It’s NBA Draft week! You know what that means. Or maybe you don’t.
It means the fortunes of a few dozen NBA Draft prospects are about to change. Dreams are to be realized. Busts and steals will be sprinkled throughout the draft. Jobs will be solidified in NBA front offices. Other jobs will also be hanging on by a thread after Thursday night, and we may not know it yet. The draft is one of the biggest days on the NBA calendar because it opens up itself for all kinds of coverage, changes through trades and anticipation of the next wave of NBA players and potential stars.
You might be asking yourself a bunch of questions about what the draft is, how you can consume it and the implications it could have. Well, we here at The Athletic have anticipated those very questions and are here to help you be as prepared as possible for Thursday night’s chaos. Let’s dive into some of these potential questions and pepper you with answers and information.
When is the draft, and how can I watch it?
Thursday, June 23. It begins at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT. You can figure out your local time zone times in between those two bookends of United States time zones (sorry, Hawaii and Alaska). The draft will be broadcasted in its entirety on ESPN. Check your local listings.
Now that I know when it is, what is the NBA Draft?
Interesting question! The NBA Draft is essentially how the influx of new, young talent comes into this beloved league every single year. It is an annual event in which 60 selections (only 58 this year, due to tampering penalties against Miami and Milwaukee) are made over the course of two rounds. Each team is given multiple picks in every draft: one in the first round and one in the second round. Those picks can then be moved in trades over the years, which is how you end up with teams having more or fewer picks than intended – or none at all.
So any player can get drafted anywhere? Does this include current players?
Not just any player can be selected. Players who are under the age of 22 and have not completed their four years of eligibility in the college ranks have to declare for the draft. If you’re an early entrant into the NBA Draft, you must be one year removed from your high school graduation. Players can come from multiple walks of life. While waiting to be eligible to declare for the draft, prospects can play overseas, in the G League or even just hang out and drive a taxi like they’re Dave Cowens in a 1970s offseason.
International players are eligible to come to the NBA Draft as well. If they’re 22 years of age or older and haven’t declared for a draft yet, they’re automatically put into the prospect pool. Otherwise, they have to declare prior to turning 22 years old.
Current players are not available. This isn’t some fantasy draft you do in a friend’s league or on a video game. Once a player has gone through the draft process (whether or not they’ve been selected) and signed in the NBA, they can no longer enter the draft. Sorry for bursting any hopes that your team might grab Steph Curry or LeBron James right now.
Wait, high school players can’t be drafted?
Not anymore! They used to be. Up until the 2006 draft, you could leave high school, forego college or international play and enter the draft while getting a cool “from prom to pros” idiom attached to your bio. The NBA stopped allowing that. Why? Billionaire owners and the front-office executives who work for them couldn’t help themselves from investing high picks and tens of millions of dollars in teenage kids straight out of algebra classes. Sure, there were a bunch of success stories. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, LeBron James and Dwight Howard can attest to that, among many others.
However, not everybody coming out of high school ended up as good as those guys. Some were even busts in the NBA world. So the NBA’s solution was to make them wait… one more year… because we all know it’s a lot easier to trust a 19-year old with millions of dollars and responsibilities in a multi-billion-dollar industry than it is to trust an 18 -year-old.
Can players refuse to be drafted by certain teams?
They sure can! It’s rare, and often the bluff is called. Ricky Rubio didn’t want to come to the Minnesota Timberwolves back in 2009, and he even played two more years overseas before eventually joining the Wolves. Players can get selected by a franchise and outright refuse to show up. If they continue to play this game of chicken, they essentially have to go play overseas if they want to play professional basketball. They can’t just go sign with a different team.
Two most famous incidents of this happened in 1989 and 1999. In 1989, Danny Ferry was selected second overall by the LA Clippers. He refused to go play for that franchise. Instead, he called their bluff of not trading him to another team. Ferry signed to play professionally in Italy during the 1989-90 season. He was eventually traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and began his NBA career in 1990.
