The Lottery: History, Odds, And Luck Collide

Watch on ESPN Tuesday, May 20, at 8pm (EST)
by Max Rappaport Writer

As far as franchise-altering moments go, few are as abrupt as the NBA Draft Lottery.

Representatives from 14 teams enter a room praying that their franchise will be one of three that sees its pick catapult into the top of the draft. Within minutes, the process is complete and fate has run its course. But for some teams, hope and data intersect.

Luckily, the Sixers are one of those teams.

Philadelphia enters Tuesday night’s lottery with the second-best odds of receiving a top-three pick. It’s their highest lottery seeding since 1996, a year in which they also entered the lottery seeded #2. That year, they were awarded the top pick via the lottery and used it to select Allen Iverson.

But that singular occurance isn’t the only bit of history on their side. In 12 lottery appearances since 1990, the Sixers have never seen their pick fall; their seeding has improved in five of those instances and has remained stagnant seven times. 

But as we know, history will have no effect on Tuesday’s outcome. For an idea of what might happen, we must turn solely to statistics:  

Sixers' Odds For Picks #1-5

#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
19.9% 18.8% 17.1% 31.9% 12.3%


Because only the first three selections in the draft are determined via the lottery (the remaining picks are based upon inverse regular season record), the Sixers can fall no lower than fifth overall; this would happen if each of the top-three picks were awarded to teams slotted below Philadelphia. Fortunately, the likelihood of that happening, as the chart above indicates, is only 12.4%. 

In addition to their own first-round pick, the Sixers possess New Orleans’ first-rounder. There is one caveat regarding that pick, though: it’s top-five protected. For the purpose of simplicity, we can say that Philadelphia will receive the pick unless the Pelicans are awarded a top-three pick by virtue of Tuesday’s lottery. Again, the odds are in the Sixers’ favor, as the likelihood of New Orleans jumping into the top three is just 4.0%. 

Confused? You’re not alone. Here are 1,500 words explaining the complicated lottery process and the Sixers’ role in it.


Representing the Sixers at the podium Tuesday night will be Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who spent 11 years with the franchise (1976-87) and helped deliver an NBA Championship to the city of Philadelphia in 1983.

He will be aided by a special charm given to him by longtime Sixers fan Jake Spencer, who offered up a lucky piece of the glass backboard shattered by Erving’s former teammate, Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins, during a game at the Spectrum on December 5, 1979.

But Erving won’t be present for the actual drawing of the ping pong balls that will determine the order of this year’s draft. In fact, none of us will see that. The lottery itself is conducted privately in the presence of team and league officials, but the results are unveiled during a nationally televised broadcast on ESPN. Tune in from 8:00-8:30pm (EST) to see where the Sixers will pick in next month’s draft.