The NBA Draft Lottery is fast approaching. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony regularly held in May has been pushed to a virtual affair on Aug. 20.
And once again, the Bulls will have a major stake in the results.
To get you primed for the week ahead — and Thursday evening, specifically — here’s a rundown of lottery FAQs, including a breakdown of where the Bulls stand.
So, how does the lottery work?
It’s simple, really. Fourteen ping pong balls numbered 1-14 enter a blender. Those balls are bumped and bounced together, then drawn and arranged into a four-number combination. Fourteen ping pong balls numbered 1-14 are capable of producing 1,001 different four-number combinations — each non-playoff team in the lottery is assigned a certain number of combinations based on the inverse order of their regular season record. If a combination you own is drawn, you earn the designated pick in the draft.
That process is repeated four times, which awards the top four selections in the draft. However they shake out, No. 5 - 14 are arranged in inverse order of regular season record. That means the furthest a team can possibly fall is four spots below the pre-draw order (for the Bulls, that's 11th, which would only happen if four teams below them jumped into the top four).
And it all gets announced on television, in descending order. For the drama.
Follow all that? If not, the TL;DR is as follows: A bunch of ping pong balls are tossed in a lottery machine, each one bearing a different team’s emblem. The number of balls (or combinations) each team gets in the pot is determined by inverse order of regular season record. Picks No. 1 through 4 are drawn, then the rest are determined by regular season record.
As such, the odds of nabbing the No. 1 pick for each slot are as follows:
Slot 1 (GSW): 14% (1,400 combinations)
Slot 2 (CLE): 14% (1,400 combinations)
Slot 3 (MIN): 14% (1,400 combinations)
Slot 4 (ATL): 12.5% (1,250 combinations)
Slot 5 (DET): 10.5% (1,050 combinations)
Slot 6 (NYK): 9.0% (900 combinations)
Slot 7 (CHI): 7.5% (750 combinations)
Slot 8 (CHA): 6.0% (600 combinations)
Slot 9 (WAS): 4.5% (450 combinations)
Slot 10 (PHO): 3.0% (300 combinations)
Slot 11 (SAS): 2.0% (200 combinations)
Slot 12 (SAC)*: 1.3% (130 combinations)
Slot 13 (NOP)*: 1.2% (120 combinations)
Slot 14 (MEM): 0.5% (50 combinations)
*The Kings won a coin flip to grant them the No. 12 spot over the Pelicans. The two were tied at the start of the hiatus with 28-36 records.
Until 2019, those odds skewed even more favorably towards teams picking near the top.
What changed in 2019?
In an effort to discourage tanking for favorable draft position, the NBA enacted a marginal smoothing of the lottery odds before last year’s draft. Now, instead of the teams with the worst three records in the NBA owning 25%, 19.9% and 15.6% chances at landing the top selection, respectively, all three have a 14% chance at glory. The league also expanded the initial lottery draw from the top-three to the top-four picks, and redistributed the slabs lopped off the worst teams’ odds down the line.
For example: Pre-2019, the Bulls, who find themselves in the No. 7 slot this season, would have had a 5.3% chance of getting the No. 1 pick and an 18.3% chance of getting into the top three. This year, they’ll have a 7.5% chance at No. 1 and a 32% chance at the top four.
And, while it’s early, the strategy seemed to have had the intended effect thus far. Last season, the Pelicans vaulted from the seventh-best odds (6.0%) to swipe the No. 1 pick and a generational talent in Zion Williamson. The Knicks, who owned the highest odds of landing No. 1, slipped to No. 3.
The goal of the new structure certainly isn’t for every No. 1 pick-winner to be such a surprise. But a level of unpredictability could deter clubs from intentionally and systematically dropping games in the future.
How will things be different this year?
For one, the lottery is being held virtually this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, broadcast from Secaucus, NJ. Historically, the ceremony has taken place in Secaucus with team representatives, select media and league officials present — though Chicago has hosted the last two.
The pandemic-induced hiatus that spanned from March 11 through July also slightly muddied up the lottery order. Teams in the lottery this year are ordered by pre-hiatus record, meaning, for instance, the Suns’ 8-0 bubble run didn’t hurt their lottery stock.
However, despite owning the eighth-best record in the West before the pause, the Memphis Grizzlies (who owe their pick to the Boston Celtics if it falls outside the top eight) find themselves situated in the No. 14 slot by virtue of missing out on the postseason. Unconventional, but about as tidy as could be managed in an unprecedented season.
Where does that leave the Bulls?
That all leaves the Bulls exactly where we left them last year. And the year before that. With the No. 7 slot in the lottery pool.
Their odds break down as such (and shoutout to Tankathon for always being on top of this):
No. 1 pick: 7.5%
No. 2 pick: 7.8%
No. 3 pick: 8.1%
No. 4 pick: 8.5%
No. 7 pick: 19.7%
No. 8 pick: 34.1%
No. 9 pick: 12.9%
No. 10 pick: 1.3%
No. 11 pick: 0.03%
That adds up to a 32% chance of hitting the top-four, and, of course, a 7.5% chance at snagging No. 1.
Also of note: Leaving no doubt who the face of the Bulls’ future is — at least for now — new executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas will represent the team remotely.
“It’s a new face, it’s a new front office, so I wanted to be there,” Karnišovas said of the decision on 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Show Monday morning.
So, who should the Bulls target?
Much of that depends on if they squirm into the top-four, hold stagnant at 7 or dip into the No. 8 - 10 range.
Regardless of exact positioning, though, wing represents the team’s most glaring need; oft-injured Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are the only traditional small forward options on the roster, at present. Isaac Okoro and Devin Vassell both seem to fit the bill as high-upside, NBA-ready stoppers.
There’s also a trove of playmaking guard talent at the top of this draft — another skill-area of need for the Bulls — from LaMelo Ball to Killian Hayes to Tyrese Haliburton.
At any rate, here’s what Karnišovas said regarding his preferred style of play at his introductory press conference in April:
“I like high pace. Moving the ball. We were able to be a very good passing team in Denver. It’s a very entertaining brand of basketball,” he said. “I like multi-positional players. I like guys with high basketball IQ that play off each other.”
And here’s our latest mock draft roundup with a few names to keep an eye on, accompanied by blurbed analysis. More to come on that front.
Is it weird that the Bulls won’t have a head coach at the lottery?
But consider this: The last time the Bulls won the NBA Draft Lottery was in 2008, when they leapt from the ninth-best odds (1.7%) to earn the opportunity to select Derrick Rose. After firing Scott Skiles on Christmas Eve in 2007, and axing interim Jim Boylan on April 17, 2008 — the day after the end of the regular season — they entered the May 20 lottery without a coach. Vinny Del Negro was officially hired June 11.
Could fortune favor history this time around? Stay tuned.