NBA Lottery History

  • The Lottery started in 1985, to combat tanking.
  • The 1985 and '86 draft lotteries were for just the number one overall pick. In 1987, the lottery system started determining the top 3 picks, not just the first.
  • From 1985 to 1989, all non-playoff teams had an equal chance at getting the number one overall pick.
  • Beginning in 1990, the weighted lottery system was introduced.
  • From 1990 to 1993, the first incarnation of the weighting was based on a total of 66 chances at the number one overall pick, spread among the 11 non-playoff teams, with the worst record receiving 11 of the 66 chances. The rest of the chances were given in descending order from 10 to 1 to non-playoff teams. There were only 27 teams at the time (16 playoff teams, 11 in lottery).
  • In 1994, the NBA wised up and tweaked the lottery chances to basically what we know today, with the worst record receiving a 25 percent chance at the top pick, and so on. The total combinations or chances increased to 1000, with 250 chances at the top pick going to the worst record.
  • In 1995, the NBA expanded to include Toronto and Vancouver. The percentages were altered to fit them in, and they were also fiddled with in 1996. The lottery percentages were changed for the FINAL time in 2004, with the addition of the Charlotte Bobcats as an expansion team. 30 teams at last, thank god almighty 30 teams at last.

Here are the odds we all now know and love that determine the Sixers' future, if there are no ties (rounded to 3 decimal places):

Seed Chances 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th
1 250 .250 .215 .178 .357
2 199 .199 .188 .171 .319 .123
3 156 .156 .157 .156 .226 .265 .040
4 119 .119 .126 .133 .099 .351 .160 .012
5 88 .088 .097 .107 .261 .360 .084 .004
6 63 .063 .071 .081 .439 .305 .040 .001
7 43 .043 .049 .058 .599 .232 .018 .000
8 28 .028 .033 .039 .724 .168 .008 .000
9 17 .017 .020 .024 .813 .122 .004 .000
10 11 .011 .013 .016 .870 .089 .002 .000
11 8 .008 .009 .012 .907 .063 .001 .000
12 7 .007 .008 .010 .935 .039 .000
13 6 .006 .007 .009 .960 .018
14 5 .005 .006 .007 .982

Some things need to be sorted out. To put the lottery in proper historic context, the lottery history must be segmented. The lottery from 1985 to 1988 (as well as '89, but there was expansion) is the first era. 1990 to 1993 is the second era, when the weighted lottery was introduced. In 1994, the lottery modernized, but the league only had 27 teams. So we need to control out every draft that wasn't at least almost identical to how it is now.

In my estimation, that didn't really happen until 1999, after the NBA had expanded to 29 teams and the restrictions on the expansion teams (Vancouver and Toronto) had ended. The deal allowing them entry into the league prohibited them from getting the top pick.

1999 to 2013 is a total of 15 lotteries. Here is what happened:

That is not a lot of 2nd-worsts. In fact, it's just 1. And it was a tie. There are two things to take away from this. One is that there shouldn't be a sobfest at the end of the year, when we still only have the second worst record. Of the modern NBA lottery era, the worst record has only won the lottery twice out of 15 years. That's just 13.3% of the time. But, that is obviously not how math works. No matter how many times the worst record doesn't get the number one overall pick, it is still best to have the best odds. The only way the odds change is if the NBA changes the odds.

Here is what happened in the other lottery eras, with less detail because it is less relevant:

  • First era (1985 to 1989). 1985 - 4th worst, '86 -7th, '87 - 4th, '88 - 1st, '89 - 6th.
  • Second era (1990 to 1993, 11 teams with descending chance from 11 to1). 1990 - Worst record, '91 - tied 4th, '92 - 2nd, '93 - 11th.
  • Third era (1994 to 1998, our beloved current system but with different odds due to expansion to 13 teams beginning in 1996 lottery). 1994 - Tied 2nd, '95 - 5th, '96 - 2nd *Iverson*, '97 - 3rd, '98 - 3rd.

Even after adding all the lottery history up, albeit including older eras that gave less chance at the top pick for the worst record team, the worst team has not fared very well in the lottery. Some of this is summed up better in an SB Nation post by Kevin Zimmerman, who made a good table of details going back to 1990 near the end of the post.

A couple more numbers to tie up the loose ends:

  • In the modern lottery era ('99-'13), the worst record has won the rights to first overall pick twice, amounting to 13.33% of the time.
  • In the near-modern era ('94-'98), the worst record won the lottery exactly zero times.
  • First era of weighted lottery, once. 25%.
  • The modern and near-modern eras combined have had the worst record awarded the first pick just twice out of twenty times, 10%. All weighted lottery eras, 3 of 24, 12.5%. All eras, 4 of 29, 14.29%.
  • Seven of fifteen modern lotteries have had the top pick awarded to a bottom-3 record, 46.67%.
  • Five of fifteen had the top pick going to the 4th to 6th worst records, 33%.
  • Three of fifteen to the 7th to 9th worst, 20%.
  • If we stay in the second worst slot, we are guaranteed a top-5 pick. We have a 55.8% chance at a top-3 pick, a 19.9 % chance at the top pick, 18.8% at the second pick, and a 17.1 % chance at the third.
  • This is what happened in each lottery (which records got the top 3 picks because the 76ers must get top-3 this year) since 1999:
    • '99 - 3/1/13
    • '00 - 7/4/1
    • '01 - 3/8/5
    • '02 - 5/2/1
    • '03 - 1/6/2
    • '04 - 1/5/2
    • '05 - 6/1/4
    • '06 - 5/2/3
    • '07 - 6/3/1
    • '08 - 9/1/3
    • '09 - 3/6/4
    • '10 - 5/6/1
    • '11 - 8/1/6
    • '12 - 3/1/2
    • '13 - 3/1/8

5-20-14. That is when the divine prophecy is revealed. It would be silly for either Embiid or Parker to wreck our future by returning to school. There's too much risk. If you're guaranteed to be a top 3 or 5 pick, you can't not go. No one should be upset about that, and no one should say there is a significant shot at them returning to school, regardless of what they say or have said through season's end. We fear they may return, so we're trying to prepare for the worst by broaching the subject. It's still highly unlikely. With elite prospects like these, returning to school leaves you prone to injury and can lower stock, not elevate or even just stagnate. Marcus Smart is a great example.

We should prepare for not getting the top pick. We should prepare for not getting a top-3 pick. And we have to luck out with whoever we would choose in order to establish credibility to offer a max to either Kevin Love in one year or Kevin Durant in two years. I know the road to rings isn't linear, but that is my thought process for the time being.

For right now, let's just get the damn first pick.

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