May 03

The NBA Draft Lottery Explained

By sarahhecht Posted in: 2012draft
It’s been four years since Portland was in the draft lottery and Trail Blazers fans have been faced with the task of wrapping their minds around the somewhat convoluted process.

That said, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion surrounding how the darn thing works. A perfectly normal feeling considering how complicated the whole thing is. So I’ll to do my best to break it down and explain it as clearly as possible—all with implications to the Trail Blazers of course.

First lets get into some definitions. The terms “lottery pick” and “lottery team” are interchanged regularly in discussion about the lottery but in fact have different meanings. A “lottery team” is one of the 14 teams who didn’t make the playoffs and is involved in the lottery process. (All playoff teams are seeded in record order of worst to best for the final 16 slots in the NBA draft.) A “lottery pick” is a player selected first, second or third in the NBA draft. This is because the drawing in the NBA lottery is to select the order of ONLY the first three picks, not the order of all 14 teams, a common misconception—though nine times out of ten when you hear anyone use the term “lottery pick” they’re talking about anyone drafted top 14. After the first three picks are selected the 11 remaining lottery teams are slotted into positions 4-14 based on their records beginning with the worst.

To get started in calculating where the Trail Blazers could land in the draft we need to know the current order of all the teams in the lottery.

On April 27th the preliminary draft order was set when the league broke seven ties between teams who finished the season with identical records. Here is the order as well as the number of chances out of 1,000 each team has of drawing the number one pick:

1. Charlotte (250)
2. Washington (199)
3. Cleveland (138)
4. New Orleans (137)
5. Sacramento (76)
6. New Jersey (75)
7. Golden State (36)
8. Toronto (35)
9. Detroit (17)
10. Minnesota (11)
11. Portland (8)
12. Milwaukee (7)
13. Phoenix (6)
14. Houston (5)

With that list as a base here is where things tend to get tricky. When the lottery occurs the top three teams can change and depending on who draws those top picks the Trail Blazers’ pick could shift.

One scenario that could see the Trail Blazers move down from the projected 11th pick—keep in mind this is purely an example to demonstrate how picks shift—would happen if Milwaukee, Phoenix or Houston were to draw into the top three. If that were the case every team would move down a slot.


Charlotte draws the first pick, Phoenix (currently behind Portland) draws the second and Sacramento draws the third. The draft order would be as follows:

1. Charlotte
2. Phoenix
3. Sacramento
4. Washington
5. Cleveland
6. New Orleans
7. New Jersey
8. Golden State
9. Toronto
10. Detroit
11. Minnesota
12. Portland
13. Milwaukee
14. Houston

Make sense? Do you see how inserting any team below the Trail Blazers into the top three bumps our pick down?

Now that we know how picks shift, what is the BEST possible scenario for the Trail Blazers? We draw the first pick and two of the teams currently slotted ahead of New Jersey (1-5) draw into the second and third slots. This would ensure the best possible outcome with Portland having the first pick and still getting New Jersey’s pick which would be bumped down to the seventh spot. (The same principles used to determine the shifting order above apply using Portland in the first slot.)

The WORST possible outcome? New Jersey, Milwaukee and Houston all draw into the top three. This would allow New Jersey to keep their pick and bump the Trail Blazers down to the 14th pick with both Milwaukee and Houston jumping ahead.

It’s a complicated situation—and that’s without even considering the mathematical process used during the actual drawings. I hope this helps as you wade your way through the craziness of the draft lottery.

The 2012 NBA Draft Lottery will be held on Wednesday, May 30th at 5pm PST and will be televised on ESPN.

If you have any questions you’d like me to clarify please pop them in the comments. I’m all over it.


  1. Im going to assume the lottery goes as expected and Portland ends up with picks 6 and 11. Ideally, i think picking Harrison Barnes at 6, and Kendall Marhsall at 11 would be our best move. Barnes is a huge potential scorer and can definitely put up 20 ppg in his career. Marshall is the ultimate floor general and would make everybody on the floor a better player. I think Marshall can really bring out the potential in Batum.

