Table of Contents
What is the NBA Draft?
The NBA draft is an annual event in which teams in the National Basketball Association select players from American colleges and universities and international leagues to add to their official roster. Once a player is selected by a team, their rights are controlled by that team, who they must then negotiate a contract with.
Each year, the NBA Draft is held in New York, usually in the third week of June, a couple of weeks after the previous season’s NBA finals end. The first NBA Draft was held in 1966. Up until then, the rights to the first pick had been decided by the flip of a coin (no kidding). The first player ever selected in the 1966 NBA draft was Cazzie Russell, a Forward/Guard from the University of Michigan picked by the New York Knicks at #1 overall.
The 2023 NBA Draft will take place June 22 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The San Antonio Spurs are set to make the first pick. In past drafts, the Spurs selected big men David Robinson (1987) and Tim Duncan (1997) with the #1 overall pick. As of this writing, the top 10 picks in the 2023 NBA draft are owned by:
- San Antonio Spurs
- Charlotte Hornets
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Houston Rockets
- Detroit Pistons
- Orlando Magic
- Indiana Pacers
- Washington Wizards
- Utah Jazz
- Dallas Mavericks
The 2023 class of NBA draft-eligible players will be 242 strong and is considered especially deep at Point Guard, Power Forward, and the so-called ‘Wing’ position. Top prospects for the 2023 draft include Victor Wembanyama, an international pro player, Scoot Henderson, a pro player from the U.S. G-League, and Brandon Miller, a U.S. college-eligible player.
How can players get drafted in the NBA?
To be selected with a draft pick, players must meet a few terms of eligibility that the NBA sets and that all teams must abide by. At the minimum, you have to be 19 years old and it has to be at least one year since you have graduated high school. Beyond that, there are four different paths to being selected as an NBA draft pick. A player can become eligible by:
- Competing for a U.S. college team and completing at least four years of eligibility there;
- Completing less than four years of eligibility but applying for early entry to the NBA draft;
- Playing for a pro team in a league other than the NBA, in the U.S. or internationally; or
- Being born internationally, and never attending school in the U.S., but playing pro internationally.
Players who compete for a U.S. college team and complete at least four years get automatic eligibility for the NBA draft.
Early-entry players must declare their eligibility 60 days prior to the date of the draft but can choose to withdraw if they give notice at least 10 days in advance. Do this more than twice, and the player loses their eligibility.
Players who go the route of playing for a pro team in a league other than the NBA become automatically eligible for the NBA draft once their other pro league contract is signed, and they record playing time in that league.
Players who are born, educated, and play pro internationally still need to meet the basic age and high school graduation criteria, but they can also become automatically eligible once they turn 22 years old.
NBA teams are allowed to draft any player that meets the terms of eligibility.
Can NBA teams draft high school players?
Until 2005, yes they could. Some of the most famous players ever drafted directly from high school include Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James, who is arguably the greatest draft pick and player in NBA history (see below for more about The GOAT). In 2006, however, the NBA changed the rules of eligibility so that NBA teams could no longer select players directly out of high school
How do NBA teams select players
The NBA draft works by teams taking turns selecting draft-eligible players. There are 30 teams and two rounds of drafting, so 60 players will be selected in each draft. The order in which teams draft is largely determined by the order they finished the previous season.
The team that won the previous season’s NBA Finals picks last, #30, in each round of the draft. The team that finished second, picks second last in each round, etc. That continues all the way up to Pick #15, accounting for the top 16 finishers each season. Picks #1 through #14 are determined a little differently — through what’s called the NBA Draft Lottery.
What About the NBA Draft Lottery?
In the NBA Draft Lottery system, the bottom 14 teams from the previous season each have a chance to receive the #1 overall pick, but it is a matter of luck as to who gets to select first, and in what order. The lottery system is conducted using an old-school method: numbered ping-pong balls
This entire process is conducted in private. 14 ping-pong balls numbered 1 through 14 will be placed in a lottery machine. There are 1,001 possible combinations when four balls are drawn. 1000 of those will be assigned to the lottery-eligible teams. Four balls will then be randomly selected under strict guidelines.
