How is the NBA Draft order determined? Lottery odds, process and history explained

The NBA Draft order is determined by a complex lottery process. Learn everything about the NBA Draft Lottery here.
May 16, 2023; Chicago, IL, USA; People walk past the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery board at McCormick Place
May 16, 2023; Chicago, IL, USA; People walk past the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery board at McCormick Place / David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Draft is one of the most exciting times for fans and teams alike. This year’s draft brings with it tons of excitement yet plenty of uncertainty as there is no consensus No. 1 pick. However, this excitement doesn’t fully build up until the unpredictable Draft Lottery takes place. 

To determine the draft order all 14 teams that didn’t make the playoffs participate in the Draft Lottery. But how exactly does this process work? With the lottery just a few weeks away let’s dive into everything you need to know about it. 

NBA Draft Lottery: Odds for each team to gets the No. 1 pick

Let's take a look at each team's odds of landing the top pick this year. This order is determined by this year's standings in reverse order. The first percentage listed is the team's chance of getting the top pick while the second percentage is the team's chance of getting a top 4 pick.

  1. Detroit Pistons (14% | 52.13%)
  2. Washington Wizards (14% | 52.13%)
  3. Charlotte Hornets (13.3% | 50.1%)
  4. Portland Trail Blazers (13.2% | 49.8%)
  5. San Antonio Spurs (10.5% | 42.11%)
  6. Toronto Raptors* (9% | 37.22%)
  7. Memphis Grizzlies (7.5% | 31.9%)
  8. Utah Jazz* (6.0% | 26.2%)
  9. Houston Rockets via Nets (4.5% | 20.2%)
  10. Atlanta Hawks (3.00% | 13.9%)
  11. Chicago Bulls (2.0% | 9.4%)
  12.  Houston Rockets* (1.5% | 7.2%)
  13. Sacramento Kings (0.8% | 3.8%)
  14. Golden State Warriors* (0.7% | 3.41%)


  • The Raptors pick is top 6 protected in a deal with the Spurs
  • The Thunder will land the more favorable of the Jazz or Rockets pick
  • The Warriors pick is top 4 protected in a deal with the Trail Blazers
  • The Warriors pick is top 4 protected in a deal with the Trail Blazers

Lottery odds and history 

In 2019 the NBA made significant changes to the lottery format by giving the bottom three teams equal odds (14 percent each) at the landing first pick. However, the NBA can make slight changes to these odds if teams tie for the same record. This year the Hornets and Trail Blazers had an identical 21-61 record. While the Hornets won the tiebreaker their odds were slightly reduced from 14 percent to 13.3 percent while the Blazers got a slight increase to 13.2 percent odds. 

From 1993 to 2019 the team with the worst record had a 25 percent chance of landing the No.1 pick. While the second-worst record had a 19.9 percent and the third-worst record had a 15.6 percent chance of earning the top pick. It’s important to note that even with the new lottery system the team with the worst record has a slight advantage as they can’t drop as far.

The team with the worst record can drop no lower than pick No. 5 while the third worst record can slide no further than pick No. 7. This is a change from the old system where the team with the worst record could only drop to No. 4. Additionally, in four out of five years with the new lottery system, one of the bottom three teams got the No. 1 pick. The one exception is the Pelicans in 2019. The NBA made these changes to their lottery system in efforts to combat tanking which has largely been praised as an effective measure. 

How does it work? 

The lottery itself takes place in a separate room before ESPN nationally broadcasts the results. While some might be confused as to why the NBA doesn’t just broadcast the actual lottery it's because the procedure is so complex.

Fourteen ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 are placed in the lottery machine. Four balls are drawn at once and each is assigned various different 4-digit combinations correlating with their lottery odds. For example, the three teams with the top odds all receive 140 different combinations.

The league assigns 1,000 out of 1,001 possible four-digit combinations. From there the 14 balls placed in the lottery machine are mixed for 20 seconds then the first ball is removed. The remaining three balls are mixed for 10 seconds before being drawn. The team with that four-digit combination earns the No. 1 pick. Picks No. 2 through No. 4 undertake the same process. 

In the case of a team being drawn twice, the process is repeated until there are unique results. The same goes for if somehow the one combination the NBA didn’t assign is drawn. The rest of the 10 lottery teams will be ordered by the inverse of last year’s record. 

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