The 2014 NBA draft lottery will take place at Times Square Studios in New York City on Tuesday night, setting the order for the first round of the June 26 NBA draft. Below, we help you get set for this year's drawing with a handful of items you might find interesting.
1. When is the lottery, exactly?
The 2014 NBA draft lottery will air on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 20, before the broadcast of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. Again: Before the game, not at halftime, so make sure you're tuned in at 8 Eastern.
2. Which team has the best odds of getting the No. 1 overall pick?
Based on the NBA's weighted lottery system, the team with the worst record gets the best chance of landing the top overall pick. This year, that'd be the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the 2013-14 season with a league-worst record of 15-67.
Some people don't like that system, which has been in place since 1990, because they believe it encourages bad teams with no shot at competing for a title to give something less than the ol' college try, ostensibly losing as many games as possible to try to increase the likelihood of netting a higher draft choice. (More on that later.)
That wasn't the case with the Bucks, though. They were actually trying to win this year, but an awful lot went awful wrong for Larry Drew's crew. As a result, the Bucks wound up being awful enough to sink to the bottom without additional chicanery, besting (worsting?) a Philadelphia 76ers team that was pretty openly not trying too hard to win games, lost an NBA-record-tying 26 in a row, and still couldn't out-lose Milwaukee. Remarkable stuff.
Here are the odds each of the 14 teams in the 2014 NBA draft lottery have of coming away with the No. 1 overall pick:
1. Milwaukee Bucks (15-67): 25 percent
2. Philadelphia 76ers (19-63): 19.9 percent
3. Orlando Magic (23-59): 15.6 percent
4. Utah Jazz (25-57): 10.4 percent
5. Boston Celtics (25-57): 10.3 percent
6. Los Angeles Lakers (27-55): 6.3 percent
7. Sacramento Kings (28-54): 4.3 percent
8. Detroit Pistons* (29-53): 2.8 percent
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (33-49): 1.7 percent
10. New Orleans Pelicans** (34-48): 1.1 percent
12. Orlando (via Denver)****: 0.7 percent
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (40-42): 0.6 percent
14. Phoenix Suns (48-34): 0.5 percent
* If the Pistons fall below eighth in the lottery, this pick could go to the Charlotte Bobcats, thanks to the Corey Maggette-Ben Gordon trade.
** If the Pelicans remain outside the top five, this pick could go to the 76ers, thanks to the Jrue Holiday/Nerlens Noel trade.
*** The Nuggets get this pick thanks to the Carmelo Anthony trade.
**** Thanks to the four-team deal that landed Dwight Howard with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic will get whichever pick winds up closer to the end of the first round between the Nuggets' and Knicks' selections. The smart folks at Orlando Pinstriped Post have termed this the "WoNK" pick ("Worst of Nuggets/Knicks").
3. Who's in the running for that No. 1 spot?
Who goes where will likely depend on which team winds up winning the lottery, but there are three players whom most analysts, mock draft aficionados and observers have suggested will likely draw the most serious consideration for the top overall pick:
• Andrew Wiggins, small forward, Kansas, age 19: The 6-foot-8, 200-pound swingman from Toronto has remarkable leaping ability and quickness, devastating finishing ability in transition, and the potential to become both a plus outside shooter and perimeter defender. In terms of pure natural ability, he's considered one of the finest wing prospects to enter the league in quite some time.
Wiggins averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and one block per game in his lone collegiate season, earning first-team All-Big 12 and second-team All-American selections, as well as recognition as the Big 12's freshman of the year. He could be the second consecutive Canadian-born player drafted first overall, following in the footsteps of 2013's top selection, Cavaliers forward Anthony Bennett.
• Joel Embiid, center, Kansas, age 20: The Cameroonian big man combines prototypical size (7 feet, 250 pounds), length (an aircraft-carrier-style 7-foot-5 wingspan), athleticism, and soccer- and volleyball-honed footwork into perhaps the most tantalizing total package of skills of any prospect. He could become an elite two-way player, and what he can already do led many, including longtime NBA guard and Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg, to consider him perhaps the best player in the country when healthy this season.
"When healthy," of course, are the two big words here. Embiid suffered a stress fracture in his lower back in early February that kept him out for the entire Big 12 tournament and all three of the Jayhawks' NCAA tournament games. That puts teams selecting at the top of the draft in a difficult predicament: If they let injury concerns influence them away from Embiid, they could be passing up on one of the most complete center prospects in years, but if they throw caution to the wind, they could wind up becoming just another cautionary tale in the long history of NBA teams who lived to regret gambling on a promising big man with physical red flags.
