What’s New For The 2019 NBA Lottery?

by May 14, 2019
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Zion Williamson of the Duke Blue Devils

By the end of the day today, NBA fans will know which of 14 hopeful lottery teams will be in position to add Zion Williamson to their lineup next month. The results of tonight’s NBA lottery, which will air at 8:30 pm EST, will determine the order of the 2019 NBA Draft.

This year’s lottery process is different from those in years past and involves several odds-smoothing mechanisms to disincentive tanking. These changes were announced in September 2017 but haven’t taken place until now. The biggest differences in the process are:

  • The teams with the three worst records have equal odds of landing the top pick. Previously the team with the worst record had a 25% chance of landing the top pick, the second-worst team had 19.9% shot and the third-worst had a hair over 15.6%. Now each of the three worst teams has a 14.1% chance of landing the No. 1 pick, making it considerably less lucrative to “compete” for the fewest wins in a given NBA season.
  • Teams in the mid-to-late lottery have better odds of success. While the worst three teams in the lottery will have less ping pong ball combinations, those combinations have to go somewhere. All the remaining lottery teams – so the fourth-worst team through the 14th-worst – will now have greater odds of improving their standing. The sixth-worst team, for example, will have a 9% chance of winning the lottery versus a 6.3% chance previously. The eight-worst will have a 19% chance of landing in the top-three versus just 10% previously.
  • Four teams can advance in the lottery now. Sure, winning the lottery is nice, but some teams are simply happy not getting leapfrogged by other teams with better records than them. Under the new system the first four picks will be determined by the lottery and the rest of the list is populated based on the win records and tie-breakers. Previously only the first three picks were decided this way. That means the worst-case scenario for the teams with the worst records is now even… worse. The team with the worst-record could be leapfrogged by four teams and end up with the No. 5 pick whereas previously they furthest they could fall was to fourth.

It’s not clear whether these lottery tweaks will make the bottom half of the league more competitive as Adam Silver and the NBA may have hoped but they certainly won’t make the situation worse.