2018 NBA draft lottery primer: What you need to know

The 2018 NBA draft lottery takes place Tuesday night in Chicago, locking in the order of selections for the first round of the NBA draft on June 21. Here’s a quick rundown of stuff to know to fully prepare you for this year’s edition of the NBA’s annual future-determining ping-pong-ball drawing.

When is the 2018 NBA draft lottery?

The 2018 NBA draft lottery takes place on Tuesday at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. The broadcast starts at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, before the start of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. It’ll also be available on the WatchESPN app.

There’s typically at least a little bit of preamble before they actually start unveiling the results, but, again: before the game.

The actual drawing of the ping-pong balls happens earlier. We’ll explain that in a bit.

The lottery balls are picked inside the lottery room during the 2017 NBA draft lottery at the New York Hilton. (Getty)
The lottery balls are picked inside the lottery room during the 2017 NBA draft lottery at the New York Hilton. (Getty)

Which team has the best chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft?

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 Phoenix Suns, who finished in the league’s basement with a record of 21-61, and who thus have a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick.

Here’s a full breakdown of how many chances (out of 1,000 possible ping-pong-ball combinations) of landing the top spot everyone has in Tuesday’s drawing, and the odds of picking in the top three for all 14 non-playoff teams:

Team

Record

Chances

No. 1

No. 2

No. 3

Phoenix

21-61

250

25.0%

21.48%

17.73%

Memphis

22-60

199

19.9%

18.79%

17.07%

Dallas

24-58

138

13.8%

14.25%

14.54%

Atlanta

24-58

137

13.7%

14.16%

14.48%

Orlando

25-57

88

8.8%

9.64%

10.65%

Chicago

27-55

53

5.3%

6.02%

6.96%

Sacramento

27-55

53

5.3%

6.02%

6.96%

Brooklyn (to Cleveland)

28-54

28

2.8%

3.26%

3.88%

New York

29-53

17

1.7%

2.0%

2.4%

L.A. Lakers

35-47

11

1.1%

1.3%

1.57%

Charlotte

36-46

8

0.8%

0.95%

1.15%

Detroit

39-43

7

0.7%

0.83%

1.01%

L.A. Clippers

42-40

6

0.6%

0.71%

0.87%

Denver

46-36

5

0.5%

0.59%

0.72%

How have past trades affected the 2018 NBA draft lottery?

• The Cleveland Cavaliers will get the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick, which Brooklyn sent to the Boston Celtics all the way back in 2013 in the mega-trade that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to New York, and which the C’s shipped to Cleveland last summer in the blockbuster deal that made Kyrie Irving a Celtic and Isaiah Thomas (briefly) a Cavalier.

• The Philadelphia 76ers will likely get the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round pick, thanks to a pair of past trades — the 2012 deal that sent Steve Nash from Phoenix to Los Angeles, and the 2015 three-team transaction that shipped Michael Carter-Williams to the Bucks, Brandon Knight to the Suns, and L.A.’s protected 2018 selection to Philly.

If the Lakers’ pick falls between Nos. 2 and 5, though, the Sixers won’t get it. In that scenario, it will go to the Celtics, as part of the trade that allowed Philly to move up two spots in the 2017 draft to take Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall, while the Celtics picked up a future first-rounder to drop two spots and pick Jayson Tatum third. (Danny Ainge, man.)

But if it’s sixth or lower, or if it’s first overall, the Lakers pick conveys to Philadelphia. If that happens, Boston will get whichever 2019 first-round pick is better between the Sixers’ and the Sacramento Kings’, protected for the No. 1 spot. (Philly owns Sacramento’s top 2019 pick thanks to the cap-space-clearing July 2015 trade that sent Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to Pennsylvania.)

By far the most likely scenario: Philly picks 10th. By far the most intriguing scenario: the ping-pong balls break in Philly’s favor, the 1.1 percent chance that the pick lands No. 1 bears out, and the resultant explosion of exultation at The Rights to Ricky Sanchez Podcast’s Lottery Party razes Philadelphia to the ground.

• The Los Angeles Clippers will likely get the Detroit Pistons’ first-round pick, stemming from the January trade that sent Blake Griffin to Michigan. If the pick lands between Nos. 1 and 4, the Pistons hold onto it. There’s only a 2.54 percent chance of that happening, though, so the most likely scenario is the Clippers taking back-to-back picks at Nos. 12 and 13.

Who’s in the running for the No. 1 spot in the 2018 NBA draft?

Plugged-in types and prospect evaluators differ on which player’s most likely to hear his name called first, but there are a couple of contenders who appear near the top of everybody’s lists.

After a stellar freshman season at Arizona, Deandre Ayton (left) will likely be one of the top two picks in June’s 2018 NBA draft. (Getty)
After a stellar freshman season at Arizona, Deandre Ayton (left) will likely be one of the top two picks in June’s 2018 NBA draft. (Getty)

Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona: The 7-foot-1, 250-pound native of the Bahamas was a dominant physical force during his lone year of college basketball. Ayton averaged 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for the Wildcats en route to Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, as well as recognition as a consensus First-Team All-American.

Ayton and Arizona found themselves on the business end of a stunning blowout upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March, but that doesn’t really matter come June; after all, the last two No. 1 picks didn’t even play in the tournament. Ayton’s combination of size, strength, athleticism and offensive polish have made him perhaps the most coveted prospect in the draft class.

