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Basketball History > NBA > NBA Draft


NBA Draft History

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 14 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 16 spots in the draft are reserved for the teams that made it into that season's playoffs. The order of these 16 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 in the draft. 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 same order is carried on to the second round. However, teams are allowed to trade their turns in the draft during season player deals. 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 obligated to make at least one selection during the entire draft. Also, league rules prohibit a team from trading 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.

Note, however, that this rule only requires each team to have a first-round pick, not necessarily their pick. Some examples illustrating this rule follow. These examples assume that the 2005 NBA Draft has already taken place.

  • For the purposes of this discussion, let us assume that the San Antonio Spurs have no first-round pick in 2005, but have their first-round picks, and no others, in all future years. The Spurs may freely trade their 2006 first-round pick, since its 2005 pick is no longer a future pick. However, they cannot trade away their first-round picks for 2006 and 2007, or in any other consecutive years.
  • The Spurs make a trade after the 2005 draft, picking up another team's first-round pick for 2007. Now, the Spurs can trade their own 2006 and 2007 first-round picks, since they still have a 2007 first-round pick.

Players Selected

All U.S. players are automatically eligible upon the end of their college eligibility. A U.S. player is also allowed to declare his eligibility for the draft at any time between high school graduation and the completion of college eligibility. An international player may declare eligibility in the calendar year of his 18th birthday, or later. 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. Following this, the NBA runs several pre-draft camps for prospective draftees to allow them to show their skills to the league's teams. A player may withdraw his name from consideration from the draft at any time before the final declaration date, one week before the draft date. This can be important for college players. Players do not lose their college eligibility by declaring for the draft on the initial date; 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.

When a player is selected in the first round of the draft, the team that selected him is obligated 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 obligated to sign them.

The earlier in the draft a player is selected, the higher his worth. The first pick of the draft is usually the best player available in the field. However, being the first pick doesn't necessarily means that the player will be a superstar. Michael Jordan was the third pick of the 1984 NBA draft, and yet he is generally recognized as the greatest player of all time. The two players selected ahead of Jordan in that draft illustrate the uncertainty of the draft. While the first pick, Hakeem Olajuwon, went on to a career that will certainly put him in the Hall of Fame, the second pick, Sam Bowie, ended up a journeyman with a relatively short and injury-riddled career.

See Also:

NBA Draft Lottery

Year by Year NBA Draft Results

Top Picks in the NBA Draft Since 1979



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Last Updated May 2005
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