The team that lucks out with the winning combination of ping pong balls selected wins the #1 overall pick. The same process is repeated for picks two through four. The results of the lottery are sealed in four individual envelopes. Absolutely no one outside the room will know the lottery results before these envelopes are opened.
The announcement of the lottery results will be made by the NBA Deputy Commissioner just before the draft, with a representative from each lottery-eligible team present. The remaining lottery picks are then distributed in order of worst record to best from the remaining lottery-eligible teams (the fifth pick goes to the remaining team with the worst previous season’s record, and the fourteenth pick goes to the remaining team with the best previous season’s record).
Once picks #1 through #14 have been selected, the lottery portion of the draft is over. There is no lottery system in the second round; teams just pick from #1 through #30, in reverse order of the previous regular season’s final standings.
Can NBA teams trade draft picks?
Yes, NBA draft picks can be traded before and during the draft for any combination of other picks or players, in fact, it’s quite common. But, there are a few rules to limit any potential abuse of trading.
The Stepien Rule, for example, stops teams from trading a round 1 pick in back-to-back years. This rule is named after infamous former Cleveland Cavaliers owner, Ted Stepien, who traded Cleveland’s first-round pick in five straight drafts in the early 1980s. Teams are also only allowed to trade draft picks up to 7 years in the future.
The NBA can also take draft picks away from teams if they have broken other league rules. In 2022, the draft had just 58 picks, because the league took a second-round draft pick from both the Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks as a result of those teams breaking free agency tampering rules.
How do NBA teams protect draft picks?
When trading draft selections, teams can elect to protect their picks in order to ensure they don’t lose a prime draft spot or player. For example, Let’s say Toronto wanted to trade picks with Detroit. If Toronto trades their first-round pick, they have the option to make it ‘top 10 protected.’
That means, if the pick ends up being in the top 10 that year, Toronto gets their pick back. But, it also means that Detroit automatically gets Toronto’s first-round pick the following season, no matter how early or late it comes in round one.
Which NBA draft was the best?
The greatest NBA draft class ever is a matter of opinion. That said, there are a few years that stand out for various reasons.
The 1956 draft class won the most championships. Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K. C. Jones and Willie Naulls combined for 30 of the 1956 draft class’ 32 championship rings.
The 1979 draft class included Sidney Moncrief, Bill Cartwright, Calvin Natt, Jim Paxson, Bill Laimbeer, and Magic Johnson, one of the finest players of his era.
The 1984 draft class included Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Michael Jordan, who many consider to be the greatest of all time (more on the GOAT discussion below).
The 1996 draft saw 10 players selected who would go on to be All-Stars and three who won the NBA’s annual Most Valuable Player award – Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson.
The 2003 draft included superstars Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade. James, Wade, and Bosh would later connect to form a superstar squad for the 2000s Miami Heat.
Who is the GOAT NBA draft pick?
It depends on who you ask, but three names routinely come up in the discussion, each from a different era of the NBA’s long and storied history.
Wilt Chamberlain was selected as a territorial pick in the 1959 draft by the Philadelphia Warriors before the regular draft even started. He would go on to lead the NBA in scoring seven times, field goal percentage nine times, minutes played eight times, rebounding eleven times, and assists once. He also won two championships, four MVP awards, the Rookie of the Year award, one Finals MVP award, and one All-Star Game MVP award, and was selected to 13 All-Star Games and 10 All-NBA Teams.
Michael Jordan, selected as the #3 overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 1984 draft is also in the GOAT discussion. Jordan holds the top career regular season and playoff scoring averages of 30.1 and 33.4 ppg and led the NBA in scoring in for 10 seasons, a record. With five regular-season MVPs, six Finals MVPs (a record), and three All-Star MVPs, Jordan is the most decorated player in NBA history.
Lebron James was selected as the #1 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, a few years before the league changed the rules to prohibit direct entry to the NBA from high school. King Lebron as he has come to be known is still playing in 2023. In his first season, James would be named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. Since then, he has gone on to tally four MVP awards, 19 All-NBA teams, and four Finals MVP awards. The teams James has played for have appeared in the finals 10 times and won four championships. Many people believe that James is still the best active player in the NBA in 2023.
The annual NBA draft is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of work for the players selected. So too, it is a vitally important event for NBA teams to acquire the personnel they need to be successful and execute their strategy in coming seasons.
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