Searching NBA Lottery Results for Evidence of Tampering

By:
Published: May 30, 2012

Some people claim to believe that the NBA Draft Lottery is rigged . . . is there any evidence of such rigging or do we just have evidence of empty claims?

It is human nature to look for explanation for events, and it is the nature of random events to defy explanation. So what happens when the immovable object of human, all too human, tendency to assign causes meets the irresistible force of chaos?

Work.

The following is work generated in response to those who believe the NBA draft lottery is rigged. We look at the construction of the lottery, generate the probabilities, and compare the actual results to expectations to evaluate informal allegations of tampering. We try to accomplish this in just about the least boring way possible.

The NBA instituted a draft lottery in 1985 after years of determine drafting order based on win-loss records with some procedural cha-cha-ing thrown in. The impetus was the perception that teams were losing games in droves to obtain a better draft pick.

Since then, the lottery system has been modified. We use the system during the eighteen years since the “1994 system” was instituted as our data set. Before this, the lottery had a different weighting system early on.

The results in the following are based on calculations that account for the ties that have occurred over the years rather than the theoretical probabilities and the changing number of teams. These adjustments are small. Also, expansion deals sometimes forced teams into and out of certain picks. These had no effect on the lottery, but it makes comparing the slot at which a team chooses and whether they won, or were even in, the lottery difficult. Lastly, the assumption is made that the lotteries are independent from one another and work according the published procedures whose execution is witnessed by auditors.

The sources of conspiracy stem from two pools of teams getting the top pick: top seeds and near-bottom seeds. We do not reproduce the claims here. They exist. Just go look for them if you need to satisfy your curiosity on that front.

Top Seeds

The team with the most chance to get the top pick has received it exactly twice in this era. The top seed getting the top pick twice or fewer in eighteen tries has about a 14% chance of happening. Adding in the “or fewer” is important here we are trying to determine if an event is extreme. Thus, we examine not only the chance of an event occurring, but also something even more `alarming’.

In this case, the observations do not constitute evidence for any sort of tampering. An event would have to be rarer than one with a 5% chance of occurrence to be considered so, at least in these highly quantifiable situations. This is interesting since the two teams what won the lottery from this position were Orlando in 2004 (Howard) and Cleveland in 2003 (James).

In the latter case, allegations of rigging surfaced since Mr. James was from near Cleveland. Why send Mr. James to Cleveland rather than Dwight to Orlando, I don’t know. Why when the NBA has franchises in 20 states, D.C., Canada, and those states include the 10 most populous states, that the top pick being used on a player from near the city that drafts him is evidence that the NBA conspired against itself (the however many other teams), I’ve yet to figure out.

And is the NBA feeding these good players to the top seed too often? Then why is it happening less than expected? Does it need to reward the worst team more often? Then why complain about Mr. James going to Cleveland instead of holding it up as how things are supposed to work? Which is it?

And so on.

The top seed has advantages besides being the most likely to garner the top pick with a whopping 25% chance, discounting ties. The top seed has gotten a top three pick 13 times. This happens at this rate or higher around one time in three drafts, not at all alarming in either direction.

Near-Bottom Seeds

At the other end of the spectrum is the rare event causing a stir. This happened in the 2008 NBA Draft when Chicago won the lottery and selected Derrick Rose.

There is no disputing that Chicago had a 1.7% chance to get the top pick, and them winning is a rare event. However, we have to take an 18-lottery perspective here. Over the course of these 18-lotteries, three teams have won the lottery with less than a 5% chance of winning: Cleveland with the Clippers’ pick in 2011, Chicago in 2008, and New Jersey in 2000.

While these particular teams were all unlikely to win the draft, the collection of teams slotted seventh or worse have over a 12% chance of winning the lottery. For eighth or worse this changes to around 8%, and then 5% for ninth or worse. In this light, a team slotted ninth or worse is more likely to have won at least one lottery than to have won none. Which team should win from which slot does not matter, only that a team winning once from such a position was more likely to appear in our data set than it was not to appear.

