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How does the NBA lottery system works?

How does the NBA lottery system works?

NBA lottery is an event organized by National Basketball Association, in which the teams which could not make it to the playoffs, take part to decide the order of the next draft. The event started in the year 1985, gives the opportunity to the lottery winner to pick the player first player. The player might be a high school basketball player, a national or an international player. The term “lottery team” is used for the non playoffs team.

How does the NBA lottery system works?

The rules upon which the lottery system works, is that there are three picks decided. The three picks are given to any three of the 14 non playoffs teams. The probability of getting higher draft pick rests usually with the worst team of the previous season or the team that traded their draft position with the worst team. After the first pick, the remainder of teams earn their picks on the basis of inverse pattern of their win loss percentage.


The lottery is usually organized in the third or fourth week of May.

The lottery starts with a machine containing the ping pong balls in it, shuffling the balls for 20 minutes. The ping pong balls contain the numbers 1-14 on it. After the shuffling is done, 4 ping pong balls are drawn out from the machine. Without considering the order or withdrawal. There are 1001 possible combinations that can be withdrawn. However, after the first withdrawal, the remaining 1000 combinations are distributed among the remaining teams. The 11 – 12 – 13 – 14 combination is not assigned to anyone (if withdrawn), but it never happened in the actual draw.

The teams can trade their respective pick with other teams but the characteristic of determining the eligibility and assigning the chances resides with the original team (the team which held the pick before trading).

The NBA seasons see 30 teams competing with each other to earn a place in playoffs. 16 sites cement a position in playoffs, while the remaining 14 teams get eliminated and enters the lottery. The following number of chances are assigned to the teams in the reverse order of their performance in the season.

No Combinations Chances for receiving no.1 pick
1 250 25.00%
2 199 19.90%
3 156 15.60%
4 119 11.90%
5 88 8.80%
6 63 6.30%
7 43 4.30%
8 28 2.80%
9 17 1.70%
10 11 1.10%
11 8 0.80%
12 7 0.70%
13 6 0.60%
14 5 0.50%

The NBA is focusing on making the chances equal for the top 3s. In the year 2019, the odds and chances will change and the new statistics will state as under:

No Combinations Chances for receiving no.1 pick
1 140 14.00%
2 140 14.00%
3 140 14.00%
4 125 12.50%
5 105 10.50%
6 90 9.00%
7 75 7.50%
8 60 6.00%
9 45 4.50%
10 30 3.00%
11 20 2.00%
12 15 1.50%
13 10 1.00%
14 5 0.50%

In case, the teams finish on the same records and the positions are tied. The average is taken between the respective positions under question. In the year 2007, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazzers both tied on the number 6 spot. An average of combinations of 6th and 7th spot (63 and 43), were taken, and the combinations of 53 each was awarded to both the teams. If the average is not an integer, then the matter is decided by a flip of coin. The team winning the coin flip will be awarded more of the two combinations.

The whole process is observed by the member of an accounting firm (Ernst and Young). The member makes sure that the balls kept in the machine has one number at a time. As mentioned above, the first ball is withdrawn after a fairly larger span of time, 20 seconds. The remaining 3 balls are withdraw at an interval of 10 seconds each. The NBA officials announce the winning combination and the team that holds it.

The balls are then returned to the machine, and the process is repeated until the 2nd and 3rd winners are determined. If the same combination gets repeated after the selection of first team, the balls are added back to the machine, till the point that a unique number is attained. After the selection of three winners, the remaining picks are done on the position basis (with the worst team receiving the initial picks, after the winners). The summary is that the teams might drop 3 positions from the projected preference list.

The Ceremony:

The process of withdrawing the ping pong balls is done privately, but in the presence of independent auditor from the accounting firm, the NBA officials and the representatives from each team. The results are then public ally announced after the process, in a short ceremony.  The order is specified by the officials in the ceremony (from going bottom to top). The representatives are required to attend the ceremony.

The reason behind making the withdrawal of the ping pong balls a private process is that the NBA wants to avoid speculations and occasionally modify the process for betterment of the sport and the league. The most popular speculation was the transfer of Patrick Ewing to New York in 1985. Fans said that the NBA management wanted to send the star player to New York in order to catch a massive TV ratings and revenue. This was the time when 7 letters were used in the place of 14 ping pong balls.

Another theory was that the NBA officials fold a certain envelope, and once the machine or box stops spinning. The official used to take a deep breath and search for the folded envelope and pick it up. The folding incident was one of the main reasons why the envelope system was replaced by the ping pong system. And keeping the process confidential is to actually avoid further conspiracies. But at end, even after the precautionary measures, people still try and form a new conspiracy of their own.

Here’s the list of lottery winners.

This post was written by Maria Zahid of https://lotteryt.com

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