2014 NBA Draft Lottery Rules: Breaking Down Format, Standings and How It Works

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The mood of an NBA draft lottery changes every year. In some cases, it's filled with frumpy executives looking uncomfortably at the camera, knowing their presence at the celebration of dreadfulness before a playoff game has their behinds directly on the hot seat. In others, it's a celebration from wry executives who knew exactly what they were doing.

Expect much of the latter Tuesday night.

The 2013-14 regular season was defined in large part by tanking and injuries. Some of it was real, some of it perceived. Bleacher Report's Howard Beck smartly pointed out in March that NBA teams actually weren't any worse than a typical season from a record perspective—that in a world where there are only wins and losses, some teams are bound to just be plain bad.

“[Tanking] has always been there,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe. “Maybe it was talked about more this year and more people caught on to the principle of it.”

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Perception doesn't always match reality. The Milwaukee Bucks, a dour, poorly assembled collection of misbegotten talent, were not tanking. And that's probably the saddest thing. The Philadelphia 76ers blatantly punted their season, but given the talent collection done by previous management, Sam Hinkie's plan wasn't all that hard to enact.

Dan Gilbert told everyone who would listen that the Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn't be back in the lottery after winning the 2013 ceremony. Whoops. Then there are the Phoenix Suns—the glorious, wonderful, we-thought-you-were-tanking-but-you-really-weren't Phoenix Suns. 

All of these teams, ones with wildly different agendas, are headed for New York City. For the teams that land in the top three—thus winning the Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker sweepstakes—the trip will be well worth it. Down the line to probably the top seven or eight guys, teams will land players who would have arguably ranked No. 1 in the 2013 class.

With that in mind, let's take a look at how the lottery will shake out, along with an explanation of how the whole thing works.

NBA Lottery Information

When: Tuesday, May 20 at 8 p.m. ET


Stream: WatchESPN

2014 NBA Draft Lottery Odds
RankTeamChance of Winning
1Milwaukee Bucks25.0%
2Philadelphia 76ers19.9%
3Orlando Magic15.6%
4Utah Jazz10.4%
5Boston Celtics10.3%
6Los Angeles Lakers6.3%
7Sacramento Kings4.3%
8Detroit Pistons*2.8%
9Cleveland Cavaliers1.7%
10New Orleans Pelicans*1.1%
11Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks)0.8%
12Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets)0.7%
13Minnesota Timberwolves0.6%
14Phoenix Suns0.5%
NBA.com (Asterisk denotes pick may be conveyed)

How the Lottery Works

SECAUCUS, NJ - MAY 22:  The lottery balls in their protective case during the 2003 NBA draft lottery on May 22, 2003 in Secaucus, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

While the design of a lottery system seems to indicate all picks are determined by random chance, that is not actually the case. Only the top three picks are currently determined by our lottery system. Picks No. 4-14 are based on the inverse order of a team's regular-season record.

Meaning: The Bucks, as the league's worst team, cannot have any lower than the No. 4 overall pick. The 76ers cannot go lower than fifth, and so on. This is what broadcasters say when they indicate a team has "moved into the top three" when their selection is not announced in the proper order.

SECAUCUS, NJ - MAY 22:  The lottery balls circulate before the drawing during the 2003 NBA draft lottery on May 22, 2003 in Secaucus, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

To determine the top three picks, ping-pong balls numbered 1-14 are placed in a drum, and then four are drawn at random. Each team is given a series of four-number combinations that determine which teams land with each corresponding selection. One thousand of the possible 1,001 combinations are handed out to teams.

At the lottery, held just prior to the ESPN broadcast, four balls corresponding to the No. 1 pick are drawn. The order of the numbers is irrelevant. If the Bucks have 1-2-3-4 as one of their combinations and the order of the ball selected is 2-4-3-1, Milwaukee would still receive the top selection. The process is then repeated for the No. 2 and No. 3 picks. Should a team that has already received a selection have one of their combinations be called again, the process merely starts itself over again until an unselected team comes up.

The results of the drawing are then announced on the broadcast. While already predetermined, those pictured on the telecast are not supposed to know the results—though I guess it's entirely possible that a team representative can find ways to tip off their colleague. 

