It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately, Draft Lottery Day has become a staple for the Washington Wizards and is something Wizards fans have become accustomed to lately. It is essentially Christmas in May. Sadly, it also has the potential to be the Christmas where Santa didn’t show up, disappointing the faithful after suffering through another miserable season.
But there is always that small chance of hope. That small part of you deep down inside that says with a sigh, “yeah, it could happen.”
When the draft lottery occurs on Tuesday, May 21st, the Wizards will have the 8th best shot at landing the first overall pick.
The purpose of this article is to break down the possible scenarios that the Wizards could be looking at. While the actual process of how the lottery works — along with going behind the curtain into the mysterious lottery room where the “magic” happens — is mathematically complicated, the actual results and possible outcomes are not. If you are more interested in reading about the the mathematics behind the process and all the possible combinations and permutations and blah, blah, blah, just check out the Wiki page here. There you will find things such as this:
To determine the winner, fourteen ping pong balls numbered 1–14 are placed in a standard lottery machine and four balls are randomly selected from the lot. Just as in most traditional lotteries, the order in which the numbers are drawn is not important. That is, 1-2-3-4 is considered to be the same as 4-3-2-1. So although there is a total of 24 (4!) orders in which the balls numbered 1-2-3-4 can be picked, they are all treated as the same outcome. In doing this, the permutation of 4 balls from 14 becomes the combination of 4 balls from 14. That is, the total of 24,024 (14! / 10!, or 14x13x12x11) possible permutations is reduced by a factor of 24, to 1,001 combinations (or 14! / (10! x 4!)). Of these, 1 outcome is disregarded and 1,000 outcomes are distributed among the 14 non-playoff NBA teams. The combination 11-12-13-14 (in any order that those numbers are drawn) is not assigned and it is ignored if drawn; this has never occurred in practice.
But for the majority of us fans, we just want to know what can or can not happen. And that is what we are here for.
There are many misconceptions as to how exactly the lottery works, but here is the most important thing you need to understand: The NBA Draft Lottery only determines who will be selecting the top 3 picks. After the order of the top three picks are decided (by the lottery combinations), the rest of the order falls in place according to seeding. For example, this year the Orlando Magic represent the 1 seed with the most chances to land the #1 overall pick. If 3 teams with worse odds happen to land in the 1, 2 and 3 spot, the worst Orlando can pick is 4th. The rest of the picks after the top 3 will fall in order. The chart below does a good job clearing up some of this confusion:
As you can see, what this means for the Wizards is that they can not land in the 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th slot. The two scenarios that are most likely to occur are either staying put at pick 8, or dropping back to pick 9 which would require a team 9-14 to jump up into the top 3. The Wizards have a higher percent chance of moving up to a top 3 selection than they do of being jumped by 2 or 3 teams and falling to 10 or 11.
So with some of the confusing stuff out of the way, what are the possible outcomes the Wizards could be looking at on Tuesday?
Getting Jumped and Falling Back
In this scenario, the Wizards would have to get jumped by a team behind them in the 9-14th slot. It is mathematically possible for all three of the top 3 picks to be from the teams seeded behind the Wizards, but extremely improbable. It is also very doubtful that 2 worse teams will jump up, so if the Wizards are to fall at all, it would most likely be back one spot to the 9th selection. When watching the televised lottery, if a team 14 through 9 is supposed to be called and they are not, this is bad news as it would signal they jumped up to the top 3.
The most likely scenario. The Wizards have a 72.4% chance of staying locked into the 8th pick. Again, as the picks are called, you are rooting for the Wizards name not to be announced. If it gets to the 8th pick and the Wizards have not been called yet, then the party will start. At least at my house it will. But the most likely scenario will be the Wizards staying put and drafting 8th overall in June.
Moving On Up
There is still the outside chance that the lottery gods will smile down on this franchise. They have a 2.8% chance of landing the top pick, a 3.3% chance for 2nd, and a 3.9% chance for 3rd. Again, top 3 is the only place that Washington can move up to. So what you want to look for when watching the lottery on TV is the Wizards NOT getting their name called in that 8th selection (or prior). If Washington is not called by time they announce the 8th spot, that means they have jumped up to the top 3 spots. It also means Santa came in May for us Wizards fan and we would all be just as excited as these little guys.
The good news about the lottery is that they start at the top. They call the 14th selection first and then work their way down. The closer they get to the 8th selection the more the anticipation builds. We don’t want to see any team not called in their corresponding slot, until they get to the 8th pick, at which point we want to hear the Detroit Pistons are picking 8th, which would signal that Washington has made the leap to the top 3. So come Tuesday folks put on your luckiest of Wiz Gear — I will personally by wearing my lucky Bullets shirt that I had on when the Wiz won the John Wall sweepstakes — get the rabbit feet out, cross your fingers, say a prayer, hop in the luckiest seat in your house, and hopefully the last card Adam Silver pulls out on the envelopes in 3 days will have a Washington Wizards logo on it!