The NBA draft is an annual event dating back to 1947 in which the (now thirty) teams from the National Basketball Association (NBA) can draft players who are eligible and wish to join the league. These are typically college basketball players, but international players are also eligible to be drafted. College players who have finished their four-year college eligibility are automatically eligible for selection, while the underclassmen have to declare their eligibility and give up their remaining college eligibility. International players who are at least 22 years old are automatically eligible for selection, while the players younger than 22 have to declare their eligibility. Players who are not automatically eligible but have declared their eligibility are often called "early-entrants" or "early-entry candidates". The draft usually takes place at the end of June, during the NBA offseason. Since 1989, the draft has consisted of two rounds; this is much shorter than the entry drafts of the other major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, all of which run at least seven rounds. Sixty players are selected in each draft. No player may sign with the NBA until he has been eligible for at least one draft.
In the past, high school players were also eligible to be selected. However, starting in the 2006 draft, high school players were not eligible to enter the draft directly after graduating from high school. The rules now state that high school players will gain eligibility for draft selection one year after their high school graduation, and they must also be at least 19 years old as of the end of the calendar year of the draft. Some players have chosen to use that year to play professionally overseas for example, such as Brandon Jennings (Italy), Emmanuel Mudiay (China), and Terrance Ferguson (Australia). Thon Maker was eligible for the 2016 draft despite not going to college because he chose to undertake a postgraduate year, so he was technically one year removed from graduation.
Some players must be at least 19 years of age during the calendar year of the draft, and a player who completed basketball eligibility at an American high school must also be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class. Restrictions exist on players signing with sports agents and on declaring for, then withdrawing from, drafts—although most of them are enforced by the NCAA rather than the NBA. There had been only 44 draftees from high school to college to play in the NBA throughout this process. Any players who are not an "international player" must be at least one year out of the graduation of his high school class in order for them to qualify for the upcoming draft. Not many high school players went directly to the NBA draft for almost 20 years after Darryl Dawkins in 1975 because of the exposure of the college games.
In the early years of the draft, teams would select players until they ran out of prospects. The 1960 and 1968 drafts went 21 rounds. By 1974, it had stabilized to 10 rounds (except 1977, when the rounds were eight), which held up until 1985, when the draft was shortened to seven rounds. By agreement with the National Basketball Players Association, the drafts from 1989 onward have been limited to two rounds, which gives undrafted players the chance to try out for any team.
From 2009 through 2015, the college underclassmen had until the day before the April signing period to withdraw their name from the draft and retain NCAA eligibility. Since 2016, players could enter the draft and participate in the NBA Draft Combine multiple times and retain NCAA eligibility by withdrawing from the draft within 10 days after the end of the mid-May NBA draft combine.
The NBA Draft Lottery is an annual event held by the NBA, where the teams who did not make the playoffs in the past year participate in a state-lottery style process in order to determine the first three picks of the draft, until 2018. The team with the worst record receives the best odds of receiving the first pick. The NBA introduced the lottery process in 1985. The league was attempting to counter accusations that certain teams were purposefully losing in order to gain a chance to participate in the annual coin flip, where the worst team in each division flips a coin to see who will receive the first pick in the upcoming draft. In 2019, the first four picks will be determined.
In the lottery system, the league uses "a lottery-style ping-pong ball machine with 14 balls numbered 1–14, and 1,000 four-digit combinations are assigned to the 14 lottery teams." Until 2018, the worst team received 250 combinations, the second worst getting 199, the third worst team 156, and so on. The first three draft picks were determined. Starting in 2019, the three worst teams will receive 140 combinations each, the fourth worst 125, and so on. Those three teams will have an equal chance of winning the top overall pick. After the first four picks are determined, the rest of the teams are ordered in reverse order based on their record in the previous season, like in the previous system.
The lottery is generally held in the third or fourth week of May. The NBA goes to great lengths in order to keep the selection process both fair and not tampered with in any way. "The actual Lottery procedure will take place in a separate room just prior to the national broadcast on ESPN. Select media members, NBA officials and representatives of the participating teams and the accounting firm of Ernst & Young will be in attendance for the drawing." Attendees aren't allowed cell phone or any other electronic access until the number one pick is revealed on the television broadcast.
The NBA draft has been dominated by collegiate players since the draft was put in place in 1950. In more recent years high school seniors have also had a large impact on the draft. These include players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady and Amar'e Stoudemire. However, because of the new age requirement put in place in 2005, high school seniors are no longer eligible for the draft, unless they were declared as postgraduates by the NBA, which would not happen until 2015 with Indian prospect Satnam Singh Bhamara in the second round and again in 2016 with South Sudanese–Australian prospect Thon Maker in the first round.
