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How is NBA Draft Lottery determined?

The NBA draft lottery is the process by which the teams that did not make the playoffs in the previous season determine the order of selection for the upcoming NBA draft. The lottery system was put in place in 1985 primarily to deter teams from intentionally losing games in order to secure a better draft position, a practice known as “tanking”.

What is the purpose of the NBA draft lottery?

The main purpose of the NBA draft lottery is to discourage teams from intentionally losing games, also known as “tanking”, in order to improve their draft position and chances of getting the top pick. By determining draft order through a lottery system, teams can’t guarantee themselves the top pick even if they have the worst record. This helps promote competitive balance in the league.

Other purposes include:

  • Preventing a team from being guaranteed the top pick after a poor season
  • Maintaining fan interest late into losing seasons
  • Encouraging teams to play their best even late in lost seasons

Who is eligible for the NBA draft lottery?

The 14 NBA teams that did not make the playoffs in the previous season are eligible for the draft lottery. These teams are ranked based on their regular season win/loss record, with the team with the worst record receiving the highest odds to win the lottery. After the top 4 picks are determined via the lottery, the remainder of the teams select in reverse order of their win/loss record.

What are the odds of winning the lottery for each team?

The NBA draft lottery odds are weighted so that the teams with the worst regular season records have the best chances of securing one of the top 4 picks. For the 2023 draft, the odds are as follows:

Team Record Lottery Odds
Worst record 14% chance for 1st pick
2nd-worst record 14% chance for 1st pick
3rd-worst record 14% chance for 1st pick
4th-worst record 12.5% chance for 1st pick
5th-worst record 10.5% chance for 1st pick
6th-worst record 9% chance for 1st pick
7th-worst record 7.5% chance for 1st pick
8th-worst record 6% chance for 1st pick
9th-worst record 4.5% chance for 1st pick
10th-worst record 3% chance for 1st pick
11th-worst record 2% chance for 1st pick
12th-worst record 1.5% chance for 1st pick
13th-worst record 1% chance for 1st pick
14th-worst record 0.5% chance for 1st pick

The odds for each team change slightly year to year based on the composition of the lottery teams, but the worst team(s) always have a minimum 14% chance for the 1st overall pick.

How are the actual lottery odds determined?

The actual lottery odds are calculated by the NBA based on the total number of lottery teams and drafted lottery combinations. Here is the process:

  1. The NBA generates 1,000 numbered four-ball combinations (digits 1-14), which represent all possible lottery draw combinations.
  2. The 14 lottery teams are each assigned a subset of those combinations based on their odds. For example, the team with the worst record would be assigned 140 combinations.
  3. When the lottery takes place, 4 balls are drawn from the lottery machine. The four-ball combination drawn is matched to the team that was assigned that combination.
  4. The first ball drawn gets the #1 pick. The second ball drawn gets the #2 pick. The third ball drawn gets the #3 pick. The fourth ball drawn gets the #4 pick.

So while teams have underlying odds, the actual lottery works by drawing numbered combinations assigned to teams to determine the order.

When and where is the actual lottery held?

The NBA draft lottery is held shortly after the conclusion of the regular NBA season, usually in mid-May. It is held in a hotel ballroom in New York City before a small audience of team representatives, NBA officials, select media members, and ESPN TV crew.

For the 2023 draft, the lottery will be held on May 16, 2023.

How does the actual lottery drawing work?

The lottery drawing procedure involves the following steps:

  1. 14 numbered lottery balls are placed in a lottery machine. Each ball is associated with a different lottery team.
  2. There is a separate draw for each of the top 4 picks. The balls are mixed and then 4 balls are randomly selected one at a time.
  3. The first ball drawn gets the #1 pick. The second ball drawn gets the #2 pick. The third ball drawn gets the #3 pick. The fourth ball drawn gets the #4 pick.
  4. The order of the remaining teams is determined by inverse order of their regular season record.

The lottery drawing is conducted in front of witnesses and representatives from each team and is televised on ESPN to ensure transparency and fairness.

Who conducts and oversees the lottery drawing?

The NBA draft lottery drawing is overseen by several groups:

  • The accounting firm Ernst & Young prepares the lottery machine and lottery balls and oversees the lottery draw.
  • Team representatives witness the lottery draw in person.
  • NBA officials are present for the drawing and follow lottery protocols.
  • Select media members act as additional witnesses to the lottery as it happens live.
  • The drawing is televised live on ESPN, which provides additional public oversight.

Having numerous witnesses and lottery oversight helps ensure a transparent, fair drawing not subject to manipulation or rigging.

How does the NBA prevent tampering or rigging of the lottery drawing?

