The more I study the NBA Draft Lottery, the more I am convinced that it is fixed. As I have said before, Adam Silver has 30 bosses that he needs to please, while also being responsible for growing the popularity of the game. The Draft Lottery not only can dramatically change a franchise’s trajectory but also the league’s. So it is crazy to think that the commissioner would leave the fortunes of the NBA to chance. Accepting this helped me predict where 10 of 14 teams would pick last year, including the winner of the draft, Detroit. With that said, let’s now look at how the commissioner would like the lottery to unfold.

Get New Stars To Small Market Teams

Image courtesy of NBA Analysis Network

The career path for star players now seems to be to start on a small market team, play there for 7-8 seasons, then look to join a big market team. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Anthony Davis have all followed this path. Since small market teams are not free agent destinations, they rely on the draft to acquire superstar talent. So Adam Silver would prefer that the best young talent go to the small market teams to help competitive balance and appease the small market owners.

This year there are 7 small market teams in the lottery: New Orleans, Charlotte, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Cleveland, and Indiana. The good news is that two franchises, Cleveland and Charlotte aren’t in need of young stars. They have LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley. Plus they have the worst odds, so they are not expecting move up. As for the 5 other small market teams, all except Orlando have a promising young player that is on the verge of stardom. So keep an eye on the Orlando Magic.

Stop the Tanking

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Then there is the other thing that no one talks about that is also very important for the health of the game, stopping the practice of tanking. It is bad for business, especially now that the NBA is opening itself up to gambling. It is no coincidence that Philadelphia didn’t win the lottery in the ‘Trust the Process’ era until they fired Sam Hinkie, a signal that they were done tanking. There are two teams that openly tanked the last two seasons; Houston and Oklahoma City. So don’t expect either franchise to get lucky in the lottery. That eliminates 2 of the teams with the best odds of winning the lottery. Which only helps the Knicks’ slim odds, 9.4%, of landing in the top 4. Speaking of odds, let’s review them.

Lottery Odds

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Aside from the conspiracy theories we also still need to study the probabilities. I looked at the prior results and tied them back to the mathematical odds. One thing that has happened every year since the lottery odds were flatten in 2019 is that a team with the 7th or 8th best odds has jumped into the top 4.

  • 2019, the top 2 picks went to New Orleans and Memphis who had 7th and 8th best odds. 
  • 2020, Chicago and Charlotte had the 7th and 8th best odds. Charlotte got the 3rd pick and the Chicago got the 4th.
  • 2021, Toronto had the 7th best odds and landed 4th pick which they used to draft Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes.

The reason is simple, the odds of moving up start increasing with the 8th pick. The team with the 8th worst record has a 26% chance of landing in the top 4, while the 7th team has a ~32% chance. Conversely, the team with the worst record, this year it’s Houston, has a ~48% chance of getting the 5th pick. This year, Sacramento has the 7th best odds and New Orleans which owns the Lakers’ pick has the 8th best odds.

Now that we are done explaining the logic, it’s prediction time, so let’s begin.

  • Picks 14th – 12th, no change in order
  • 11th Pick – Washington slides back 1 spot, New York moves up !!
  • 10th Pick – San Antonio slides back 1 spot from 9th
  •   9th Pick – New Orleans slides back 1 spot from 8th
  •   8th Pick – Portland slides back 2 spots from 6th 
  •   7th Pick – Indiana slides back 2 spots from 5th, Kings moves up!!
  •   6th Pick – OKC slides back 2 spots from 4th (punishment for tanking!)
  •   5th Pick – Houston falls back 4 spots, (punishment for tanking!)
  •   4th Pick – Goes to Sacramento, 31.9% chance of top 4 pick
  •   3rd Pick – Goes to New York, moved up 8 spots 6.6% probability
  •  2nd Pick – Detroit moves up 1 spot
  •   1st Pick Goes to Orlando, moved up 1 spot to win the lottery !!

Conspiracy Theory Explained

Orlando Magic

Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren in High School. Photo courtesy of Duke Basketball Report

Orlando missed out on the two best rookies last season, Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley by falling back 2 spots in the lottery. Jalen Suggs was the only high lottery pick that didn’t impress last season. So the NBA would like to do right by the Magic by giving them the best big man in this draft. Then there is the nice story line of Holmgren and Suggs being teammates in High School. So Holmgren would be Suggs’ preferred teammate which could help his development.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings have the longest playoff drought in the NBA, not since 2005-06 season. They need to improve next season and at least make the play-in tournament. Landing the 4th overall pick allows them to select a good wing to compliment De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. They can select Jaden Ivey, AJ Griffin, or Shaedon Sharpe. 

New York Knicks

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Landing the 3rd overall pick would be the lucky break the Knicks desperately need. They haven’t moved in lottery in 37 years, not since the first one in 1985. The Knicks could select a dynamic wing to compliment RJ Barrett or use the pick in a trade.

But if I was Adam Silver I would want to motivate New Orleans  to trade Zion Williamson to New York. By having them drop to the 9th pick they will miss out on two of the best Power Forwards and the best playmaking wings, both areas of need. The Knicks are deep at Power Forward so they could package the pick along with other players for Zion. T Pelicans could replace Zion with either; Randle, Toppin, or Paolo Banchero, plus other assets. This would be the best way to move off of Zion who doesn’t want to be there and provides New Orleans with the best excuse for not giving him a hefty contract extension.

If New Orleans swaps picks with New York, then the Knicks then could use the 9th pick on a player they like, Bennedict Mathurin, Dyson Daniels, or Jalen Duren. They could also package that pick along with their other Power Forward for a Point Guard they desperately need like a Malcolm Brogdon or Anfernee Simons.


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