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The NBA draft lottery explained

An NBA fixture since 1985, the draft lottery will have some new rules for 2019.

NBA team representatives participating in the NBA basketball

NBA team representatives participating in the NBA basketball draft lottery sit on stage Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) Photo Credit: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

The race to the bottom of the NBA standings has a few new twists this year.

Teams near the lower end of the league standings may have an eye on the scoreboard as they hope for better position in the upcoming NBA draft lottery, which will take place on May 14 during the playoffs. This year's lottery has new odds and an extra selection in 2019.

The NBA draft lottery, established in 1985, is designed to discourage teams from purposely losing games in order to obtain a better position in the draft. Since 1990, the NBA has used a weighted lottery system, giving the teams with the worst records the best chance at winning. 

Here’s how the lottery works: Fourteen ping pong balls numbered 1-14 enter a standard lottery machine. For each selection, four balls are pulled from the machine to create one of 1,000 combinations assigned to the 14 lottery teams. (Example: 1-4-11-13). The lottery is overseen by witnesses from the accounting firm Ernst & Young.

From the NBA’s expansion to 30 teams in 2005 up until 2018, a weighted format was used to determine the top three picks, with the order of remaining non-playoff teams sorted by final record. The worst team would receive 250 combinations, or 25 percent, while the second-worst would receive 199 combinations, or 19.9 percent. Teams that finished above the bottom four had less than 10 percent of the combinations each, while the four best lottery teams had a combined 26 combinations, or just 0.26 percent.

Beginning with the 2019 lottery, the top four picks will be determined by the lottery. Instead of the worst team having the best odds, the three worst teams will have an equal chance at winning with 140 combinations each, or a 14 percent chance. The new odds mean less of a chance at winning a lottery pick for each of the three worst teams, but better odds for the next 10 teams in the standings with increases ranging from 3.2 percent to 0.4 percent. The best non-playoff team will continue to have a 0.5 percent chance.

Here are the updated percentages for the lottery this season, ordered from worst to best records, with a comparison to odds from last season:

1. 14.0 percent (11 percent decrease)

2. 14.0 percent (5.9 percent decrease)

3. 14.0 percent (1.6 percent decrease)

4. 12.5 percent (0.6 percent increase)

5. 10.5 percent (1.7 percent increase)

6. 9.0 percent (2.7 percent increase)

7. 7.5 percent (3.2 percent increase)

8. 6.0 percent (3.2 percent increase)

9. 4.5 percent (2.8 percent increase)

10. 3.0 percent (1.9 percent increase)

11. 2.0 percent (1.2 percent increase)

12. 1.5 percent (.8 percent increase)

13. 1.0 percent (.4 percent increase)

14. 0.5 percent (no change)

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