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How the draft lottery works

Kings fans are more familiar than most, but a refresher never hurts

NBA: NBA Draft Lottery Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sacramento Kings fans are more familiar with the draft lottery than most NBA fans, but as we prepare for tonight’s festivities it never hurts to have a quick refresher. Before the lottery, the Kings are slotted at the 8th pick, and would own the New Orleans Pelicans pick at 10. What we see on TV will simply be the reveal of the lottery results. The real action happens about 90 minutes earlier.

What happens in the action drawing room was once shrouded in mystery, but has become far more public in recent years, probably to help stop conspiracy theories. Chris Mannix from The Vertical had a detailed account of the 2016 lottery.

There, in the drawing room, is where conspiracy theories go to die. Inside, cell phones, Apple watches, even digital recorders are confiscated upon arrival. Team representatives are seated at tables staggered three deep. On the walls are seven poster boards with number combinations lined together like spreadsheets. A briefcase carrying the ping-pong balls sits on a table in the center of the room, flanked by a clear, egg-shaped cylinder the balls rattle around in until they are sucked out into the waiting hand of Lou DiSabatino, the NBA’s vice president of events. His lone focus, DiSabatino told The Vertical: Don’t drop the ball. Precautions are taken. Crazy precautions. The pre-lottery spread included a plate of strawberries, a DiSabatino favorite. He reached for one, only to pull his hand back, not wanting to risk the fruit manipulating his grasp.

The balls are drawn, with balls numbered 1-14. Those balls don’t represent the teams, they represent one number in a four-number combination. The balls are drawn to determine who gets the first pick (unlike the television reveal, which goes in reverse order to build suspense and sell advertising), then second and then third. The witnesses in the room aren’t the team representatives who appear on TV. The team reps remain sequestered until the lottery results have been publicly revealed.

So why not just televise the actual event? Aside from the lack of suspense when the first pick is chosen first, it can be somewhat boring. Once the first team has been decided, it’s still possible for another of their number combinations to be drawn again. And again. They simply repeat the process until they have the first three picks decided.

There are a total of 1001 combinations that can be drawn. One is disregarded, and the other 1000 are assigned. The Kings 8th pick has 28 combinations that could be drawn to move the Kings up. The 10th pick has just 11 combinations that could be drawn to move the Pelicans up.

Let’s hope luck is on the Kings’ side tonight.