The 2015 NBA draft lottery takes place in New York City on Tuesday, locking in the order of selections for the first round of the June 25 NBA draft. Let's get up to speed for this year's drawing with the relevant facts, figures and
frozen envelopes fun related to the NBA's annual ping-pong-a-palooza.
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1. When is the lottery?
The 2015 NBA draft lottery will air on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, before Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Again: Before the game, not at halftime.
1a. Yeah, but when is it really?
ESPN's coverage will start at "approximately 8:05 p.m. ET." The unveiling of the order of the draft's top 14 picks doesn't kick off until about 8:30 p.m. ET.
The actual drawing of the ping-pong balls happens earlier. We'll explain that in a bit.
2. Which team has the best chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick?
The NBA employs a weighted lottery system, meaning the team with the worst record has the best odds of receiving the top pick. This year, that's the Minnesota Timberwolves, who finished a league-worst 16-66, three games worse than our preseason prediction.
(It's also one game worse than the 17-65 New York Knicks, who went 3-3 over the last 10 days of the season after going 14-62 over the previous 158 days, and did inexplicable stuff like beating the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks down the stretch to reduce their odds of picking first. Of course they did.)
Flip Saunders' first season back on the Minnesota bench featured more misery than magic. Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic combined to miss 154 games due to injury, limiting the Wolves' preferred starting lineup — that trio plus Thaddeus Young, acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, and 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, picked up from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for star Kevin Love — to just 125 total minutes this season.
The Wolves also lost forward Shabazz Muhammad, who'd improved as a post-up wing and rim attacker in his second campaign, to season-ending finger surgery, removing another useful piece from the mix. At one point, Minnesota so desperately needed healthy bodies that it used an injury exemption to call guard Sean Kilpatrick up from the D-League because he was literally within driving distance of that night's game.
There weren't many bright spots for the Wolves in an injury-plagued season that saw them finish dead last in the league in defensive efficiency and 26th among 30 NBA teams on the offensive end. But there were some.
Wiggins led all rookies in minutes and scoring en route to the Rookie of the Year award and a spot on the All-Rookie First Team. Fellow rookie Zach LaVine showed flashes of shot-making and breathtaking athleticism, most notably during his jaw-dropping performance in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. After a half-season that didn't go as planned, Saunders flipped Young to the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Garnett, a sentimental favorite of a deal that got fans pretty excited for a little while before injury and illness prompted KG to pack it in after just five games.
With Wiggins and LaVine trending up, the prospect of healthier runs for Rubio, Martin and Pekovic, the chance that Garnett returns to lead the pack, and the possibility of continued development from Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Adreian Payne and Anthony Bennett, there are some intriguing ingredients in Minnesota's mix. Could a second straight No. 1 overall pick, this time granted by the lottery rather than LeBron, help Saunders complete a winning recipe?
Here are the odds that each team in the 2015 lottery has of coming away with the No. 1 pick:
1. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-66): 25 percent
2. New York Knicks (17-65): 19.9 percent
3. Philadelphia 76ers (18-64): 15.6 percent
4. Los Angeles Lakers* (21-61): 11.9 percent
5. Orlando Magic (25-57): 8.8 percent
6. Sacramento Kings (29-53): 6.3 percent
7. Denver Nuggets (30-52): 4.3 percent
8. Detroit Pistons (32-50): 2.8 percent
9. Charlotte Hornets (33-49): 1.7 percent
10. Miami Heat** (37-45): 1.1 percent
11. Indiana Pacers (38-44): 0.8 percent
12. Utah Jazz (38-44): 0.7 percent
13. Phoenix Suns (39-43): 0.6 percent
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-37): 0.5 percent
* If the Lakers fall out of the top five, this pick will go to the 76ers, thanks to a pair of trades — the 2012 deal that sent Steve Nash from Phoenix to Los Angeles, and the three-way 2015 dance that shipped Michael Carter-Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks, Brandon Knight to the Suns, and that top-five-protected '15 selection to Philadelphia.
If the Lakers stay in the top five, they'll hang onto this year's pick, and Philly will get a chance at next year's L.A. first-rounder, protected for only the top three slots.
** If the Heat fall out of the top 10, this pick, too, will go to the 76ers, thanks to a pair of trades — the 2010 sign-and-trade that sent LeBron James from Cleveland to Miami, and the eventual three-team deal that saw Love go to Cleveland; Wiggins, Young, Bennett and a $4 million trade exception go to Minnesota; and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved and the Heat's top-10-protected '15 first-rounder go to Philadelphia.
If the Heat stay in the top 10, they'll hang onto this year's pick, and Philly will get a chance at next year's Miami first-rounder, once again protected for the top 10 spots.
If you're scoring at home, this means there's a chance that the Sixers could come out of Tuesday's lottery with the first, sixth and 11th picks in the 2015 draft.
It's not a good chance — the odds of Philly's best-case scenario unfolding sit at just 0.28 percent, according to Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. But on a night where hope springs eternal, the 76ers and their fans are daring to dream.
