Drafts matter in every sport, but none of them are more important or more impactful than the one in the NBA. Getting a strong college player or rising star can completely change a team’s culture, especially because organizations have such a small window to make the right pick.
This article breaks down how the NBA Draft works, as well as the way it got to its current format. That analysis will go over why talent is so scarce in the league, and why organizations put so much extra emphasis on critical picks.
Just Two Shots
The NBA draft typically occurs around the end of June during the NBA offseason. It’s a big event, but also an extremely short-lived one. That’s because, unlike other leagues, organizations don’t get a ton of new players. Most of the time, they only get two.
Since 1989, the NBA draft has consisted of only two rounds. Comparing that to other major American sports leagues like the NFL and MLB (who have six and seven round drafts) that’s incredibly short. Teams don’t have a ton of space, so there isn’t a lot of room.
Every team gets a single pick in each round (one in the first, one in the second), going in reverse regular season order from the worst to the best. That means even the worst teams only have limited ways to fix their team. They don’t get to fill in all the gaps at once.
The two rounds are the glue that holds the draft together, and one of the things that separates the NBA from other leagues. However, it’s not the only mechanism that puts the league in its own category. The lottery does too.
While the basis of the draft is that worse teams get higher picks, the top of the top are chosen based on a lottery system. Teams that miss the playoffs enter the process in order to get a chance at the first three picks, and their odds are determined by their regular season record.
Everyone enters the running, but the three bottom regular-season records have the highest chance (14 percent) of winning the lottery. In addition, the worst record team cannot ever get lower than the fifth pick.
That system ensures all teams stay balanced, and makes it so organizations who had a particularly rough season don’t just stay at the bottom of the barrel year after year. It’s a great way to ensure parity.
A Significant Change
Looking at the above system, it’s clear why the NBA draft matters. A single star, being one of five on the court, can turn a terrible team into a contender extremely quickly. It’s unlike they will make a bad team amazing, but they can have an immediate impact more than other sports.
That’s why there’s so much pressure to get the right talent in the draft. Unlike other leagues, where organizations can afford to miss on some picks and hit on others, NBA teams only have two chances to make their team better.
In a two round draft, it’s go big or go home. As such, trading for picks has a large impact too. Being able to get three or even four players can typically be the difference between becoming a playoff contender and another few seasons of mediocrity.
The NBA draft has an incredibly large impact on the league. New players can completely shift an organization, which is why bringing in talent is so important. Two picks across two rounds is not a lot. Organizations need to make everything count.