For some basketball players, making it to the NBA is almost a foregone conclusion. Just look at Zion Williamson. Other players have to scrap and claw their way into the league. For instance, the Warriors‘ Draymond Green wasn’t selected until the second round of the draft. He had to earn his place as one of the best in the NBA.
Yet no matter how self-evident a player’s talent may be, all of those hoping to get drafted must jump through the same hoop: declaring for the NBA draft. This process can be more difficult than people realize. Let’s look at the most important things to know about the NBA draft.
Draft eligibility and declaration
The first thing you must know about the NBA draft is what makes a player eligible to declare. The rules governing eligibility have changed over the years — and may shift again in the near future, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the Washington Post. For now, the rules stipulate that a player must be at least 19 years old to be eligible.
In addition, a player must be at least one year removed from their high school graduation. While they do not technically have to spend a year at college, many see the eligibility rules as a way to force players through the NCAA system. A small handful of players opt to spend a year playing for leagues overseas instead.
Certain players are automatically eligible for the NBA draft, like those who complete four years of college or who wait four years after graduating high school. Likewise, those who sign a professional contract with a league other than the NBA and play under the contract are automatically eligible.
Most other players must formally declare their eligibility at least 60 days before the draft.
The post-declaration draft process
From a player’s perspective, the next major thing to happen after declaring is the draft combine. The combine gives athletes the chance to show off their skills in an attempt to seem more desirable in the eyes of teams. During the combine, players’ physical attributes and on-court skills are carefully measured.
Meanwhile, coaches, scouts, and reporters observe and take notes about the players who they feel show the most promise. If a player is selected on draft night, their future is fairly certain. Barring any trades, they will go on to play for the team that selected them, either at the NBA level or G-league.
In rare cases, a player refuses to play for the team that drafted him. Technically, there’s nothing stopping them from doing this aside from the damage it may do to their reputation. Several players in NBA history take this path. In fact, according to some, the reason the Hornets chose to trade the late Kobe Bryant to the Lakers on draft night was because Bryant had no intention of playing in Charlotte.
The fate of undrafted players
Players who go undrafted, by contrast, face many possibilities. For one thing, undrafted players technically become unrestricted free agents, meaning they can still sign with any team. In some cases, undrafted players become valuable pieces of a team. Raptors‘ guard Fred VanVleet is a great example of an undrafted player who’s made a huge impact.
Other undrafted players may choose to enter the G-league, or to pursue a pro contract overseas. Recent changes to NCAA rules now allow players to return to their college if they go undrafted. These players can choose to declare for the draft again in the following year if they believe their skills have improved.
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