Considering either and worse and seventh and worse, similar results are obtained.

Again, no evidence of any rigging.

Conclusion

There is more analysis that could be done (I’ve done some, especially with later picks), and I’m sure a small percentage of properly done analyses would show some evidence of statistical anomalies. As it turns out, a dataset this large without one those would be an anomaly itself.

We pause while you bend your mind back the right way . . .

So, either the NBA is employing mathematicians to help them bamboozle themselves into placing key draft choices with teams where they won’t win titles (too soon?) while they figure out what exactly the criteria are for when to do this manipulation so it is undetectable, or it’s just random.

I believe the latter.

Or maybe they work for free . . . I know one math guy stupid enough to do such a thing for a blog . . . and the hours are atrocious . . .

If you have a particular item you wish discussed, detail your concern in the comments, and I’ll do my best to address it.

At any rate, Hornets fans should not be holding out for any deux ex machina here. It’s all up to Fortuna. You can check out her handiwork here.

I do encourage everyone, nonetheless, to work your gris-gris, your mojo, your talismans, and have some fun with this lottery. We’re getting assets here, and they just may be good ones. Bring them and the fun to Manning’s (519 Fulton) from 6 – 8 with Jason Smith, Xavier Henry, Lance Thomas, and Jerome Dyson. Joe and I will be there, along with many of your fellow Hornets fans.

I’ll start with the declarations.

I’ve been rocking the unibrow for decades.

Whatchugot?

34 comments
mike
mike

Oh and you dont think its fishy that the new prospective owners were there when they dont yet own the team officialy? Making sure that promises are delivered on in person perhaps? We sign when you deliver stern or well kill the head. LOL!!! no conflict of interest? Yea right. League awards own team number 1 pick then immediately deal goes through.

mike
mike

U can show everyone a lot of figures showing how any of the teams could statisticaly win any given lottery.. If it isnt rigged. Doesnt disprove anything. No one is saying every one is dodgy but a few lotteries especialy lately- i mean come on. If they rigged every one of them it would be obvious even to you.. national lotteries have been rigged before now never mind nba run ones. Come on lets be real it easy to explain away one every couple of years as a statistical and mathmatical natural occurence. we know there has been corruption and cheating in most american sports an a lot of international ones too.. Including the nba and its dodgy refs. So why close your mind to it absolutely just because you personally cant prove it? I mean we dont even get to see the draw..

mike
mike

what does living in nz have to do with anything? Nba fans live all over the planet read global game. League pass broadband bro. Dont be a small minded redneck. I would defend the league like u do too if it was handing my team the 1st pick. Just want it to be easy n open lacking in mystery and abundantly obvious that it is fair.

Strida
Strida

Maybe i've missed it, but a 25 percent chance of winning by the top team is not a slam dunk, in fact the odds are against it. This means there is are 3 chances in 4 that they will not win. The other 75 percent goes to the rest of the choices and though the 25 percent is more than each individual team it is much less than the the other 13 teams put together. This is ridiculous (*&^(. I ask you who believe this was rigged. Should the Hornets have been eliminated from the lottery just because they had interim ownership by the league. Do the Hornets get penalized again just because of their position? This is absurd Get over it.

