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The NBA draft lottery paradox

While the lottery winners over the last four years have consistently gone to the team with the worst record regular season record, historically, that has, yet, paradoxically hasn’t necessarily per se been the case.

With the inclusion of the string of consecutive winners’s placement included, since 1990, the worst team in the league has indeed both had the highest odds to win and won the most – 24.14% (7/29).

However, prior to the last four years, between 1990-2014 the team with the worst record had only won the lottery a total of 3, yes, 3 times. This meant that while teams with the worst record had only won the lottery 12% (3/25) of the time.

Digging deeper, it becomes apparent that it’s much more complicated and convoluted than it initially seems. While the data set’s mode now favors 1, meaning that the worst team has been picked the most often, prior to these last four years, it favored 3 with 5 and 2 lagging slightly behind.

Despite this shift, the median value remains at 3 while the percentage is 15.6, which also corresponds with 3 percentage wise. Additionally, the data set’s mean is approximately 4 and the percentage is 14.61, which is once again, closest to the 3rd worst team’s lottery probability. Given these factors along with a trend line that’s seemingly headed once again towards 3 (first graph), it seems as though 3 may be on horizon.

Lost in all this though, is the fact that 2, the team with the second best lottery odds, finds itself occurring with less regularity than other numbers with lower odds. In fact, 1 (7), 3 (6) and 5 (5) have all been selected more times individually than 2 (4) has.

While that may not necessarily sound that startling considering the counts are relatively close, especially between 3 and 5, since 1990, that same percentage used to represent the how often 1 was picked, 24.14%, is the EXACT same figure as the number of times even numbers have been selected.


1 thought on “The NBA draft lottery paradox

  1. […] whereby losing can be regarded as ultimately more rewarding than winning. However, this is the paradox created by the NBA draft system. The aim of the draft is noble, for sure, because it gives the worst teams each season a chance to […]


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