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NBA Draft Lottery Odds Overview and Play-In Tournament Impact

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One thing is noticeably missing from the final week of the 2020-21 NBA regular season . Thanks to the inception of the NBA Play-In Tournament, the top 10 teams in each conference will qualify for the NBA Postseason. Unfortunately, multiple games separate the 10 and 11-seeds in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. While fans may not have the usual drama of two (or more) teams battling right down to the wire for a playoffs spot this year, there is still plenty of uncertainty with regard to the 2021 NBA Draft lottery.

Read on for an overview of the NBA lottery odds system and this year’s multi-team race for the top draft pick.
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NBA Draft Lottery Overview

To combat tanking, i.e., intentionally losing games, the NBA instituted the draft lottery system back in 1985 . Of course, one can argue the effectiveness of this maneuver, as multiple teams still seem to prioritize losing to improve their draft capital on a yearly basis. Thanks to the lottery, the team with the worst record in the league is not automatically guaranteed the first overall draft pick. In fact, they aren’t even guaranteed to pick in the top three! Instead, they must sweat out a lottery drawing to ultimately find out where they will draft.

NBA Lottery Odds Breakdown

The following table breaks down the NBA Lottery odds of landing the number one overall pick in the draft. The lottery seeds in the table are listed starting with the worst record. The three teams with the worst regular season records all receive equivalent odds of landing the first pick. However, the team with the worst record is guaranteed a top-five pick.

Also included is the mathematical average draft pick that each team could expect to land based on where they finish in the standings.

Lottery Seed (By Inverse Order of Season Standings) % Odds to Land Top Pick Average Pick Based on Lottery Seed
1 14.0 3.7
2 14.0 3.9
3 14.0 4.1
4 12.5 4.4
5 10.5 5.0
6 9.0 5.5
7 7.5 6.2
8 6.0 7.0
9 4.5 8.0
10 3.0 9.2
11 2.0 10.3
12 1.5 11.4
13 1.0 12.5
14 0.5 13.7

As seen in the table, the lottery odds should typically sort out the top 14 picks in the inverse order of the standings. The lone exception to this is really the three teams with the worst records. Since they are all afforded an equal shot at the top pick, even the team with the worst record sees their odds average out at a draft pick closer to fourth overall than first.

How the NBA Play-In Tournament Could Impact the Lottery

This year, the NBA Draft Lottery will have the unique fact that 20 teams will technically qualify for the 2020-21 postseason. That being said, the bottom seven teams in the respective conference standings will still be those included in the draft lottery UNLESS a 9- or 10-seed manages to win both of its NBA Play-In Tournament games. If this were to happen, that team would qualify for a spot in the standard 8-team playoffs.

Get a detailed overview and breakdown of just how the first-ever NBA Play-In Tournament works!

Should this occur, the back end of the NBA Lottery would be altered to reflect the 7- or 8-seed that ultimately did not qualify for the postseason bracket. The winning 9- or 10-seed team would not be a part of the lottery even though they finished in the seven in their respective conference during the regular season. Instead, the team that they beat in the second play-in game (also the loser of the 7 vs 8 play-in tournament game) would drop out of the postseason bracket and into the lottery.