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Time for a Draft ROUND Table

by J.B. Scott on Jun. 24, 2009

Adaptability may not be the first word that comes to mind when describing the NBA Draft, but since its inception in 1947, the NBA Draft has been a stunning example of just that. On countless occasions, the National Basketball Association has tweaked this yearly ritual to meet the changing landscape of the sport. Today, the league is at such a crossroads once again, and it is time to revisit one of the draft’s key elements—its number of rounds.

For about 18 years teams could choose to forfeit their first round pick and use a territorial pick to choose a local player that would help the team boost their attendance. For another 18 years starting in 1966, there would be a coinflip between the bottom two teams in each conference to see who would get the first pick. Beginning in 1985, all non-playoff team picks would be determined through the newly installed lottery system. While the league has reached unprecedented success, and the draft is at its height in terms of popularity, the league has never abided by the philosophy of standing still, and it should not start now. When the draft started, teams would draft players until there were no more prospects to be drafted, having even reached 21 rounds one year. In 1974, the rules were changed to limit the draft to 10 rounds, and in 1989 it was limited even further to 2 rounds.

It is now 20 years since the league changed the draft to 2 rounds, and a lot has changed in those 20 years. One of the biggest changes however came in 2001 with the invention of the NBDL, or National Basketball Development League. The intention of this league is to in essence develop into a minor-league type development system, where teams can develop young players and call them up when necessary. With NBA rosters limited to 15 players, this league provides an excellent opportunity for teams to enable their young players to learn the professional game while gaining valuable playing time. However, the question remains, how are these players arriving on these NBDL teams.

Currently, if a player is not drafted in the first two rounds of the NBA draft, they have the opportunity to sign and tryout with an nba team of their choice. However, with even the second round picks struggling to make the nba squads with such limited roster spots, it's often a waste of time for the players and the team. On many occasions, these players, sometimes star college players who may not fit prototypically into the NBA, go overseas to gain professional experience playing basketball as well as make additional money. With the lack of stability for some of the NBDL teams, and the lack of potential income for the teams and the players, young players look into other routes. In addition, since each team already has players that they assign to the league and have incentive to call up, it might seem that there are less spots to be had. However, that is not necessarily the case, and here’s where an adjustment to the number of rounds in the draft could pay off for the NBA.

Here is how it could work. The NBA increases the number of rounds in its draft from 2 rounds to 4 rounds. The players drafted in rounds 3 and 4 are automatically assigned to that team's NBDL affiliate team, and are signed to a year-long NBDL contract with the rights retained by the NBA team that drafted them. These players would still have the option to tryout for the NBA team, and would still need to make the opening day NBDL roster for the contract to be valid. This approach would accomplish several different goals.
 

  • It would lend some stability to the NBDL by creating an actual minor league for the NBA

  • It would enable players to be trained by coaches hired by the NBA teams

  • The picks would be optional, so it would not force NBA teams to take players they may not want on their rosters

  • It would still enable these young players to get valuable playing time, while lending some stability for a year to their careers

  • It would greatly improve the competition in the Developmental League and thus the income, by keeping some of the top young players out of Europe and in the United States

  • Fans of the players in college will have a forum to follow their favorite players after school

While the league may be afraid to decrease the popularity of the draft, the last two rounds can take place on the following day, in order to keep the first two rounds a primetime event. There is not much to lose with this system and only much to gain. The system would give players more opportunity to succeed right out of school—a plus for the players’ union. It would keep league rosters competitive and fresh, and should allow for more income to come in—all priorities for the NBDL. It will create a more stable minor league system, and help to develop more mature, experienced players, greatly enhancing the NBA, itself, in the long run. With 15 teams, if the NBDL rosters were kept at 12 players per team, that would give each player 3 years to truly develop. If by the 4th year, they haven't made an NBA roster or the younger draftees are coming in and taking their spot, then they are probably not cut out for the NBA anyways. Even though this may rub some veteran players the wrong way, since it is giving them less spots in the NBDL and making competition more fierce, that should be the goal of any league.

The league has proven its willingness to try new things, and it’s had much success over the years when it adopted some out-of-the-box ideas. Some new thinking is again needed today, and so let’s give it a try.