What to Expect from the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery

by Rick Rockwell
on May 15, 2018

On Tuesday, May 15th, the NBA Lottery will take center stage as the basketball loving world looks on to see which team captures the top spot in the 2018 NBA Draft. Landing the top spot has proven to change franchises since it was first created in 1985. And, there’s no doubt that this year’s top spot will do the same. With the lottery ping pong balls getting all shined up, teams sweating it out, and fans clamoring for the results, let’s take a deeper look at the numbers and the betting odds for the 2018 NBA Lottery:

How Does the Lottery Work?

The lottery consists of 14 teams only. These are the teams that did not make the playoffs. Up for grabs are the top 3 spots only and they’re determined by the magical NBA ping pong balls, which are numbered 1 through 14. After the top 3 spots are determined by the ping pong balls, the remaining 11 teams will slide into their draft positions based on their 2017-18 NBA record.

There are 1,000 different 4-numbered combinations, with each team assigned a set amount of different numbered combinations. The team with the worst record gets 250 combinations, which is a 25% chance of winning the top overall draft spot. From there, the next team with the worst record will have the second largest amount of combinations and so on.

The following is a breakdown of the 14 teams in the lottery and their chances of winning:

NBA Team No. of Combinations Odds of Top Pick Odds of Top 3 pick
Phoenix Suns 250 25% 64.2%
Memphis Grizzlies 199 19.9% 55.8%
Dallas Mavericks 138 13.8% 42.6%
Atlanta Hawks 137 13.7% 42.6%
Orlando Magic 88 8.8% 29.1%
Chicago Bulls 53 5.3% 18.3%
Sacramento Kings 53 5.3% 18.3%
Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn) 28 2.8% 9.9%
New York Knicks 17 1.7% 6.1%
Los Angeles Lakers* 11 1.1% 4.0%
Charlotte Hornets 8 0.8% 2.9%
Detroit Pistons** 7 0.7% 2.5%
Los Angeles Clippers 6 0.6% 2.2%
Denver Nuggets 5 0.5% 1.8%

*Los Angeles Lakers (If they get 1 or 10 then they have to trade to Boston. If they get 2 or 3 then they have to trade with Philadelphia)

**Detroit Pistons (If not a top 4 pick then they have to trade with the LA Clippers)

A Quick Look at the Odds of Landing Top Spot

As you can see above, the Phoenix Suns have the best chance at landing the top spot since they finished the 2017-18 season with the worst record. They also have a 64.2% chance of landing in the Top 3. They’re followed by the Grizzlies, the Mavericks and the Hawks for best chances at the Top spot and the Top 3.

The Top NBA Prospects for 2018 Draft

In all likelihood, the consensus pick for the player taken number one overall is DeAndre Ayton from Arizona. The 19-yr old center is considered the best big man to come out of college since Karl Anthony-Towns in 2015. At 7 feet tall, Ayton has all of the tools to make him a successful big man in the NBA for years to come.

Ayton might be the best and safest pick for the draft, but Luka Doncic might be the most exciting player and could be taken number 1 depending on who gets the top pick. He’s played 3 seasons of pro basketball for Real Madrid and has won the FIBA EuroBasket championship. He’s put up some fantastic numbers overseas and looks to be the most polished player in this draft.

Other top prospects include: Marvin Bagley from Duke, Jaren Jackson Jr. from Michigan State, Trae Young from Oklahoma and Mohamed Bamba from Texas.

Previous #1 NBA Draft Picks

Here’s a quick rundown on the top picks taken over the last 50 years:

Year NBA Team Player Taken
2017 Philadelphia 76ers Markelle Fultz
2016 Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons
2015 Minnesota Timberwolves Karl-Anthony Towns
2014 Cleveland Cavaliers Andrew Wiggins
2013 Cleveland Cavaliers Anthony Bennett
2012 New Orleans Hornets Anthony Davis
2011 Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving
2010 Washington Wizards John Wall
2009 Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin
2008 Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose
2007 Portland Trail Blazers Greg Oden
2006 Toronto Raptors Andrea Bargnani
2005 Milwaukee Bucks Andrew Bogut
2004 Orlando Magic Dwight Howard
2003 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James
2002 Houston Rockets Yao Ming
2001 Washington Wizards Kwame Brown
2000 New Jersey Nets Kenyon Martin
1999 Chicago Bulls Elton Brand
1998 Los Angeles Clippers Michael Olowokandi
1997 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan
1996 Philadelphia 76ers Allen Iverson
1995 Golden State Warriors Joe Smith
1994 Milwaukee Bucks Glenn Robinson
1993 Orlando Magic Chris Webber
1992 Orlando Magic Shaquille O’Neal
1991 Charlotte Hornets Larry Johnson
1990 New Jersey Nets Derrick Coleman
1989 Sacramento Kings Pervis Ellison
1988 Los Angeles Clippers Danny Manning
1987 San Antonio Spurs David Robinson
1986 Cleveland Cavaliers Brad Daugherty
1985 New York Knicks Patrick Ewing
1984 Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon
1983 Houston Rockets Ralph Sampson
1982 Los Angeles Lakers James Worthy
1981 Dallas Mavericks Mark Aguirre
1980 Golden State Warriors Joe Barry Carroll
1979 Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson
1978 Portland Trail Blazers Mychal Thompson
1977 Milwaukee Bucks Kent Benson
1976 Houston Rockets John Lucas
1975 Atlanta Hawks David Thompson
1974 Portland Trail Blazers Bill Walton
1973 Philadelphia 76ers Doug Collins
1972 Portland Trail Blazers LaRue Martin
1971 Cleveland Cavaliers Austin Carr
1970 Detroit Pistons Bob Lanier
1969 Milwaukee Bucks Lew Alcindor
1968 San Diego Rockets Elvin Hayes

