May 21

NBA Draft Lottery 101: Selection Process and Odds

By sarahhecht

Last year when the Trail Blazers participated in the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time in four years, we reviewed the lottery process. Since we're involved again this year, here's a quick refresher.

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. Here's the order as well as the number of chances out of 1,000 each team has of drawing the number one pick:

1. Orlando (250)
2. Charlotte (199)
3. Cleveland (156)
4. Phoenix (119)
5. New Orleans (88)
6. Sacramento (63)
7. Detroit (36)
8. Washington (35)
9. Minnesota (17)
10. Portland (11)
11. Philadelphia (8)
12. Toronto (7)
13. Dallas (6)
14. Utah (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 10th pick—keep in mind this is purely an example to demonstrate how picks shift—would happen if Philadelphia, Toronto, Dallas or Utah were to draw into the top three. If that were the case every team would move down a slot.


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

1. Orlando
2. Philadelphia
3. Charlotte
4. Cleveland
5. Phoenix
6. New Orleans
7. Sacramento
8. Detroit
9. Washington
10. Minnesota
11. Portland
12. Toronto
13. Dallas
14. Utah

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? The first pick out course! Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard is representing Portland this year—last time Portland had a sitting Rookie of the Year at the lottery, Brandon Roy, we hit the jackpot and won the first pick. Can lightning strike twice?

The worst possible outcome? Three of the four teams behind the Trail Blazers all get impossibly luck and draw into the top three picks. That scenario would see Portland drop to the 13 pick in which case the pick will be shipped to Charlotte—worst case scenario and highly unlikely.

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 2013 NBA Draft Lottery will be held on Tuesday, May 21st at 5:30pm 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. Hey Miss What's your name, Oh! I remember Sarah:
    So if no one behind us draws 1 thru 3, since you said last year those are the only three that are drawn, we stay where we are? the only way we can move up is to draw 1 thru 3? So if one thru 3 is drawn from teams above us, I can go to work knowing we will be 10? Is that correct?

    I thank you Miss sarahhecht

    by Hg on 5/21/2013 9:08 AM
  2. You've got it spot on Hg.

    by Rajel on 5/21/2013 2:57 PM
  3. Oh Miss Sarah, now that you know, who are you picking for PDX pick?

    by Hg on 5/21/2013 5:25 PM
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