    I think Barnes and batum starting would be tough to defend, and Wes coming off the bench would be a great 6th man! This still does leave us with a gap at center, but I dont feel like there will be a solution where we pick, and thus we can look at this void through free agency.

    by T_Rey14 on 5/3/2012 10:18 AM
  2. Hey Miss Sarah: believe it or not I got it, but I have been studying it like crazy.
    So we roll the ping ball balls May the 30 and will know for sure where we land Wouldn 't it be great if Portland got the #1 like we did with Greg. and NJ goes to 8th.

    by Hg on 5/3/2012 10:22 AM
  3. @T_Rey14: Don't forget our picks are 100% saleable. I think we are going though trades and FA first. EA has a question for Sarah about trading our pick because we did that once. But that doesn't mean we can't pick at our position and then trade the pick to someone else.
    Wes would fight tooth and nail if he was to come off the bench, he has stated time and time again he is a rhythm player and needs to get in the flow of the game and can't turn it on all at once coming off the bench. But hey, Nic and Wesley plays good D together and let Barnes come off the bench. Chad already said that he would take BPA in the draft whether then draft by position, so I have not the foggiest idea who would be the BPA, wouldn't that depend on who you ask and what position we finally end up with if we don't trade both?

    by Hg on 5/3/2012 10:34 AM
  4. Well the draft happens before free agency, and ultimately i do see us trading our picks in some way, either for a big name guard or higher in the draft. I like Bradley Beal's a lot and think he'd be a great fit for us. but as of now we have picks 6 and 11, and although moving up in the lottery would be fantastic, it'll only happen 8 times in a thousand, which is surely not the best odds. Wes and Nic do play great Defense together, but both can disappear in games and often have trouble creating their own shot. Barnes would come in as an instant scoring option, and we could play barnes and batum together. Nic played some of his best basketball this year when we moved him to the SG spot

    by T_Rey14 on 5/3/2012 10:41 AM
  5. Here's an interesting tidbit in lottery history: Since the inception of the weighted lottery in 1990 only three teams with the worst record (highest odds) have actually won the first pick. Also, the second worst team has only won the lottery four times... interesting.

    by sarahhecht on 5/3/2012 10:48 AM
  6. @T_Rey14:
    Yes there is just two many scenarios to try to figure it all out. We can also take both our picks and trade to someone else for a higher pick if a targeted draftee is going to be drafted before we can pick him. So until then I am just going to wait. I have been reading on Blazers Edge and there are so many picks and scenarios that it make my head spin

    by Hg on 5/3/2012 10:53 AM
  7. @sarahhecht; that is interesting, the year Portland had the worst record we got 4th pick the the following year we ended up somewhere in the middle and got first in the lottery. Crazy happenings.
    Of course you know that it has been descussed many times that the NBA actually rigs the ping ball balls so they do actually pick the winner. I don't believe they would do such a horrible thing. But I do scratch my head over the Cavs getting the #1 pick the year after the King deserted them.

    Sorry Sarah just gossiping and blabbering, no foul play intended.

    by Hg on 5/3/2012 11:01 AM
  8. Hahaha, no worries at all Hg. I've heard many of the conspiracy theories as well. Personally, some of them don't make sense. It's my understanding that when the drawings occur there are league representatives, team representatives and an independent auditing company present. Seems like a lot of people to have involved in a rigging...

    by sarahhecht on 5/3/2012 12:16 PM
  9. Miss Sarah: that is my thoughts too, and many times why would they? Oh and maybe the suspicion that Stern doesn't like the Blazers and he looked into Merlin the great crystal ball, knew that Greg was going to have all the injury problems and fixed the draft so we could win it LMAO, I can see it all.

    I thank you for your reply, I didn't know who all was involved in the drawing but even someone as uninformed as me could guess something that important would definitely be fraud protected; could you imagine giving all that power to one person and the money he could rake in with bribes?

    by Hg on 5/3/2012 1:07 PM
  10. I will be haunting the blogs Sarah, just giving fair warning ;) GREAT explanation and examples! Very useful I would think for anyone who doesn't understand how it all works. LOVE the tidbit you threw out there, too! That is really, really interesting. So, taking that into consideration, I will be hoping EVERY 1-3 ball bounces to a team in the Top 5 :) And no, I don't want the Blazers to get any of the Top 3 picks. Just seems like fool's gold. Sigh...

    by SisillaRiann on 5/3/2012 5:12 PM
  11. I sure hope we go through draft and not too much free agency. The need to build chemistry more impt than bringing in a star. No doubt you need talent, but you need chemistry equally. that is how young players through the draft get to know each other and then play together.

    by mikea on 5/18/2012 2:44 PM
  12. Sarah..I'm really liking your example with Charlotte with the #1 pick. And I hope Portland gets the #2 pick and the best scenario to still keep the NJ pick :)

    You are good Karma!!

    by BlockParty aka Teamship on 5/30/2012 2:47 PM
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