The Indiana Pacers have not selected a player with a single-digit pick in the NBA Draft since taking forward George McCloud seventh overall in 1989. In the three-plus decades since, the Pacers have found a ton of regular season success, reaching the postseason 25 times and never drafting higher than tenth.
This year, that is going to change. Indiana finished the 2021-22 season with the fifth-worst record in the NBA, so they will have the fifth-best odds in the 2022 NBA Draft lottery. In the unlikely scenario that things go as poorly as possible for the blue and gold that night, they will still pick ninth, meaning that the Pacers will be picking in their highest slot since the 1980s this year.
The 2022 draft is extremely important for Indiana’s team, and it may be their best chance to acquire a superstar. The higher the pick the Pacers get, the better. And on May 17, just over two weeks from now, the NBA will perform the lottery ceremony and the Pacers will learn exactly when they will pick.
“I feel like the draft is important for everybody,” guard T.J. McConnell shared just after the season ended. “All teams have to draft well.”
The NBA draft lottery is an event in which the association determines the top picks in the NBA draft. Every team that missed the playoffs is given a certain chance to move up in the draft, and the worse a team’s place in the standings is from the prior season, the higher the chance is that said team finishes with a top pick. Four numbered ping-pong balls are drawn, and the team assigned that four number combination receives the first overall pick. That process is repeated for all of the top-four picks.
The structure of the draft lottery was altered in 2019. Prior to that year, the team with the worst record in the league had a 25% chance to receive the first overall pick, with the odds slightly decreasing for each ensuing team in the inverse standings. At that time, the team with the worst record could only fall as far as fourth once the lottery was over — only the top three picks were determined via the drawing.
In 2019, though, that all changed as the NBA attempted to limit the benefits of finishing with a dismal record. As a result, the three teams with the worst records in the league at the end of a season all have the same odds in the draft lottery — each one has a 14% chance to obtain the first overall pick and a 52.1% chance of picking the top-four, per Tankathon. The team with the worst record can now fall as far as fifth in the draft as the top-four picks are all determined via the lottery.
The Pacers finished the 2021-22 campaign with the fifth-worst record in the league, so they have slightly worse odds to get a top pick in the 2022 draft than the four teams that finished with an inferior record. The blue and gold have approximately a 10.5% chance of receiving the top overall selection from the lottery drawing, up from 8.8% in the old system. Beyond the first overall pick, Indiana has a 42.1% probability of getting a top-four selection once the sweepstakes are said and done. Under the prior lottery odds, the Pacers would have only had a chance to jump into the top-three, and they would have had a 29.1% probability of moving up.
“Obviously it’s a big decision for our organization, and we’re excited for that and for the future moving forward with whoever that is and whoever is here,” guard Tyrese Haliburton said of the upcoming NBA draft. “I’m definitely looking forward to see how the [ping pong] balls bounce.”
The changing of the odds in 2019 helps Indiana tremendously, but the math still says that it is more likely than not Indiana does not move into the top-four. In fact, there is roughly a 55.6% chance that Indiana falls backwards on lottery night and picks behind the fifth spot in the draft. The most likely outcome, per Tankathon, is the Pacers finishing the drawing with seventh overall selection.
While that would be disappointing for a franchise that finished with the fifth-worst record, especially in a draft class where there are four prospects widely considered to be in a tier above the rest, it would still be the highest the Pacers have selected in decades. That would even be true in Indiana’s nightmare scenario, which only has a roughly 0.6% chance of happening: picking ninth, which would require four different teams behind Indiana in the lottery standings jumping into the top-four.
Overall, here are the approximate odds (according to Tankathon) that the Pacers end up in every possible draft slot:
First overall: 10.5%
Second overall: 10.5%
Third overall: 10.6%
Fourth overall: 10.5%
Fifth overall: 2.2%
Sixth overall: 19.6%
Seventh overall: 26.7%
Eighth overall: 8.7%
Ninth overall: 0.6%
It seems counterintuitive that the team with the fifth-worst record only has an approximately 2.2% chance of actually picking fifth overall. But because only the top-four selections are drawn in the proceedings, and there is a high chance that at least one team behind the blue and gold jumps into the top-four, it is fairly unlikely that Indiana actually picks fifth despite having the fifth-worst record, though it is possible.
The Pacers can’t do anything to change their draft lottery odds. At this point, they can do nothing but hope that the ping pong balls are in their favor. After one of the most miserable seasons in franchise history, the franchise will hope that the misery doesn’t extend to lottery night.