A few factoids on the lottery:
This, you pretty much already know, but here are the odds by team and draft position for tonight's lottery:
Exhibit: Odds by Draft Position
The History - The first lottery was held in 1985 among the 7 teams that did not make the playoffs. Each team had one chance in 7 of being the #1 pick, and the winner of that first lottery was, famously, the New York Knicks, who selected Patrick Ewing. All 7 positions were drawn for ranking.
The same procedure was followed in 1986, but some complaints arose about inequities. In 1985, Indiana and Golden State had finished tied for the worst record in the league. The Pacers picked 2nd, but Golden State picked 7th. In 1986, the Knicks posted the league's worst record but did not pick until 5th.
In 1987, the league changed to picking only the top three, thus guaranteeing for the first time that the team with the worst record would pick no worse than 4th. However, each team still had an equal chance at the top three. The team with the worst record still finished out of the money in two of the three years under this system.
In 1990, the league began weighting the chances of teams (while still picking only the top three), with the worst record of the then-11 lottery teams getting 11 lottery balls and the best record getting just one. Therefore, the team with the worst record had a one in six chance, while the team with the best record had a 1 in 66 chance.
This lasted until 1993, when Orlando scored their second straight #1 pick despite having only one ping pong ball in the hopper. Eyebrows were raised as the league's newest superstar, Shaquille O'Neal, was the beneficiary of a lottery day miracle. The following year, the league moved to the current system using 1000 combinations. The worst record now has a 1 in 4 chance of picking #1, while the best record's chances have dropped to 1 in 200.
The Results - There have been 15 lotteries conducted under more or less the current system (with expansion increasing the number of teams in 1995 and 2005).
The number one pick has gone to the worst record only twice during that time: 2003 (James to Cleveland) and 2004 (Howard to Orlando). Including those two teams, it has gone to "bottom three" teams eight times, or about 53% of the time. The team with the longest odds to win it was Chicago last year, who had a 1 in 59 shot (still better odds than the Orlando win in 1993). Prior to that, New Jersey's 2000 win was the longest shot at about 1 in 23.
The "bottom three" have ended up with the top three picks (in any order) only once, in 1996. The 2007 draft was the only draft in which none of the "bottom three" were drawn for the top three picks.
The Pacers have been in the lottery three times under this system: 1997, 2007, and 2008. There name was not drawn on any of those occasions. They used the 12th pick in 1997 to select Austin Croshere. The 11th pick in 2007 was used by Atlanta, who selected Acie Law, to complete the Al Harrington trade. The 11th pick in 2008 was used to select Jerryd Bayless, who was then traded along with Ike Diogu to Portland for Brandon Rush (the #13 pick), Jarrett Jack, and Josh McRoberts.
The Odds (and Ends)
If your team has the worst record, they are most likely to pick 4th. (While the team with the worst record has the best odds at getting #1, it is only a 25% chance, while the chances of them picking 4th (worst case scenario) is actually 36%.
It does not become more likely than not that your record rank will be the same as your draft position until 7th, when it is a 60% chance that the 7th worst record will pick 7th. This is also the rank where it becomes your most likely draft position.
It is more likely that you will draft worse than your position than better up until the 12th pick. Good news for the Pacers because it is more likely that they will pick in the top three (1 in 45) than 14th (1 in 55). (However, they still have a 24 in 25 chance of picking 13th.)
The odds of the bottom three records getting the top three picks, in any order, are about 1 in 6, while the odds of none of them getting the top three are about 1 in 570.
Edit - The section between the quotes has bad math
So, there are two morals to this story:The odds of the draft order going in exactly the order listed in the Exhibit above are about 1 in 51,000. In a generic year, with no ties, it gets a little higher at about 1 in 49,000.
Reverse order according to record is not the most likely order. In fact, the most likely order for this year's draft is:
At about 1 in 26,000 chances. In a generic year (no ties), the most likely order is (records, worst to best):
2, 3, 5, 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
I didn't go back very far, and these numbers are just a little (tiny bit) off, but the odds for the orders from the last four drafts:
2004 - 1 in 74,000
2005 - 1 in 139,000
2006 - 1 in 5.6 million (none of the bottom three in the top three)
2007 - 1 in 5.3 million (Chicago nabbing the #1)
1. Whatever you think will happen tonight, odds are, it won't.
2. I really shouldn't be allowed access to the internet and Excel/Access at the same time.