2014 NBA Draft: How Does The Lottery Work?

By Carlton Chin
NBA Lottery
Derick Hingle – USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NBA regular season is winding down with the playoffs starting on Apr. 19.  Playoff teams are positioning for the postseason while non-playoff teams are interested in their lottery chances for the NBA Draft. In the NBA, 16 teams make the playoffs while the remaining 14 teams have a chance to win the No. 1 draft pick.

The lottery for the 2014 NBA Draft is on May 20, 2014 and the actual draft is on June 26, 2014. The teams with the worst records have the best odds of winning the top overall pick. Many fans know that the probability of the worst team in the league winning the first pick is 25 percent. The odds for the other 14 teams decline to 0.5 percent,  but do you know how the lottery actually works?

Some people may think that either a hundred or a thousand balls are placed in a lottery machine and picks are drawn. However, this is definitely not the case. Just 14 balls are placed in the machine, with four balls being selected to determine the winner of the first draft pick.

Here’s how it works. Four of the 14 balls are selected.  The order does not matter, so that there are 1,001 combinations of these four balls being selected.  For mathematicians out there, this is:

1,001 = (14 * 13 * 12 * 11 ) divided by (4! or 4 * 3* 2 *1) or

1,001 = 24,024 / 24

If the combination of 11, 12, 13 and 14 is picked, then that selection is discarded, leaving us with one thousand combinations. Each team is ranked in reverse order of their record and assigned a certain number of combinations, depending on their record.

The worst team in the NBA receives 250 of the 1,000 combinations for the 25 percent chance of receiving the top draft pick. The second worst team has a 19.9 percent chance, while the best of the non-playoff teams has a 0.5 percent chance. If teams have the same record, they receive the average of their position’s number of combinations.  

This process is repeated for the second and third draft pick. If the same team wins, that combination is discarded and the process is repeated. After the top three picks, the remainder of the 14 picks are selected in reverse order of the team’s record.

Carlton Chin is a portfolio manager, quant researcher, and sports analysis contributor at Rant Sports. Please follow him on Twitter @QuantFacts, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your Google network.

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