The NBA draft lottery has offered teams a quick path from bad to good for nearly four decades. The stakes this year are unusually high with French phenom Victor Wembanyama the top prospect.
The lottery format has undergone a few changes since the New York Knicks won the first one in 1985, when there were seven teams.
There are twice as many lottery teams now, all hoping, like the Knicks did when they drafted Patrick Ewing, to have luck strike at the right time and land the player who can turn around a franchise.
The Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and Spurs all have a 14% chance of getting him, but there will be 14 teams at the McCormick Place Convention Center that have hopes.
WHEN IS THE NBA DRAFT LOTTERY?
The league will hold this year’s lottery Tuesday night in Chicago, with the winner getting the No. 1 pick and the chance to draft Victor Wembanyama. He is considered the best prospect in years — perhaps since LeBron James went No. 1 20 years ago. The lottery telecast begins at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN and during the televised portion, Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum opens envelopes that reveal the draft order. Neither he nor any of the representatives on stage will know the results until then.
WILL WEMBANYAMA BE AT THE LOTTERY?
The most coveted prospect in this year’s draft will not be there. Wembanyama plays his last regular-season game for his pro team in France on Tuesday, a few hours before the lottery.
All the teams that missed the postseason are in the Wembanyama Sweepstakes. In addition to Houston, Detroit, and San Antonio, the list includes Charlotte, Portland, Orlando, Indiana, Washington, Utah, Dallas, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Toronto and New Orleans.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE PING-PONG BALLS?
Fourteen ping-pong balls numbered 1 to 14 are placed in a machine and the teams are assigned various four-number combinations. The balls are mixed for 20 seconds before the first one is drawn. The remaining balls are mixed again before another is drawn, and that happens twice more until four have been removed.
The team with that combination of numbers gets the No. 1 pick. The balls are then returned to the machine and the process is repeated for the Nos. 2-4 picks.
Teams have representatives in the lottery room where the actual drawing takes place and another on the podium for the televised announcement. Representatives in the lottery room can observe the process but can’t the results. Everyone in the room has to turn over their cell phones and any other forms of communication when they enter.
WHY DOESN’T THE WORST TEAM HAVE THE BEST ODDS TO WIN?
The short answer is to avoid any incentive for a team to finish last.
The worst team did have the best odds until a few years ago with a 25% chance of winning the No. 1 pick from 1994-2018. Now the teams with the three worst records all have a 14% chance.
In the first years of the lottery from 1985-89, every team had the same odds. But the team with the worst record got the top pick only once and that led the league to implementing a weighted system. The current system also does not guarantee the worst teams get one of the top four picks.
The Pistons, with the worst record, can have no worse than the No. 5 pick. Houston could end up sixth and San Antonio could fall as far as No. 7. Picks No. 5-14 go in the inverse order of the teams’ finish in the standings.
WHY DO THE ROCKETS GET A BETTER SCENARIO THAN THE SPURS?
The NBA held tiebreakers on April 17 to determine draft order for teams who finished with the same records. Houston won that tiebreaker against San Antonio for the No. 2 spot after both finished 22-60. Maybe it was a sign this is Houston’s year. The Rockets seem due for lottery luck. Houston finished with the NBA’s worst record the previous two seasons but fell to the No. 2 pick in 2021 and No. 3 in 2022.
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