The Portland Trail Blazers will hear their name called in the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery just after 5:00 PM, Pacific today. This event will determine Portland’s immediate future and has the potential to affect the course of the franchise for the next decade or more. Before the big moment arrives, here’s a reminder of what’s at stake, how the system works, what to watch for, and how to view the event as it unfolds.
Why This Matters
The NBA Draft is always the least expensive, most promising way to improve the status of your team. Stars don’t get traded often in the NBA, superstars even less so. Nor do the biggest names come available in free agency. In the event one of these rare things does happen, at least 29 teams compete to secure the services of that elite player. Unless you’re a marquee franchise with bottomless pockets, the chances of landing a big-time player at any given moment are small.
The draft allows “also-ran” teams to acquire potentially-elite-level players and retain them for at least five years. The opportunity is unrivaled, particularly for smaller-profile or struggling teams like the Trail Blazers.
The 2023 NBA Draft will be even more special than usual. French center Victor Wembanyama has declared himself eligible to be drafted. He’s expected to be a generational player, receiving much of the same hype that Tim Duncan and Patrick Ewing did before they were selected. For NBA teams, this year’s lottery is equivalent to an actual Powerball drawing to you and me. The franchise landing Wembanyama will have the inside track for runs at an NBA title over the next decade.
If you want to read more about Wembanyama, you can find our draft profile on him here. The rest of this year’s class isn’t too shabby either. Scoot Henderson, the presumptive second pick, is expected to excel (draft profile here.) Brandon Miller (profile) and Amen Thompson (profile) are also candidates around which an organization could be built.
Finishing in the top two in this draft would give the Blazers unprecedented options: rebuild around young stars while trading Damian Lillard for future assets, grow young players under Lillard’s tutelage, or trade the draftees for current veterans to help Lillard make a run now. Third and fourth place would have a lesser effect, but would still give the Blazers huge trade chips on the summer market.
Portland’s current situation, combined with the big-time talent in this draft class, makes this the most potentially-impactful event the franchise has experienced since LaMarcus Aldridge departed as a free agent way back in 2015. This isn’t about incremental course corrections. It could open up new, heretofore-unreachable vistas.
The 14 teams who did not make the 2023 NBA Playoffs will participate in the lottery drawing. All 14 have a chance at winning a Top 4 pick. The odds of getting a high pick decrease as the order progresses. The teams at the top of the list—those who finished the season with the worst records—have a better chance at getting the best picks.
The participants, in order, are:
- Detroit Pistons
- Houston Rockets
- San Antonio Spurs
- Charlotte Hornets
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Orlando Magic
- Indiana Pacers
- Washington Wizards
- Utah Jazz
- Dallas Mavericks (pick will transfer to the New York Knicks if it falls outside the Top 10)
- Chicago Bulls (pick will transfer to the Orlando Magic if it falls outside the Top 4)
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Toronto Raptors
- New Orleans Pelicans
The three teams at the top of the order—Detroit, Houston, and San Antonio—each have an equal 14.0% chance of getting the first-overall pick. For most of the life of the lottery, the first team had a better chance than the second, who had a better chance than the third, and so on. Beginning with the 2019 draft, the odds were equalized for the top three teams and the difference between those teams and lower teams was smoothed out. It was thought this would discourage tanking.
The Hornets, fourth in the order, have a 12.5 % chance of getting the first pick. Then come the Trail Blazers in fifth with a 10.5% chance. The odds decrease through the remaining teams until we reach the Pelicans at the bottom of the order. They have only a 0.5% chance—one half of one percent—of rising to the first overall spot.
You can find the chances for all teams and all spots here. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just list Portland’s odds:
As you can see, the single most likely spot for the Blazers to land is 7th. The widest part of their bell curve comes in the 6th and 7th positions. They have a combined 46.3% chance of ending up at one of those two spots. By comparison, they have a combined 42.1% chance of getting a Top 4 pick.
Literally anything can happen, and a fair amount of those things are good. That makes this exciting.
If you don’t understand why the odds fall as they do, read the next sections about how the lottery works and how that affects Portland.
How It All Works
Drawing and Reveal
Each of the 14 franchises has sent two representatives to Chicago, where the lottery drawing will happen.
One representative—usually the lead executive/General Manager—waits in the room where the actual drawing happens. These folks are divested of communications devices and sworn to secrecy. The drawing is completed just before the reveal show goes on the air. The backstage team representatives witness it.
The selection process they’re watching works much like the state lottery drawings you sometimes see on TV. 1001 ping-pong ball combinations are divided between the 14 participants, proportional to the odds. Balls bounce around in a pneumatic chamber and pop up in combinations of four. Whichever team holds the combination that comes up first gets the first overall pick. The process is repeated for picks 2-4, with duplicate winning results discarded, until all of the first four picks are determined.
Those results are taken in sealed envelopes to the broadcast studio where the teams’ public representatives await. Chosen by their franchises, the on-stage reps serve as good luck charms and surrogate fans as the picks are revealed on the national broadcast. These in-studio representatives do not know the results until they’re shown. They find out when we do and react just like the rest of us.
Brandon Roy is Portland’s representative this year. The last time he sat in that seat, the Blazers won the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, selecting Ohio State center Greg Oden.