Pierre
Pierre

The thing you overlook is that's not only the event, Its the year the event happened, Which is usually when there is a consensus number 1 pick destined to be a star, when no rookie is predicted to be an all star nothing shocking happens, when a superhero gets world wide coverage, something fishy happens. Chicago getting the pick should have happened 1 in 50 years, what's fishy is it happened the same year a chicago born concensus #1 pick declared, a Franchise that was the face of the NBA for all of the 90's, if the Lakers keep slipping, a new hero will find its way to LA after Kode retires, those franchises are too important to the nba. I'm sure Stern wanted to rig the lottery to have brooklyn in the top 3, but if you remember Charles barkley called them out a month ago saying it would be too "convenient" for the nba if the nets won the lottery and he would be very suspicious. That made headlines, i strongly beleive that cost brooklyn their chances. Also something i noticed in every year where there is suspicion of foul play (2012,irving, rose) the team with the best odds only slides to 2, 3 in 2010. Stabilizing the statistical analyst, making it hard to prove foul play from a statistical point of view, because #1 getting the second most likely event brings back the stats towards predicted. Whereas every other year they are pushed all the way to 4 or 5.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Thanks for the feedback, the fun (looking at you, Oki), and the counterpoints. I sure am glad I posted this early . . .

mike
mike

The nba / stern give tops picks to small market teams to keep them relevant or the nba teams would fold.. Rigged. Cavs if lebron didnt come to town? Fold. Sonics if durant didnt come to town? Fold Magic and howard same story. hornets need new owner.. i know buy them and we will give you the top pick etc.. If it is so clean why do it behind closed doors? Why not out in the open? Let us see it happen. Too many nice little stories just at the right time to prop up under performing franchises. Run like a WWF story.

Jay
Jay

Great post Jason. I wrote a blog about it on the forum not long ago, though it wasn't anywhere near as informative or well researched as this. Either way, the whole topic is way more relevant now. Who cares...UNIBROW!!

J
J

We won fair a square screw ESPN.

vnutz
vnutz

there is no reason to do the actual draft lotto behind closed doors. that alone is very suspicious

okithor
okithor

Do you need any more proof 42? Hellz Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DownUnder
DownUnder

Everytime I see people believe in the lottery being rigged I think of the South Park 9-11 conspiracy episode lol I think that if you want to believe in it then you'll find enough proof to back yourself up but really it has just been lottery with may different results. Unfortunately alot of people will believe that if we win then it was rigged since of the new team purchase. But hey, i wont care, we'd have freakin Anthony Davis!

mazonmafia
mazonmafia

The question is not whether it is rigged or not. Rather the question should be, how can we rig it in the next 2 hours??

David
David

The NbA and it's lottery are not "rigged." If it was, the Knicks wouldn't have stunk up the joint worse than 4 day old crawfish heads for the last two decades. If it was, Tim Duncan never would have ended up in small market San Antonio. Portland-Seattle wouldn't have finished 1-2 and selected Oden and Durant. Speaking of Durant, if the NBA was fixed would the NBA put Kevin Durant with a lame duck franchise such as the Sonics. Chris Paul would be a Laker, not been shipped to the Clippers (which before this season made the pre-Mora Saints look like a model franchise). Also, a big market team like the Clippers wouldn't be terrible for 40 years if the league was fixed. Detroit beating the Lakers? That never would have flown. Small market or Awful franchises such as Milwaukee, Toronto, Portland, Orlando (twice), San Antonio (twice), Charlotte (hornets), Cleveland (twice), Clippers (5 times!!!) Wiz (twice), Nets, etc. have all won the lottery since it's inception. In fact, the only big market teams with any marquee to it to win the lotto are the Knicks in the first ever lotto and the Bulls twice (Elton Brand & Derrick Rose). The year Duncan came out Boston had the worst record in the league and selected 4th. The NBA would no doubt have rather had Timmy in Boston than San Antonio.

BIGBREED
BIGBREED

Its rigged! -I'm taking that to my grave-

mojart
mojart

hoping the ping pong ball side wid us and give us the #1 pick and at least another in the 2-5 range.....

