On Tuesday night, the winner of the 2023 NBA draft lottery — the most anticipated lottery since 2003 — will leave Chicago with the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to select Victor Wembanyama on June 22.
The Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs are tied with the best odds to land the top pick and all three teams could benefit from inserting the 7-foot-5 Wembanyama into their starting lineups. While there should be little suspense with the top pick, the draft will be immediately intriguing starting at No. 2. Alabama’s Brandon Miller and G League Ignite’s Scoot Henderson have been projected as the No. 2 pick this draft season, and Overtime Elite twins Amen and Ausar Thompson could be in consideration depending on team need.
Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo break down how the NBA lottery works, why Wembanyama is a lock to go No. 1 overall and what’s at stake for the teams participating in Tuesday’s festivities.
How does the NBA lottery work?
The league utilizes a complex lottery system that involves drawing numbered ping-pong balls, with every possible combination of those digits assigned to a specific team. The actual drawing takes place in closed quarters, where numbers are drawn in order to determine the first four spots in the draft.
The three teams with the worst records are all assigned a 14% chance to win the lottery, and all have a 52.1% chance of selecting in the top four in any scenario. Due to the fact only the top four spots are up for grabs, the team with the worst record (Detroit) can fall no further than fifth in a worst-case scenario, the second-worst team no further than sixth and so on. The further down the list you go, the worse odds teams have to move up in the lottery.
Below is a table that breaks down the probability of all 14 teams winning the lottery:
By the time the lottery order is revealed publicly, the numbers have already been drawn and team representatives — who are secluded in a back room with a group of media members and league personnel until the results are known to everyone — know the outcome.
Since the NBA changed the lottery system in 2019 — designed to better balance the odds to disincentivize tanking — one of the teams with top chances has won three of four times, the exception coming in 2019, when the New Orleans Pelicans jumped six spots (and the Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks also made big jumps into the top four). Since then, things have been a bit chalkier, which either means the Pistons, Spurs and Rockets should feel great about their chances — or maybe, we’re due for another surprising outcome. — Woo
How to watch the 2023 NBA draft lottery
Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Why Victor Wembanyama is a lock to go No. 1
Wembanyama has been the presumptive favorite to be the No. 1 pick since he first emerged as a can’t-miss prospect at the FIBA U16 European Championship in 2019, but has only widened the gap between him and the field since the start of the season.
He blew the doors off the basketball world last October with an incredible two-game performance in Las Vegas against G League Ignite, scoring 36 and 37 points, respectively, and showcasing his exceptional shot-making prowess, ability to create offense for himself and teammates, game-changing defensive presence and feel for the game, which indicates how seamlessly his game will translate to the NBA.
He’s in the midst of an MVP-caliber campaign guiding his Metropolitans 92 team to the second-best record in France while leading the league in points, rebounds and blocks, something we’ve never seen from a 19-year-old at this level of competition. Perhaps most impressively, he hasn’t missed a game all year, alleviating many concerns about how his 7-foot-5 frame will hold up long-term.
Wembanyama’s mobility, length, instincts and anticipation skills will make him a formidable presence defensively from day one patrolling the paint and covering ground on the perimeter, while his versatile skill level inside and outside the arc gives him huge mismatch potential offensively. He still has considerable room to improve as his lanky frame evolves but has made significant improvement there as well. The work ethic, competitiveness and intelligence he shows on both ends of the floor, combined with his supernatural physical tools and talent, gives him a chance to become an MVP candidate and possibly one of the best players we’ve seen in this generation long-term. — Givony
What’s at stake for every lottery team?
The Pistons have anchored their rebuild to a pair of perimeter building blocks in Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey. After multiple seasons of sustained losing, Detroit feels some urgency to turn this around — there’s no better pathway than cashing in on lottery night and walking away with the chance to draft Wembanyama. If Detroit winds up drafting second, third or drops even further, it will be thrust into a complicated spot where no available prospect directly solves its issues. This is a pretty massive juncture to take a step forward. — Woo
The Rockets can thank the Pistons for helping them avoid the dubious distinction of finishing with the NBA’s worst record for a third straight season. After winning just 23% of their games since 2020, there’s seemingly nowhere to go but up in Houston. With their 2024 first-rounder owed to Oklahoma City (top-four protected), the Rockets are hoping to pivot back to respectability armed with ample cap room and what they hope is a very high draft pick to help compensate for the misery their fan base has endured lately. Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller would likely be immediate starters and difference makers for Houston, but falling outside of the top three — there’s a 60% chance of that occurring — would be extremely painful. — Givony
San Antonio continues to search for a star player who can legitimately alter the franchise’s trajectory. Wembanyama would be that. Henderson would also be a nice fit here. The Spurs have assembled a talented young core, headlined by last year’s lottery pick, Jeremy Sochan. Even if they manage a big swing elsewhere in the draft, dropping back from No. 3 perpetuates their rebuilding process somewhat indefinitely into the future, which would be a tough break for one of the NBA’s most historically successful organizations. — Woo
