The NBA is 10 days into the 2022-23 season and the race to the bottom is already a hot topic. Teams that are off to a bad start are met with grace from fans in the chance at landing the most anticipated prospect since LeBron James, 7-foot-4 French center Victor Wembanyama, in next year's draft.
The idea of tanking is nothing new to the NBA, but this season particularly has piqued a lot of interest with NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly saying, "We're going to be paying particular attention to the issue this year." Prior to the season, a few organizations made moves to position themselves in a more favorable spot to possibly land Wembanyama or G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson in June.
Yahoo Sports breaks down all the ins and outs of the draft lottery, teams that have the best odds to land Wembanyama and why the Los Angeles Lakers (0-4 to start the season) won't be in the running to land either one of the two top prospects. For real-time tracker for the worst teams in the NBA and the chances of landing a top pick: Tankathon.com.
NBA draft lottery: History, odds, and how it works
The NBA Board of Governors changed the format of the draft lottery in 2017 and the revamped format was implemented with the 2019 draft. Under the new regulations, the three worst regular-season teams, by record, each have a 14% chance at the No. 1 pick. The fourth-worst team would have a 12.5% chance at No. 1, with odds decreasing the better teams' records are at the end of the season.
2023 NBA draft lottery date: May 16, 2023
How the draft lottery works: ESPN broadcasts the draft lottery results live with NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum revealing the sealed envelopes, announcing the draft lottery results in descending order. Prior to the broadcast, the actual lottery to determine picks 1 through 4 takes place in a separate room with NBA officials and representatives of participating teams, select media and the accounting firm Ernst & Young who oversee the drawings.
For the actual lottery, 14 Ping Pong balls are dropped in a lottery machine while a league representative randomly selects four balls, revealing a four-number combination. There are 1,001 possible combinations with 1,000 of those combinations being assigned to 14 participating lottery teams. If the same team's combination comes up more than once, the result is discarded and another four-ball combination is drawn.
After the first four picks are determined, the remaining picks are ranked in inverse order, based on win/loss record.
Odds to land the No. 1 pick: The 14 teams that do not make the playoffs have a chance to land the No. 1 pick, depending on the regular-season record.
1. 14% chance, 140 combinations
2. 14% chance, 140 combinations
3. 14% chance, 140 combinations
4. 12.5%, 125 combinations
5. 10.5%, 105 combinations
6. 9%, 90 combinations
7. 7.5%, 75 combinations
8. 6%, 60 combinations
9. 4.5%, 45 combinations
10. 3%, 30 combinations
11. 2%, 20 combinations
12. 1.5%, 15 combinations
13. 1%, 10 combinations
14. 0.5%, 5 combinations
Tank Watch: Teams to keep an eye on for the race to the bottom
The Magic landed the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, Paolo Banchero, and the 6-foot-10 forward is off to a hot start in his rookie season, averaging 20-plus points in his first five games. Despite the tremendous start from the star rookie, the Magic are still winless with guards Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs temporarily sidelined and Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac out for the season. The Magic won a combined 43 games in the previous two seasons and haven't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2010. Banchero is an excellent addition to the franchise but landing Wembanyama and having the two play in the frontcourt is a dream scenario for the organization.
The Spurs started the season hot with young players in the starting lineup. Tre Jones, Devin Vassell and rookie Jeremy Sochan have impressed early and looked like they had something to prove. In the offseason, the Spurs traded Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks. In return, they received a 2023 first-round draft pick (via Charlotte from New York, protected), 2025 first-round pick, 2026 pick swap and 2027 first-round pick. It's a long season and it'll be interesting to see if this young team can keep it up and defy the odds or if the efforts prior to the season will be enough to be in a good position to land Wembanyama.
Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, suffered a season-ending foot injury in a pro-am game this summer. After the draft, the narrative coming out of OKC was they were done tanking and were looking to rebuild with the current group they had with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Lu Dort. Even with Gilgeous-Alexander back on the court, there's not much this young, talented roster can do to compete with seasoned teams in the Western Conference like the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies. Thunder general manager Sam Presti has strategically amassed numerous picks for the next several drafts, and it's hard to imagine the Thunder not trying to position themselves for a chance at Wembanyama or another high draft pick in a very talented draft class.
The Rockets are still in rebuild mode after trading away James Harden and Russell Westbrook in 2020. They have a young, athletic core and are building around Jalen Green (No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft) and Jabari Smith Jr. (No. 3 pick in the 2022 draft) but they're still a player or two away from being a contending team in the Western Conference. The Rockets aren't necessarily a team that will be tanking on purpose this season, but just a franchise that is rebuild mode at the right time for a franchise-changing player.
The Pacers are in the third year of rebuilding after trading Victor Oladipo in 2020 and have failed to make the playoffs since. The Pacers picked up Benn Mathurin with the sixth pick in the draft and have a few talented pieces with Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner and Buddy Hield but the Pacers are likely to trade both Turner and Hield at some point during the season. Indiana only won 25 games last season and there won't be much help for the young backcourt of Haliburton and Mathurin come February and March.
The Jazz imploded their roster during the offseason and in return received numerous draft picks and a mixture of young and veteran talent to be plugged in alongside Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson. The first few games have been interesting and received with mixed reviews but as the season goes on, look for the Jazz to experiment with different lineups and personnel on the court. Salt Lake City is a small market and not necessarily a desirable destination for free agents so whatever rebuilding the Jazz do needs to be in the draft. They now have 16 draft picks in the next six years, securing three first-round draft picks in the upcoming draft.
The Lakers won't be in the mix for Wembanyama
The Lakers are the worst team in the NBA right now after starting the season 0-4 and have little help around a 37-year-old James in his 20th season. The silver lining for the embarrassing start would be the 14% chance to land Wembanyama next year. Unfortunately, that potential lottery pick is tied up in the Anthony Davis trade and will go to the New Orleans Pelicans. Instead of seeing Wembanyama under the Hollywood lights at Crypto.com Arena, he will potentially be joining Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum in New Orleans.
The Lakers made a huge trade in 2019 when they sent Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and three first-round picks to New Orleans for Davis. At the time, the Lakers gave up plenty of unprotected first-round picks but the one that could haunt them is the 2023 pick swap, where the Pelicans get the better pick. Pelicans fans have a lot to look forward to this season with Williamson back on the court after missing the entire season last year and with each Lakers loss, the value of the pick from the 2019 trade continues to increase.