Mike Gallagher

Offseason Beat

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NBA Draft Lottery Preview

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Basketball, luck and math have overlapped a lot these days. It feels like every day we find something new tying together math and hoops even on the basketball operations side of things. There’s always a new stat every year to help show how a player is performing and I can’t begin to tell you how much I can’t stand when people use field goal percentage to describe a player’s scoring efficiency, especially when we have more complex calculations like true shooting percentage to factor in free throws and the all-important 3-pointer. Sure, we always get caught up in the old-school guys taking shots at analytics and math-based analysis, but is too much information a bad thing?


The basketball side of things takes a back seat on Tuesday when the NBA Draft Lottery takes place. If you’re not too familiar with it, NBA representatives will select the top three picks of the NBA Draft based on how poorly a team performed in the previous season. In other words, once the lottery balls have been drawn to decide the top three, everyone just gets adjusted accordingly based on the original odds.


Here are the odds for each team for the top pick and to land in the top three (any protections or pick swaps are noted with an * and will be detailed below).

# Team Top 3 No. 1
1 Boston Celtics (via Nets) 64.3 25.0
2 Phoenix Suns 55.8 19.9
3 Los Angeles Lakers* 46.9 15.6
4 Philadelphia 76ers 37.8 11.9
5 Orlando Magic 29.1 8.8
6 Minnesota Timberwolves 18.3 5.3
7 New York Knicks 18.3 5.3
8 Sacramento Kings* 9.9 2.8
9 Dallas Mavs 6.1 1.7
10 Sacramento Kings (via Pelicans)* 4.0 1.1
11 Charlotte Hornets 2.9 0.8
12 Detroit Pistons 2.5 0.7
13 Denver Nuggets 2.2 0.6
14 Miami Heat 1.8 0.5

Protection notes from trades


The Celtics have a pick swap with the Nets for their No. 1 pick — Nets will pick 27th. This is from the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade. Boston is going to pick at worst fourth from this heist of a trade with the Nets. Yeah, not good.


The Lakers pick is going to be top-three protected. This is conveyed from the Suns-Bucks-76ers trade with Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Knight; the Suns got that pick from the Lakers in the Steve Nash deal. As you can see above, the Lakers only have a 46.9 percent chance to keep this pick. Lord Sam Hinkie Part 1.


The 76ers could pick swap with the Kings. This is from the salary dump of Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson. Basically, if the Kings do land a top-three pick and the 76ers do not, the 76ers would opt to swap. The 76ers will also get a top-10 protected 2018 first from the Kings, but then it is unprotected in 2019. Lord Hinkie Part 2.


The Pelicans pick is top-three protected from the Kings, so there’s only a 4.0 percent chance the Pels can keep that one. This is from the Buddy Hield trade.


Rooting for Chaos


If you’re like the Joker from The Dark Knight and you’re an agent of chaos, there’s a scenario you can root for. The first thing you’d have to root for of course is the Lakers not keeping their pick. This comes after Magic Johnson said the Lakers will keep their pick and told that to coach Luke Walton. RIGGED! This is the easiest part of the chaos to occur and it’s over a 50 percent chance to happen.


The Kings haven’t fared well in the draft and maybe it’s time to have some luck on their side. However, if you like madness, there’s a very small chance they get a really bad beat here. If the Kings do win the lottery with a top pick, that would go to Philly — it would also go to Philly if they go top three and Philly doesn’t. What’s more, there’s that top-three protected Pelicans pick. That means if both the Kings lottery spot and the Pelicans fall in the top three while the 76ers aren’t in the top three to force a pick swap, the Kings could only get one No. 6-7 pick despite having the No. 8 and 10 spots in the lotto — that would sting a ton if they won the lottery. Of course, if the Pelicans land in the top three and the Kings and 76ers do not, the Kings would only come away with No. 9-11.


Trust The Process


You can also root for Sam Hinkie and The Process. Most of the stuff has been ironed out above, but you could see the 76ers wind up with the No. 1 and 4 picks. Of course, it’s very unlikely both things happen, but the 76ers have a great chance to either pick top three or have two top-six picks — it’s just under 60 percent for either to happen. TTP.


Laker Land

Most of the stuff on the Lakers is already outlined above. If you're rooting for the Lakers to keep their pick, you'll want everything to hold to form as the picks are announced in inverse order. If teams from 4-14 are moving up, that means one of those top-three picks is taken.


The unlikely 2016 lottery


Last May, the NBA Draft Lottery went in order with the 76ers holding the No. 1 spot, the Lakers holding No. 2 and the Celtics holding No. 3 (via Nets). It’s the first time in the history of the draft lottery that this has happened. Based on the odds above, the chance that all three of those happening in order is less than two percent. Basically, we’ll probably never see that happen again in our lives.


Oh and shoutout to Dikembe Mutombo aka Lottostradamus for calling the 76ers winning the lotto last year.


By the way, the No. 1 lottery position has won the just six times since 1985. Of course, this doesn’t change anything about the top pick having a 25 percent chance to win. Shout out to my stats teachers.


The unlikely winners


It’s not too crazy that one of the low-chance teams get the pick. While the 2016 and 2015 lotteries both resulted in the top team getting it, it's been all over the place. Here’s a quick rundown of the teams with odds lower than 15 percent to land the top pick since 2000. 

Team  Chance  Player 
2014 Cleveland Cavs 1.7%  Andrew Wiggins 
2012 New Orleans Hornets 13.7% Anthony Davis 
2011 Clippers (traded to Cavs)  2.8% Kyrie Irving 
2010 Washington Wizards  10.3% John Wall 
2008 Chicago Bulls  1.7%  Derrick Rose 
2007 Portland Trail Blazers 5.3%  Greg Oden 
2006 Toronto Raptors  8.8%  Andrea Bargnani 
2005 Milwaukee Bucks  6.3%  Andrew Bogut 
2002 Houston Rockets 8.9%  Yao Ming 
2000 New Jersey Nets 4.4%  Kenyon Martin 

See! Miracles happen every day! OK, maybe not every day, but that’s more than half the time (10-of-17) that a team with under 15 percent chance hit it big with a top lottery spot.


By the way, there are some busts in there, huh? Andrea “Take That, Masai” Bargnani and Greg Oden are on there. Also, Kwame Brown just missed the 15 percent cut with a 15.7 percent chance for the Wizards in 2001.


If you wanna go super extreme on luck, teams with less than three percent chance have won the lottery four times. Yes, you Pistons, Nuggets and Heat fans have a reason to watch. If the Nuggets win the lotto, that's just not fair. Can I say I'm already thrilled to see third-year Nikola Jokic?




I just want to shout out Tankathon.com. On this site, you can run some lottery simulations as many times as you want and it’ll convey the pick swaps and all the protections mentioned above. Hey, let’s do one right now!

KANGZ! By the way, I swear this was the first simulation I ran after deciding to do so. None of the top-three spots held, so a lot of teams moved down. This would be horrible for the Kings while the 76ers would be chillin’. TTP. Of course, the Magic would finally have some good luck here after they had arguably the biggest goofs of the year when they showed their board when they showed Patricio Garino signing his deal.



Rotoworld will be doing all sorts of talk about the draft as the season goes along. Teams are playing their young players more, so we’ll likely be even more hardcore this summer to focus on the young guys. I’m already pumped for Summer League.


Enjoy the lotto! 

Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.

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