• Jabari Parker, forward, Duke, age 19: The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Chicago product is considered perhaps the most NBA-ready offensive talent in the draft, having drawn comparisons to high-scoring pro frontcourt stars like Grant Hill, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce for his ability to score down low, from the perimeter and off the bounce.
He became the first freshman in Duke's illustrious history to lead the Blue Devils in points (19.1) and rebounds (8.7) per game in his one year under coach Mike Krzyzewski, earning USBWA National Freshman of the Year honors and was a consensus first-team All-American selection.
None of the three top prospects participated in last week's predraft combine in Chicago. That's not expected to have much impact on their draft stock.
Other names of interest at or near the top of the board include Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Australian combo guard Dante Exum, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Arizona power forward Aaron Gordon and Indiana center Noah Vonleh.
4. So, what does the lottery actually do?
While the 14 teams that missed the playoffs — or the teams to whom they have traded their first-round draft picks in past deals — all are all referred to as "lottery teams," only the top three picks are actually determined by the lottery. The remaining slots — picks No. 4 through 14 — are determined by inverse order of the teams' regular-season records, meaning that teams with worse records will get higher picks.
All 14 teams have at least some chance of moving up into the top three, though. When that happens, one of those three-worst-record teams gets bumped out to No. 4, and that does happen with some frequency. In fact, there's been some nature of leap in every lottery since 1996, when the teams with the three worst records in the NBA — the Vancouver Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors — wound up with the top three picks, as Philly took Allen Iverson first overall, the Raptors snagged Marcus Camby second, and the Grizzlies selected Shareef Abdur-Rahim third.
In each of the last 17 lotteries, then, some team has gotten a bounce of the ping-pong balls that propelled them into the top three. In nine of those 17, such a bounce has given a team that began the lottery drawing on the outside looking in the opportunity to make the No. 1 pick — 2000 (New Jersey Nets, Kenyon Martin); 2002 (Houston Rockets, Yao Ming); 2005 (Milwaukee Bucks, Andrew Bogut); 2006 (Toronto Raptors, Andrea Bargnani); 2007 (Portland Trail Blazers, Greg Oden); 2008 (Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose); 2010 (Washington Wizards, John Wall); 2011 (Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving); 2012 (New Orleans Hornets, Anthony Davis).
The actual lottery drawing takes place before what we wind up seeing on TV. As others have written, each of the teams in the running for the top pick gets assigned a collection of four-number sequences, with each number in the sequence corresponding to a number on a ping-pong ball, labeled 1 through 14. There are 1,001 possible combinations, assigned to each team in order of their lottery odds — for example, the Bucks enter this year's lottery with the league's worst record and the best lottery odds at 25 percent, so they get the first 250 combinations.
The ping-pong balls all go into an air-powered machine that tumbles them around for 20 seconds before spitting out the first ball, and another one gets taken out every 10 seconds until you've got four, which correspond with one of those 1,0001 combinations. Whichever team was assigned that four-number combination gets the top pick. (The order in which the four balls are drawn doesn't change the result; 1-2-3-4 is the same as 4-3-2-1.) The balls are then put back in the machine, and the process is repeated to determine the second pick, and again for the third pick.
This is what last year's lottery drawing looked like:
... which is why we don't wind up seeing the lottery drawing on TV.
5. OK, cool. Now that I know how the lottery works, I hope the NBA doesn't change it.
So, about that ...
Remember how some people don't like the NBA's weighted lottery system because they think it incentivizes deliberately trying not to win? That practice is referred to as "tanking," and an awful lot's been written about it, and the perception of it, both here and elsewhere in recent years. Concern about it has risen to the level of league-office discussions about switching things up.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said there's no evidence any team tries to lose games on purpose and that he's not convinced tanking would even work. That said, some anonymous and former general managers have admitted to trying it, and given the constant undercurrent of conversation about it over the past couple of years, Silver has said he is open to suggestions that might improve the system by removing the marginal incentive to lose. One popular alternative floated: the "wheel" proposal, forwarded by Boston Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren. Another, submitted by Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé: determining lottery odds based on teams' records at the All-Star break, rather than at the end of the season.
There are a number of other suggestions out there, too, each with their own pros and cons. The league isn't going to make any drastic alterations just yet, but they could be coming soon, meaning we'll all have to learn a new set of rules. (We'll worry about writing that primer when it comes to it.)
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