The 2010 NBA Draft Lottery on May 18 is also known as the “John Wall Sweepstakes”. The 6-foot-4-inch point guard from the University of Kentucky is being touted as possibly the best No. 1 pick in the last 10 years with the exceptions of LeBron James and Dwight Howard. The 14 teams that did not make the playoffs will vie for Wall’s services in the draft lottery. The Utah Jazz have the New York Knicks’ first round pick.
The lottery has undergone many procedural changes throughout the years. Originally, the NBA used a coin flip system between the worst team in each conference to determine the first and second picks of the draft. Now, there is a drawing of ping-pong balls to determine the order of the first 14 picks.
For those math geeks out there, 14 ping-pong balls are used to create 1,001 combinations of four numbers. Then, 1,000 total combinations are assigned to the 14 teams to achieve the desired probabilities. The combination of numbers 11, 12, 13, and 14 is left unassigned and in the case that that specific combination is drawn, there will be a re-draw.
This year, the chances of teams receiving the No. 1 pick are as follows:
New Jersey Nets – 25%
Minnesota Timberwolves – 19.9%
Sacramento Kings – 15.6%
Golden State Warriors – 10.4%
Washington Wizards – 10.3%
Philadelphia 76ers – 5.3%
Detroit Pistons – 5.2%
Los Angeles Clippers – 2.3%
Utah Jazz – 2.2%
Indiana Pacers – 1.1%
New Orleans Hornets – 0.8%
Memphis Grizzlies – 0.7%
Toronto Raptors – 0.6%
Houston Rockets – 0.5%
New Jersey had the worst record in the league this past season at 12–70. Thus, they are rewarded with 250 combinations and the best chance to land the top draft pick. The lottery is only conducted for the first three picks. Picks 4 through 14 are determined by record with the worst record left receiving the highest remaining pick.
Therefore, the Nets are guaranteed no worse than the No. 4 pick, the Minnesota Timberwolves are guaranteed no worse than the No. 5 pick, and so on.
The lottery system is far from perfect. Initially implemented in order to prevent teams from deliberately losing games to ensure themselves of a shot at the coin flip, the lottery has fueled speculation that the NBA occasionally fixes the results.
The 1985 NBA Draft was the first lottery draft, although the seven teams involved in the lottery all had equal chances of winning the No. 1 pick, unlike the current weighted system. The prize of that draft class was Patrick Ewing.
Back then, the NBA used envelopes instead of ping-pong ball combinations. To this day, conspiracy theorists still allege that the envelope containing the New York Knicks logo had been frozen, thereby allowing commissioner David Stern to feel out the cold envelope and ensure that the Knicks would win the lottery.
Judge for yourself. The video of the 1985 Draft Lottery is below:
Doubts as to the legitimacy of the lottery have not gone away because in the current system, the drawing of the ping-pong balls is conducted in private, though observed by independent auditors and representatives from each team.
The Orlando Magic won the lottery in 1993 with the worst odds at 1.5 percent. In 2008, the Chicago Bulls won the lottery with only a 1.7 percent chance.
Last year, the Los Angeles Clippers won the lottery despite only having the third-best chance of winning. The Clippers victory marked the 16th time in 20 years that the team with the worst record did not win the lottery.
This year’s lottery is highly anticipated because of the once in a decade talent of Wall. Although commonly compared to Bulls star Derrick Rose, Wall is quicker, a better defender, and a better shooter than Rose was when he first entered the league.
Wall is so good that even teams with elite point guards like Utah (Deron Williams) and New Orleans (Chris Paul, Darren Collison) would draft him because of his trade value.
Also, today’s NBA is much more fluid in terms of player positions. It is not uncommon to see two point guards or two combo guards together in a backcourt. In this day and age, it is all about drafting the best remaining player instead of focusing on positions of need.
Thus, 2010 is the year of the John Wall Sweepstakes.