Foreign players have made a large impact on how teams are now drafting. When the draft began, foreign players were not selected. As the years progressed, things began to change and a few international players were selected. The first foreign player, in the sense of being a national of a country other than the U.S., to be chosen first overall in the draft was Bahamian Mychal Thompson in 1978. However, Thompson's selection was not a true harbinger of the game's globalization, as he had spent much of his childhood in Florida, and had played college basketball at Minnesota. Thompson has three sons, one is NBA champion, Klay Thompson. One of the first foreign players selected in the draft to play in the NBA was Manute Bol out of the Sudan in 1983 in the 5th round by the San Diego Clippers. Bol's selection was later deemed ineligible by the NBA. Two years later Bol was drafted again by the NBA this time out of Division II University of Bridgeport in 1985 as the 31st pick overall in the second round. Although Bol did not have a stellar career, he is known for being one of the tallest players ever to play the game at 7 feet and 7 inches. He holds the record for being the tallest player ever to hit a 3-point field goal. The following two years saw two players born outside the U.S. selected first overall—Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984 and Jamaica-born American Patrick Ewing in 1985. However, like Thompson before them, both had played U.S. college basketball—Olajuwon at Houston and Ewing at Georgetown—and Ewing had also played high school basketball in the U.S.
By the 1999 draft, the number of foreign players being drafted dramatically increased. The top pick in the 1997 NBA draft, Tim Duncan, became the third international player picked number 1 overall—although his designation as "international" is a matter of semantics, as he is a native of the United States Virgin Islands and, like all USVI natives, is a U.S. citizen by birth. He also had played U.S. college basketball at Wake Forest. Including Duncan, 12 international players were selected in the two rounds of the draft—although half of them, including Duncan and the next two such players picked, had played college basketball. The 1998 draft saw another foreign player picked first overall, Nigerian Michael Olowokandi, but like Duncan he had played college basketball, in his case at Pacific. In 2001 the highest drafted foreign player, Pau Gasol, was selected 3rd overall by the Atlanta Hawks. That would all change the following season when Yao Ming became the first foreign player without U.S. college experience to be selected number 1 overall. Not only was the first overall pick an international player, but five more picks in the first round alone were also from overseas. In total, the 2002 draft produced 17 international players, with only three of them (all second-round picks) having U.S. college experience.
As noted earlier, four international players had gone first overall before 2002, although all had played college basketball in the U.S., and one of them was in fact a U.S. citizen by birth. It was not until 2002 that an international player without college experience went first overall—Yao Ming. His selection was not only a watershed moment for the NBA, but it also had a large impact in Yao's homeland of China. Hannah Beech (2003) wrote "Yao has single-handedly transformed his countrymen from nameless, faceless millions into mighty men who can jam with the very best". Yao has helped the NBA grow into a worldwide product. Beech (2003) goes on to write "Ratings for NBA games broadcast on Chinese TV have never been higher than this year as the nation keeps track of its new favorite team, Yao's Houston Rockets". For his career Yao averaged a solid 19.0 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game, 1.89 blocks per game, and shot 82.6 percent from the free throw line. It had later gotten to a point where the last four drafts from 2013–2016 all held international prospects as #1 selections in their respective drafts before ending the run in 2017.
The 2002, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018 NBA drafts saw international players picked first overall. In 2002, the Houston Rockets selected Yao Ming from China first in the draft. In 2005, the Milwaukee Bucks picked Andrew Bogut, from Australia by way of the University of Utah, #1. The next year, the Toronto Raptors drafted Andrea Bargnani from Italy, making him the second foreign player without U.S. college experience and the first European to be selected number 1 overall. In 2011, Australian born Kyrie Irving was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers after having played one year at Duke. In 2013, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett, who played at UNLV, first overall and making Bennett the first Canadian to be drafted at #1. In the 2014 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers, again picking #1, selected Canadian shooting guard/small forward Andrew Wiggins. During the 2015 NBA draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected American / Dominican Center Karl-Anthony Towns as the first player from the Dominican Republic to become the #1 selection, teaming up with Andrew Wiggins in the process. During the 2016 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Australian Forward Ben Simmons to be the #1 selection, the first time the franchise got one in 20 years since the 1996 NBA draft when they selected the first overall pick Allen Iverson, a sophomore from Georgetown. In the 2018 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns selected Bahamian Center DeAndre Ayton as their first ever #1 selection, with Ayton being the second Bahamian taken at #1 behind Mychal Thompson.
Some of the most noted NBA draft years are 1984, 1996, and 2003. Each of those is often referred to as one of, if not the, best NBA draft ever. The 2003 NBA draft is now considered the best draft in the last 15 years, with superstars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh headlined. The 2000 NBA draft has been regarded as the worst in history, with Sports Illustrated calling its first round "a horrible group of players". The 1986 Draft was notable for the number of solid and even outstanding players selected in later rounds, partly because of drug problems that claimed the life of second overall pick Len Bias and affected the careers of several other first-round picks.
The NBA draft has been televised since 1980, the same year the NFL and NHL televised (or publicized) theirs. USA Network broadcast the draft as part of its contract with the NBA until 1984; starting in 1985, TBS did so as part of its NBA on TBS package. From 1990 to 2002, TNT took over the draft as more NBA properties moved to the network (the NBA on TNT). When ESPN acquired the rights to the NBA from NBC in 2002, ESPN began broadcasting the draft (starting in 2003) with the NBA on ESPN, which it continues to do today.