The NBA Draft Lottery is often misunderstood. Today we aim to clarify some things about the lottery as it pertains to the New Orleans Pelicans. There are 13 games remaining on the schedule for the Pelicans, who have 26 wins. The Minnesota Timberwolves, one spot ahead of the Pelicans, have 22 victories while the Sacramento Kings, one spot behind, have 27. Hot on the heels of the Kings are the Knicks (28 wins) and Nuggets (29).
The lottery itself is for only the first three picks. 14 different numbered ping pong balls are selected with a total of 1,001 possible combinations. 1,000 of those combinations are used. If the Pelicans finish with the 5th worst record they receive 88 such combinations, 6th 63 combinations, and 7th 43 combinations. After three combinations are selected the remaining teams are placed in order by record. This is why the team with the fifth worst record cannot under any circumstances have the fourth pick.
Below are the odds if the Pelicans finish with the 5th, 6th, or 7th worst record. This is why losses are so valuable this time of year.
A handful of extra wins (instead of losses) down the stretch could halve the number of combinations for the Pelicans. There's still a lot of time for movement here and New Orleans enjoys a pillow-soft schedule down the stretch. In their last ten games the Pels face seven teams destined for the lottery including all five teams below them in the standings. Passing the Kings, Knicks, Nuggets, and even the Orlando Magic is not impossible. Doing so would slide the Pels pick all the way down to 10th, an absolute disaster.
Choosing to shut Anthony Davis down for the remainder of the season was a significant step to gathering more losses. The remaining players are going to give it their all and even upsetting the Los Angeles Clippers can happen despite a comical injury list. Make no mistake, the organization is attempting to lose games down the stretch. But the coaching staff and players will continue to compete.
Will the tanking gambit pay off? The NBA Draft Lottery is on May 17th.