For the second consecutive year, the NBA Draft Lottery will be held later than usual. Typically held in May during the NBA Playoffs, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the NBA calendar. Last season, the lottery didn’t happen until August. However, this time around, it will be sooner, as the league will be getting itself back on its regular calendar for the 2021-22 season.
Last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves won the lottery as one of the four teams with the best odds of landing the coveted No. 1 pick. As a result, Minnesota took Georgia guard Anthony Edwards, whose high-scoring debut season landed him a controversial second behind Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball in the Rookie of the Year voting.
This year, there are three teams tied for the best odds. Showing the fluidity of the NBA, two of those teams were playoff teams in 2020 that have entered a rebuilding (*cough* tanking *cough*) phase.
Who has the best NBA Draft Lottery odds?
The determination of odds for the NBA draft lottery changed in 2019. The changes were to address the issue that spawned the lottery in the first place. Specifically, teams constructed to lose as much as possible to maximize their odds of getting the top pick.
Under the modified system, the teams with the three worst records have the same odds to obtain the first pick. Then, the lottery determines the top four selections. The Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, and Orlando Magic have a 14% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick, 13.4% odds at the second spot. Those teams have 12.7% and 12% odds at the third and fourth selections, respectively.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers have an 11.5% chance of moving up to No. 1. The rest of the odds include:
- Minnesota Timberwolves (9%)
- Toronto Raptors (7.5%)
- Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans (4.5% each)
- Charlotte Hornets (1.8%)
- San Antonio Spurs (1.7%)
- Indiana Pacers (1%)
- Golden State Warriors (0.5%)
The lottery is coming soon
The drawing for the top four picks in the 2021 NBA Draft is for 8:30 p.m. EDT on June 22. That is just before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns.
Trades could affect three of the teams in the lottery. The Rockets will swap picks with the Thunder if they don’t get into the top four. Oklahoma City would get the No. 5 selection (the lowest Houston can drop) and send the Miami Heat’s 18th pick to the Rockets.
The Warriors will pick up Minnesota’s first-rounder if the Timberwolves don’t land in the top three. Similarly, Chicago’s pick in the first round will go to the Magic if the Bulls are outside of the top four selections.
The NBA Draft Lottery began as a means to stop tanking
Before 1985, a coin flip determined the top pick in the NBA draft. The teams with the worst records in the Eastern and Western conferences were guaranteed the top two selections. The team with the worst record got to make the call. Those flips shaped the course of the NBA over the years.
But the straw that broke the coin flip’s back came in 1984. The Rockets had won the toss after a 14-68 season in 1983 and drafted coveted big man Ralph Sampson from the University of Virginia. They were improved with Sampson in the middle and were just 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West at the All-Star break.
But the Rockets opted to pursue another option. Houston went 11-27 the rest of the way and screamed past the then-Kansas City Kings and the then-San Diego Clippers into the West basement. They won the coin flip (again) and selected Hakeem Olajuwon, giving birth to the Twin Towers (Olajuwon played center, Sampson became a 7-foot-4 power forward).
The NBA draft lottery rules were simple. First, the non-playoff teams all had a 14.3% chance at the No. 1 pick. Then, of course, they had the same opportunity to end up with the No. 7 selection. Records did not matter. That was traumatic for the perennially horrible organizations that fell in the draft because of the lottery.
The first weighted system was introduced in 1990 and has been tweaked over the years to address franchises finding new and exciting ways to game the system.
Fourteen teams enter the lottery with a shot at the golden ring. Finally, one will get to grasp it, for better or worse.
Historical data courtesy of Basketball Reference.