3. Who's in the running for the No. 1 spot?
Each club's draft board differs, but there are a handful of players whom most analysts, mock drafters and observers expect to draw most interest with the top overall pick:
• Karl-Anthony Towns, power forward/center, Kentucky, age 19: The 6-foot-11, 250-pound big man out of Piscataway, N.J., profiles as a glass-controlling rebounder and shot-altering rim protector on the interior, a mobile enough defender to stall pick-and-rolls on the perimeter, a capable finisher around the rim, and a reliable enough shooter to step out on the floor and work in the face-up game away from the basket. In short: just about everything you'd want in a big man in the modern NBA.
As good as he was for John Calipari in Lexington, averaging nearly 20 points, 13 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes of floor time en route to winning SEC Freshman of the Year and selections to both the conference's first team and the All-American Second Team, you got the sense that Towns had barely scratched the surface of what he could become. Talent evaluators believe he has the tools to become an elite two-way frontcourt player, which tends to get your name called very early on draft night.
• Jahlil Okafor, center, Duke, age 19: The Chicago product combines prototypical size for an NBA big man — a 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame, plus a 7-foot-5 wingspan and huge hands — with advanced offensive skills, particularly as a back-to-the-basket scorer in the low post and as a passer out of the block.
There haven't been many college bigs in recent years who have possessed Okafor's combination of polished post moves, well-honed footwork, sheer strength, playmaking savvy and basketball IQ. He displayed them early and often last season, scooping up a score of individual awards — USBWA National Freshman of the Year, ACC Player of the Year and a consensus First-Team All-American nod, to name a few — on the way to a national championship in his lone year in Durham.
While Okafor's refined offensive game has drawn comparisons to Charlotte Hornets left-block landlord Al Jefferson, so has his defensive work ... and that's not such a great thing. As nimble and quick as he can look with the ball, Okafor struggled when drawn out of the paint defensively, seeming out of his element when tracking opponents on the perimeter and vulnerable against guards in the pick-and-roll or on switches. He's also not considered an exceptional rim protector, which could make him a tricky fit against NBA offenses skilled at creating opportunities on the interior and exploiting mismatches.
Will those limitations give teams at the top of the draft pause? Or will a club desperate for an offensive centerpiece capable of facilitating offense from the block — Phil Jackson's triangle-offense-focused Knicks, for example — decide that his rare offensive gifts outweigh the defensive deficiencies?
• D'Angelo Russell, guard, Ohio State, age 19: The big, bold, rangy lefty from Louisville has drawn comparisons to Manu Ginobili and James Harden for combining the court vision to see passes others don't, the daring to make them when others wouldn't and the skill to complete them when others couldn't.
Russell also proved to be a versatile scoring threat both on and off the ball for Thad Matta's Buckeyes, averaging 19.3 points in 33.9 minutes per game during his lone season in Columbus. He shot a shade under 45 percent from the field and a tick over 41 percent from the college 3-point line on nearly eight long-range attempts per 40 minutes of floor time, doing damage when firing jumpers both off the dribble and as a spot-up shooter.
Questions persist about whether Russell's got the defensive instincts to make the most out of his 6-foot-9-3/4-inch wingspan, and whether some of the tendencies that resulted in flashy finishes in college will produce stalled possessions or turnovers at the next level. But for teams needing a ball-handler and playmaker with the size and skill to create shots for himself and others, the first-team All-Big Ten and All-American selection could be just what the doctor ordered.
• Emmanuel Mudiay, guard, China, age 19: The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Mudiay was born in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1996, shortly before the beginning of years-long civil wars and political turmoil that eventually resulted in both the formation of the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Mudiay's family seeking asylum in Texas. He was considered the top prep guard prospect in the recruiting class of 2014, an explosive athlete whose size, athleticism and skill at getting to the basket evoked comparisons to Derrick Rose, John Wall and Tyreke Evans.
Mudiay committed to play for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist University before electing instead to hire an agent and begin his professional career overseas. (Whether staying at SMU was really an option for him remains a subject of debate.) He signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, the richest international deal ever signed by an American high school player, and an endorsement deal with Under Armour.
He performed well in 10 games in China before suffering an ankle sprain that sidelined him, bumped him back behind fellow U.S. import Will Bynum on the depth chart, and left him inactive for more than three months. He was pulled out of mothballs with his team down 2-0 to Stephon Marbury's Beijing Ducks in the CBA's semifinals ... and responded with 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists to help Guangdong extend the series. He followed that performance up with 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in a team-high 44 minutes of work in a series-ending Game 4 loss to the eventual champion Ducks.
That probably wasn't quite how Mudiay envisioned things unfolding when he headed overseas. But after averaging 18 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in 12 CBA appearances, he thinks the experience of "playing against 30-year-old men that are trying to feed their family" while learning how to deal with pro physicality, hectic travel, a condensed schedule, injury rehab and staying ready to perform despite months of inactivity has put him ahead of the learning curve. We'll see if the team picking first agrees.
