NBA Draft Lottery Rules: How the Process Works

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2017

WALTHAM, MA - SEPTEMBER 26:  General manager Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics speaks with the media during Boston Celtics Media Day on September 26, 2016 in Waltham, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

The NBA draft lottery is scheduled for Tuesday, May 16, which means it's time to offer up a refresher on how the annual ping-pong ball process works. 

But before we dive into the minutiae, here's an overview of the odds each lottery team owns following the conclusion of the 2016-17 regular season: 

2017 NBA Draft Lottery Odds
PickTeamRecordNo. 1 Pick OddsTop 3 Odds
1Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets)20-6225.0%64.3%
2Phoenix Suns24-5819.9%55.8%
3Los Angeles Lakers26-5615.6%46.9%
4Philadelphia 76ers28-5411.9%37.8%
5Orlando Magic29-538.8%29.1%
6Minnesota Timberwolves31-515.3%18.3%
7New York Knicks31-515.3%18.3%
8Sacramento Kings32-502.8%9.9%
9Dallas Mavericks33-491.7%6.1%
10New Orleans Pelicans34-481.1%4.0%
11Charlotte Hornets36-460.8%2.9%
12Detroit Pistons37-450.7%2.5%
13Denver Nuggets40-420.6%2.2%
14Miami Heat41-410.5%1.8%

How the Drawing Works

The lottery drawing is a rather tedious process, so we'll try to keep things streamlined here. 

According to the NBA's official website, the process starts with 14 ping-pong balls placed in the lottery apparatus. Once that takes place, the machine is turned on and the balls are mixed for 20 seconds. One ball is then removed and placed in the order. 

That process continues for three more balls. The only difference is the mixing interval drops to 10 seconds for the second, third and fourth drawings. 

At that point, the order of the drawing is revealed, and the team whom the combination belongs to—there are 1,001 combinations totalreceives the first pick. 

As a reminder, the Boston Celtics (via the Brooklyn Nets) will own the most combinations for the No. 1 pick at 250—which translates to 25 percent odds as seen in the table above. 

To further understand the process, you can watch last year's drawing as it happened behind the scenes: 

As the video demonstrates, the same steps followed for the No. 1 pick are used to determine picks Nos. 2 and 3.

Once those selections have been hashed out, the lottery drawing concludes.  


Pick Protections to Keep in Mind

This year, there are several key pick protections and conveyances fans should keep in mind as the lottery is playing out.  

The first one is the most simple, and it's the unprotected selection that will be conveyed from the Brooklyn Nets to the Boston Celtics as soon as the reveal is over. That draft credit dates back to the July 2013 blockbuster that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets. 

The next group is picks that have limited protections, and it breaks down as follows: 

  • The Los Angeles Lakers' first-round selection is protected for picks Nos. 1-3. If it falls outside the top three, it will belong to the Philadelphia 76ers. 
  • The New Orleans Pelicans' first-round selection belongs to the Sacramento Kings via the DeMarcus Cousins trade unless it falls within the top three picks. 
  • Speaking of the Kings, they will retain their own first-round selection so long as it falls within the top 10 picks. Right now, it's projected to fall at No. 8. Should it slide outside of the top 10, it will belong to the Chicago Bulls. 

Finally, we have the pick swap. 

Specifically, the Sixers will retain the right to swap picks with the Kings on the off chance Sacramento's own selection—not the Pelicans' pick—leaps ahead of Philadelphia's.

The Sixers can thank former general manager Sam Hinkie for that safeguard after they nabbed swap rights through a July 2015 trade that allowed them to pounce on draft considerations and Nik Stauskas in exchange for letting the Kings open up cap room to sign Rajon Rondo. 


Draft pick information retrieved from RealGM.com