Hornets’ Lottery Probabilities 1

Published: April 4, 2012

Just what are our chances in the NBA Draft Lottery?

As the end of the season marches toward the present game-by-game, the Hornets draft lottery position is becoming more stable. The lottery, being more complex than is typically depicted, creates a range of values for each of the Hornets’ picks. Also, the lottery system makes it difficult to determine the value of the combination of picks.

We have worked through these problems and implemented routines to calculate the probabilities of interest. We’ll update this as necessary, including answering questions from the readers, so get your thinking caps on.

Draft positions

The Hornets have two picks in the upcoming draft. They will likely be lottery picks. The Hornets’ own lottery position will likely be 2 or 3. The Timberwolves’ position looks to fall between 10 and 12, inclusive.

The rationale for these is based on the current records of teams, games left to play, and an assumption about stability of the teams (e.g. no major injuries, discovery of caches of Gummiberry juice). The natural groups of the teams currently out of the playoffs are as follows, with winning percentage ranges in parentheses:

Charlotte (0.137)
New Orleans, Washington (0.226 – 0.245)
New Jersey, Toronto, Sacramento, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State (0.345 – 0.385)
Minnesota, Portland, Milwaukee (0.455 – 0.472)
Phoenix, Utah (0.509 – 0.519)

These groups are much more likely to slide over each other within groups, like snakes in a sack, than they are to jump `sacks’. Phoenix and Utah could very well make the playoffs, so they may be replaced with other teams, but that’s immaterial. Similarly, Milwaukee could be replaced by some other East doormat, like the Knicks, but this is also immaterial, though it would be hilarious. Righteous indignation for $200, Alex.

Boom. I use these ranges to define show how sensitive the calculations are to wins and losses from here out. This should help calibrate us all on how are chances are likely to vary.

I acknowledge that this assessment is forward-looking and that Charlotte could win out while the Hornets lose out. Show me that you put $100 down on some scenario like this that I ignored, and I’ll calculate the odds for the following for you with pleasure. Otherwise, I’m sticking with this until I see a reason to redo it.

All the probabilities here are rounded for convenience. I’m also assuming that no teams are tied in lottery position. This happens often enough to worry about, but unless we are involved in a tie, the effect is small on us.

If you want the answer to 6 decimal places for some particular situation, ask. I’ll tell you, then I’ll tell you to not worry about the crumbs.

Number One Pick

There is one first pick. I hate the “Number One Pick” lingo that implies there are 30 of them . . . “We’ll trade for their number one” and all that, rather than talking about first round picks, first rounders, etc. Please stop.

This is easy to calculate. The Hornets chances range from 0.16 to 0.21 with the Hornets’ slot being the primary driver there. The Minnesota picks has less than half a percent of influence.

Top 4 Pick

Mike is very interested in a top 4 pick based on his draft board. The Hornets chances range from 0.71 to 0.89, with the Minnesota pick having a negligible effect on the final outcome. Thus, the difference is most affected by the relative placement with Washington.

Getting both picks in the top 4 is highly unlikely. This requires not only that the Minnesota pick becomes a top 3 pick, but the Hornets do not fall out of the top 4 in the process, which the Minnesota leap would make more likely. The range of this event is about 0.01 to 0.03, with both picks influencing this range equally, mostly for the reasons stated above.

Top 10 Picks

Mike also mentioned that he was excited that Minnesota was hovering around slot 10.

It is a lock that the Hornets will have a top 10 pick, since the Hornets will fall no farther than the sixth pick according to the listed assumptions. This boils down to whether the Minnesota pick is top 10. That is affected totally by the Minnesota draft position. If they are in slot 10, the probability is 0.91. If they are in the slot 11 or below, it drops to under 0.03. Questions to ask yourself are: Do I care about the top 10? Why? Will top 12, for instance, work?

So for those who think this season is all about the draft, here are some actual noddle over. Any surprises? What is most intriguing?


  1. Pingback: Hornets' Lottery Probabilities 2 | New Orleans Hornets | Hornets247.com

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