Explaining how the NBA Draft lottery works

Andy Lyons

How the NBA's weighted draft system works can be confusing, so we set out to explain just how your favorite team could end up with the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

SB Nation 2014 NBA Playoff Bracket

Update: Cleveland wins the top pick in the NBA Draft

The top picks in the 2014 NBA Draft will be determined when the draft lottery is held on Tuesday at the Barclays Center in New York. Unlike the NFL and MLB, the NBA determines the order for the top of its draft by following a weighted lottery system that distributes more ping-pong balls to teams that finished at the bottom of the regular season standings. Let's take a look at how it all works.

First, the 14 teams that missed the playoffs are organized based on their record. The team with the worst record gets the most ping-pong combinations, the team with the second-worst record gets the second-most ping-pong combinations, and so on. For the 2014 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished with the worst record in 2013-14 NBA season, will receive the most ping-pong combinations.

Fourteen ping-pong balls will be placed into a lottery machine, and a four-ball combination will decide which team earns the No. 1 pick. The Bucks own 250 out of 1,000 combinations. The Phoenix Suns, who ended the season with the 14th-worst record, have just five combinations in the machine.

In the event that two teams have the same record, they both obtain the average number of selections between their two spots. If the average is not a whole number, such as with the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz this season, a random drawing determines who gets the additional combination. The Jazz won the tiebreaker in April.

Balls are drawn from the machine in groups of four for every pick. Each team is assigned different combinations before the draft. In each group of four balls drawn, the team that was assigned the chosen number wins that pick.

Chance of receiving the No. 1 overall pick

  1. Milwaukee Bucks, 250 combinations, 25.0% chance
  2. Philadelphia 76ers, 199 combinations, 19.9% chance
  3. Orlando Magic, 156 combinations, 15.6% chance
  4. Utah Jazz, 104 combinations, 10.4% chance
  5. Boston Celtics, 103 combinations, 10.3% chance
  6. Los Angeles Lakers, 63 combinations, 6.3% chance
  7. Sacramento Kings, 43 combinations, 4.3% chance
  8. Detroit Pistons, 28 combinations, 2.8% chance
  9. Cleveland Cavaliers, 17 combinations, 1.7% chance
  10. New Orleans Pelicans, 11 combinations, 1.1% chance
  11. Denver Nuggets (via New York) 8 combinations, 0.8% chance
  12. Orlando Magic (via Denver) 7 combinations, 0.7% chance
  13. Minnesota Timberwolves, 6 combinations, 0.6% chance
  14. Phoenix Suns, 5 combinations, 0.5% chance

The 2014 NBA Draft lottery begins at 8 p.m. ET on May 20 and will air on ESPN.

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