NBA Draft Lottery primer: Is this finally the year the Hornets’ grab the top pick?

A sense of deja vu may overcome Brandon Miller on Sunday.

The Charlotte Hornets swingman will be back in a familiar environment, once again at the same venue he found himself in a year ago. Except this time, Miller has a different mission in mind: bringing the Hornets some luck so they can grab the top overall selection in next month’s NBA Draft.

Miller is representing the Hornets on the dais for the NBA Draft Lottery at McCormick Place in Chicago, signaling just how far he’s come in 12 months. He was unsure of his future employer during his last visit there, especially with the debate raging about whether he’d be selected second behind Victor Wembanaya or if the distinction was instead going to Scoot Henderson.

Everyone knows how that worked out.

So now, fresh off finishing third in the rookie of the year voting, Miller is hoping to be the Hornets’ lucky charm and help them secure something that’s been elusive since 1991. It’s been quite a while.

More than three decades have elapsed since the Hornets were awarded the No. 1 pick in the draft despite boasting the fifth-best odds and selected Larry Johnson, who’s still one of the franchise’s most popular players. They came close twice in the past four years by landing Miller at No. 2 and beating their odds in 2020 when they nabbed the third spot and plucked LaMelo Ball off the board.

After taking a tiebreaker with Portland, the Hornets have a 13.3% chance of winning the lottery, which is third-best behind the 14% of Detroit and Washington, and ahead of the Trail Blazers’ 13.2. So, is this the year that top-pick drought ends for the Hornets?

Some have joked that will be the case considering this is expected to be among the weakest draft classes in an extremely long time, and the number of unknown foreign players at the top of many mocks could make this tricky for executives to judge.

Still, having the option to choose the best player in the draft — or trade the pick for more assets — is something many executives would take in a nanosecond. And the Hornets, who need as much help as they can get to end their playoff drought, aren’t in position to be very picky.

Here’s a primer about the draft lottery process and what to expect:


In order to discourage tanking so teams wouldn’t just give up on the season and lose on purpose to get a better draft pick — i.e.: Philadelphia and “The Process” — the NBA revamped the format in 2019. The playing field was leveled.

Now, the three teams finishing with the worst regular-season record are armed with a 14% chance to win the lottery. Before making that notable alteration, the team with the fewest wins had a 25% of landing No. 1 while the second-worst team (19.9%) and the third-worst (15.6%) still had pretty good odds.

Under this current system, the team with the worst record is guaranteed no worse than the fifth pick, whereas prior to the league’s change the team with the worst record would select no lower than fourth.

How it works

It’s not quite Powerball or Mega Millions.

But for the drawing, the NBA utilizes a lottery machine manufactured by the same company that produces state lottery machines around the country. There are 14 ping-pong balls numbered 1-14 and a total of 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of the 14, regardless of their order of selection. Prior to the actual process, the league assigns 1,000 of the combinations to the 14 teams.

When the hopper is activated, the balls are mixed together for 20 seconds before the initial ball is selected. Those balls that are left are mixed in the machine for another 10 seconds before a ball is drawn. That process is repeated two more times and the team with the four-ball combinations is awarded the top selection.

Balls are returned to the machine and they repeat the process again to determine which teams pick second, third and fourth. A caveat: should the same team combination appear more than once — or if that one unassigned combination comes up — the result is thrown out and another four-ball combination is selected.

Either way, as usual the Hornets’ future will hinge on what happens in a ballroom in May rather than a basketball court. It’s an annual rite and something they are well-versed in.


Where: McCormick Place, Chicago

Date: Sunday, May 12

Time: 3 p.m. ET