The NBA uses several measures to help prevent tampering and maintain integrity in the lottery drawing process:

  • An independent accounting firm (Ernst & Young) oversees the entire process and prepares the machine and balls.
  • Lottery balls are weighed precisely to ensure they are identical.
  • Balls are placed in an air-controlled machine that randomly mixes thousands of times before picks are drawn.
  • Team reps witness drawing in-person to ensure proper procedures are followed.
  • The drawing is video recorded from multiple angles.
  • Results are widely disseminated in real-time to prevent manipulation of results.
  • Lottery results are certified by the accounting firm before becoming official.

While no system is perfect, the extensive and transparent safeguards make manipulating or rigging the lottery highly improbable.

Who won the Number 1 pick in the most recent lottery?

In the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery held on May 17, 2022, the Orlando Magic won the #1 overall pick in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft. The Oklahoma City Thunder was awarded the #2 pick and the Houston Rockets came in at #3. Rounding out the top 4 was the Sacramento Kings at #4.

The Magic had a 14% chance at the top pick, one of the three teams tied for the best odds. This marked the fourth time in franchise history the Magic won the draft lottery.

Which team has historically been the biggest lottery winner?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have won the NBA draft lottery the most times, with 5 lottery wins:

  • 2003 Draft – Won the 1st pick and selected LeBron James
  • 2011 Draft – Won the 1st pick and selected Kyrie Irving
  • 2013 Draft – Won the 1st pick and selected Anthony Bennett
  • 2014 Draft – Won the 1st pick and selected Andrew Wiggins
  • 2022 Draft – Won the 14th pick

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic are tied for the second-most lottery wins with 4 apiece.

Which NBA team has the longest lottery drought?

The longest active lottery drought belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have not won the lottery since 2014. As of 2023, the Cavaliers lottery drought stands at 8 years running.

The longest lottery drought in NBA history is held by the Atlanta Hawks at 24 years. The Hawks did not win the lottery a single time between their inaugural 1985 draft until 2007 when they were awarded the 3rd pick.

What are the odds of the worst team actually winning the 1st pick?

Though the worst team has best lottery odds each year, their chance of actually winning the 1st overall pick is only 14% in the current lottery system. That’s because 86% of lottery combinations belong to the other 13 lottery teams.

Historically, the worst team wins the 1st pick less than 25% of the time. Since the weighted lottery system began in 1990, the worst team has won the 1st pick just 7 out of 32 years (22%).

So while having the worst record helps, there’s no guarantee a team will actually win the top pick through the lottery.

What happens if there is a tie for the worst record?

If two or more teams tie for the worst record, they will share the same lottery odds. For example, in 2019 the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers tied for the worst record and therefore both had a 14% chance for the #1 pick and equal lottery odds.

If the tie is only for the second-worst record or lower, the teams will have slightly different odds based on designated tiebreakers, like a coin flip or previous year’s record.

Has the draft lottery process changed over the years?

The NBA draft lottery process has changed several times since first introduced in 1985. Key changes include:

  • 1990 – Lottery expanded from 7 to 11 teams
  • 1994 – Weighted lottery system introduced
  • 2019 – Lottery teams increased from 3 to 4
  • 2019 – Lottery odds flattened to reduce value of worst records

The changes, especially flattening lottery odds, have aimed to discourage tanking and promote competitiveness late into the season.

What are the main criticisms and issues with the lottery system?

Some of the main criticisms and perceived issues surrounding the NBA draft lottery include:

  • Doesn’t fully prevent tanking – Teams still incentivized to be as bad as possible
  • Bad teams still often rewarded – Worst teams still win top picks frequently
  • Lottery odds not flattened enough – Worst teams still have sizeable edge
  • Perceived lack of transparency – No public info on physical lottery procedures
  • Conspiracy theories – Some instances have fueled manipulation claims
  • Uncertainty for teams and fans – Lottery adds unpredictability to draft outcomes

Potential changes like determining draft order by record rather than lottery have been suggested but not implemented.


The NBA draft lottery was instituted in 1985 as a way to deter teams from tanking games to improve draft position. A weighted system gives the teams with the worst records the best odds to help struggling teams rebuild, but other lottery safeguards help prevent teams from being guaranteed top picks.

The lottery drawings are conducted privately with team representatives, media, and NBA officials present. Precautions like specialized lottery machines and accounting oversight help prevent tampering and rigging. Critics argue the system still encourages losing and randomness in determining draft picks.

While imperfect, the lottery aims to balance fairness, competitiveness, and randomness in the draft order process. Fans continue to speculate on conspiracy theories, but the NBA maintains the drawings are legitimate. The lottery adds suspense and surprise for teams hoping to rebuild through the draft.