2021 NBA Draft Tiebreaker Results

May 25, 2021

The NBA conducted a series of random tiebreakers today to determine the lottery standings and the 2021 draft order. These tiebreakers involved teams that finished the regular season with identical records.

The results are as follows, per Jeremy Woo of SI.com (Twitter link):

  • Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 4) over Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 5)
  • Chicago Bulls (No. 8) over Sacramento Kings (No. 9) over New Orleans Pelicans (No. 10)
    • Note: The Magic will receive the Bulls’ first-round pick if it doesn’t move up into the top four.
  • Charlotte Hornets (No. 11) over San Antonio Spurs (No. 12)
  • New York Knicks (No. 19) over Atlanta Hawks (No. 20)
  • New York Knicks (No. 21) over Los Angeles Lakers (No. 22) over Houston Rockets (No. 23)
    • Note: The Knicks’ pick is courtesy of the Mavericks, while the Rockets’ pick is courtesy of the Trail Blazers.
  • Los Angeles Clippers (No. 25) over Denver Nuggets (No. 26).

Lottery teams that finished tied in the regular standings are granted essentially identical odds to move up into the top four. For instance, the Thunder and Cavaliers will each have an 11.5% chance at the No. 1 overall pick, while the Bulls, Kings, and Pelicans will have matching 4.5% odds at the top selection.

However, the tiebreaker is still important for lottery teams because it dictates which team(s) will draft first in the event that neither club moves into the top four. For example, the Cavs could theoretically slip as far as No. 9 in the draft now, while the Thunder couldn’t fall below No. 8.

Outside of the lottery, the tiebreaker results simply determine the draft order. That order is subsequently reversed in the second round. For instance, the Clippers and Nuggets will pick at Nos. 25 and 26, respectively in the first round, but in round two, Denver’s pick (traded to the Thunder) will be No. 55, while the Clippers’ pick (traded to Charlotte) will be No. 56.

The Thunder and Knicks are among the big tiebreaker winners. Oklahoma City’s odds of securing a top-six pick improved by virtue of its tiebreaker win over Cleveland. As for the Knicks, they could’ve ended up with the 20th and 23rd overall picks, but will instead draft at 19 and 21.

The Magic are an under-the-radar winner as well, since they hold Chicago’s first-round pick (top-four protected). The Bulls’ tiebreaker win didn’t affect the team’s odds of moving into the top four, but it substantially increased the odds that Orlando will end up with a pick at No. 8 or 9 instead of 10 or lower.