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How the 2020 NBA draft lottery works

What will happen in the 2020 NBA draft lottery, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 25?

This will be the second lottery since the NBA flattened the odds, which introduced more uncertainty at the top of the draft order. Last season, the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers all jumped from the middle of the pack into the top four.

While the odds for the eight eliminated teams this season are set, the seeding games that are a part of the NBA's restart will help settle the rest of the lottery picture.

Here's what you need to know about the most likely lottery winners, the top prospects and the traded picks at stake.

MORE: Latest NBA draft intel


This year's lottery odds

Last season, the NBA began drawing the top four selections in the lottery with new odds for each slot. A full breakdown of those changes can be found here, but these are the key things to know:

  • The teams with the three worst records have the same odds for both the No. 1 pick (14%) and staying in the top four (52%).

  • The team with the worst record has a 47.9% chance to fall to No. 5. The lowest a team could fall under the old system was to No. 4 -- there was previously just a 35.7% chance of that happening.

  • Teams in slots 9 through 6 have a 20-37% chance of jumping into the top five. Previously, that range was 6-22%.

This season, the eight teams with the best lottery odds are locked in based on their records when the season was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here's the breakdown:

1. Golden State Warriors (15-50)

  • Average pick: 3.7

  • No. 1: 14%

  • Top three: 40.1%

  • Top five: 100%

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46)

  • Average pick: 3.9

  • No. 1: 14%

  • Top three: 40.1%

  • Top five: 79.9%

3. Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45)

  • Average pick: 4.1

  • No. 1: 14%

  • Top three: 40.1%

  • Top five: 66.9%

4. Atlanta Hawks (20-47)

  • Average pick: 4.4

  • No. 1: 12.5%

  • Top three: 36.6%

  • Top five: 55.3%

5. Detroit Pistons (20-46)

  • Average pick: 5.0

  • No. 1: 10.5%

  • Top three: 31.6%

  • Top five: 44.3%

6. New York Knicks (21-45)

  • Average pick: 5.5

  • No. 1: 9.0%

  • Top three: 27.6%

  • Top five: 37.2%

7. Chicago Bulls (22-43)

  • Average pick: 6.2

  • No. 1: 7.5%

  • Top three: 23.4%

  • Top five: 31.9%

8. Charlotte Hornets (23-42)

  • Average pick: 7.0

  • No. 1: 6.0%

  • Top three: 19.0%

  • Top five: 26.2%

Slots 9 through 14 in the lottery will include the teams invited to the NBA restart who do not advance to the playoffs, with the order based on their March 11 record.

If the current playoff group holds -- with the Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic maintaining their spots -- then this would be the rest of the lottery:

9. Washington Wizards (24-40)

  • Average pick: 8.0

  • No. 1: 4.5%

  • Top three: 14.5%

  • Top five: 20.2%

  • Top 10: 96.8%

10. Phoenix Suns (26-39)

  • Average pick: 9.2

  • No. 1: 3.0%

  • Top three: 9.9%

  • Top five: 13.9%

  • Top 10: 79.8%

11. San Antonio Spurs (27-36)

  • Average pick: 10.3

  • No. 1: 2.0%

  • Top three: 6.6%

  • Top five: 9.4%

  • Top 10: 9.4%

T-12. Sacramento Kings (28-36)

  • Average pick: 11.9

  • No. 1: 1.3%

  • Top three: 4.3%

  • Top five: 6.1%

  • Top 10: 6.1%

T-12. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)

  • Average pick: 12.1

  • No. 1: 1.2%

  • Top three: 4.0%

  • Top five: 5.7%

  • Top 10: 5.7%

14. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)

  • Average pick: 13.7

  • No. 1: 0.5%

  • Top three: 1.7%

  • Top five: 2.4%

  • Top 10: 2.4%

If any of those six teams earn a postseason berth -- either straight up or through a play-in series -- their first-round pick will be slotted outside the lottery. The draft order for teams outside the lottery will be determined by winning percentage after combining the regular-season records as of March 11 with the eight seeding games.

And if the Magic (30-35), Nets (30-34) or Grizzlies (32-33) lose their postseason spots, their picks will slide into the lottery based on their March 11 records. For example, if the Wizards take the No. 8 seed from Orlando and the Kings grab the last spot in the West, the back of the lottery would proceed with the Suns (No. 9), Spurs (No. 10), Pelicans (No. 11), Blazers (No. 12), Magic (No. 13) and Grizzlies No. 14.

If the Grizzlies don't make the playoffs, they will slot at No. 14 no matter what happens in the Eastern Conference. The Nets and Magic can slot at No. 13 or No. 14 if they drop out.

The NBA will need to break a tie between the Kings and Pelicans if both teams miss the playoffs. Given the current standings, that tie would occur at the 12th slot. Both teams would split the average of the lottery odds at 12 and 13, but the winner of the tiebreak would get the better pick if neither team lands in the top four. That tie would occur at a higher slot if the Wizards, Spurs or Suns make the postseason.


Who are the top draft prospects this year?

ESPN draft experts Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz have had Georgia guard Anthony Edwards, Illawarra Hawks guard LaMelo Ball and Memphis big man James Wiseman in the top three of their draft rankings for a while. Scouting reports for those players and other projected lottery picks can be found here.

While NBA teams are all over the place in their evaluations of the prospects in this year's draft, most see Edwards, Ball and Wiseman as having the greatest star upside. Last week, Schmitz wrote:

"For some teams, Edwards' combination of physical tools and scoring instincts give him the highest ceiling. For others, Wiseman's elite measurables, rare agility, defensive upside and budding offensive skill set are too tantalizing to pass on. For me, LaMelo Ball is the best talent with the most star power as an ultracreative 6-foot-7 point guard."

But there are appealing prospects outside of the top three, including Isaac Okoro, Onyeka Okongwu, Deni Avdija, Obi Toppin and Tyrese Haliburton. Those players are generally considered to have lower ceilings, but they might be more likely to develop into strong NBA contributors than the swing prospects in the top three.

There really won't be much clarity on the No. 1 pick race or the top three until we see how the lottery shakes out.


What are the traded picks to watch in the lottery?

Memphis-Boston

The Grizzlies owe their pick to the Celtics if it falls outside the top six this season, with the pick becoming unprotected next season if not conveyed.

The most likely outcome here is that Boston gets the pick -- either at No. 14 if the Grizzlies miss the postseason or No. 17 if they make it in. If the Grizzlies fall out of the playoffs and get the 14th slot in the lottery, they would have just a 2.4% chance of jumping into the top four and keeping the selection this season.

Brooklyn-Minnesota

The Nets owe a lottery-protected first-rounder to the Timberwolves that remains lottery-protected next season.

It looks unlikely that the Wizards will knock the Nets out of the postseason, but if they do, Brooklyn will have another valuable asset to use to help build around Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this summer. While that pick would have only about a 5% chance of significantly rising in the lottery, selections in the teens typically have solid trade value.

But it's likely that the Nets convey the No. 15 or 16 pick to Minnesota.

Golden State

Since they have the worst record, the Warriors are guaranteed to have a top-five pick, with a 40% chance of landing in the top three. But the big question is whether they will keep or trade the selection.

Golden State will be looking to immediately jump back into title contention in 2020-21, with a roster featuring a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Is there a prospect the Warriors' front office sees as an immediate contributor? Should they take advantage of the rare opportunity to draft a young player on a rookie contract and keep the pick no matter what?

The answers to those questions likely will depend on what kind of trade packages are available. The Warriors are holding onto a valuable $17.2 million trade exception, so salary matching will be less of a concern than most teams deep into the luxury tax.