“He’s the anomaly,” a veteran NBA scout told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel in March. “The guys in our league would get a chuckle out of [there being no consensus in the mock drafts]. Deandre Ayton is the freakiest of them all.”

Luka Doncic, Real Madrid: The 6-foot-8, 228-pound Slovenian playmaker has been on the NBA radar for years, after making his debut in EuroLeague competition for international power Real Madrid at the tender age of 16. Now 19, Doncic has emerged as perhaps the most decorated European prospect ever at his age.

Doncic has already won back-to-back EuroLeague Rising Star awards, joining Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic and Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic as the only players ever to win “best under-22 players in Europe” honors twice, and helped lead Slovenia to gold at the 2017 EuroBasket tournament. While top stateside prospects are working out to get ready for the draft, he’s averaging 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per 36 minutes of floor time in EuroLeague play to help push Real Madrid into that competition’s Final Four, ranking fourth in Player Efficiency Rating in the second-best league in the world as a teenager.

There are concerns about how Doncic will fare defensively against NBA athleticism, but he’s a pick-and-roll savant of a point forward whose offensive skill set seems tailor-made for success in the modern NBA … and for what it’s worth, his coach from the Slovenian national team, Igor Kokoskov, just took the top job with the team that has the No. 1 pick.

Other players likely to come off the board early on draft night:

Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke: Few players in the country were as productive as Bagley, who averaged 21.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while shooting 61.4 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3-point range for Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Arizona native helped lead Duke to the Elite Eight, winning ACC Player of the Year honors and a consensus First-Team All-America nod. Some observers have raised concerns over how well Bagley’s game will translate at the next level, but his scoring touch, rebounding prowess and athleticism still figure to make him a high lottery pick come June.

Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State: The 6-foot-11, 240-pound son of former NBA guard Jaren Jackson flashed elite two-way potential during his lone season with the Spartans, earning recognition as the Big 10’s Defensive Player of the Year while also knocking down just under 40 percent of his 3-point shots. In the age of the unicorn, 18-year-olds who can protect the rim and space the floor are worth their weight in gold; one with Jackson’s mix of pedigree and promise could be worth a top-three pick.

Trae Young led the NCAA in points and assists per game as a freshman at Oklahoma before declaring for the 2018 NBA draft. (Getty)
Trae Young led the NCAA in points and assists per game as a freshman at Oklahoma before declaring for the 2018 NBA draft. (Getty)

Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma: A thrilling offensive creator whose playmaking flair drew comparisons to Stephen Curry during his season in Norman, Young led the NCAA ranks in both points and assists per game as a freshman, carrying Oklahoma to the NCAA tournament. Evaluators have raised concerns about his size and defensive acumen, but a team picking in the top six to eight with a need for a dynamic playmaker could choose to bet on one of the best shooters and passers in the draft class rather than worrying about what he can’t do on the other end.

Mo Bamba, C, Texas: One of this season’s most intriguing prospects, Bamba profiles as a game-changing defender at the next level by virtue of a remarkable frame — 7 feet tall with a gargantuan 7-foot-9 wingspan — that helped him protect the paint to the tune of 3.7 blocks per game during his lone season on campus, the second-best mark in the nation. Whether he can develop enough on the offensive end to be a true two-way terror against NBA opposition is a question that could be the difference between a rotation spot and an All-Star spot. But in a league where every bad team’s looking for a defensive anchor, the Harlem-born big man’s not likely to last long in the green room at Barclays Center on draft night.

Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri: This time last year, Porter was one of the most highly touted prospects in the country, a coveted 6-foot-10 forward with the length, athleticism, feel and instincts to produce points from just about anywhere on the court. And then: back surgery, to repair damage to two discs in his spine, which figured to put him on the shelf for the entire season. Porter did come back late in the campaign, but lacked the explosiveness and scoring punch that he’d displayed in rising to the top of the prep ranks. If he can show during pre-draft workouts that he’s back to that kind of form, he could once again make a push up the board.

So, what does the NBA draft lottery actually do?

The 14 teams in the running for picks 1 through 14 all get called “lottery teams,” but 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. (The Suns, owners of the highest odds of landing the No. 1 pick, can’t fall lower than No. 4. The Grizzlies, with the second-best odds, can’t drop below No. 5.) This happens pretty often. In fact, with the exception of the 2016 lottery, where everybody stayed put as projected, there has been some type of leap in every drawing since 1996.

The actual lottery drawing to determine those top three spots takes place before the TV broadcast, with select media members, NBA officials and representatives of the participating teams and the accounting firm of Ernst & Young attending the drawing.

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 Suns have the best lottery odds at 25 percent, so they get the first 250 combinations. The Denver Nuggets, who finished with the best record among non-playoff teams at 46-36, will get only five 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.

If you are the brand of conspiracy theorist who is convinced the NBA rigs the draft every year, I’m not sure that watching a 15-minute video of ping-pong balls being sucked up through a tube will allay your fears. Just in case it might, though: here’s what the 2017 drawing looked like.

Riveting stuff, right? Well, that’s why they broadcast the reactions to the revelation of the order rather than the selections themselves. Here’s hoping the assorted executives, players, franchise favorites and lucky charms in attendance in Chicago on Tuesday night give us some stunned looks, sour pusses or ecstatic fist-pumping worth talking about come Wednesday morning.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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