Four More-Likely-Than-Not NBA Draft Lottery Outcomes

As we noted on Monday when we passed along the full breakdown of the odds for each team in this year’s NBA draft lottery, the league has adjusted its format for 2019 and beyond, smoothing out the odds and making four picks – instead of three – available in the lottery.

While it’s simple enough to read the numbers in a chart and observe differences from previous years, it’s a little trickier to pin down exactly how those new odds may impact the results we see on lottery night in two weeks. So, to help create a clearer sense of what sort of results we should prepare for on Tuesday, May 14, we’re going to focus on four different scenarios today.

The four scenarios listed below are more likely than not to occur. That doesn’t mean that they’ll all happen, or that any of them will happen, for that matter. But the odds are at least slightly in favor of them happening, which wouldn’t necessarily have been the case in previous years.

Let’s dive in…

1. The No. 1 overall pick is more likely to go to a team in the 5-14 range (45.5%) than to the Knicks, Cavaliers, or Suns (42%).

Under the NBA’s old lottery format, the odds heavily favored the league’s very worst teams — the top three teams in the lottery standings combined for a 60.5% chance at the No. 1 overall pick, while the teams in the 5-14 range had a combined 27.6% chance at that top selection.

The new format has made tanking to the bottom of the NBA standings a less favorable proposition. The system essentially took 185 ping-pong ball combinations (out of 1,001) from those top three lottery teams and re-assigned them to rest of the clubs behind them in the lottery.

In other words, it’s not at all safe to assume that Zion Williamson will end up on one of the league’s very worst teams.

2. The Knicks are more likely to pick No. 5 overall (47.9%) than in the top three (40.1%).

No team benefits less from the league’s adjusted lottery format than the Knicks, who in past years would’ve had a 25% chance at the first overall pick, a 64.3% chance to be in the top three, and a 0% chance of falling below No. 4.

Now, the Knicks are significantly more likely to finish out of the top three altogether (59.9%), despite their league-worst 17-65 record. In a draft that’s considered fairly top-heavy, that could be trouble for New York — the team may end up deciding between the likes of Darius Garland, De’Andre Hunter, and Jarrett Culver rather than getting a shot at Williamson, Ja Morant, or R.J. Barrett.

3. The Bulls are more likely to pick No. 6 overall (25.7%) than in the top two (24.7%).

The Bulls‘ odds of securing a top-two pick as the No. 4 seed in the lottery are technically a tiny bit higher this year than they would’ve been in the old format. That’s the good news.

The bad news? Because four picks are decided by the lottery now instead of just three, Chicago is far more likely to move out of the top five altogether. In the old format, the Bulls’ odds of picking outside of the top five would have been 17.2%. Those odds are now at 44.7%.

4. The Grizzlies’ pick is more likely to be sent to the Celtics (42.6%) than to be No. 8 overall (31.2%).

When the Grizzlies finished second in a lottery tiebreaker conducted at the end of the regular season, it locked them into the No. 8 spot in the lottery standings, which didn’t look like great news for the franchise.

After all, Memphis’ 2019 first-round pick was traded to Boston with top-eight protection. If it stays in the top eight, the Grizzlies keep it, but they’d actually prefer to have it convey to the Celtics this season to avoid the risk of sending an even more favorable pick to the C’s in a future draft.

The good news for the Grizzlies is that the absolute worst-case scenario – the pick staying at No. 8 and remaining with Memphis – isn’t nearly as likely as it would’ve been in previous years. Because the smoothed-out odds make a lottery shakeup more likely, there’s a decent chance the pick slips to No. 9 or lower (42.6%) or that it jumps into the top four (26.2%). Either of those outcomes would be just fine with the Grizzlies.

In previous years, the odds of the Memphis pick jumping into the top three (or four) would’ve been just 10%. The odds of it remaining at No. 8 would’ve been upwards of 70%.

Information from was used in the creation of this post.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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12 thoughts on “Four More-Likely-Than-Not NBA Draft Lottery Outcomes

  1. thomps07

    Haha. Why does the NBA want the team in the biggest market to suck and suffer??

    • Michael Chaney

      The Knicks have sucked and suffered for years. The point of the change is to reduce the incentive that teams have to tank, and this just happened to be the year that the Knicks were even worse than usual.

      Also, the changes were made before the season. It’s not the league’s fault that the Knicks are still bad.

  2. Yep it is

    Ummm maybe because they gave them Patrick Ewing and they never won with him. Now the team is a long time train wreck and the owner is an embarrassment ?

      • Natergater77

        Yep. At least when they got Ewing the ownership built a yearly competitor around him.

        Say miracles of miracles happens and Knick’s gets Zion, Kyrie and Durant. Dolan will get 1 season then probably trade Kyrie for Broadway musical tickets, send Zion to Dallas to get back Hardaway and draft promises and have a public media war with Durant and make sure the Knocks stay a joke.

        Dolan is the new Donald Sterling

    • They never won because of one guy…MJ. And when they did make it to the finals with Ewing, Hakeem was in the way.

  3. x%sure

    The pingpongfest could get big TV ratings this year, due to all the teams that could get top pick.

    All that advocacy the Knicks heard to tank hard– so as to not fall out of the top 5– was so silly. There is not much difference in potential after pick 3. Thats good news for teams drafting in the middle or end, but not for the #5 picker. At a certain point in the season, there was no point in losing for the worst teams… The lottery allotment was mostly set.

    Some middling teams started tanking, lured by the possibility of stealing a top pick.
    The Knicks could really fall on their face.

  4. ChiSoxCity

    The new draft system just makes its easier for the NBA to rig the results. There are only 2 or 3 teams worth watching, and they plan to keep it that way for a long time. Don’t watch it.

  5. The new system was designed to discourage true “tanking” of the type the NBA invented; basically, the FO in a pre-planned, or early planned, manner leaves the roster unable to complete.

    It’s not designed to prevent what happens in every sport. Bad teams (through the first part of the season) lose a lot late in the season (been going on in every professional sport since the start); the FO doesn’t make win now moves and focuses on getting their young players PT at the expense of better veteran players, players that lose incentive to play consistently hard and the HC (usually the one who wants to win the most) has almost no leverage to keep his foot on the accountability pedal (all of this happening at the time that playoff teams and those with a chance are stepping up their games). Nothing can (or should) stop this. Bad teams out of the playoff picture will (and should) conserve resources when they might matter and focus on the future.

    Based on that, I’m interested to see how the new system works. The completely unweighted system didn’t work (1985-1989) any better than the highly weighted one. A 1/8th or 1/9th chance at each top 8-9 picks trumped a first round loss to the Celtics or Lakers. Maybe the current one strikes the right balance.

    • ChiSoxCity

      Since when are bad teams able to make “win now” moves in the NBA? The player that matter will only agree to sign with two, maybe three teams in the league. They’ve stifled the ability of front offices to spend money effectively on free agents. This new draft system will only ensure that 3/4s of the league get stuck with “slop” rosters, and no chance to ever climb out of limbo via the draft. Every major sport is just a racket for the casinos and mob now.

  6. Collectively, the points made in the article are correct, however on an individual per team basis, the worst three still have the best odds. Just depends on how you look at it.

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