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Nuggets to pick seventh... for now

Kalen Deremo Avatar
April 22, 2015


If there’s one thing Denver Nuggets fans have been looking forward to since about mid-January when the feces unequivocally collided with the rotating ceiling ventilator, as they euphemistically say, it’s been a high draft pick. And with the 2014-15 NBA regular season now officially in the books, we have a very likely idea of where the Nuggets will be selecting.

Because the Nuggets finished with the seventh worst record in the league they’re currently slated to select seventh overall in the upcoming draft. However, those who follow the NBA are well aware that where you finish in the regular-season standings doesn’t necessarily translate to that corresponding record-based pick come late May when the NBA Draft Lottery takes place.

Because math has never been my strong suit, I’ll defer to Wikipedia to better explain the draft lottery process:

To determine the winner, fourteen ping pong balls numbered 1–14 are placed in a standard lottery machine and four balls are randomly selected from the lot. Just as in most traditional lotteries, the order in which the numbers are drawn is not important. That is, 1-2-3-4 is considered to be the same as 4-3-2-1. There are a total of 1,001 combinations (or 14! / (10! x 4!)). Of these, 1 outcome is disregarded and 1,000 outcomes are distributed among the 14 non-playoff NBA teams. The combination 11-12-13-14 (in any order that those numbers are drawn) is not assigned and it is ignored if drawn; this has never occurred in practice.

The lottery is conducted with witnesses verifying that all 14 balls are represented once as they are placed in the lottery machine. The balls are placed in the machine for 20 seconds to randomize prior to having the first ball drawn. The remaining three balls are drawn at 10-second intervals. NBA officials determine which team holds the winning combination and that franchise is awarded the #1 overall draft pick. The four balls are returned to the machine and the process is repeated to determine the second and third picks.

In the event that a combination belongs to a team that has already won its pick (or if the one unassigned combination comes up), the round is repeated until a unique winner is determined. When the first three teams have been determined, the remaining picks are given out based on regular season record with the worst teams getting the highest picks. This assures each team that it can drop no more than three spots from its projected draft position.

A simple explanation: 1000 different outcomes of an experiment exist and are equally likely to occur. A certain number of outcomes is assigned to each non-playoff NBA team. The largest number of outcomes is assigned to the team with the worst record. The team with the second worst record gets the second largest number of outcomes, and so on for each of the 14 teams in the lottery. The experiment is conducted, and the team to which the winning outcome was assigned receives the 1st pick in the NBA draft. The experiment is conducted again. If the winner is the same team that already won, the experiment is performed over again until there is a different winner. The winner of the second experiment receives the 2nd pick. The winner of the third experiment receives the 3rd pick. After the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd picks are determined, the 4th-14th picks are assigned to teams based on weakness of record.

Still confused? Me too. But don’t worry. All you need to know is this: The 2015 NBA Draft Lottery is held on May 19. And you should definitely watch. Even if you’re not a huge NBA fan there’s just too much weird, crazy and entirely unpredictable things that happen not to tune in for 30 minutes of your life. In short, never have so many ridiculously rich human beings gathered in one room and nearly soiled themselves on national TV. It’s pure gold.

So what do a thousand ping pong balls and a room full of affluent businessmen mean for the Nuggets? Pretty simple. They have three chances to get a top three pick in this year’s draft: A 4.3 percent chance to get the No.1 overall pick, a 4.9 percent change to get the second pick and a 5.8 percent chance to get the third selection.

If the Nuggets don’t move up there’s a near 60 percent chance they’ll stay where they’re at at No. 7 overall. However, there’s also a chance they could move back in the draft as one (or several) of the teams currently set to pick eighth or lower could land one of the top three picks as well. So unfortunately the Nuggets still have a 23.2 percent chance of selecting eighth, a 1.8 percent chance of selecting ninth and a really really minute chance of selecting 10th (Wikipedia doesn’t list the exact number).

In addition to the somewhat comforting yet completely immutable odds of landing a top three pick the Nuggets also have a bit of history on their side. Since 1990 when the current draft lottery system was implemented there have been five occasions when a team slated to pick seventh or lower won the rights to the No. 1 pick, with three of those instances having come in the last seven years alone. In other words, since 1990 teams with at least the seventh worst regular-season record have won the lottery 20 percent of the time and in the last seven years over 42 percent of the time.

While lottery night guarantees nothing Nuggets fans certainly do have the right to remain optimistic about the possibility of landing a higher selection than seventh. And if the Nuggets remain static with their current position fans should still remain optimistic about the possibility of landing a tantalizing prospect given the nature of the scouting process, which I’ll detail in my next article in the long line of BSN’s 2015 NBA Draft coverage leading up to June 25.

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