The NBA's 2007 draft lottery occurred on May 22nd and determined the order of selection of the top 14 picks in the upcoming draft that will take place on Thursday, June 28th in New York City. This year's lottery was bound to be particularly impactful due to the depth and star potential of the 2007 draft class (brought about, in part, by the fact that the new draft eligibility age limit began to be imposed in 2006, effectively adding additional prospects to the 2007 draft). The consensus top two draft picks this year are highly coveted and likely superstar big men Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. As luck would have it, the Portland Trailblazers won the right to select first despite having only the fifth best chance for this lottery result, and the Seattle Supersonics won the rights to the second pick despite having only the fourth best chance to receive this pick. The Atlanta Hawks won the rights to the third pick and the rest of the picks were determined by the inverse order of their 2006-2007 regular season records. The three teams with the worst records and the best lottery chances, Memphis, Boston, and Milwaukee, will select fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively, a result that was the worst possible lottery scenario for these three teams.
A math non-expert (or a Grizzlies, Celtics, or Bucks fan) might wonder, 'how could this have happened?' One way to better understand it is to examine how the NBA draft lottery actually works. In the lottery, fourteen balls numbered 1-14 are put into a standard lottery machine. Four of these balls are drawn to create a number combination for the first pick. For example, the balls labeled #3, #7, #11, and #9 might be drawn creating a number combination of 3-7-11-9. After the combination for the first pick is read, the drawn ping pong balls are put back in the machine and the process is repeated to determine combinations for the next two picks in the draft. 1001 number combinations are possible from this lottery process and prior to the draft 1000 of them are assigned to the fourteen non-playoff teams. The amount of combinations a team gets is based inversely on their regular season record, i.e. the non-playoff teams with worse season records get more combinations then the non-playoff teams with better season records (Two additional details: The drawing order of the numbers in a combination is not employed as a distinguishing factor, and if the one non-assigned combination comes up the balls are re-drawn).
In this year's draft, the Memphis Grizzlies were assigned 250 of the possible combinations, the Boston Celtics assigned 199, the Milwaukee Bucks assigned 156, the Atlanta Hawks assigned 119, the Seattle Supersonics assigned 88, and the Portland Trailblazers were assigned 53 combinations. The first number combination that came up when the ping pong balls were drawn from the lottery machine was one of the Trailblazers' 53 combinations. The second combination that was drawn was a combination that had been assigned to the Sonics. The third combination drawn was a combination that had been assigned to the Hawks.
The announcement ceremony of the results of this lottery process was televised live by ESPN on May 22nd. However, they did not highlight the ping pong balls being drawn or show the numbers in the winning combinations. This lack of focus on the actual lottery process was perhaps due to a determination that the math of the NBA lottery was of little general interest. It might follow that an article examining the math of the lottery would not be necessary, but the unlikely results of this particular draft lottery have made its logistical mathematics a bit more noteworthy.
Copyright © 2010 Theblueswink
2007 NBA Draft: Lottery Logistics
Copyright © 2010 Theblueswink
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