Betting Odds on Who Wins the Top Spot

With the lottery set to unfold on May 15th, Vegas has released the following odds on which team will land that highly coveted top pick, according Bookmaker.eu:

  • Phoenix Suns +240
  • Memphis Grizzlies +305
  • Dallas Mavericks +460
  • Atlanta Hawks +460
  • Orlando Magic +720
  • The Field +250

These are the top 5 teams with the best odds/chance of winning the top spot. They also have the best chances at landing one of the top 3 spots. Let’s take a look at recent Lottery history to see how these teams might fare:

Lottery Winner Breakdown since 2000

Over the last 3 years, the team with the best chance has won the top spot in the draft: Philadelphia in 2017 and 2016, and Minnesota in 2015. However, since 2000, the team with best chances have only won it 5 times. So, the odds are against Phoenix despite most of the NBA world wanting to see them win it and take local Arizona player DeAndre Ayton.

Since 2000, one of the 5 teams with the best chance to win the top spot has done so 12 of 18 times. So, 1/3rd of the time a team from outside the top 5 teams with the best odds has won the top spot. The last time this happened was 2014 when the Cavs, who had the 9th worst record and 1.7% chance of winning top spot, won the lottery.

The team with the 3 worst record, 3rd highest odds for the top spot, has won the lottery 3 times since 2000: the Wizards in 2001, the Hornets in 2012, and the Cavs in 2013.

The team with the 5th worst record, 5th highest odds for the top spot, has also won the lottery 3 times since 2000: Rockets in 2002, Raptors in 2006, and Wizards in 2010.

Since 2000, the teams with the 6th worst record and the 9th worst record have both won the lottery 2 times apiece, which accounts for 4 of the 6 lottery wins outside of the top 5 worst teams.

The Lottery Favorite

Of the top 5 lottery favorites, the Suns have the best chance at winning the top spot and probably will. As mentioned, the last 3 lottery winners have been the team with the worst record and the highest odds of winning the top spot.

The Best Lottery Value

I believe that the Orlando Magic have great value here at +720. Not only do they have a 29% chance of landing a top 3 spot, but they also have an 8.8% chance of winning the top spot. Additionally, the 5th worst team (or the team with the 5th best odds of landing top spot) has won the lottery 3 times in the last 18 drafts or 16% of the time since 2000.

The Field

Vegas has set the field at a respectable +250 odds of winning the NBA Lottery. The field represents teams 6-14. And, if you look at our chart above, you will see that these 9 teams combined for just under 20% chance of landing the top spot.

Since the Lottery was formed in 1985, only one time has a team outside of the 10 worst records won the lottery. In 1993, the Orlando Magic had the 11th worst record and a 1.52% chance of winning the lottery. They shocked the NBA world by winning the lottery and subsequently trading that pick to Golden State on draft night.

So, you can pretty much rule out anyone from 10 through 14 winning the lottery. You can also rule out the Kings with the 7th worst record as they haven’t even landed in the top 3 since 1991.

If I were to pick a longshot, it would be the New York Knicks at 9 and the Chicago Bulls at 6 since these two lottery spots have won the top spot a combined 4 times in the last 18 drafts. The Knicks and the Bulls are two of the league’s most popular and marketable teams. They also need some of that alleged NBA Lotter conspiracy to help turnaround the franchises. Additionally, these are two huge sports markets that could boost revenue for the league if they were to land the top spot.

Who Will Win the Lottery?

The smart money is on the Phoenix Suns here. With the best odds, they should be able to continue the trend of teams with the worst record winning the lottery. I do think the Magic provide the best value at +720 with the 5th highest chances of winning lottery. I wouldn’t sleep on the Mavericks at the #3 spot with +460 odds. The #3 spot has won the lottery on 3 different occasions, most recently in 2012 and 2013. Lastly, if you feel compelled to bet on the field at +250, look for the Knicks at 9 or Bulls at 6 to be the longshots at winning the top spot.

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