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How to Beat the Odds and Make the NBA

With 30 teams currently in the NBA, and 450 roster spots, the odds are somewhat long for someone to realize their lifelong dream and suit up under the bright lights and national television audiences in the association.

While a number of NBA players have been high draft picks that have appeared on scouts’ and general managers’ radars since the time they were teenagers, there are countless examples of players who defied the odds and spent time toiling overseas and in the G league (the NBA’s minor league circuit) to make the league.

As those who make NBA picks are well aware, often unheralded players who didn’t have notoriety play a massive role in the outcome of games and seasons.  Sometimes, a player that was told he wasn’t tall enough, strong enough, fast enough, or quite frankly good enough finds a way to be a contributor. 

In looking at the number of Division I college basketball players, there is a 1 in 3,333 chance of making the league.  Take that a step further and consider that 500,000 boys play basketball every year in America, and only 16,000 of them, or a little over 3% of them, continue to the college level.  

Then, 110 of those players will make just one NBA appearance annually.  So, in the big picture, just .2% of basketball players in America will make the league, which is undoubtedly a daunting task.  These metrics don’t even consider the growing number of international players in the league.  Currently, players not born in America occupy 22% of Association rosters.

Can’t Teach Height

In the words of legendary Celtics coach the late Red Auerbach, “you can’t teach height.” With a premium not only on sheer athleticism and skill, but basketball is also a sport that rewards taller players.  As such, 61.5% of the league stands between 6’3” and 6’9”.  Only 25 players in the entire history of the NBA are below 6 feet.  

Consider that according to the CDC, the actual height of males in America is 5’9”.   Therefore, those blessed with a height gene have a much better chance of at least entering the top .02% and cracking a roster.

Notable players standing under 6 feet are Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy (5’6”), Isaiah Thomas, Mugsy Bogues, and Spud Webb.  Thomas was known for leading the Pistons to a pair of NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, while Webb won the 1986 Slam Dunk contest.

Making It The Hard Way

While names such as Jordan, James, and Curry roll off the tongues of NBA fans, there are several players currently in the Association or who have played in the past that have taken the long road to basketball’s most significant and brightest worldwide stage. 

Fans must remember that the NBA Draft was a 7-round affair for many years, only shrinking to two rounds in 1989.  In the modern-day NBA, teams now not only scour all levels of college basketball, but they also keep a close eye on the international game and the high school game.  

While high school players are no longer allowed to go straight into the draft, a rule that changed in 200, raising the age to 19 instead of 18, often high school players elect to play only one year of college basketball or go overseas for one season before entering the draft.  Therefore, talent evaluation at the high school level is critical.

Hailing from Virginia Union University, a Division II school, Hall of Famer Ben Wallace is regarded as the greatest undrafted player in league history.  A member of the Pistons title team in 2004, Wallace may not have come from a school that played most of its games on national TV, although the Panthers contended annually for Division 2 titles.  

However, he was blessed with immense physical skills and intensity.  A four-time league Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-Star, Wallace stood a stout 6‘9”, 240 pounds, and was regarded as one of his most physical and aggressive players.

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