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Your Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the NBA Draft and Lottery

nba draft lottery

The NBA draft and lottery are two of the most highly anticipated events on the NBA calendar. They are key in determining the future of NBA franchises and shape the league for years to come. For basketball fans, the draft offers a glimpse into the next generation of stars and provides excitement for what’s to come in the upcoming season. For those who are not as familiar, it can be confusing when fans try understanding the NBA draft, lottery, selection process and how it works.

In this guide, we’ll break down the basics of the NBA draft and the NBA lottery. We’ll answer some commonly asked questions, and provide insights into some of the most important aspects of the events. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a casual observer, this guide will explain and help you understand the NBA draft and lottery.

NBA draft explained

The NBA draft is an annual event in which NBA teams select eligible players to join their teams. The draft is a way for teams to acquire new players and improve their rosters, with the goal of building a team that can compete for glory – an NBA Championship.

The draft consists of two rounds. Each team will have one pick per round, although teams can trade their picks with other teams. The order of the draft is determined by a lottery system, which gives teams with the worst records in the previous season the best chance of receiving a higher pick. We’ll how the NBA lottery works later in the guide.

Trading NBA draft picks

Teams are able to trade their draft picks prior to the NBA draft day event. In today’s NBA, it’s commonplace for teams to trade multiple picks, and pick swaps, in a deal for another player. These draft picks can be traded with protective restrictions that will only fall to the other team if they fall within a certain draft range. This is why on draft day you can see something like, Charlotte Hornets (via New York Knicks).

To add to the theatrics of the event, draft picks can be traded on draft night. You will commonly see teams select a player on behalf of another following a trade. At times this can be confusing to the fans, most recently, in a series of trades, the Knicks secured three first rounds picks in exchange for their No 11 pick, multiple second rounders and Kemba Walker, per CBS.

There are many nuances to trading NBA draft picks. We have another comprehensive article summarizing this process, which you can read here.

NBA Lottery odds and how it works

How the NBA lottery works?

When understanding the NBA draft, you must also have knowledge of the NBA lottery to tie it all together. The NBA lottery is a system used to determine the draft order in which teams will make their selections. The lottery is designed to give the teams with the worst records in the previous season the best chance of receiving a higher pick. The idea being that these teams are most in need of top talent to improve their rosters.

Due to changes made by the NBA Board of Governors in 2017, the team with the worst record will receive no worse than the 5th pick in the draft. This took effect in the 2019 NBA lottery. Prior to 2019, the team with the worst record would pick no worse than 4th.

Determining the NBA draft order

To determine the NBA draft order, the lottery consists of the 14 teams that did not make the playoffs in the previous season, and their draft order is determined by a randomized drawing. The team with the worst record has the best chance of receiving the first pick, while the odds decrease for each subsequent team after the top three teams. The top three teams all receive a 14% chance of the top pick.

Any team picking in the top 14 is deemed to have a “lottery pick.”

Prior to the rule changes, the worst team had a 25% chance of winning the lottery, followed by 19.9% and a 15.6% chance. After the top four picks are selected, the remaining lottery teams draft in the opposite order of their regular-season record.

Non-lottery team pick order

For the 16 non-lottery teams in the NBA draft, they receive their picks based on their win-loss record in the previous season and performance in the playoffs. The team that was eliminated in the first round receives the highest pick, the NBA champion receives the lowest pick.

The remaining non-playoff teams are assigned picks based on their regular season record, with the worst record receiving the highest pick and the best record receiving the lowest pick.

NBA lottery odds

The NBA draft lottery only determines the top four picks in the draft. All remaining teams receive their pick in the opposite order to their regular season record.

The exact NBA lottery odds to receive the number 1 pick are as follows:

  • Team 1 > 14.0%
  • Team 2 > 14.0%
  • Team 3 >14.0%
  • Team 4 > 12.5%
  • Team 5 > 10.5%
  • Team 6 > 9.0%
  • Team 7 > 7.5%
  • Team 8 > 4.5%
  • Team 9 > 4.5%
  • Team 10 > 4.5%
  • Team 11 > 1.8%
  • Team 12 > 1.7%
  • Team 13 > 1.0%
  • Team 14 > 0.5%

Recent changes to the lottery odds were made in an attempt to reduce tanking during the regular season. Tanking is the process of purposefully losing games during the season to secure a higher pick in the draft. NBA teams will frequently lose games later in the season if they know they are unlikely to make the playoffs.

Limiting lottery odds and by introducing the play-in tournament, the NBA has gone to great lengths to dispose of tanking.

How does the NBA draw the winner of the lottery?

The actual NBA lottery drawing is done prior to the ESPN broadcast. It is monitored by select media, NBA officials and representatives of the participating teams and the accounting firm Ernst & Young, per the NBA.