2014 NBA Draft Picks Possibly Changing Hands

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MAY 15: Detroit Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy talks during his introductory press conference at the Palace of Auburn Hills on May 15, 2014 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressl
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  • Detroit Pistons (to Charlotte Hornets): Roughly a week after hiring Stan Van Gundy to handle basketball operations, the Pistons will be sweating bullets on draft night. Detroit sends Charlotte its first-round selection if it falls outside the top eight. The Pistons currently have the eighth-best lottery odds. They need to move up or have everyone behind them avoid doing so to ensure Van Gundy will actually get to use his first selection as Pistons boss.
  • New Orleans Pelicans (to Philadelphia 76ers): The Pelicans will send their first-round pick to Philadelphia unless they wind up in the top three. Their selection is top-five protected from the Jrue Holiday deal last June. Sitting in the No. 10 spot with only a 1.1 percent chance of nabbing the top pick, that seems unlikely. Hinkie's grand master plan should work out here. The Sixers will likely wind up with two top-10 selections in the deepest class in a decade. It's no fun, but tanking does pay off.   
  • New York Knicks (to Denver Nuggets): As they prepare for an offseason in which they may lose Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks finally finish paying their initial Melo tithe. Denver receives New York's unprotected first-round pick to satisfy the rest of the Anthony trade. 
  • Denver Nuggets (to Orlando Magic): Orlando lands the worst of Denver's two lottery picks as part of the Dwight Howard trade. I'm pretty sure no one even tangentially related to that deal is happy at the moment. The Magic "won" but are the third-worst team in basketball. Things could be better. 
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (to Phoenix Suns): The Suns receive Minnesota's pick if, by some random chance, they move from No. 14 into the top three. The Timberwolves' selection is top-13 protected in 2014. History says this will not happen.
  • Charlotte Hornets (to Chicago Bulls): Put it this way: This was not where the Bulls envisioned Charlotte's first-round pick being when they hoarded it in trade negotiations. The Hornets sent this pick to Chicago as part of the Tyrus Thomas trade executed at the height of their bumbling Bobcat-ness.
  • Washington Wizards (to Phoenix Suns): Washington conveys its pick to Phoenix to satisfy the Marcin Gortat trade. The Wizards got a second-round pick out of the deal, so it's likely both parties are satisfied here. 
  • Brooklyn Nets (to Boston Celtics): Not equally satisfied? The Nets and Celtics. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett could be done in Brooklyn after one season. And all $190 million got Mikhail Prokhorov is a lousy second-round beating from Miami and a completely bereft future. Brooklyn sends its first of three unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Pierce-Garnett haul. This was not a good trade.
  • Dallas Mavericks (to Oklahoma City Thunder): Given Jeremy Lamb's inability to get off the bench and Steven Adams' fundamental OK-ness, the Thunder better hope to hit on this pick. Oklahoma City receives Dallas' top selection to satisfy its haul from the James Harden trade. Discussion about the Harden deal has become a mild annoyance, but it's fair to point out this didn't go the way Sam Presti planned.
  • Golden State Warriors (to Utah Jazz): The Warriors sent this first and one other to Utah in exchange for taking on the onerous Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins contracts. Golden State used its financial windfall to sign Andre Iguodala. Jefferson re-emerged as a useful veteran in Utah. I'm unsure whether Biedrins even made the trip. 
  • Portland Trail Blazers (to Charlotte Hornets): Somehow, someway, Gerald Wallace keeps finding himself attached to first-round picks. The Blazers will finally satisfy the terms of their initial deal to acquire Wallace, sending the No. 24 selection to Charlotte. Portland famously shipped Wallace to the Nets 13 months later in a deal that landed them Damian Lillard. Not a bad return on investment. 
  • Indiana Pacers (to Phoenix Suns): As the Pacers disdainfully look at a shell of Luis Scola missing defensive assignments and turning in inconsistent offensive production, they'll watch as the pick used to acquire him goes to Phoenix. Indiana also gave up Gerald Green and Mason Plumlee as part of the deal. Whoops.

Tyler Conway's 2014 NBA Big Board

1Andrew WigginsKansasFreshmanSF
2Joel EmbiidKansasFreshmanC
3Jabari ParkerDukeFreshmanSF
4Dante ExumAustraliaN/APG/SG
5Julius RandleKentuckyFreshmanPF
6Aaron GordonArizonaFreshmanPF
7Noah VonlehIndianaFreshmanPF
8Marcus SmartOklahoma StateSophomorePG
9Gary HarrisMichigan StateSophomoreSG
10Nik StauskasMichiganSophomoreSG
11Doug McDermottCreightonSeniorSF
12Dario SaricCroatiaN/APF
13Adreian PayneMichigan StateSeniorPF
14Zach LaVineUCLAFreshmanPG/SG
15Rodney HoodDukeSophomoreSF
16James YoungKentuckyFreshmanSF
17Tyler EnnisSyracuseFreshmanPG
18Jusuf NurkicBosniaN/AC
19Kyle AndersonUCLASophomoreSF
20Clint CapelaSwitzerlandN/APF
21Elfrid PaytonLouisiana-LafayetteJuniorPG
22P.J. HairstonNorth CarolinaJuniorSG
23Jerami GrantSyracuseSophomoreSF
24T.J. WarrenNorth Carolina StateSophomoreSF
25Cleanthony EarlyWichita StateSeniorSF
26K.J. McDanielsClemsonJuniorSF
27Glenn Robinson IIIMichiganSophomoreSF
28Shabazz NapierConnecticutSeniorPG
29Jarnell StokesTennesseeJuniorPF
30Jordan AdamsUCLASophomoreSG

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