What to Know About the N.B.A. Draft Lottery
Fans of the N.B.A. are about to take a break from praying that a wild, off-balance 3-pointer goes in and instead turn to praying that a particular envelope happens to contain the logo of their favorite team.
The N.B.A. draft lottery may seem an odd spectacle, but it can affect the future of franchises for years to come. And this year, it carries special import: The winner will have the right to select Victor Wembanyama of France, who is predicted to be a game-changing superstar.
When and where is the lottery, and how can I watch? The lottery is Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern in Chicago. ESPN will broadcast the event; you can also expect to find the news quickly on social media, as fans celebrate or lament the result.
Who is in this year’s lottery? The 14 teams that did not make the playoffs are eligible; that includes the four teams that made the play-in games but failed to advance to the playoffs proper.
It’s a little more complicated than that though. Because of past trades, the Dallas Mavericks will give their pick to the Knicks unless it falls in the top 10, and the Chicago Bulls will give their pick to the Orlando Magic unless it’s in the top four.
How does it work? A random draw will be held to determine the top four draft picks, with weaker teams having better chances. Picks 5 through 14 will then be allotted in reverse order of the teams’ records.
Who has the best chance at the No. 1 pick? Each of the three weakest teams in the regular season — the Detroit Pistons, the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs — has a 14 percent chance of getting the top pick.
Who else has a chance at No. 1? The rest of the teams have smaller chances on a sliding scale, from the Charlotte Hornets at 13 percent all the way down to the New Orleans Pelicans, who had a winning regular-season record and have just an 0.5 percent chance at the top pick. The rest of the teams with a chance are the Blazers at 11 percent, Magic 9, Pacers 7, Wizards 7, Jazz 5, Mavericks 3, Bulls 2, Thunder 2, Raptors 1 (figures rounded to nearest percent).
What about Picks 15 through 30? Those are all set, starting with the playoff team with the worst record, the Hawks, at No. 15, and moving down pick by pick to the better teams.
Is what I see on TV the actual lottery? No. What you see is more of a ceremonial unveiling of the draft order. The actual lottery is held just before in front of a handful of league, team and news media witnesses sequestered in another room.
I read that the lottery is fixed. Is that true? No. Conspiracy theorists sometimes claim that the league fixes the draw to benefit teams in big markets, notably for the inaugural lottery in 1985 when the Knicks won and earned the right to pick Patrick Ewing.
There has never been any credible evidence that a draft lottery has indeed been fixed, and with no New York or Los Angeles teams in the draw, one hopes the conspiracy talk will be muted this year.
When and where is the actual draft? June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, for the ninth time in the past 10 years. (The exception was the pandemic year, when it was held via conference call.)
Who will be picked? Everyone expects Wembanyama to go No. 1. Variously reported at between 7 feet 2 inches and 7-foot-4, he has an eight-foot-plus wingspan that makes him a nightmare on defense. He is quick, and he can score too. He is averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in the French league this season for Metropolitans 92, a team based in Paris. He won’t turn 20 until January and should have a huge upside.
Unusually, prognosticators who think a lot about the draft are starting to come to a consensus on Picks 2 through 4 as well. Those look likely to be guard Scoot Henderson, who averaged 17 points a game with the G League Ignite; forward Brandon Miller of the University of Alabama; and guard Amen Thompson, who played with the City Reapers of Overtime Elite.
But that could change depending on which team gets what pick, and stocks could rise and fall over the next month.
What about the college player of the year, Zach Edey of Purdue? Despite his outstanding season, Edey is not rated highly by N.B.A. scouts. At 7-foot-4 and bulky, he looks like a classic N.B.A. center, but his inability to score from outside does not seem to fit the modern game. He could go somewhere in the second round.
If my team gets the top pick, we’re set, right? Players like Tim Duncan, LeBron James and Anthony Davis all went No. 1, and Wembanyama looks surefire.
But Greg Oden, Anthony Bennett and Ben Simmons also all went No. 1, a humbling reminder not to start counting championships just yet.
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