” by the original team in a trade. For example, if the Toronto Raptors traded a first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs, but that pick was top-six protected, the Spurs would only get the pick if it landed 7-14 in the lottery. If the Raptors drew the 1st-6th pick in the lottery, they would keep that pick.

No matter what the trade stipulations are, the odds are determined by the original team’s odds, and the trade follows through after the draws are made.

How Does The Lottery Happen?

On the day of the NBA Draft Lottery, teams participating will send a representative of the organization to the even to receive the pick. Usually a front office member, coach, or even a player.

When it comes time to do the actual draw, 14 ping pong balls numbered 1-14 are placed into the drawing machine. The machine goes through a mixing process that eventually produces four balls at a time, resulting in a four digit code being drawn every time.

There are 1,001 different combinations of four-digit codes with the numbers 1-14 being used. Every single one of those possible four-digit codes is distributed to teams, based on the percentage odds they have in the Draft Lottery. For example, if the Houston Rockets have a 14% chance of winning the Draft Lottery, then 14% of the combinations will be assigned to the team.

Once the assignments are given, then they can draw the numbers, and that is how the draft order is determined. This is only done for the first four picks though.

After the fourth pick, the teams left will pick from the draft in inverse order of their 2023-24 regular-season records.

How is the Rest of the Draft Order Determined?

Picks 15-60 in the NBA Draft are selected based on the regular season standings. Teams pick in inverse order of the standings, and get one pick in the first round and one in the second round.

Often because of trades, teams may have more or less than two picks in any given draft. It’s not uncommon for a team to have three or more drafts picks, or even only pick once.

Teams can also sign undrafted players after the draft is complete, which means that teams can still get rookies onto the team regardless of if they have a pick in the draft or not. The Draft Lottery is done ahead of draft night so that teams can know where they will be picking, in order to accurately scout players and make decisions.

While the odds are pretty solid in regards to teams, there is always the chance that there is a surprise on the day of the draw. Fans will speculate up to the last second about how likely it is for their team to get that coveted number one pick. It’s an exciting time of year as we prepare to welcome in the next generation of NBA superstars.

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