How the NBA Draft Lottery Works -

How the NBA Draft Lottery Works

We’re just two weeks away from finding out where the Pacers will pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Regardless of the lottery results, Indiana will have a top-nine pick for the first time since 1989. But it could be a very special night, as the Pacers have a 10.5-percent chance of landing the first overall pick and a 42.1-percent chance of picking in the top four.

The NBA has used a lottery system to determine the order at the top of the draft since 1985, with the latest reform to the lottery coming in 2019. NBA fans no doubt have watched the lottery on TV, but do you know how the lottery actually works? We’ve tried our best to outline what really happens on lottery night.

The first misconception about the lottery is that the televised lottery is the actual lottery drawing. In reality, the real drawing takes place in a separate room shortly before the ESPN show airs. In that room is a representative from each of the 14 teams in the lottery (in previous years the Pacers have been represented by recently retired Director of Media Relations David Benner), NBA officials, a media member, and a representative from the accounting firm of Ernst & Young.

For the lottery, 14 ping pong balls numbered 1 through 14 are placed in a lottery machine. The machine runs and four balls are chosen at random to generate a four-number combination (for example: 3, 5, 9, 13).

There are 1,001 possible four-digit combinations that can be drawn. Ahead of the lottery, 1,000 of those combinations will be assigned to the 14 lottery teams (the 1,001st combination is thrown out), with each team receiving a number of combinations equivalent to their percent odds of winning the top pick. Because the Pacers have a 10.5-percent chance of securing the number-one pick, they will receive 105 of the 1,000 four-digit combinations.

When the lottery begins, the first four-digit combination is drawn. Whichever team has that combination is awarded the first overall pick.

A second four-digit combination is then drawn to determine the second overall pick. The process repeats for the third and fourth picks. If any team is drawn more than once in this process (or if the one combination that does not belong to any team is drawn), the result is discarded and a new four-number combination is drawn.

Once the top four teams have been determined, the remaining teams are then slotted fifth through 14th based on their regular-season record. So while any lottery team can jump into any spot in the top four, no team can fall more than four spots from their pre-lottery position. Because the Pacers enter with the fifth-best odds, they can end up anywhere in the top nine depending on how the lottery unfolds, either jumping into the top four, staying fifth, or being bumped down to sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth.

Once the lottery results are official, Ernst & Young officials stuff and seal envelopes for the television portion of the lottery. Team representatives on hand for the actual lottery are sequestered in their room until the TV broadcast concludes.

The television broadcast unveils the draft order in the most dramatic fashion possible. Each team has a different representative on stage for the broadcast, where Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum announces the lottery results. Past Pacers representatives for the televised lottery included Nancy Leonard, Larry Bird, and Danny Granger.

Neither Tatum nor any of the representatives are aware of the lottery results before the broadcast. Tatum opens a series of envelopes to reveal the draft order, starting with identifying who will have the 14th pick and working his way up to the top pick.

Below are the Pacers’ percent odds of securing each pick between first and ninth.

Pick 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Odds 10.5 10.5 10.6 10.5 2.2 19.6 26.7 8.7 0.6

In two weeks, the ping pong balls will determine which pick the Pacers will have in the 2022 NBA Draft. Here’s hoping for the luck of the draw.

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