How New Lottery Odds Will Affect NBA’s Race To The Bottom

The 2018/19 NBA season is the first league year that will use the Association’s new odds for the draft lottery. Up until 2018, the top three spots in the draft were determined by the lottery, with the NBA’s worst team receiving a 25% shot at the No. 1 pick and a 64.3% chance of a top-three pick.

That will no longer be the case in 2019, as the league has tweaked its lottery system to distribute the odds of a top pick a little more evenly throughout the NBA’s bottom 14 teams.

The top four spots in the draft will now be set by the lottery, which means the worst team could pick as low as No. 5. Additionally, that team now only has a 14% shot at the No. 1 overall selection, and a 40.1% chance at a top-three pick.

Here’s a full breakdown of how the lottery odds have changed. The new odds are indicated first, followed by the previous odds in parentheses.

Team No. 1 pick (%)
Top-3 pick (%)
Team 1 14.0 (25.0) 40.1 (64.3)
Team 2 14.0 (19.9) 40.1 (55.8)
Team 3 14.0 (15.6) 40.1 (46.9)
Team 4 12.5 (11.9) 36.6 (37.8)
Team 5 10.5 (8.8) 31.6 (29.2)
Team 6 9.0 (6.3) 27.6 (21.5)
Team 7 7.5 (4.3) 23.4 (15.0)
Team 8 6.0 (2.8) 19.0 (10.0)
Team 9 4.5 (1.7) 14.5 (6.1)
Team 10 3.0 (1.1) 9.9 (4.0)
Team 11 2.0 (0.8) 6.6 (2.9)
Team 12 1.5 (0.7) 5.1 (2.5)
Team 13 1.0 (0.6) 3.3 (2.0)
Team 14 0.5 (0.5) 1.7 (1.8)

The new system doesn’t represent a total overhaul of the draft lottery, but the changes should still have a major impact on the lottery results going forward. The league’s three worst teams will all have equal odds at the No. 1 pick and a top-three pick, reducing the incentive to finish at the very bottom of the NBA standings.

The likelihood of a team in the 6-14 range jumping up to snag the top pick has been increased significantly as well. There’s now a 35% chance that one of those clubs will pick first overall — under the previous system, those odds were just 18.8%.

So what will the practical effects of these changes look like? Well, for one, we shouldn’t be quite as invested in the very bottom of the NBA standings. For instance, if the Suns, Cavaliers, and Hawks end up in a three-team race for the league’s worst record, it doesn’t really matter which team is the worst of the worst — they’d all end up with the exact same lottery odds.

Meanwhile, teams with picks in the middle of the lottery will have a better chance to make a leap in the draft order. For example, Sixers and Celtics fans may be discouraged by the Kings‘ hot start, since Sacramento’s pick will go to Philadelphia (if it’s No. 1) or Boston (if it’s No. 2 or lower). However, the revamped lottery odds could make that pick a little more interesting even if the Kings keep playing well.

Let’s say the Kings finish eighth in the lottery order. In past seasons, that pick would have had a 2.8% chance of landing at No. 1 and a 10% chance of jumping into the top three. This year, the odds of becoming the first overall selection would increase to 6%. It would also have a 19% chance of being a top-three pick, and a 26.2% of landing in the top four. It’s still a long shot to improve, but those odds aren’t nearly as long.

We’ll have to wait until later in the season to get a better sense of how the new lottery odds may impact situational tanking around the league. Whatever happens though, it looks like lottery night should be more interesting than ever going forward, with one extra top pick up for grabs and a shake-up in the draft order more likely than ever.

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