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Not everything. Saying numbers don't prove thing doesn't mean anything else is better. Where is your analysis? Data? I see empty hands.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

Again. You are not bringing up facts. This is all speculation that presupposes that cheating is worth the cost. Where are the costs detailed? I only see benefits. Everything has a cost. You seem passionate. Please do some research and make an argument. Added: and address the questiin about which outcome avoids conspiracy myths. State it. Clearly. Name one. No point talking if there are shouts of "conspiracy" regardless.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

What does being a redneck have to do with anything? Small-minded? Where's your big-minded analysis? Giant-brained research? Again, no data, no analysis. I'm not defending the NBA. I'm presenting data and analaysis and drawing a conclusion. Plus, that was written and posted well before the lottery, so why would I defend it before it happened? Unless I have a bigger mind than I think. It is easy and open and obvious . . . to those who do the effort to research it. Plus, one of our writers, and one that was sought out for a number of reasons, is from Australia, so we know that fans of the team and this blog are worldwide. There's a reason for that, too. Again again, no data, no analysis. Plus, the team is being sold. They are just awaiting NBA meetings to be held. The new owners was there last night. C'mon man. Please, read up with an open mind and join the conversation.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

To be clear, this was posted around 18 hours before the lottery, and the analysis was done well before that. Moreover, the result of this lottery support the conclusion here. Additionally, the top seeded team is most likely to get pick number . . . 4. No team's most likely outcome is in the top 3. Math agrees with you.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

I do not forget it. It's irrelevant. Don't say usually, do the counting. I did. You can too. If I said usually and consensus, you could, but you can not defeat data with your foggy misassements of reality. So Cleveland getting the good hometown (sort of) player is evidence of conspiracy (which I addressed) when they are most liekly to do so, as is Chicago getting the less good more hometown player when they are not likely at all (which I addressed . . . It's almost like I knew this would happen and totally countered the argument before it happend . . . it's called pre-search). Which is it? Who could have gotten the top pick that was like that would make you not think it a conspiracy? Charlotte, no. See LeBron . . . Davis family in Charlotte and they were likely. Washington and Cleveland just got it, so that's a pattern, so no. Not us. No GS or Sac since they are talking of relocating. New Jersey needs a star in their new Arena when Williams leaves so no them. And now were are into the unlikely territory. I guess shooting Davis in the face is the only way to end the conspiracy myths (not a theory since it's claimed to be not provable or falsifiable). My inner ph.d. in math (research in statistics) is wondering what stabilizing a statistical analyst means, but considering the that top lottery seed is more likely to get the fourth pick than any other (and fifth is impossible), I'm not sure how them picking second (less likely than picking first or fourth) brings anything toward what a rational person would predict. What you noticed is that the top seeded team gets a top 3 pick about 2 of 3 times. Congrats. Math noticed it too. What else you got?

fred
fred

Insiders know that stern is dirty.

Pierre
Pierre

Why do it behind closed doors ? search youtube for nba rigged lottery you'll find many videos of the 1985 lottery when it is clear they banged only 1 enveloppe in the Drum, and you clearly see steirn searching for an enveloppe instead of looking away like he's suppose to, and pick the enveloppe with the banged up corner, that was 25 years ago, imagine how easily they would get caught with zooms, rotating angles, slow motion, instant replay. Behind closed doors even if someone thinks something fishy is going on they can't proove it and never will. We have no proof its rigged, they have no proof it is not, and will never have to proove they haven't rigged it. It's their word against no words cause they wont let people film it.

C.C.
C.C.

U mad? You seem mad.

J
J

We won fair and square screw you ESPN

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

One person posting under multiple names posting from new zealand citing nothing but bad analysis is not an overwhelming counterargument. All the X went to Y stuff is all retrospective and completly ignores that you'd say it was a fix if any of the teams that could have gotten it did so. Cleveland? Wizards? Kings 'need' it, tight? So you can post all you want until you strikr gold, but this stuff won't fly with the readers here.

Jason Calmes
Jason Calmes

You have proof you have a liver? Have proof you need one? Can I have it? Also, you are attributing intent to his actions and doing so about an event FAR outside of the dataset. Closed to whom? You? Dell was there as were all the people competing with Dell for AD. Do some research before you bring this.

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