The History of the NBA Draft Lottery

by Cody Cunningham

The Phoenix Suns currently hold the highest odds for the first overall pick. The team has a 25 percent chance of obtaining the first pick and a 64.2 percent chance to land in the top three. Out of the 1,001 possible combinations to be chosen in the lottery, the Suns are hoping one of their 250 chances are selected.

HISTORY OF THE LOTTERY:

Prior to 1985, the NBA draft order was determined by territorial picks and coin flips. The method was eventually changed due to the speculation that teams were purposely losing in order to secure the first pick.

The original lottery system that was implemented allowed for all teams that missed the playoffs to have an equal chance at the first overall pick. Every team that missed the playoffs had an envelope and the first envelope selected received the first pick. From there the second envelope chosen would receive the second pick. This would continue until all non-playoff teams received their spot in the draft.

The lottery system was updated in 1987 to only allow the first three picks to be determined while the rest of the teams would hold in place. Once the three envelopes were drawn, the other teams would be organized by win-loss record.

In 1990, the league gave a higher percentage to the team who finished with the worst win-loss record. There were 66 different outcomes in the lottery and the team with the worst record had a 16.67 percent (11 chances) at the first pick.

HOW THE CURRENT SYSTEM WORKS:

The current system was implemented in October 1993. Fourteen ping pong balls are numbered 1 through 14. There is a four-number combination randomly selected from the lottery machine. The order that the numbers are drawn, does not matter. Each team participating in the lottery is assigned specific combination outcomes. There are a total of 1,001 combinations (although if 11-12-13-14 is drawn, it is ignored as it is the only combination not assigned to any team). They continue this process to determine the second and third pick as well. 

HISTORY OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM:

1994 – Bucks – 2nd Worst Record (16.3%) - Glenn Robinson

1995 – Warriors – 5th Worst Record (9.4%) - Joe Smith

1996 – 76ers – 2nd Worst Record (33.73% due to expansions) – Allen Iverson

1997 – Spurs – 3rd Worst Record (21.6%) - Tim Duncan

1998 – Clippers – 3rd Worst Record (22.56%) - Michael Olowokandi

1999 – Bulls – 3rd Worst Record (15.7%) - Elton Brand

2000 – Nets – 7th Worst Record (4.4%) - Kenyon Martin

2001 – Wizards – 3rd Worst Record (15.7%) - Kwame Brown

2002 – Rockets – 5th Worst Record (8.9%) - Yao Ming

2003 – Cavaliers – Tied Worst Record (22.5%) - LeBron James

2004 – Magic – Worst Record (25%) – Dwight Howard

2005 – Bucks – 6th Worst Record (6.3%) – Andrew Bogut

2006 – Raptors – 5th Worst Record (8.8%) – Andrea Bargnani

2007 – Trail Blazers – 6th Worst Record (5.3%) – Greg Oden

2008 – Bulls – 9th Worst Record (1.7%) – Derrick Rose

2009 – Clippers – 2nd Worst Record (17.7%) – Blake Griffin

2010 – Wizards – 5th Worst Record (10.3%) – John Wall

2011 – Clippers – 8th Worst Record (2.8%) – Kyrie Irving

2012 – Hornets – Tied 3rd Worst Record (13.7%) – Anthony Davis

2013 – Cavaliers – 3rd Worst Record (15.6%) – Anthony Bennett

2014 – Cavaliers – 9th Worst Record (1.7%) – Andrew Wiggins

2015 – Timberwolves – Worst Record (25%) – Karl-Anthony Towns

2016 – 76ers – Worst Record (25%) – Ben Simmons

2017 – Nets – Worst Record (25%) – Markelle Fultz

Despite the actual odds over the past 24 years, the percentages of each slotted position to receive the first overall pick have broken down as such:

Best Odds: 20.8% (5 times)

Second: 12.5% (3 times)

Third: 25% (6 times)

Fourth: 0%

Fifth: 16.6% (4 times)

Sixth: 8.3% (2 times)

Seventh: 4.1% (1 time)

Eighth: 4.1% (1 time)

Ninth: 8.3% (2 times)

Tenth: 0%

Eleventh: 0%

Twelfth: 0%

Thirteenth: 0%

Fourteenth: 0%

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