How does the NBA lottery system work

Has a team ever lost on purpose to get better draft picks?

The lottery system makes it very difficult to effectively fuel your season in the NBA. Basically, no matter how bad you are, there's always a chance that you won't be among the top 3 picks (in fact, the worst team in the league has rarely been awarded the top draft pick).

Here are the odds that the worst team in the NBA will get a pick at or better than the current pick, starting with pick 1. (assuming 2 teams don't get the worst record)

  • First choice: 25%
  • Second choice: 46.5%
  • Third choice: 64.3%
  • Fourth selection: 100% (if the worst team in the league does not get any of the top three selections, it will automatically receive the fourth selection).

Now the fourth pick is still a pretty good player, and there's a pretty good chance you might get the second or third pick. However, depending on the design, it might not be the kind of snap that the top pick often is. Therefore, refueling in the NBA is only a good strategy if you think the draft is good enough that the top 3-4 players in the draft are potential franchise-defining players.

The question "Has a team ever intentionally armored?" Is incredibly difficult. Many teams give up at the close of trading in both basketball and baseball and trade critical items. No player would admit to playing less than 100%, however, and coaches are often fired when their team is performing poorly, regardless of the players they have on the team. So this is not in their best interests. While management can and does enable teams to fail, players and coaches usually try everything they can to avoid being the last-placed team.

A good example of this are interviews with Indianapolis Colts players last year. They knew they were bad and would get a new franchise QB if they had the worst record, but they also knew their jobs were at stake if they didn't at least try their best. And at the end of the year when they were the worst team in the league. Despite the fact that they were able to pull out a brand new franchise quarter, they laid off their GM. The players, coaches and management confirmed time and time again that "there is no such thing as a stroke of luck".

The other thing that goes into the equation of whether to refuel or not is what you owe the people who pay the bills. Namely your fans and your television and radio contracts. When swapping out your best players, is the product you've put on the floor for the last 30-40 games of the season worth the (often obscene) ticket cost your fans pay? If they don't show up because you've been awful this year, will they reload their season tickets next year? Even if you only get the 4th choice of the design? Will your TV and radio partners give you a worse deal when it's time to rerun, knowing you have a tendency to ditch a season on potential draft picks?

In conclusion, whether or not to swap out your best players and play for picks is an incredibly difficult decision for management and owners to make when it comes to the trading deadline. But (at least in public) it is always a clear choice for players and coaches to play as hard as possible and try to win the games that they can. As a coach, if you don't have a clear direction from management to play your best players in the last two games, you will be trying to win the games you can so you can actually keep your job at the end of the year. And as a player, you want to make sure that you are in the best position to continue your sport, which means that you are playing the best you can.


+1 thanks for this great answer. I have to start watching NFL, NBA, and NHL.


@Ste You just named 3 of the 4 great American sports!


@ Dynamic - I know! I'm from the UK and I never look at them! What is the fourth? Baseball? Don't even look at that!

Guard eagle


Give me six months and I'll add American sports to my sports knowledge bank! I think I'll get ESPN America