The Lunch Line
To understand the odds and how participants will move around in the order, just think of all 14 teams lining up for lunch at the school cafeteria. Before the drawing, the Pistons, Rockets, and Spurs are the first three in line, followed by all the rest of the teams, each standing behind the next, in the order listed above.
A team winning the lottery gets to be the teacher’s pet cutting the lunch line. They waltz from their current position to the front, putting everyone else one spot further behind where they started until the winning team’s former spot is filled. It’s annoying and everybody grumbles. Unless, of course, you get to BE the teacher’s pet. In that case, it’s grab your tray and gimme those Wemby Tots!
Let’s say the Pelicans got super lucky and won the first pick. They’d climb all the way from 14th to 1st, displacing Detroit from the top. Detroit would bump the team behind them—Houston—back a spot, occupying the second space in line. Houston would displace San Antonio from the third spot to fourth, and so on down the line until the 13th team—Toronto—dropped down to dead last where the Pelicans used to be.
The order is now the same as it was before, except New Orleans is #1 and everyone else is one space farther back from the Lunch Lady than they started.
Remember: they draw for the TOP FOUR PICKS, repeating the procedure above four times—for the first, second, third, and fourth spots in line—with each winner getting “cuts” to the designated position. First winner cuts to Spot 1, second to Spot 2, and so on.
After the first four places in line have been determined, no more movement happens. The line freezes and the other ten teams remain in the spot in which they finished.
Where the Blazers Will Finish
The Blazers will start in the fifth spot of the lunch line. There’s a 97.8% chance they won’t finish there after all the drawing and reshuffling.
If the Blazers Win One of the Top Four Spots
If a magic ping pong combination comes up and Portland wins one of the first four spots, you won’t have to ask where they finished. They will cut the line to whichever spot they won.
If the Blazers Don’t Win One of the Top Four Spots
If the Blazers don’t get a promotion, things get more complex. We then have to ask who DID win those spots.
Four teams stand ahead of the Blazers in line, nine behind.
One of the four teams ahead of Portland winning a Top 4 spot won’t change Portland’s standing. Those teams are already in front. No matter how they shuffle among themselves, Portland won’t move.
Example: San Antonio moves from the third spot to first. They move to 1, Detroit gets bumped to 2, Houston moves to 3, the vacancy that San Antonio left when they moved up. Nobody else gets bumped.
Before the drawing, the order was 1. Detroit, 2. Houston, 3. San Antonio, 4, Charlotte, 5. Portland
After the drawing, the order is 1. San Antonio, 2. Detroit, 3. Houston, 4. Charlotte, 5. Portland
Notice that Portland stays in 5th either way. Teams shifting ahead of Portland will not disturb Portland’s place in the order.
One of the nine teams behind Portland “cutting the line” and winning a spot WOULD bump the Blazers down, as there’s now one extra team ahead of their position than there was before.
If you’re fifth in the lunch line, you don’t care how the first four people switch order. However they shuffle, you’re still fifth. But you really care if a guy from ten spaces back comes up to join the first four, because now you’re not fifth anymore, you’re sixth.
Understanding this, you now understand why the Blazers can finish anywhere from 1st to 9th in the order.
- If they finish 1st-4th, they themselves won a position and got to cut to the front of the line.
- If the Blazers do not win a Top 4 spot and no teams behind them cut ahead of them into a Top 4 spot, Portland will remain in 5th.
- If one team behind the Blazers wins a Top 4 spot, Portland will get bumped from 5th to 6th.
- If two teams behind Portland get promoted, the Blazers will get bumped back from 5th to 7th. Three teams would push them back to 8th. If all four winners cut the line from behind Portland, the Blazers will get pushed all the way back to 9th.
The odds reflect this. There’s only a 0.6% chance that all four top spots will be won by teams currently behind the Blazers in the order. On the other hand, there’s only a 2.2% chance that Portland will not win a top spot AND no team behind them will either, leaving them in 5th.
What to Watch For
If all of this seems too complex, just remember this: When you watch, you DON’T want to hear Portland’s name called. To preserve suspense, they reveal the picks in reverse order. The team winning the first overall pick will be revealed last. The longer it takes for them to call Portland’s name, the better the pick is.
As a secondary matter, Blazers fans would prefer to see the names of the teams behind Portland revealed in the exact order of the original line. If a team gets skipped during the reveal, that means they won one of the Top 4 spots and got to cut. Not only is that one less chance for Portland to win a spot, the advancing team will bump the Blazers down a notch if they, themselves, did not get promoted to the top.
The first time you could possibly hear the Blazers’ name called is Pick #9. That would be an utter and complete disaster. Beginning with Pick 9, start offering sacrifices to the basketball gods, hoping you don’t hear “Trail Blazers” next. If you can get through Pick 6 without hearing them, chances are they have a Top 4 selection. That’s guaranteed if anybody behind them has been skipped as well.
How to Watch
Here’s the viewing info for the reveal show.
TIME: 5:00 PM, Pacific
TV BROADCAST: ESPN
Blazer’s Edge will also have a lottery discussion thread open in the hours before the reveal. Only twice in the history of the site up until now has profanity been allowed. The first time was in 2007, when Portland won the first overall pick. Will history repeat? It’s time to find out together.
Good luck, all, and Go Blazers!