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NBA draft lottery explained: History of lottery and how it works

We look back at the history of the NBA draft lottery.

Commissioner of the NBA, Mark Tatum holds up the card of the Orlando Magic after they get the 5th overall pick in the NBA Draft during the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery on June 22, 2021 at the NBA Entertainment Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2023 NBA Draft Lottery will take place on Tuesday, May 16. The event is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET and will air on ESPN.

Ahead of the lottery, let’s take a look at the odds, how it works and the history of this event.

How the lottery works

The NBA draft lottery determines the order of the first 14 picks in the NBA draft, which will take place on June 22. Essentially, the 14 teams that missed out on the NBA Playoffs are put into the lottery, although prior trades need to be taken into consideration.

The lottery results are decided by ping pong balls mixed and randomly selected from a machine manufactured by the Smart Play Company, which produces similar machines for numerous state lotteries.

The teams with the three worst records in the NBA (Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets) each have a 14% chance at winning the lottery, and the odds decrease as the records of each lottery team improves. For example, the New Orleans Pelicans only have a 0.5% chance at receiving the No. 1 overall pick, as they finished with a respectable 42-40 record in the regular season while losing in the play-in tournament.

History of the lottery

The NBA draft lottery started in 1985 by commissioner David Stern as a way to disincentivize teams from tanking their record to secure a top overall pick.

Before this system was put in place, the top overall pick was decided over a coin flip between the two teams with the worst overall records. The winner of the coin flip would be awarded the No. 1 overall selection. The loser would receive the No. 2 pick.

This wasn’t enough to deter teams from sabotaging their record in an effort to be part of the coin flip while trying to secure the top pick. Thus, the NBA draft lottery was put in place.

The lottery was tweaked here and there over the years until the current version was developed in 2019. This gave the teams with the three worst records in the NBA each a 14% chance at securing the No. 1 overall pick, then scaled down from there.

Which teams have won the most lotteries?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have won the NBA draft lottery five separate times. Behind them stands the Orlando Magic, which emerged with the No. 1 overall pick on four occasions. That includes last year in 2022.

From here, the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers both won the NBA draft lottery on three separate occasions since the system was put in place in 1985.

What teams are in this year’s lottery and what are their odds of winning it?

Here are the odds to receive the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft lottery.