2013 NBA Draft Lottery: Breaking Down Process Behind How It Works

Alex KayCorrespondent IMay 20, 2013

Photo Credit: NBA.com
Photo Credit: NBA.comDerick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NBA Draft Lottery is taking place on Tuesday, May 21, which should have fans of each participating team intrigued about their favorite club’s chance to land the top pick in the upcoming draft.

While most casual observers know what the lottery ultimately accomplishes, many are unaware of the inner workings of this sometimes mysterious and always intriguing event. If you need some idea of how this process works, don’t worry, as this breakdown will help.

Let’s take a look at how the current system works, how the league got to this point, the odds for each team to win this year and more in our lottery process breakdown.

The Participants

The lottery is used to determine the order of the first 14 teams selecting in each year’s draft.

The 14 participants represent each one of the teams that missed out on the postseason, as picks Nos. 15 through 30 are set in stone once the regular season wraps up. This is based solely on record, with the playoff team holding the worst record receiving the No. 15 pick and the playoff team holding the best record receiving the No. 30 pick.

Here's a look at this year's participants and their odds of earning the top overall selection:


2012-13 Record

Chance of No. 1 pick

Orlando Magic


25 percent

Charlotte Bobcats


19.9 percent

Cleveland Cavaliers


15.6 percent

Phoenix Suns


11.9 percent

New Orleans Pelicans


8.8 percent

Sacramento Kings


6.3 percent

Detroit Pistons


4.3 percent

Washington Wizards


2.8 percent

Minnesota Timberwolves


1.7 percent

Portland Trail Blazers*


1.1 percent

Philadelphia 76ers


0.8 percent

Toronto Raptors**


0.7 percent

Dallas Mavericks


0.6 percent

Utah Jazz


0.5 percent

*If Portland's pick falls outside of the top 12, it will be sent to Charlotte.

**If Toronto's pick falls outside of the top three, it will be sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder via the Houston Rockets.

*Odds and trade notes courtesy of USA Today.

The Process

*Information courtesy of John Denton via NBA.com, and InsideHoops.com

The nuts and bolts as to how the lottery works are quite interesting.

To start, the league issues out—via computer—a particular number of 1,000 different four-number combinations to each participant in the event. The team with the worst record receives 250 of these codes, while the organization with the best record receives just five.

At the actual lottery, which takes place at ABC’s Times Square Studios in New York City this year, 14 ping-pong balls are placed into a drum in a private room.

These ping-pong balls are numbered “1” through “14” with the possible amount of four-ball combinations totaling up to 1,001. To get to that number, there is no regard paid to the order of selection, which means 1-2-3-4 would be equivalent to 4-3-2-1, or any other combination of those four digits.

With NBA officials, team representatives and members of accounting firm Ernst & Young observing, four balls will be drawn from the drum and whichever participant holds that combination will be awarded the No. 1 overall pick.

That process will be repeated twice more, once to determine the No. 2 overall selection and finally for the No. 3.

In the extremely rare case that the single combination without an assigned team is drawn, the ping-pong balls would be returned and the process continues without a hitch.

With those three selections set, inverse order of regular-season record will be used to determine the remainder of the draft order. This ensures that the worst team can pick no worse than fourth, the second-worst no later than fifth, etc.

All of this isn’t shown during the television broadcast, as fans only get to see deputy commissioner Adam Silver receive envelopes with picks Nos. 1 through 14 contained within, his revealing of these results and the reaction from another set of team representatives—none of whom have a clue as to what happened in the private room.

As you can see, an intriguing series of events must unfold before viewers finally find out which club landed the top pick in the NBA draft.

The History

*Information courtesy of NBA.com

Prior to 1966, the league’s draft order had teams strictly pick in reverse order with regards to win-loss records. The lone exception was territorial selections, which allowed for franchises to draft a player from the local area in exchange for a first-round pick.

From 1966 through 1984, a coin flip method was employed to determine which team landed the top pick in the draft.

The last-place squads in each conference simply flipped to see which one had the right to pick first and which would receive the second selection, while the remaining organizations still went by reverse order.

The main issue here was that when two or more of the worst teams happened to be in the same conference, it would not matter; only the worst would have a shot at flipping the coin for the first pick.

In 1985, the first lottery took place. It was a bit different than today’s version, as all seven non-playoff teams had an equal chance to win.

With commissioner David Stern hand-picking envelopes from the drum, the New York Knicks were awarded the top pick and the right to select superstar center Patrick Ewing in the ’85 draft. Much controversy surrounded this drawing and conspiracy theories were born that still remain to this day.

Things changed a bit in both 1987 and 1990, as the Board of Governors realized it wasn’t exactly ideal to give every single non-playoff squad an equal shot at winning the lottery.

First, the change that allows only the top three selections to be determined by lottery was introduced. That allowed for the least competitive teams to, at worst, still land a selection near the top of the draft order.

A short while later, the owners agreed that weighted opportunity would be more fair and began tilting the scale toward the more downtrodden organizations.

Initially, the lottery team with the worst record had a 16.7 percent chance to win the lottery and the lottery team with the best record had a 1.5 percent shot, but that changed again in 1994 to the modern system of 25 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively.

Since then, a few new teams have been introduced to the league and, subsequently, more lottery participants each year, but the process remains the same and should for the foreseeable future.

2013 Lottery Info

When: Tuesday, May 21, at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Disney/ABC's Times Square Studios, New York City, New York

Watch: ESPN

2013 Lottery Mock Draft

1. Orlando Magic: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky

2. Charlotte Bobcats: Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown

4. Phoenix Suns: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana

5. New Orleans Pelicans: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan

6. Sacramento Kings: Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana

7. Detroit Pistons: Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA

8. Washington Wizards: Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV

9. Minnesota Timberwolves: C.J. McCollum, SG, Lehigh

10. Portland Trail Blazers: Alex Len, C, Maryland

11. Philadelphia 76ers: Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto): Rudy Gobert, C, France

13. Dallas Mavericks: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia

14. Utah Jazz: Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse


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