Everything to know about Bulls’ chances at 2021 draft lottery


The more things change for the Bulls, the more they stay the same.

New-look front office and coaching staffs have inspired optimism for the future. Two All-Stars on the roster, plus a promising 19-year-old in Patrick Williams, add to that.

And yet, when Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery rolls around, the organization and its fans will be waiting with bated breath for the bounce of lottery balls for the fourth straight year. This time around, the stakes are higher than ever.

To get you primed for that night — June 22 at 7:30 p.m. CT — here’s a rundown of lottery FAQs, including a synopsis of where the Bulls stand:

How does the NBA Draft Lottery work?

Let’s try to keep this as simple as possible: Fourteen numbered ping pong balls are randomly shuffled, then drawn and arranged into four different four-number combinations. Each lottery (non-playoff) team is assigned a certain number of possible combinations, ordered in the inverse of regular-season record. 1,001 different combinations are possible. Once the top four picks are decided, the remaining 10 teams are placed in inverse order of regular-season record.

In a year without any ties, this is how each team’s chances of landing the No. 1 overall pick would shake out (we’ll get to what makes this year different later):

  •  Slot 1: 14% (1,400 combinations)
  •  Slot 2: 14% (1,400 combinations)
  •  Slot 3: 14% (1,400 combinations)
  •  Slot 4: 12.5% (1,250 combinations)
  •  Slot 5: 10.5% (1,050 combinations)
  •  Slot 6: 9.0% (900 combinations)
  •  Slot 7: 7.5% (750 combinations)
  •  Slot 8: 6.0% (600 combinations)
  •  Slot 9: 4.5% (450 combinations)
  •  Slot 10: 3.0% (300 combinations)
  •  Slot 11: 2.0% (200 combinations)
  •  Slot 12: 1.5% (130 combinations)
  •  Slot 13: 1% (120 combinations)
  •  Slot 14: 0.5% (50 combinations)

The NBA smoothed the lottery odds in 2019 in an effort to dissuade teams from intentionally losing games for better draft position. So far, over a small sample, the results have met the intention. In 2019, the New Orleans Pelicans jumped from seventh to No. 1 overall and drafted Zion Williamson. Last year, two teams (the Bulls and Charlotte Hornets) jumped from lower in the pre-lottery order into the top four. 

Unbridled chaos certainly wasn’t a goal when the league adapted these rules. But in addition to disincentivizing tanking, unpredictability adds intrigue.

Who will represent the Bulls at the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery?

This year, general manager Marc Eversley will represent the franchise virtually. Executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas did so last season, when the team jumped from a pre-lottery slot of No. 7 to win the fourth overall pick. 

They’ll hope for similar luck this time around.

Wait. Do the Bulls even own their 2021 first-round pick?

Maybe. The Bulls parted with two future first-round picks — top-four protected selections in 2021 and 2023 — as part of the trade deadline deal that brought in Nikola Vučević from the Orlando Magic. That means the Bulls only keep their first-rounder this year if it lands in the top four in the draft.

If the selection doesn’t land in the top four, it could convey to the Magic as the eighth, ninth, tenth, 11th or 12th picks. It cannot convey as the fifth, sixth or seventh pick. If the Bulls' slot moves up from eighth on lottery night, it will mean they’re in the top four.

OK, so what are the chances of the Bulls keeping their first-round pick?

The Bulls have a 20.3 percent chance of jumping from their pre-lottery position (No. 8) into the top four. By pick, that breaks out as follows:

  • No. 1: 4.5%
  • No. 2: 4.83%
  • No. 3: 5.23%
  • No. 4: 5.71%

Top 4: 20.27%

So, never say never. The flip side, of course, is a near-80 percent chance their pick conveys to Orlando, who are third in the pre-lottery order.


Why aren’t the Bulls’ Top-Four chances 26.3 percent like it usually would be for the eighth-slotted team?

The Bulls’ battle-of-the-benches win over the Milwaukee Bucks on the final night of the regular season dropped them into a three-way tie with the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings for eighth place in the lottery standings.

Tiebreakers don’t work the same in the lottery as they do in regular-season standings, though. Head-to-head records carry no weight. Instead, the tied teams have their combined lottery odds split between them.

So whereas in a normal year the eighth-place team would have a 26.3 percent chance of landing in the top four, the ninth-place team would have a 20.3 percent chance and the tenth-place team would have a 13.9 percent chance, this year, the Bulls, Pelicans and Kings all split the sum of those figures, giving each a roughly 20.3 percent chance of the top four and 4.5 percent chance of No. 1 overall.

So what was the point of the coin-flip tiebreaker?

On May 25, the Bulls won a coin-flip tie-breaker between the three teams, but that has no bearing on their top-four or No. 1 overall chances. 

That result could help the Magic, though, as it guarantees Orlando the highest pick of whatever combination of those three teams doesn’t jump into the top four — provided the pick conveys.

The coin flip also guaranteed the Bulls the eighth pick in the second round (No. 38 overall) by way of a pick swap with the Pelicans. So it did mean something after all.

Who could the Bulls target if they do keep their first-round pick?

The top four prospects in this year’s draft class are clear-cut. Cade Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 shot-creator with transcendent two-way potential, stands alone as top-ranked by most. Following him, in some order, are Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley and Jalen Green.

Cunningham or Suggs would be franchise-changing lead guard options for a Bulls team that’s wandered the wilderness in that department since the Derrick Rose era. Positional need aside, the potential of both Mobley and Green excite as well. Karnišovas is on record as valuing a “best player available” approach above all else in the draft, and this year’s has a chance to be historic.


For a more comprehensive breakdown of those four names, click here.

Can the Bulls trade their first-round pick?

If the Bulls retain their 2021 first-round pick, they will be able to trade it, but they wouldn't be able to officially complete said trade until after the draft.

That's because the Stepien Rule forbids trading future first-round picks in consecutive years. If the Bulls keep their first-rounder this year, it postpones conveying the pick to Orlando until 2022. Trading their 2021 pick before the selection is made would mean the Bulls wouldn't officially own future first-round picks in 2021 and 2022; agreeing to a deal but finalizing the paperwork after the fact would skirt the rule.

If the Bulls keep their 2021 pick, the next first-rounder they could trade would be in 2027, though they could offer pick swaps in 2026 and 2028. If their 2021 pick conveys to the Magic, the next first-rounder they could trade would be in 2026, and they could offer pick swaps in 2022, 2025 and 2027.

Have the Bulls jumped their pre-lottery standings before?

Yes — as mentioned, they did so last year, cashing a 31.9 percent chance to jump into the top four. Their last jump before that one came in 2008, when they parlayed a 1.7 percent chance into winning the No. 1 overall pick and drafting Rose.

A similar stroke of luck this year could change the trajectory of the franchise. No pressure.

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