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 make a top nine selection for the first time since 1989. But it could be a very special night, as the Pacers have a 10.5 percent chance of making the first overall pick and a 42.1 percent chance of finishing 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 lottery’s most recent reform coming in 2019. NBA fans have no doubt seen the lottery on TV, but do you know how the lottery actually works? functions? We’ve tried our best to outline what really happens on lottery night.

The first misconception about the lottery is that the television lottery is the actual lottery draw. In reality, the actual drawing takes place in a separate room just before the ESPN show airs. In this room is a representative from each of the lottery’s 14 teams (in previous years, the Pacers were represented by recently retired media director David Benner), NBA officials, a member of the media, and a representative from Ernst’s accounting firm.

For the lottery, 14 table tennis balls numbered 1 through 14 are placed in a lottery machine. The machine runs and four balls are randomly selected to create a combination of four numbers (for example: 3, 5, 9, 13).

There are 1,001 possible four-digit combinations that can be drawn. Before the lottery, 1,000 of these combinations are assigned to the 14 lottery teams (the 1,001st combination is drawn), with each team receiving a number of combinations equal to their percentage chance of winning the top pick. Since the Pacers have a 10.5 percent chance of securing the number one pick, they get 105 of the 1,000 four-digit combinations.

At the beginning of the lottery, the first four-digit combination is drawn. Whichever team has this combination gets the first overall win.

A second four-digit combination is then drawn to determine the second overall pick. The process is repeated for the third and fourth exposure. If a 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 will be ranked fifth through 14 based on their regular season tally. Thus, while any lottery team can jump to any place in the top four, no team can drop more than four places from their pre-lottery position. Since the Pacers enter with the fifth-best odds, they can finish anywhere in the top nine, either jump into the top four, stay fifth, or drop to sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth depending on how the lottery goes.

Once the lottery results are official, Ernst & Young officials stuff and seal the envelopes for the television portion of the lottery. Team representatives available for the actual lottery will be confiscated in their room until the end of the televised broadcast.

The television show unveils the draft regulation in the most dramatic way 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 have included Nancy Leonard, Larry Bird and Danny Granger.

Neither Tatum nor any of the representatives are aware of the lottery results prior to the broadcast. Tatum opens a series of envelopes to reveal the draft order, beginning with identifying who will make the 14th selection and working through to the top selection.

Below are the Pacers’ percentage chances of securing each pick between first and ninth place.

Choose 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8th 9
opportunities 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 decide what pick the Pacers will have in the 2022 NBA Draft. Here we hope for the luck of the draw.

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