What actually happens during the NBA's draft lottery

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SALT LAKE CITY — Tonight's NBA draft lottery will determine where each of the 14 non-playoff teams pick on draft day, June 25th. But what actually happens during the lottery? Let's take a brief look.

The draft lottery itself actually takes place before the TV show announcing the results on ESPN, in a locked, separate room. There, a dozen independent media members join NBA officials and one team representative for each team in the room to conduct the lottery. The team representative is not the one that is later shown on the TV broadcast.

Fourteen ping-pong balls, numbered 1 through 14, are placed in a lottery hopper. The machine turns on, then the NBA pulls four balls out, one at a time. There turn out to be 1,001 combinations when four balls are randomly chosen from a group of 14; the NBA assigns 1,000 of these 1,001 combinations to the 14 lottery teams. Minnesota, last year's worst team, gets 250 of these combinations, New York gets 199, Philadelphia gets 156, and so on. Utah receives just seven.

Unlike the televised reveal, the lottery starts from the beginning, not the end. The ping-pong balls for the No. 1 pick are selected first. For the second pick, the process is repeated. If a team's lottery combination comes up that has already been selected, or if the one unassigned combination comes up, the NBA places the ping-pong balls back in the hopper, and the process for removing the ping-pong balls for the second pick begins again. Finally, the NBA selects who will receive the third pick, and the process is over.

Beyond the first three picks, picks four through 14 are automatically assigned based on the order of worst record. Thus, the worst outcome for Minnesota is the fourth pick, the worst for New York is the fifth pick, and so on.

Then comes the pageantry of the TV show, held at the New York Hilton Midtown this year. None of the participants on the stage know about the outcome of the lottery, so their reactions are legitimate.

Ultimately, because the Jazz have just seven lottery combinations out of 1,000, the odds of the Jazz moving in the draft are low. The odds that the Jazz win the first pick are just 0.7 percent, the second pick odds are just 0.83 percent, and the third pick odds are 1.01 percent. Altogether, the Jazz have just a 2.54 percent chance of moving up in today's draft.

It's actually more likely that one of the teams below the Jazz, either Phoenix or Oklahoma City, move above the Jazz, forcing them down one or two slots. There's a 3.9 percent chance one of those teams leapfrogs Utah, and a 0.02 percent chance that both teams do to move the Jazz to No. 14.

Overall, though, it's very likely that the Jazz stay where they are in the draft order for June 25: there's a 93.53 percent chance. No team, since the NBA changed the odds to the current percentages in 1994, has won the lottery after having as low of odds as the Jazz do (though two teams have moved up: Chicago in 2006 moved up to the No. 2 spot, and Charlotte moved up to No. 3 in 1999).

But you shouldn't expect too much excitement, at least locally, tonight.

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SportsUtah Jazz
Andy Larsen


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