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Cleveland Cavaliers in 2022 NBA Draft lottery: How it works and what to expect

The Cavs have generally been pretty lucky when it comes to the draft lottery, including the selections of Andrew Wiggins and Kyrie Irving at No. 1 overall.

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers will once again be participating in an event that they’re very familiar with – the NBA Draft lottery – on Tuesday, May 17.

The Cavs missing the playoffs due to their play-in losses against Brooklyn and Atlanta mean that the team retains its 2022 first-round draft pick. Had the Cavs won either of those games, they would have qualified for the playoffs and the draft pick would have been sent to Indiana to complete the trade for swingman Caris LeVert. Of course, Cleveland was the best team in the NBA to miss the playoffs, meaning that their odds to move up in the lottery are relatively slim.

Of the 14 lottery teams, the Cavaliers sit with the worst odds of moving into the top four of the 2022 NBA Draft. The Cavaliers have a 2.4 percent chance to move into the top four of the draft, and a 0.5 percent chance to obtain the No. 1 overall selection by virtue of the lottery.

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So, you’re telling me there’s a chance?

Technically, yes. There is unquestionably a chance that the Cavs are able to move up. In fact, moving up into the top four wouldn’t be the longest odds the franchise has overcome in its history.

Back in 2014, the Cavaliers finished with a 33-49 record and ended up with the ninth-best odds to win the draft lottery after a failed attempt at a playoff chase. That gave the team a 1.7 percent chance to win the lottery. With chances that slim, the Cavaliers struck gold landing the top pick that turned out to be Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins. The rules are now different in the lottery. For instance, the San Antonio Spurs are ninth this year, they have a 20.3 percent chance of landing in the top four and a 4.5 percent chance at No. 1 overall. The rules changed as a way to combat tanking in the NBA, flattening the odds of the worst teams in the NBA while ensuring the better teams don’t get shut out.

Most likely scenario

There’s an incredibly strong chance that the Cavaliers stick right where they are at 14th for their pick in the draft this year. In fact, there’s a 97.59 percent chance that will be the case. Since the new lottery rules were implemented in 2019, the 14th place team has stuck in its original position each time. This would still give the Cavaliers the opportunity to draft a solid player that could help out right away, but the hit rate isn’t nearly as high. Some notable players that have been selected 14th in the NBA Draft include Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., Phoenix’s Cameron Payne (selected by Oklahoma City) and LA’s Marcus Morris (selected by Houston).

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Let’s start dreaming…

After 14th, the next most likely scenario for the Cavaliers would be landing the fourth overall pick. The team has a 0.72 percent chance to land fourth in the draft. So, yes, it’s fairly unlikely, but still could happen. Some notable players that went fourth overall include Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters in Cleveland, the 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes to Toronto, Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr., Los Angeles’ Russell Westbrook (by Oklahoma City), Phoenix’s Chris Paul (by New Orleans) and Hall of Fame forward Chris Bosh.

Picking third, again?

The Cavaliers go into next week’s lottery with a 0.63 percent chance of landing the third overall selection, which would be a repeat of their draft position last year. Evan Mobley was a no-brainer pick at No. 3 last year, and some other notable third overall picks include Michael Jordan, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Washington’s Bradley Beal, Philadelphia’s James Harden (selected by Oklahoma City), Carmelo Anthony and former Cavaliers guard Darius Miles.

First or second?

As things become even more unlikely, we’ll group the top two picks into one category. The Cavaliers have a 0.56 percent chance to select second overall and a 0.50 percent chance to pick first overall in this June’s draft. There’s a chance, but it would be quite the stunner.

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Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in an unrelated story on May 5, 2022.

How it actually works

When referencing teams that are clearly tanking to improve their position in the NBA Draft lottery, it’s often stated that they’re “playing for ping pong balls.” This is true in a sense, but it’s not as easy as a ping pong ball with their logo is pulled out of a drawing. It’s actually a fairly complicated process.

There are only 14 ping pong balls that are used, and they’re numbered one through 14. For each of the four lottery winners, four ping pong balls are selected one at a time from the hopper. Those ping pong balls create a four-number code, and whichever team possesses the matching code wins that selection. There are a total of 1,001 different combinations that can be created from the numerically labeled ping pong balls, with one of the combinations being deemed invalid and causing a redraw (11-12-13-14).

Of the 1,000 combinations that are handed out to the lottery teams, the three teams with the worst records in the NBA are assigned 140 combinations each, and that number dwindles down until the 14th-place team -- which has just five of the 1,000 combinations. 

This year, that team is the Cavs.

The Cavs have generally been pretty lucky when it comes to the draft lottery, the selections of Andrew Wiggins and Kyrie Irving at No. 1 overall were made possible thanks to some serious luck, but the Cavs will need even more of that to move up next week.

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