The drawing involves a ping-pong ball machine and contains 14 ping-pong balls numbered 1-14. First, four ping-pong balls are drawn to determine a four-digit combination. There are a total of 1,001 possible four-digit combinations, with each combination assigned to one of the 14 lottery teams. The team assigned to the combination that is drawn receives the first pick in the draft.

After the first pick is awarded, the four balls are placed back into the machine. The process is then repeated to determine the second pick and continues until all 14 picks have been determined. The remaining non-lottery teams are then assigned draft picks based on their regular season and playoff performance, as described earlier.

Questions about the lottery being rigged

The process of selecting the winning team behind closed doors has been met with skepticism over the years. So much so that some people believe the NBA lottery is rigged. Now, it’s highly unlikely that this is truly the case, however there have been instances that have raised eyebrows for fans and competing teams.

In 2012, the New Orleans Pelicans received the number 1 pick with only a 13% chance to win. On the surface, it’s extremely possible that the Pelicans would secure the first pick with a 13% chance, but the full story leaves people wondering.

Firstly, the New Orleans Pelicans were the only NBA owned team in the league. One theory is that the league promised the number 1 pick to Tom Benson in order to secure his $338 million dollar sale.

Secondly, persistent rumors have circulated. They suggest the NBA may have offered the Pelicans the number 1 pick in the draft as a consolation prize following the league’s controversial decision to block a proposed trade that would have sent star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. While the NBA has denied any wrongdoing or impropriety, some fans and analysts continue to speculate. This ongoing discussion highlights the significant impact the NBA draft has on the fortunes of teams and the league.

Now you see the importance of the lottery in understanding the NBA draft. It is a major part of the process, with many intricacies that turn the tide of the NBA landscape.

Rules and common questions to understand the NBA draft

To complete our guide to understanding the NBA draft and lottery, we provided detailed answers to some burning questions. Questions surrounding eligibility, process and those that are not selected.

Eligibility for the nba draft

To be eligible for the NBA draft, a player must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft. Additionally, they must also be at least one year removed from their high school graduation and meet certain criteria related to their basketball experience and performance.

The most common path to NBA eligibility is to attend college or play professionally overseas for at least one year before entering the draft. In recent years, however, high-profile players have chosen to skip college and instead play professionally in the NBA G League or overseas leagues before entering the draft.

To be considered for the draft, a player must submit a formal application to the NBA. The application is accompanied by documentation related to their eligibility and performance history. The NBA then reviews each application and determines which players meet the eligibility criteria. Eligible players can then enter the NBA draft pool.

Once a player is eligible and included in the draft pool, they can be selected by any NBA team. Being selected in the NBA draft is a significant milestone for aspiring basketball players. It opens the door to a career in one of the world’s most competitive sports leagues globally, and is an important part in understanding the NBA draft and lottery.

How long do draft picks have to sign with their teams?

Once drafted, NBA draft picks have up to two years to sign with their teams. However, the vast majority of players sign with their teams within a few weeks of being drafted. The terms of the contract is negotiated between the player and the team’s management.

The specific details of each contract can varies widely. It can depend on many factors, including the player’s position, experience, performance and team needs. For example, top picks in the draft are typically offered multi-year contracts with higher salaries and additional incentives, while lower picks may receive shorter contracts with lower guaranteed salaries.

In some cases, drafted players may choose not to sign with their teams and instead pursue other opportunities. This includes playing professionally overseas or in other basketball leagues. However, this is relatively rare, and most players view signing with an NBA team as a critical step in their careers.

How long do teams have to make their selections in the draft?

In the NBA draft, each team has a specific amount of time to make their selection in each round of the draft. For the first round, each team has five minutes to make their pick. In the second round, the time is reduced to two minutes per pick.

If a team fails to pick in within the time limit, they will miss their turn and must pick later in the draft. In doing so, they may miss out on the opportunity to select the player they had intended to choose. This completely alters the draft order. Additionally, other teams may have the chance to make their selections sooner.

In recent years, the NBA has made efforts to speed up the draft process. This is to keep up with the growing interest and attention on the event from fans and media. However, the time limits for each pick remain an important factor in ensuring a fair and competitive draft. Each team must be given an equal chance to select the players they believe will be the best fit for their organization.

What happens to NBA undrafted players?

Undrafted players in the NBA draft have a few options available to them, depending on their goals and opportunities. Some may choose to sign with an NBA team as a free agent, either immediately following the draft or after spending time playing in other basketball leagues or competitions. However, opportunities for undrafted players to sign with NBA teams can be limited.

Alternatively, some undrafted players may choose to play professionally in other leagues, both in the United States and overseas. This can offer opportunities to continue developing their skills and potentially catch the eye of NBA scouts and teams in the future. Other players may choose to return to college or continue playing in amateur leagues, with the hope of improving their draft prospects in future years.

While going undrafted can be disappointing for aspiring NBA players, it is by no means the end of the road. Many successful NBA players, including current players like Fred VanVleet and Wesley Matthews, were not drafted but went on to build successful careers through hard work, determination, and perseverance.

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