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Explaining the NBA Draft Lottery

The Trail Blazers are officially in. Here’s how it works.

2018 NBA Draft Lottery Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

With a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night, the Portland Trail Blazers were officially eliminated from the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Spun more positively, Portland qualified for the NBA Lottery drawing for the first time since 2013. The lottery rules have changed since then, so here’s a primer on how it works.

The 2022 NBA Draft Lottery drawing will happen on Tuesday, May 17th. The Blazers and 13 other NBA teams will participate. Those will be the 14 teams who do not make the playoffs.

Unlike in most previous years, the lottery will not necessarily consist of the 14 teams with the worst records. If a 9th or 10th seed from either conference gets into the playoffs via the Play-In Tournament, the team they supplanted—the team formerly in the 7th or 8th spot, now bumped out—will participate in the lottery drawing.

In other words, the Play-In Tournament doesn’t affect the number of teams in the lottery...that’s still the 14 non-playoffs teams. It only affects who those teams might be.

This explains why the Blazers will be keen to see the New Orleans Pelicans miss the playoffs. Portland gets the Pelicans’ pick as a result of the mid-season CJ McCollum trade, but ONLY if that pick falls between 5-14 in the draft order. If New Orleans makes the playoffs, their pick will not fall in the Top 14, and thus will not convey to Portland.

Once the 14 teams are set, the drawing will determine the Top 4 picks. This is another difference. Back in 2013, only the Top 3 picks were drawn for.

The process of pick selection is the same as always. Each team will get a share of 1001 possible ping-pong ball combinations. Teams with worse records will get more combinations than their better-performing counterparts. Officials will draw combinations for the first-fourth picks, in order, to determine who wins those picks.

Lottery odds are weighted differently now than they were in 2013, however. The three teams with the worst records each get 14% of the possible combinations. The fourth-worst record in the league gets 12.5% of the combinations, the fifth-worst 10.5%, and so on. The progression degrades 1.0-1.5% per slot below fifth. You can see the full odds here.

Right now the Blazers have the sixth-worst record in the league. That would give them 9.0% of the possible combinations, roughly a 37% chance of ending up with one of the Top 4 picks. Their most likely outcomes range from 6th-8th.

If the Blazers were to fall to fifth-worst, they’d have roughly a 42% chance of getting a Top 4 pick, with the most likely range being 6th-8th.

If the Blazers rose one spot to the seventh-worst record, they have around a 32% chance of getting a Top 4 pick, with the 7th-9th range being most likely.

Portland will almost certainly finish with the 5th, 6th, or 7th worst record in the league.

No team can fall further than four places back from where they finish. Basically, Portland is all but guaranteed at least the 11th pick in the draft and seeing them fall below the 9th would be a major surprise.

Summing Up:

  • We’ll find out the draft order among the 14 non-playoffs teams on May 17th.
  • The NBA now draws for the Top 4 picks and not just the Top 3. Lottery odds are distributed more evenly between the teams than they used to be.
  • Portland’s own pick will be at least 11th, and probably 9th or better, unless something shocking happens
  • Portland will get New Orleans’ pick as well if the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs and don’t win one of the Top 4 picks.
  • If the order doesn’t change radically in the final few games of the season, the Pelicans would have less than a 10% chance of getting a Top 4 pick in the lottery.

That should get you through the next month of breathless waiting! Remember that, now that they’ve officially missed the postseason, Portland’s own gains from losing are marginal: a few percentage points’ difference in getting a Top 4 pick. The big gain or loss comes from New Orleans making or missing the playoffs, which will determine whether the Blazers receive a second pick this year or not.

P.S. Since a few people asked the last time we covered draft selections... If the Pelicans do make the playoffs this year or they get a Top 4 selection, Portland will get the 2025 first-round pick from the Milwaukee Bucks instead. New Orleans owns that from a previous trade. It’s protected for the 1-4 slots.