The Hornets have been one of the NBA’s most rudderless teams dating back to their inception in 1988, failing to make the playoffs since 2016 and not advancing a round in more than 20 years. Shockingly, the team has had just one top-three pick in the past decade (LaMelo Ball in 2020), and doesn’t otherwise have much to show for all the losing they’ve endured with a roster that looks extremely thin on talent outside of the passing magician Ball. That makes Tuesday’s drawing all the more important as it gives the team an opportunity to cycle out of the mediocrity that’s become the norm in Charlotte. — Givony
A late-season slide in the standings positioned the Blazers with top-five lottery odds, creating a pivotal moment for the organization. Portland has been trying to thread the needle between developing talent and winning games with Damian Lillard, but it’s roster continues to skew younger. This has begun to look like a situation that could trend toward a full rebuild if the Blazers do decide to deal their longtime franchise player. Landing Wembanyama would be a cure-all; any other result might create even more incentive to go all-in on rebuilding around Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons and this year’s draft pick. — Woo
The Magic pivoted quickly from consecutive playoff appearances in 2019 and 2020 to assembling one of the league’s most impressive troves of young talent in the span of a few years. The front office is hoping this is their last trip to the top of the draft order for some time, so bucking the odds and coming away with a top-four pick (there’s just a 37% chance) would be a huge shot in the arm for their rebuilding process. The roster doesn’t have nearly as many holes as other teams in this range, which means the team can go in a number of different directions depending on where they ultimately land. — Givony
The idea of a Wembanyama-Tyrese Haliburton pairing is certainly alluring, but the Pacers need quite a bit of help for that to manifest. Indiana has put itself in a good position to be competitive moving forward, and a bit of lottery fortune could help it land another foundational piece. If not, the Pacers can still grab another nice young player, and have a clear need to upgrade the forward spots now that center Myles Turner is on a new contract. A bit of luck could turn Indiana into one of the most promising young teams in the league. — Woo
The Wizards go into lottery night without a lead decision-maker after dismissing general manager Tommy Sheppard. Ownership will be hoping this job becomes significantly more attractive with the 29% chance they move into the top four, which will likely help decide what direction the franchise will go in terms of a full-blown rebuild. Either way, there’s a significant amount of work to do with the roster. The first order of business: deciding what to do with the impending free agency situations of 20-plus points per game scorers Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma, as well as three-time All-Star Bradley Beal, who is under contract long-term but turns 30 next month. — Givony
Despite a hot start to the season, the Jazz wound up in the lottery after backsliding in March and April, and are loaded with future draft picks from Minnesota following the Rudy Gobert trade. Utah is in a position to take some big swings, with Lauri Markannen having emerged and 21-year-old Walker Kessler now entrenched as it’s starting center, but the rest of the roster lacks franchise-changing upside. Utah doesn’t need a top-four pick to keep this pointed in a good direction, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. — Woo
With their first-round pick owed to the New York Knicks if it fell to 11th or later, the Mavericks elected to tank the final games of the season to try to ensure their spot in the top 10, a move that earned the team a $750,000 fine from the NBA. We’ll find out Tuesday if it was worth it, as there’s still a 20% chance a team could leapfrog them and push their pick down one spot, which would mean it still gets conveyed to the Knicks in an all-time face-palm moment by NBA standards. The counter to that is the 14% chance the Mavs do move up, something that would be huge for their chances of surrounding Luka Doncic with enough talent to give him content in Dallas long-term. — Givony
The Bulls will convey the 11th pick to the Magic unless it leaps into the top four, which means they only have an 8.5% chance of keeping it. So, naturally, a surprise result would be seismic for Chicago, which has seen its veteran trio of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic start to hit its ceiling, and could use an infusion of young talent to help chart a new course. None of this is likely, but moving up anywhere in the top four would be a gigantic win. — Woo
The Thunder are in the most enviable situation of any NBA team projecting long-term, with a huge stockpile of picks to go along with a tantalizing amount of young talent (not to mention the return of Chet Holmgren next season). The 8.1% chance of OKC moving into the top four has to be downright frightening for the rest of the Western Conference considering how rosy it’s outlook is already, and the 1.7% chance of a Holmgren-Wembanyama frontcourt could create the potential for one of the most intriguing pairings we’ve seen in years. — Givony
With just a 1% chance of winning the lottery and a 4.8% chance of moving up at all, this should be a pretty quiet night for the Raptors. Changes would seem to be coming in Toronto one way or another, but any unexpected lottery result would be a total coup. — Woo
The Pelicans’ play-in game loss to Oklahoma City ended a disappointing collapse from being 10 games over .500 in early January to out of the playoffs altogether, a process that started with the season-ending injury suffered by 2019 No. 1 pick Zion Williamson that same week. The Pelicans’ 2.4% chance of moving into the top four would be the unlikeliest scenario we’ve seen in NBA draft lottery history since Charlotte in 1999, which rose from drafting at No. 13 to No. 3 despite having just a 1.83% chance of moving up. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will need to nail their late lottery pick and find improvement internally, starting with hoping Williamson’s 114 career NBA game tally rises dramatically next season. — Givony
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service used by NBA, NCAA and international teams.
Jeremy Woo is an NBA analyst specializing in prospect evaluation and the draft. He was previously a staff writer and draft insider at Sports Illustrated.