June 1, 2012; Westwego, LA, USA; A detailed view of the winning lottery ball combination (6-4-9-7) and the winning envelope from the NBA draft lottery for the New Orleans Hornets at a press conference at the Alario Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Draft Lottery Coverage: How Does The Lottery Work?

Ladies and gentlemen; kids of all ages; Boston Celtics fans everywhere!

Tomorrow night, ESPN will broadcast the results of the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery immediately before the tip-off of game 2 of the Miami Heat – Indiana Pacers series.

Since the draft lottery determines the order in which the first fourteen teams will pick in the NBA Draft, it doesn’t hurt to understand how the lottery works, now does it?

For starters, the draft lottery only truly determines the top three picks in the NBA Draft.  Fourteen numbered balls are placed in a drum, mixed up, and then four balls are drawn at random.  There are 1,001 possible combinations in which the balls can be drawn in this system, and all but one of those combinations are divvied up amongst the fourteen teams that make up the lottery, with the team that has the worst record receiving the highest amount of combinations, and so on.  Here is the complete breakdown of the teams that have the best chance of winning the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, with the total amount of combinations awarded to each team.


1. Milwaukee Bucks                     250 combinations           25% of winning first pick

2. Philadelphia 76ers                 199 combinations        19.9% of winning first pick

3. Orlando Magic                           156 combinations        15.6% of winning first pick

4. Utah Jazz                                     104 combinations         10.4% of winning first pick

5. Boston Celtics                              103 combinations     10.3%% of winning first pick

6. Los Angeles Lakers                    63 combinations          6.3% of winning first pick

7. Sacramento Kings                     43 combinations          4.3% of winning first pick

8. Detroit Pistons                            28 combinations         2.8% of winning first pick

9. Cleveland Cavaliers                 17 combinations           1.7% of winning first pick

10. New Orleans Pelicans             11 combinations           1.1% of winning first pick

11. Denver Nuggets                            8 combinations          0.8% of winning first pick

12. Orlando Magic                               7 combinations            0.7% of winning first pick

13. Minnesota Timberwolves        6 combinations           0.6% of winning first pick

14. Phoenix Suns                                  5 combinations          0.5% of winning first pick      


Got that committed to memory?  I’ll be quizzing you tomorrow!

With the combinations allotted, the lottery begin with four numbered balls being drawn at random, and the fun begins!  The order in which the balls are drawn does not matter: if balls 1-2-3-4 are assigned to the Boston Celtic, it doesn’t matter whether the balls are drawn 3-2-1-4, 4-1-2-3 : WHATEVER.  Boston wins! Much rejoicing follows!

The process is repeated two more times (unless, of course, the same combination of balls is drawn, in which case that result is tossed and another drawing is performed).  At that point, the top three picks of the NBA Draft has been determined.

After that, the 4-14 picks are determined by the records of the eleven teams remaining, with the team with the worst remaining record drafting fourth, and so on and so forth.

There’s a few things to take away from this:

1. No team can draft any worse than three spots behind its current draft standing.  The worst case scenario for the Celtics, then, is that they pick 8th in the draft.

2. The chances of seeing thee 11-14 teams moving up into the top 3 are stunningly low.  In 1993, the Orlando Magic landed the top pick with just a 1.5% of doing so; in 2008, the Chicago Bulls hit the jackpot with just a 1.7 % chance; and in 1999, the Charlotte Hornets came into the draft lottery as the 12th team and finished with the third pick in the draft, despite its 0.7% chance of landing a top three pick.  Miracles do happen – just not enough to bet on one.

3. Having said that, don’t be surprised if the first- and second-seeded teams DON’T win the first pick.  Since the weighted lottery system was introduced in 1990, the NBA has only seen the team with the worst record win the lottery three teams.  The team with the second worst record?  Four wins.    Teams 3-10, your time is now!

Hope that clears up what the hell the NBA is doing!   Start your stopwatches: the results will be revealed in just over 24 hours!

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