How does the NBA Draft lottery work?

2022 NBA Draft. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
2022 NBA Draft. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

The 2023 NBA Draft lottery is just mere days away (Tuesday, May 16th). To commemorate the festivities, we wanted to give a breakdown of how exactly the draft lottery works (especially with our New Orleans Pelicans having some stake in the game this year).

In its most basic sense, the lottery is a randomized process in which the teams with the worst through 14th worst record in the league are assigned their selection spot in the 2023 NBA Draft (which will take place on Thursday, June 22nd). The odds are weighted based on each team’s record (the worse a team is, the higher their odds of landing the number one overall pick).

Here is each team’s odds of landing the first overall pick:

1. Detroit Pistons – 14.0%

2. Houston Rockets – 14.0%

3. San Antonio Spurs – 14.0%

4. Charlotte Hornets – 12.5%

5. Portland Trail Blazers – 10.5%

6. Orlando Magic – 9.0%

7. Indiana Pacers – 6.8%

8. Washington Wizards – 6.7%

9. Utah Jazz – 4.5%

10. Dallas Mavericks – 3.0%

11. Chicago Bulls – 1.8%

12. Oklahoma City Thunder – 1.7%

13. Toronto Raptors – 1.0%

14. New Orleans Pelicans – 0.5%

So, the teams with the first through third-worst records (the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs) have even odds at the first overall pick. From there, it gradually declines from fourth to 14th, with our Pelicans bottoming out at a 0.5% chance of landing the first overall pick.

Another wrinkle to mention is that the team with the worst record (the Pistons) can’t finish with anything lower than the fourth pick, so it’s not like the team with the worst overall record can get super unlucky and finish with a late lottery spot.

If it doesn’t fall within the top-10, the Dallas Mavericks pick will go to the New York Knicks. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls will forfeit their pick to the Orlando Magic unless it lands in the top-4.

So, how does the actual lottery selection process work? Here is the technical explanation provided by the NBA:

"“The actual lottery procedure will take place in a separate room just before ESPN’s national broadcast. Select media, NBA officials and representatives of the participating teams and the accounting firm Ernst & Young will be in attendance for the drawings.Fourteen ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 will be placed in a lottery machine. There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14, without regard to their order of selection. Before the lottery, 1,000 of those 1,001 combinations will be assigned to the 14 participating lottery teams. The lottery machine is manufactured by the Smart Play Company, a leading manufacturer of state lottery machines throughout the United States. Smart Play also weighs, measures and certifies the ping-pong balls before the drawing.The drawing process occurs in the following manner: 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.If the same team comes up more than once, the result is discarded and another four-ball combination is selected. Also, if the one unassigned combination is drawn, the result is discarded and the balls are drawn again. The length of time the balls are mixed is monitored by a timekeeper who faces away from the machine and signals the machine operator after the appropriate amount of time has elapsed.A representative from Ernst & Young oversees the entire lottery process and stuffs and seals the envelopes before bringing them to the studio for the broadcast. The announcement of the lottery results will be made by NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum. A second representative from each participating team will be seated on stage. Neither the Deputy Commissioner nor the team representatives on stage will be informed of the lottery results before the envelopes are opened. The team whose logo is in the last envelope opened will have the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, which will be held on Thursday, June 22.”"

As you can see, this is a very detailed process, which makes sense considering the fate of these franchises, and the future of the NBA as a whole could be decided by the results of this evening. Hopefully, fortunes favors our Pelicans.

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