There are worse things in the world than not being selected in the NBA Draft—like being selected in the NBA Draft.
“If the team is very excited about the player, that’s good. But if the team is just taking a flyer on a guy [late in the second round], I’d rather have him go undrafted,” said Mark Bartelstein, an agent at Priority Sports with as many NBA clients as anyone.
Were you watching the draft two weeks ago and shaking your head at all the unfamiliar names being called? Nine foreign players were selected overall; in the second round, from picks 48 to 57, seven were internationals players. Why? The strategy is called “draft and stash” and is not new.
In the first round, each pick has a set contract associated with it. Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall pick, will make $8,766,700 over his first two seasons with a team option to pay him a little more than that over the next two years.* Festus Ezeli, the 30th and final pick of the first round, will make about $1.7 million his first two years with a similar team option for the next two.
*Davis, and all the first round picks, could earn anywhere from 80-120% of their predetermined contract based on the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
The second round has no guaranteed contracts. Getting chosen in the second round simply means the right to negotiate with that team—and only that team. One agent told me that after the first half of the second round (after pick No. 45), players are better off not getting drafted. Why? Because they become a free agent, able to sign with any team they choose.
Iona point guard Scott Machado thought the NBA was a realistic goal after playing for Brazil in the World University Games last summer, after his junior year of college. After Machado led the country in assists as a senior, most draft experts figured his dream would be realized. ESPN’s Chad Ford pegged Machado as the second pick in the second round; DraftExpress.com had him as No. 53 overall. Others had him somewhere in between, but most had him being chosen. Many teams were interested in a true pass-first point guard.
NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver called a lot of names that Thursday night in Newark, but not Scott Machado’s. (In fact, not a single name started with ‘S’.) As the string of foreign players were chosen, many questioned why these unheralded players who are years away from coming to the United States—if they ever do—were being taken over highly productive college players like Machado, Kevin Jones, Drew Gordon, and others.
Selecting foreigners is a low-risk move with potentially high rewards. Pretend you’re the GM of an NBA team. You’re choosing late in the second round and there’s a college player you like, but don’t love, one you don’t think will get taken with any of the remaining picks. There are several young international players you’ve scouted who, if they develop, could become high-impact players. By choosing one of the foreigners, you could potentially get a two-for-one: you try out the college kid after the draft and, maybe, three years down the road, the foreigner is ready. Take the college kid and you miss out on the foreigner.
Sure enough, Machado’s agent’s phone was ringing as soon as the draft ended. The following Monday, it was announced that Machado would be playing with the Houston Rockets summer league team.
“It was a good opportunity,” Machado said from Houston. “I could come in and compete for a point guard spot. I had heard rumors that Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic were leaving [both have since signed elsewhere]. The position was up for grabs. I knew they liked my game.”
Says NBA Director of Scouting Ryan Blake: “Although a free agent is playing on one summer league team, he actually will be auditioning for all the teams that evaluate him.”
Of course, it’s nice to be wanted. Unless it’s a “flyer” situation, being chosen means the team has a strong desire to sign you. “It was a setback,” Machado said of not hearing his named called on draft night. “I was very disappointed but it wasn’t like my chances [of making the NBA] were over.” He feels he deserved to be drafted and wants to prove that during the summer league. It’s another chip on the shoulder of an already-motivated player.
Houston’s first game is tomorrow. Some of Machado’s teammates don’t have to worry about making the team—like first round picks Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, and Terrence Jones—but Machado and others are auditioning for a spot.
Convincing a 21-year-old with NBA dreams that he could be better off not getting drafted is nearly impossible. But ask Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen, and, Jeremy Lin how it worked out for them. Ask any of the hundreds of second rounders who never signed a big contract how meaningful the draft was. Machado’s fate is still unknown, but it wasn’t going to be sealed on draft night regardless.