NBA Draft Lottery 2016: Explaining the Rules

Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver
Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver /

The NBA Draft Lottery is on Tuesday, and the rules can be confusing. Here’s a rundown on how the whole system works.

The NBA Draft Lottery is nearly here. The Draft Lottery will take place on Tuesday, May 16th, at 8:00 PM before the tip-off of the Eastern Conference Finals game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors.

This night could mean more to the Philadelphia 76ers, though, who have been long eliminated from playoff contention.

Sixers fans have been keeping up with lottery news for a long time, but still, some of the rules and information about how the whole lottery drawing works can be confusing. Here’s a rundown of how the process is carried out.

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Who is involved?

This is slightly obvious, but all teams that missed the playoffs this season are eligible for the draft lottery. Each team has a set amount of odds — we’ll discuss those later — at getting the top overall pick. Even the team with the best record among teams that missed the playoffs this year (this year that would be the Chicago Bulls) have a chance at the top pick.

Before the broadcast

Before the broadcast airs is when the real, nitty-gritty details of the NBA Draft Lottery take place. Prior to any drawings, all lottery teams are assigned a certain number of four digit combinations. The team with the worst overall record has the most combinations, the second worst has the second most, and so on. There are 1,001 possible combinations, but the combo 11-12-13-14 is omitted and not given to any NBA team, making it a round 1,000 possible outcomes.

14 numbered table-tennis balls are placed into a regulation lottery machine, and four balls are selected. The team that owns this four digit combination wins the lottery. The balls are reloaded, and another four-ball drawing occurs. The team that wins this — given that it’s not a combination the team that won the first overall pick owns — gets the second pick. The process is repeated one more time for the third overall pick.

If 11-12-13-14 is drawn, it is omitted and another drawing takes place.

The remaining 11 teams are sorted by record.

The odds

Each team is assigned a certain amount of combinations. The top team gets 250, the second gets 199, the third gets 156, and it goes down from there. So the team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of winning the top pick with their own combinations.

During the broadcast

What we see during the broadcast is simply a revealing of what occurred with the lottery machine behind closed doors. We unfortunately can not confirm with our own eyes that the system is not rigged — there are plenty of conspiracies out there about that — although team representatives are present for the drawing that is not aired on TV.

The broadcast is actually kind of boring, but exciting for fans who are really excited about a possible top pick.

Last year’s broadcast was known for cutting to players and coaches who looked less than enthused to be present at the lottery.

The NBA commissioner — last year it was deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, this year, for the first time, it will be Adam Silver — will count down the pick results from 14. They usually pause for commercial at the top three picks for dramatic effect. This is where things finally pick up and get exciting. This makes sense, given that the top three picks are the only ones directly determined by lottery balls.

A complicated system

The system is a bit complicated, and the NBA does a lot with this system to prevent teams from tanking and guaranteeing that they get the top overall pick. Hopefully this cleared up some of the confusion that comes along with the complicated system.