The NBA Draft
Association’s (NBA) thirty teams (29 in the United States and one in Canada) can select young players who wish to join the league. These players usually come from college level, but in recent drafts a greater number of international and high school players have been drafted. As of the 2006 NBA Draft high school players gain eligibility for draft selection one year after their graduating class has finished high school, but only if they also are at least 19 years of age as of the end of the calendar year of the draft.
The NBA draft is currently divided into two rounds, with thirty picks per round. The order of selections is based on several rules. The first picks of the draft belong to the fourteen teams that did not enter the playoffs in that year’s season. These teams participate in a lottery to determine the order of the first three picks. Each team is assigned a number of chances based upon season standings to ‘win’ the lottery. After these three teams have been determined, the remaining picks are given out based on regular season record with the worst teams getting the highest remaining picks. This lottery assures each team can drop no more than 3 positions from its projected draft position. The lottery also prevents teams from throwing the season to ensure a top draft pick.
The next sixteen spots in the draft are reserved for the teams that made it into that season’s playoffs. The order of these sixteen teams’ selection is determined by their regular-season win-loss record, going from worst to best. Therefore, the team with the best record selects last. The team with the best record is not necessarily the champion; for example, in the 2004 NBA Draft, the last pick did not go to the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons, but rather to the Indiana Pacers (this is unlike the NFL Draft, in which the Super Bowl champion always draws the final selection of the first round).
The order of selections in the second round are also based upon season standings, with the worst team picking first and the best picking last. There is no lottery for the second round. Teams are allowed to trade future draft picks (first and second round) as they would current players.
League rules prohibit a team from trading away their own future first-round picks in consecutive years. This rule was created partially as a reaction to the practices of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1980s. Ted Stepien, who owned the team from 1980 to 1983, made a series of trades for players of questionable value that cost the team several years of first-round picks. The trades nearly destroyed the franchise; the NBA pressured Stepien into selling out, and in order to get a solid local owner (Gordon Gund), the league had to sweeten the deal by giving the Cavaliers several future bonus draft picks.
All U.S. players are automatically eligible upon the end of their college eligibility. Through 2005, U.S. players were also allowed to declare eligibility for the draft at any time between high school graduation and the completion of college eligibility. International players could declare eligibility in the calendar year of their 18th birthday, or later.
Starting with the 2006 NBA Draft, the eligibility rules have changed:
• All players, regardless of nationality, must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft.
• A U.S. player must also be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class.
This age limit for draftees is part of the new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players union.
The NBA has established two draft declaration dates. All players who wish to be drafted, and are not automatically eligible, must declare their eligibility on or before the first declaration date.
After this date, prospective draftees may attend NBA pre-draft camps and individual team workouts to show off their skills and obtain feedback regarding their draft positions. A player may withdraw his name from consideration from the draft at any time before the final declaration date, which is one week before the draft. A player who declares for the draft will lose his college eligibility, even if he is not drafted, if any of the following is true:
• The player signs with an agent.
• The player has declared for and withdrawn from the draft in any previous year.
When a player is selected in the first round of the draft, the team that selected him is required to sign him to at least a one-year contract. Players selected in the second round are “owned” by the team for three years, but the teams are not required to sign them.
Players chosen earlier in the draft are generally regarded as better prospects than those selected later, but there is always a level of uncertainty around the selections. Past drafts are filled with examples of late-pick superstars and early-pick busts. Perhaps the most famous example of the uncertainty of the draft came in 1986, when Karl Malone was selected by the Utah Jazz with the thirteenth pick, but went on to become the second-leading scorer in NBA history and win multiple MVP awards. His teammate, John Stockton, was selected sixteenth the year before, but went on to become the all-time NBA leader in assists and steals.