How Does The NBA Draft Work?

nba draft

The NBA Draft is a memorable event each year that shapes the league’s future and the lives of promising young basketball players. It allows NBA teams to select the best players from college basketball, overseas, and the NBA G League to join their teams. Throughout the years, the NBA has developed a specific process that helps organize the draft and the order in which players are selected.


Draft Lottery

The NBA Draft Lottery is used to determine the order of the first 14 picks in the draft. The 14 teams that did not make the playoffs the previous season are given a chance at the number one overall pick. Each team is assigned number combinations involving four digits. The three teams with the worst records from the previous season are assigned 140 different four-digit combinations, giving them the highest probability (14%) of receiving the top selection in the draft.

The lottery begins by randomly shuffling 14 ping pong balls numbered from one through 14 until four balls are drawn. The team with the corresponding four-digit number combination will receive the first pick in the upcoming draft. This process takes place three more times until the top four draft picks are assigned to teams. If a four-digit number combination happens to be drawn more than once, the balls will be re-shuffled until the top four selections are awarded.

The ten remaining teams that did not make the playoffs are still given favorable draft picks. These draft selections are inversely allocated based on the team’s record from the previous regular season. For example, the remaining team with the worst record is awarded the fifth pick in the draft, while the remaining team with the best record receives the fourteenth pick.

To keep the lottery as fair as possible, all the balls are drawn in a secure location where only NBA officials, a media employee, and an accounting representative are present. Each of the 14 teams will select a representative to attend the lottery drawing.

Number One Pick Odds

nba Number One Pick Odds

Each team hopes for the number one selection in the draft, but the odds are not the same for each of them. When four ping pong balls are drawn at a time out of 14 total balls, there are a total of 1,001 different four-digit combinations that can be drawn. This does not take into consideration the order of the numbers drawn. Since the three worst teams are each assigned 140 unique four-digit combinations, they have the highest probability of earning the number one selection at 14%. The rest of the teams are given odds based on their regular-season record, with the next worst team receiving the best odds at the number one overall pick. The odds for teams to receive the number one selection are as follows:

  • Team 1: 14%
  • Team 2: 14%
  • Team 3: 14%
  • Team 4: 12.5%
  • Team 5: 10.5%
  • Team 6: 9.0%
  • Team 7: 7.5%
  • Team 8: 4.5%
  • Team 9: 4.5%
  • Team 10: 4.5%
  • Team 11: 1.8%
  • Team 12: 1.7%
  • Team 13: 1.0%
  • Team 14: 0.5%

Draft Picks 15-60

After the top 14 draft picks are assigned to the NBA teams that did not make the playoffs the previous season, the remaining picks for the first and second round (picks 15-60) are assigned. Similar to picks 5-14 in the first round, the remaining selections in the first round are allocated to teams in inverse order based on their previous regular-season record. This ensures that each team receives one pick in the first round. The second round of the draft utilizes the same format, where each team is awarded one selection, and the picks are given out in reverse order based on regular-season records.

Trading Draft Picks

NBA teams are allowed to trade their draft picks and frequently do so. A team may wish to trade a future draft pick if there is a player currently in the league that they believe can help them win sooner than a young player that they would draft. Teams may also trade current players for future draft picks if their goal is to rebuild in the next few years.

Teams that do not make the playoffs are allowed to begin trading once the regular season concludes. The teams that make it to the postseason cannot begin trading until they are eliminated from the playoffs. Trading continuously happens during the regular season as well. Teams are allowed to trade up until the NBA trade deadline, which usually takes place in February each year. A team may trade a draft pick up to seven years in advance.

Trading is also permitted on the night of the NBA Draft. Teams will often draft players that they do not intend to keep and then immediately trade them to teams for other players and future draft picks.