Territorial Picks

Coin Flip

The First Lottery

In the league's early years, when teams were struggling to include fan bases, the draft included territorial picks. Before the start of the draft, a team could forfeit its first-round pick and instead select a player from its immediate area, presumably with a strong local following.

Celtic Pride:

In 1956, the Celtics used a territorial pick to select Tom Heinsohn from Holy Cross in nearby Worcester, Mass. He went on to average 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds, helping the Celtics to eight NBA championships in his nine-year career.


In 1966, the league adopted a coin flip between the last-place finishers in each of its two divisions to determine which team would open the draft, a system that remained in place until the first lottery in 1985. The remaining teams picked in inverse order of their won-lost records.

Lakers Work Championship Magic:

In 1979, the 31-51 Chicago Bulls called "heads" and the coin came up "tails," thereby giving the first pick to the 26-56 New Orleans Jazz. But the Jazz had to compensate the Lakers for having signed LA free agent Gail Goodrich and did so with three draft picks, including New Orleans' first round pick in 1979. This became the No. 1 pick after the coin toss, which in turn became Magic Johnson out of Michigan State.

The next season, led by their rookie guard, the Lakers became NBA champions for the second time since moving to Los Angeles. Oh yes, and the New Orleans Jazz became the Utah Jazz.


Under the system adopted prior to the 1985 NBA Draft, the NBA Lottery determines the order of selection for the non-playoff teams (or the teams holding their picks through trades) for the first round only. Teams pick in inverse order of their records in the second round in all succeeding rounds.

Knicks Hit Jackpot in First Lottery:

In 1985, the jackpot of the very first NBA draft lottery was 7-0 Georgetown center Patrick Ewing. All seven teams that didn't make the playoffs had an equal chance of landing the No.1 pick and thereby, Ewing. A lucky bounce of the ping pong balls made the New York Knicks the first draft lottery winner and then-general manager (and Hall of Famer) Dave DeBusschere rose from his seat with a celebratory fist pump.

New York selected Ewing with the first overall pick in the 1985 draft and Ewing went on to play 15 seasons for the Knicks, leading them to the playoffs 13 times.

Top Three Teams

Just Two Rounds

Weighted Lottery System

Under a procedural change adopted by the Board of Governors in October of 1986, the Lottery determines the order of selection for the first three teams only. The remaining non-playoff teams select in inverse order of their regular season records. Therefore, the team with the worst record in the league is assured of picking no worse than fourth, the team with the second-worst record no worse than fifth and so on.

Worst Three Teams Get Clipped:

In 1987, the Clippers finished with a league-worst 12-70 record, but didn't strike it lucky in the lottery and under the new rules, wound up with the fourth pick. The Spurs, who had the fourth-worst record at 28-54 struck gold with Navy center David Robinson at No. 1. Only one of the three worst teams that year wound up with one of the top three picks -- New Jersey, which picked Ohio State guard Dennis Hopson.

In 1988, again only one of the three worst teams wound up with one of the top three picks, but at least this time, the Clippers' lowest winning percentage paid off and L.A. won the draft lottery. The Clippers used the No. 1 pick on Kansas forward Danny Manning.


In the early years of the draft, teams would select players until they ran out of prospects. The 1960 draft went 21 rounds. By 1974, it had stabilized to 10 rounds, which held up until 1985, when the draft was shortened to seven rounds. By agreement with the National Basketball Players' Association, the drafts from 1989 onward have been limited to two rounds, which gives undrafted players the chance to try out for any team.

Draft Selection vs. All-Star Status:

Since the draft went to two rounds 13 years ago, four second-round picks have gone on to become All-Stars: Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek (1992), Pistons forward Dennis Rodman (1992), Lakers guard Cedric Ceballos (1995) and Raptors center Antonio Davis (2001). There have been no undrafted All-Stars in this time.


In a further refinement in October of 1989, the Board of Governors adopted a weighted system beginning with the 1990 NBA Draft Lottery, which included 11 teams due to expansion. The team with the worst record during the regular season received 11 chances at the top pick (out of a total of 66), the second-worst team got 10 chances and the team with the best record among the non-playoff clubs got one chance.

A Little Lottery Magic:

The Magic defied the new lottery odds by winning the No. 1 pick two years in a row. In 1992, the weighted system worked in their favor as they parlayed the second-worst record (21-61) into LSU center Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal helped Orlando make a 20-win improvement and the Magic just missed the playoffs at .500 in 1993. With just one chance out of 66, the Magic scored the No. 1 pick yet again and selected Michigan forward Chris Webber, trading him immediately to the Warriors for the draft rights to the No. 3 pick, Memphis guard Penny Hardaway and three future draft picks.

The Board of Governors approved a modification of the Lottery system in November of 1993 that, effective with the 1994 NBA Draft Lottery, increased the chances of the teams with the worst records in the league winning one of the top three picks in the draft while decreasing the lottery chances of the teams with the best records. The new system increased the chances of the team with the worst record drawing the first pick in the draft from 16.7 percent to 25 percent, while decreasing the chances of the team with the best record among lottery teams from 1.5 percent to 0.5 percent.

Under the system, 14 ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 are placed in a drum. There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14, without regard to their order of selection. Prior to the Lottery, 1,000 combinations are assigned to the Lottery teams based on their order of finish during the regular season. Four balls are drawn to the top to determine a four-digit combination. The team that has been assigned that combination will receive the number one pick. The four balls are placed back in the drum and the process is repeated to determine the number two and three picks. (Note: If the one unassigned combination is drawn, the balls are drawn to the top again.)

In October of 1995, the Board of Governors increased the number of teams participating in the Lottery from 11 to 13 to account for the addition of expansion teams Toronto and Vancouver. Starting in 1996, the team with the worst record in the Lottery continued to have a 25% chance of winning the first pick, teams two through six have slightly fewer chances, team seven has the same number of chances and teams eight through 12 have slightly more chances. The number of chances for team 13 did not change.