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How the 2015 NBA draft will work

Akhil Khatri
1.73K   //    05 May 2015, 13:34 IST
Punjab teenager Satnam Singh Bhamara, who hopes to become India’s first NBA player

Read this primer on understanding the NBA drafting process and how it works:

What is the NBA draft?

The NBA draft is a platform for players who have never played in the league before to be drafted by various teams. Every year the NBA Draft brings in a vivid display of talent, taken from various colleges, who are watched by the NBA teams throughout the year. The basic requirement is that the players should be 19 years old the year they are drafted, if they turn 19 a year later they are not eligible to be selected through the draft method.

For the native players, i.e. , the players from the United States, they can be a part of the draft only after one year of graduation from their high school class. “One and dones” is a term used for star players who enroll into a college and play college basketball for just one year. The draft not only includes college players but also includes players who take a one year gap after high school and International players. However, there are loopholes whereby it is not compulsory to play one year of college basketball, which is when players choose to save that year by playing professionally in Europe (for example, Brandon Jennings).

This process of drafting players every year is a great source for bringing in young energy into the league. It also gives the non-playoffs teams of the previous season a fair chance to strengthen their team if they win a good lottery pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. Basically, the teams that do not make it to the playoffs in the previous season get a chance to participate in a lottery to determine the draft order.

According to the present rules, 14 non-playoff teams get to participate in the lottery pick for the first three picks. The lottery is weighted so that the team with the worst record has the best chance of earning higher draft picks. The lottery process defines the first three picks of the draft. The rest of the first-round order of picks is in reverse order of the teams' win-loss record. The draft order of the second round is not decided by lottery picks. A draft pick whose position is determined by the lottery system is called “lottery pick” and the non-playoff teams which participate in the lottery are called “lottery teams”.

NBA Draft History

Pre 1985 era – Territorial picks and coin flip picks

The pre 1985 era where the weighted lottery system didn’t exist used two different methods to decide which team gets the first overall pick. Up until 1966 the teams would draft in the reverse order of their win-loss record. Nevertheless, a special territorial pick rule gave the teams a chance to choose a player from its local area. But, if a team used this special pick, they forfeit their first round pick.

In 1966 though, NBA announced a new Coin-flip system where a coin flip between the worst teams in either conferences would determine the first pick. The team which lost the toss would get the second overall pick. The coin flip was brought into usage to give the worst teams from both conferences an equal chance to pick first. This system remained till 1984.

1985-1989: Early lottery system


After the 1984 coin flip, which was won by Houston Rockets, they system got many criticisms saying various teams including the Houston Rockets were intentionally losing their regular season games in order to secure the worst record and get a 50 percent chance to win the first pick. These criticisms brought about a change in the Drafting system.

A lottery system was announced, which involved a random drawing of an envelope from a hopper. The envelopes included names of all the non-playoff teams, the envelope drawn first would get the first pick and so on. This system gave all non-playoff teams an equal chance to get the first pick. As usual the rest of the first round picks were determined in a reverse order of the teams’win-loss record.

After two years of following this system, the NBA modified the system to let only the first three picks to be decided by lottery. After the first three envelopes were drawn, the usual system of reverse order was followed. Heavy criticism followed when New York Knicks won the first pick in 1985 and selected Georgetown university standout Patrick Ewing. Speculations against NBA said that they had rigged the system to make New York Knicks win the first pick. But the criticisms did not facilitate change in the system until 1989.

1990 – Present: Weighted lottery system

In 1990, the NBA changed the lottery system to give the team with the worst record the best chance to land the first pick. For the 11 non-playoff teams that season, the team with the worst record would have 11 out of 66 chances to bag the first pick, the team with the second worst record would have 10 out of 66 chances and so on. One similarity with the previous system was that, the lottery would determine only the first three picks and remaining would be in the reverse order.

In spite of the weighted odds, the 1993 lottery was won by Orlando Magic who had the best record in the non-playoff teams, with only one chance at winning the lottery. Such an upset caused the NBA to make changes in the system again. The NBA then increased the chances of the worst team from 16.7% to 25% and decreased the chances of the best non-playoff team from 1.5% to 0.5%. In the new system, 14 numbered table tennis balls were used. Then, four-digit combinations from the 14 balls were drawn to fix the lottery winner. Prior to the draft, the NBA allotted 1000 possible combinations to the non-playoff teams. The process was then repeated to determine the second and third pick. The table below shows the lottery chances and the probabilities for each team to win the first pick in the weighted lottery system in 1993 and 1994 draft.

Current System – Good or Bad?       

The current Draft Lottery System encourages the non-playoff teams to tank in order to gain a chance at the first pick. Teams work with the mentality of “Win big or Lose big”. This trend needs to be altered; the officials at the Association need to come up with a system which decreases the incentive of ending up in the bottom of the table. This will improve the level of competition, and increase the number of clutch games in a season. The fight for the playoffs, on the court, will go to a whole new level.

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