In 1999, Steve Francis was selected second overall by the then Vancouver Grizzlies. Francis was visibly and audibly unhappy about the prospect of going to Canada to play NBA basketball. Everything was cited as a reason not to play there for Francis. Taxes. Distance from his Maryland home. God’s will. Eventually, he was traded to the Houston Rockets and became an All-Star.
These moments are pretty rare.
Are the NBA Draft pick contracts guaranteed?
Some of them are! If you’re selected in the first round of the NBA Draft and you sign your rookie deal, the first two years of your career are guaranteed. Even if you stink or get injured and never play, you’ll get that money. The next two years are team options, meaning they get to decide if they want to give you the fixed rate based on rookie-scale deals for each first-round draft selection spot. The higher you’re drafted, the higher your salary is. Second-round deals are more complicated and not nearly as guaranteed, unless you have a shrewd agent there to fight for your future financial earnings.
Which team has the most picks in the draft?
The San Antonio Spurs have four picks (Nos. 9, 20, 25 and 38). Three of them are in the first round, and one is in the second round.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have four picks (Nos. 19, 40, 48 and 50) with three of them in the second round to go with their lone first-round selection.
The Houston Rockets (Nos. 3, 17 and 26) and the Spurs have the most first-round picks with three apiece.
Do any of the teams have zero picks?
The Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz are currently without picks in either the first or the second rounds of the draft. They could acquire them via trade or purchase on draft night.
Who is expected to be the top pick in the draft?
It’s likely to be either power forward Jabari Smith Jr. out of Auburn or big man prospect Chet Holmgren from Gonzaga. Those are the two consensus options right now for going No. 1. There is an outside chance power forward prospect Paolo Banchero out of Duke could end up as a surprise selection.
Are they any good? Will they be the next LeBron James or Steph Curry?
They should be quite good! Smith is a very athletic, quick big man who can really shoot the ball from deep. Holmgren is a super-skinny 7-footer with guard skills, shot-blocking ability and a good jumper. Banchero is a strong point forward who needs some work on his shot, but he can bully his way into a lot of advantageous situations.
They are unlikely to be as good as historically league-altering players like LeBron or Steph.
What’s the weirdest thing about the history of the draft?
Two things stand out to me the most: territorial draft picks and how future Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier found out he was drafted into the ABA before playing in the NBA.
Territorial picks happened in the draft from its inception in 1949 until the draft system was reconstructed in 1966. Before 1966, the NBA was desperate to build up home markets. So the best college players were given right of first refusal for their hometown NBA franchises. A team could forfeit its first-round pick and select a prospect within a 50-mile radius of the home arena. You didn’t really have a choice, so anybody trying to experience the world outside of their hometown was not necessarily going to do that as a professional basketball player.
Examples of this are Wilt Chamberlain ending up with his hometown Philadelphia Warriors when he joined the league in 1959. Hall of Famer Guy Rodgers was selected by the Warriors in the previous year of 1958, as well. Chamberlain went to Kansas for college, but he grew up in Philadelphia and went to high school there. So the Warriors argued they should be allowed to take him. Tommy Heinsohn played his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics because he went to the University of Holy Cross. Oscar Robertson left the University of Cincinnati to play for the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings).
As for the Walt Frazier story, he was the fifth overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft. He was also drafted into the ABA by the Denver Larks, who would change their name to the Denver Rockets, and then became the Denver Nuggets franchise we know today. The way Frazier found out about his selection to the Larks was by reading it on the front page of his school newspaper at Southern Illinois University. It’s very similar to the story of Al Attles finding out he was selected by the Warriors franchise because his friend heard it on the radio.
Where can I find draft coverage in real time of how things are unfolding?
I’m so glad you asked this question! We will have a fantastic live blog with all types of analysis and tidbits throughout the days leading up to the draft and during the draft itself at The Athletic (the site you’re reading this on). And you’ll be able to watch a live show on the internet through The Athletic NBA Show Podcast Twitter feed. I will be hosting that along with Mo Dakhil, Jay King and a lot of fun, knowledgeable guests dropping by.
(Photo: Brad Penner / USA Today)