• Justise Winslow, forward, Duke, age 19: The versatile Houston native — whose father, Rickie Winslow, had a cup of coffee with the Bucks back in 1987 — at times outshone more highly touted Duke teammates Okafor and Tyus Jones during the Blue Devils' run to the national title.
Winslow showcased a stat-sheet-stuffing two-way game for Mike Krzyzewski, averaging 12.6 points per game on 48.6 percent shooting from the floor and 41.8 percent from 3-point land to go with 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.2 combined blocks and steals in 29.1 minutes per game. He guarded multiple positions, seeing time at both wing spots and playing well as a small-ball power forward.
He used his quickness, toughness, athleticism and relentless motor to punish opponents by slashing to the basket, pounding the glass and clamping down on opposing scorers. He's the kind of player who can make a team better on both ends of the floor. But is his offensive ceiling high enough to justify the top pick?
Other names of interest at or near the top of the draft board include ace Kentucky defender Willie "Trill" Cauley-Stein, Croatian swingman Mario Hezonja, Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis and Arizona small forward Stanley Johnson.
4. So, what does the lottery actually do?
The 14 teams in the running for picks 1 through 14 all get called "lottery teams," but that's not really true. The lottery only really locks in the top three picks. Picks No. 4 through 14 are determined by inverse order of the teams' regular-season records; teams with worse records get higher picks.
As detailed earlier, all 14 teams have at least some chance of moving up into the top three. If one of the lower-likelihood teams rises up, one of the three-worst-record teams gets bumped out to No. 4. This happens pretty often.
In fact, there's been some type of leap in every lottery since 1996. That year, 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. Philly took Allen Iverson first, the Raptors snagged Marcus Camby second, and the Grizzlies selected Shareef Abdur-Rahim third.
In each of the last 18 lotteries, a friendly bounce of the ping-pong balls has propelled some lower-rung team into the top three. In 10 of those 18, said bounce has given a team an outside-looking-in team 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, Rose); 2010 (Washington Wizards, Wall); 2011 (Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving); 2012 (New Orleans Hornets, Anthony Davis); and 2014 (Cleveland, Wiggins).
Conversely, the team that entered the lottery with the best odds of picking No. 1 has done so only three times in the last 21 years: Philly in 1996, picking Iverson; Cleveland in 2003, landing LeBron; and Orlando in 2004, selecting Dwight Howard. (Sorry about that, Wolves fans.)
The actual lottery drawing to determine those top three spots takes place before the TV broadcast. As has been covered before, each team in the running for the top pick gets assigned a collection of four-number sequences. Each number in the sequence corresponds to a number on a ping-pong ball, labeled 1 through 14.
The ping-pong balls all go into an air-powered machine — think the "Grab That Dough" episode of "The Golden Girls" — that tumbles them around for 20 seconds before spitting out the first ball. Another ball gets taken out every 10 seconds until you've got four.
There are 1,001 possible four-ball combinations, assigned to each team in order of their lottery odds. For example, the league-worst Wolves have the best lottery odds at 25 percent, so they get the first 250 combinations.
Whichever team was assigned the four-number combination that pops out first gets the top pick. The order in which the four balls come out doesn't change the result; 1-2-3-4 is the same as 4-3-2-1. The balls then go back into the machine to repeat the process to determine which team gets the second pick. After the four balls are drawn and No. 2's figured out, we start over again for the third pick.
This is what last year's lottery looked like:
5. Wait a second. Wasn't the NBA going to change the lottery to try to eliminate the dreaded scourge of "tanking?"
Yes! That was definitely a thing.
Lots of people don't like that the NBA's weighted lottery system, to some degree, incentivizes losing, or at least not trying your best to win. A quick sum-up: The more you lose, the better your chances of getting a higher draft pick. And since star players on rookie contracts rank among the most valuable assets in the whole league, doing what you can to improve your chances of landing one seems to make sense, especially if you're running a team likely to top out at a lower-tier playoff berth without a clear path to title contention.
Sinking to the bottom in hopes of a ping-pong-ball-propelled come-up is broadly referred to as "tanking." As it's received more and more coverage in recent years — and as general managers have copped to trying to tank — the negative public perception of the practice led the league's Board of Governors to consider proposals for eliminating or modifying the lottery as we know it.
But despite reportedly broad support for changing the system prior to the BoG meetings last fall, NBA owners in October voted against draft lottery reform, due in part to concerns about unintended consequences that might come with changing the system so quickly and the possibility that the planned shift could harm small-market teams down the line.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, forever open to new ideas and approaches, has maintained he's willing to consider reworking the lottery. But after the owners struck it down — and after the league locked in a new nine-year, $24 billion broadcast rights deal that figures to have significant ramifications for free agency, trades and labor relations — the powers that be seem fine with leaving the lottery as is for now.
"Once again, on the draft lottery, we agreed to continue looking at it, but it seems highly unlikely at this point that we're going to make a change for next season," Silver said after last month.
For the time being, then, we're sticking with the ping-pong balls, the 25 percent odds of picking first for the team with the worst record, and all the rest of it. Got it? Good. Best of luck tonight.
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