NBA Draft Lottery: How it works and where the Bulls stand

The Chicago Bulls’ 2022-23 season came to a disappointing end in mid-April with a loss to the Miami Heat in the play-in tournament.

Although that defeat fell short of the team’s playoff goals, there are still important basketball matters to attend to this May. Mainly, the NBA Draft Lottery, which will be held on May 16.

This year’s lottery has higher stakes for the Bulls than your typical non-playoff team. As part of the franchise’s trade for Nikola Vučević in February of 2021, the Bulls owe the Orlando Magic their 2023 first-round pick if said pick falls outside of the top four of the draft order — which, as of now, is overwhelmingly likely.

But that is why the lottery balls are drawn. Here is everything you need to know ahead of that seminal night, in FAQ format:

Uh, lottery balls? How does this whole process work again?

A good — and relatively complex — question to get us started.

The NBA Draft Lottery is exactly what it says it is: a lottery. The contestants are the 14 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs in a given season.

And the way it works? 

First, 14 lottery balls numbered 1-14 are placed into a lottery machine, with each of the 14 eligible teams assigned a set amount of four-number combinations.

Four balls are then withdrawn from said machine four times, producing four different four-number combinations. Whichever teams own the combinations that are produced are assigned the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 picks, respectively, in the draft.

After the top four is etched in stone, pick Nos. 5-14 are assigned to the remaining teams based on the inverse of your regular season record. This means the only way a team can rise above its pre-lottery slot is if it jumps into the top four, and, if a team does not rise into the top four, the lowest they can fall is four spots below their pre-lottery slot.

What chance does each team have of winning the lottery?

But, of course, all lottery teams are not created equal. The worse your regular season record, the more combinations you receive.

Of the 1,001 possible four-number combinations that the lottery balls produce, here is how each team’s chances of landing the No. 1 overall pick break down by team rank (with No. 1 representing the team with the NBA’s worst record):

  1. Team 1: 14% (140 combinations)
  2. Team 2: 14% (140 combinations)
  3. Team 3: 14% (140 combinations)
  4. Team 4: 12.5% (125 combinations)
  5. Team 5: 10.5% (105 combinations)
  6. Team 6: 9.0% (90 combinations)
  7. Team 7: 7.5% (75 combinations)
  8. Team 8: 6.0% (60 combinations)
  9. Team 9: 4.5% (45 combinations)
  10. Team 10: 3.0% (30 combinations)
  11. Team 11: 2.0% (20 combinations)
  12. Team 12: 1.5% (15 combinations)
  13. Team 13: 1.0% (10 combinations)
  14. Team 14: 0.5% (5 combinations)

Each team’s chances of landing a top-four pick are significantly higher than the No. 1 pick, as they have four draws to see one of their four-number combinations produced.

What are the Bulls’ chances of winning the lottery? Or at least landing in the top four?

The Bulls finished the regular season tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA’s 11th-worst record (40-42), so they will split the combined 3.5% chance (35 combinations) of landing the No. 1 pick. 

But because owning 17.5 four-number combinations would be impossible, the league coin-flipped last month to break the tie and determine which team would have 18 combinations and which would have 17. The Bulls won, so they have a 1.8% chance of landing the top pick in the draft and an 8.5% chance of rising into the top four.

Here is how the other lottery teams’ chances stack up:

2023 NBA Draft Lottery Order

TeamNo. 1 Pick ChanceTop-4 Pick Chance
Detroit Pistons14%52.1%
Houston Rockets14%52.1%
San Antonio Spurs14%52.1%
Charlotte Hornets12.5%48.1%
Portland Trail Blazers10.5%42.1%
Orlando Magic9%37.2%
Indiana Pacers6.8%29.4%
Washington Wizards6.7%29%
Utah Jazz4.5%20.3%
Dallas Mavericks3%13.9%
Chicago Bulls1.8%8.5%
Oklahoma City Thunder1.7%8%
Toronto Raptors1%4.8%
New Orleans Pelicans0.5%2.4%

How often do teams actually jump up in the lottery?

The NBA actually tweaked its lottery structure before the 2019 draft to smooth the probabilities a bit more evenly throughout the 14 contestants.

Before that draft, for example, the league used to only draw for the top three picks instead of four. And the team with the worst regular season record had a 25% chance of landing the top pick instead of an even 14% for each of the bottom three.

Such change was made to disincentivize intentionally jockeying for better draft lottery position — and has produced some interesting results thus far.

Of the 16 teams that have picked in the top four in the four drafts since the above changes were implemented, eight have come from outside the top four of the pre-lottery order. One of those eight even won the No. 1 pick (the Pelicans, who, with the league’s seventh-worst record, cashed in on a 6% chance in 2019).

YearTeamLottery SlotDraft PickTop-4 Chance

The good news for the Bulls is anything is possible. Each year since the lottery system overhaul, at least one team from outside the top four has jumped — three in 2019, two in 2020 and 2021, and one in 2022.

The bad news is only once has a team jumped from a lottery slot as low as the Bulls’ 11th-place standing: the Lakers in 2019.

What is the Bulls’ history of jumping in the lottery?

The Bulls have jumped in the lottery three times in franchise history and once in the four years since the system tweaks were made.

The first was in 1999, when they rose from third pre-lottery to the No. 1 pick and selected Elton Brand. The third, as noted in the chart above, was in 2020, when they leapt from seventh to fourth and plucked Patrick Williams.

But, if you believe in miracles, the second is the most compelling relative to their chances this year. Fifteen years ago, sitting ninth in the 2008 lottery order with a 1.7% chance of nabbing the top overall pick, the Bulls vaulted all the way to No. 1 and drafted Derrick Rose.

So, yes, even if it’s not a good one, we’re telling you there is a chance that another generational talent — Victor Wembenyama? — ends up in Bulls threads come June.