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:
6. New Orleans
7. New Jersey
8. Golden State
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.