The NBA Draft has been a major part of the league’s history, catalyzing many dramatic storylines and scandals. It is the greatest source of hope for many struggling franchises, where 1 transformative star can change the trajectory of a team’s history for decades to come.
Historically, the number of and how many picks per round in NBA Drafts has varied greatly throughout the years. Below are the 2 major factors that have resulted in the current length of the draft today.
How Many Rounds are in the NBA Draft Today?
Since 1989, the NBA draft has been comprised of 2 rounds, with the number of total picks in each round varying based on the number of teams in the league at the time. In the early days of the draft, the league allowed teams to continue to select players until the pool of prospects would run out.
There were no formal rules governing how long a draft would last or how many picks in the NBA draft a franchise was allotted in a particular year. As a result, drafts would routinely last for 10 or more rounds, with the 1960 and 1968 drafts lasting an incredible 21 rounds.
By 1974, the draft was limited to 10 rounds, which was its length for the next decade, except in 1977, when it was temporarily shortened to 8 rounds. The draft was shortened to 7 rounds in 1985 and eventually 3 rounds in 1988 before it was permanently set at 2 rounds in 1989.
Factor #1 – Lack of Success of Post-2nd Round Prospects
The NBA has far fewer roster spots available for players than most other sports leagues. While the NFL has 53 players on a roster and MLB teams have 26, NBA teams are allowed a maximum of 15 players on a roster.
With fewer roster spots available, there was simply no need to have a draft longer than a couple of rounds. Considering there were only 11 teams in the NBA during the 1946-1947 season, it’s hard to imagine how general managers would continue to make educated selections once the draft reached the later rounds. They probably were asking themselves, “How many rounds are in the NBA Draft?” by about the 9th round.
Occasionally, late-round draft prospects would end up having successful careers, with Bob Love, Archie Clark, Bob Dandridge, and Mark Eaton all making significant impacts in the league despite being 4th round selections. Randy Smith was probably the most successful late-round selection, averaging 16.7 PPG and 4.6 APG over 12 seasons and making 2 All-Star teams, despite being picked in the 7th round.
However, these instances were few and far between. Other players, such as Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore, who were drafted in later rounds in the NBA draft, were also drafted in the rival American Basketball Association (ABA) draft and opted to play for that league instead. Overall, there were simply not enough successful late-round draft picks to justify more than 2 rounds in the NBA Draft.
Factor #2 – Tedious Long Drafts
Before the NBA Draft was shortened to 3 rounds in 1988 and eventually 2 rounds in 1989, the draft itself had become a tedious affair. Because the large majority of players selected after the 2nd round had almost no chance of making a roster, the later rounds had very little importance.
Drafts would routinely drag on for several days. The high number of rounds would often result in teams making outlandish picks in the later rounds after all the good prospects were already selected. For example, in the 1977 NBA Draft, the Lakers famously tried to select Scooby-Doo and a wooden chair. Many GMs during this time were probably asking themselves, “How many rounds are in the NBA Draft?” out of frustration.
There was a method to the madness of the late round draft craziness that many teams engaged in, however. Franchises would often try to garner attention by selecting celebrities and other famous individuals to increase awareness and boost public relations with the surrounding community.
This was especially necessary during the late-70s and early 80s when the NBA was struggling financially due to low popularity. The more attention a team could get, the better, which resulted in interesting picks such as House of Representatives minority leader and future president Gerald Ford and US Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner.
Current 2-Round Draft Format
The current 2 round draft format implemented by the NBA in 1989 has proven to be the ideal length to provide the best quality event for the league. It is short enough to take place on one night, yet long enough to ensure that the vast majority of NBA-ready prospects are selected.
For any undrafted players that have legitimate potential to make an NBA team, the NBA G-League has proven to be an excellent minor league system for otherwise overlooked prospects.
How many picks are in the NBA Draft?
Barring trades and/or penalties, each team in the NBA gets 1 pick per round, for a total of 2 picks per draft. With 30 teams currently in the NBA, every draft is comprised of 60 total picks, 30 in each round of the draft.
The NBA Draft lottery system determines the order of the top 14 picks, whereas the order of the remaining 16 picks is determined based on the team’s records.
A 2 Round Draft Is Ideal For Teams And Fans
While the number of rounds and picks in the NBA Draft has varied greatly over the years, its current format of 2 rounds and 30 picks per round will most likely remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. Most NBA fans don’t have to ask, “How many rounds are in the NBA Draft?” since it has been established at 2 rounds for more than 3 decades.
In previous decades, the excessively long length of the draft made it an onerous process, prompting many teams to fail to take the later rounds seriously. Thankfully, its current length of 2 rounds ensures that the vast majority of all legitimate NBA draft prospects will get selected, while also making it an excellent television event.