By Ross Kelly

In terms of size, the evolution of the NBA Draft has operated inversely as compared to the NBA as a whole. In other words, one got bigger (NBA) while the other got smaller (NBA draft). In the early years of the league, teams would select players until they literally ran out of prospects. The NBA began to modernize the draft in 1974 when they established a fixed number of rounds (10) to accommodate the 18 teams in the league. The number of rounds was then reduced to seven in 1985, three rounds in 1988, and two rounds in 1989 which is where it currently stands. But the NBA was increasing in size during this time by adding the Hornets and Heat in 1988 and the Timberwolves and Magic in 1989. Since then the Raptors, Grizzlies, and Hornets have joined the league as well. With fewer players drafted and more teams/roster spots, that meant that those who were drafted had a better chance of making a team which was the main point of the reduction. The numbers certainly back this up as in 1984 just 25% of the 228 players drafted actually played a game in the NBA. By 1989 the draft was down to 54 selections but 89% of those drafted played in the NBA. Thus, the reduction of the draft served its purpose to only allow the “best of the best” a shot to make a team.

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Another reason the NBA says it shortened the draft is to allow undrafted players the chance to try out for any team. But by applying that logic you could theoretically shorten the draft to just one round and have even more players try out for teams. The point is that no matter the length of the draft, there will always be a large pool of players who will have to go the route of trying out for a team over a guaranteed contract. Second round picks don’t have guaranteed contracts so adding more rounds wouldn’t affect the “try-out” process for those picked after the first round.

No matter the length of the draft, there will always be players that fall through the cracks and that goes for every sport. But by expanding the draft, you reduce the probability of that happening as more players will be on each team’s radar. Virtually all drafted players make it to the preseason roster and coaches/GMs tell those at the bottom of the depth chart, “Your play isn’t just an audition for this team, but for every team.”

With the influx of international players to the NBA over the last 25 years, it’s quite obvious that there is just more basketball talent out there aged 19-23 than there was in 1989. That has created a surplus of capable NBA prospects that cannot be contained in just two rounds of a draft. Players like Ben Wallace, Wes Matthews, John Starks, Brad Miller, and Udonis Haslem have gone from being undrafted to having lengthy NBA careers. But all of those guys should have been drafted and there are dozens more like them every year. Part of the joy in being drafted is just to hear the NBA call your name. I’m sure there are many players that have kept that video of the commissioner calling their name once they are selected. Why not give that opportunity to more players?

There have been informal suggestions previously thrown out about what to do with the NBA draft and how to improve it. One idea was to allot compensatory picks to teams that lose players to free agency like the NFL does. But that would benefit teams that make no effort to re-sign their players, either for financial reasons, or as part of a long-term, multi-year rebuilding plan. The current draft lottery already rewards teams for tanking games while compensatory picks would seemingly reward teams for tanking seasons.

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Another idea was to have only the lottery teams receive an extra draft pick and I think that notion seemingly could work. Teams will tank in order to improve their position within the lottery (top 14 picks); but they are unlikely to do so for picks after the first round. I would propose that these picks be sandwiched in between the first and second rounds. But knowing how much the NBA values uniformity (sometimes over logic); I just don’t see the league handing out extra picks to some teams and not all 30.

So how many rounds should the draft be? I think going back to three rounds would be a start. The contract rules (non-guaranteed) in place for the second round would carry over to the third. I think the third round should be in place for at least 3-4 seasons as anything shorter would be too brief to gauge its success. Who knows, after a couple of seasons, maybe the NBA decides that it needs a fourth round. Implausible, but not impossible. There are a myriad of changes that could be hitting the NBA over the next decade including the pool of eligible prospects. If the NBPA gets its way and high school seniors can forgo college and either enter the draft or go straight to the D-league, and then the talent pool will grow even more. Remember, players can be drafted straight from the D-league so a fourth round in the future is not unrealistic.

The NBA certainly doesn’t need to go the route of MLB and have so many unnecessary rounds that GMs start drafting their nephewsathletes in other sports, or offspring of former players. (FWIW when the NBA draft did have 10+ rounds, athletes such as Carl Lewis, Jim Brown, and Dave Winfield were picked). Three rounds would increase each team’s preseason roster size by just one player and would allow the evaluation of 30 more players under NBA watch. Much like the current second round, I’m sure the draft-and-stash philosophies would be in place for the third round as well. But that could then have a positive effect on the D-league as well as teams could “stash” their own players down there just as the Thunder did last season.

Adding a third round may seem like a big change but its effects would likely have a bigger effect on the D-league more so than the NBA. The NBA rosters could stay at 15, but the D-league teams’ rosters could grow by one or two players. That would be less of a financial burden than increasing an NBA roster size would be. More D-league players would eventually create a need to have more D-league teams and that is seemingly what the league has been pushing for in hopes of creating a true minor league farm system similar to MLB and MiLB.

How likely do I see this actually happening? I think, eventually, the league will expand the draft but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. The current CBA has an opt-out after the 2016-17 season and I wouldn’t expect the topic to even be discussed at that point. Commissioner Silver has other pressing needs that directly involve the product of the game. But I think that the NBA and NCAA will modify their one-and-done rule for college players which will lead to high school players again having the option to declare for the draft. Once that happens, then even more prospects will become draft-eligible and that should, in turn, pave the way to the draft being expanded.

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Ross Kelly is an Associated Producer for CBS Local Sports. He is from Louisiana and is a fan of all sports, but not of any teams (except LSU). He can be reached at