The NBA Draft is an annual event in which the National Basketball Association's (NBA) thirty teams 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, however, high school players will no longer be eligible for selection.
The NBA draft is divided into two rounds. The order of selections is based on certain rules. The first turns 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 that determines the spot each team will have in the draft.
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. Note that 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 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).
This same order is carried on to the second round. However, teams are allowed to trade their future draft picks in the same way as they would current players. Therefore, the structure of the second round can sometimes be very different than that of the first round because of trades.
Each team in the league is NOT required to make at least one selection during the entire draft, HOWEVER THE league rules prohibit a team from trading away 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 the team, 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.
Note, however, that this rule only requires each team to have a first-round pick, not necessarily their pick.
All U.S. players are automatically eligible upon the end of their college eligibility. Through 2005, American players were also allowed to declare eligibility for the draft at any time between high school graduation and the completion of college eligibility. Foreign 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. Players who wish to be drafted and are not automatically eligible and must declare their eligibility on or before the first declaration date. Following this date, the NBA runs several pre-draft camps for prospective draftees to allow them to show their skills to the league's teams. Teams may also audition players individually. 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. Players do not lose their college eligibility by declaring for the draft on the initial date unless they have, in any previous year, declared and withdrawn from the draft; however, if they stay in the draft at the final declaration date, they lose further college eligibility whether or not they are drafted. Also, signing with an agent automatically ends a player's college eligibility. Underclassmen may withdraw from the draft only once.
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. The rights to the player is owned by the team that draft him for three years, but the team is not required to sign the player.
Structural History of the Draft
From the first NBA Draft in 1947 until 1965, the league allowed a team to forfeit its first round pick and, instead, select a player from its immediate area. This allowed the New York Knicks, holders of the second overall pick in the 1965 NBA Draft, to leapfrog over the San Francisco Warriors and select Princeton University graduate Bill Bradley.
The Coin Flip
After the NBA did away with the territorial pick system, the first pick in the draft took on new value. With two distinct conferences, however, the league was unsure how to correctly award the first pick overall. Starting in 1966 and going until 1984, the solution was a coin-flip. Before each draft, a league official would decide which of the two conference losers received the #1 overall pick. The coin-flip loser would receive pick #2, and after that, picks were awarded in order of regular season record (worst to first).
The NBA Lottery
The NBA Lottery has transitioned over the years from a full unweighted lottery for non-playoff teams to a more limited, weighted lottery.
The Lottery began in 1985, replacing the coin flip system. The seven teams which did not make the playoffs had their first-round pick order determined randomly, with each team having an equal chance at receiving the #1 pick overall.
After two years of this system, the league modified it. From 1987 and since, only the top 3 picks have been determined by lottery.
However, it was not until 1990 that the Lottery used a weighted system. Since then, the worst team gets n chances of getting the top pick, where n is equal to the number of teams that have failed to make the playoffs. After the top pick is awarded, the second and third picks are in similar fashion.
The early years of the NBA Draft could go on forever -- teams could draft players until they ran out of players to draft. In the 1970s and early 1980s, though, the draft was a de facto ten rounds. In 1985, by rule, the draft was shortened to seven rounds. In 1989, it was shortened to the two rounds that we have today.