Utah Jazz: What Does 4th Mean in the Lottery?

Today the Utah Jazz won the coin flip!  What does that mean?  We now in the 4th lottery position.  So let’s take a look at what our odds are of winning the lottery.

lotto ods

Interestingly enough the 4th pick is the least likely pick, besides the 7th, that the Utah Jazz could land.  The Jazz now have a 33.35% at a top 3 pick.  Those are great odds right?  The 5th pick however, is the most likely landing spot statistically.  Let’s take a look at the historical results of the lottery to see if the higher odds have really won more often.


In the 19 years of the modern draft structure, the lottery position who was won the #1 pick the most is the 3rd position.  That position has won the #1 pick six times.  The 5th position has won the lottery four times, good enough for 2nd most wins.  Both the 1st and 7th positions have won the top pick twice.  This is somewhat surprising, and goes against the actual odds!  If the #1 lottery position has only won the top pick two times in the last 19 years, why do teams tank deliberately to have the league’s worst record and not the 3rd worst?

The answer is that winning the #1 pick is a total crap shoot.  Only one combination of 1,000 is picked to win the lottery.  Teams want the worst record in the league because it statistically, and historically, increase their chance at a top three pick dramatically.

top 3

If you look at the frequency that a lottery position has won a top 3 pick, its eye opening!  #1 lottery positions have won a top 3 pick 73.7% of the time.  The drop off between the #1 lottery spot and the #2 is a 49.6% difference.  That is why teams tank.

What does this mean for the Jazz?  If you take historical outcomes, the Jazz have a 20.7% chance at a top three pick.  Compared to the 33.35% statistical chance at a top three pick, history has not been kind.  Historically the 4th lottery position has been outperformed by the 3rd and 5th picks.  Those picks each win a top three pick in 31.0% of the drafts.

average pickIf you take one more step back and look at the average pick that each lottery position has, you can see that the 5th position’s average pick has been a 3.89 compared to the 4th positions 4.26.  This means that historically the 4th position’s most likely pick is the 5th pick. 

Both history and statistics show the Utah Jazz most likely pick is the 5th pick.  Because the first tier of talent in the 2014 NBA draft is considered to be 4 deep, Jazz need to hope that this draft does not follow the historical trends.  Jazz fans should pray that the law of averages, which states that things must even out, comes to fruition and the Jazz win a top 3 pick.