The Odds of Making it into the NBA

Many young children dream of becoming a professional athlete. They get paid to play the sport they love, are cheered on by thousands of fans, and make millions of dollars a year. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, less than one in 75 (1.3%) of high school seniors are drafted into the NBA. It’s about the same odds as getting four of a kind in the first round of poker. There are some students who defy the odds, though and are given a shot at the pros.

Students who strive to play at a college level (where they then might be drafted into a professional league) must meet certain standards such as:

  • Be in excellent health (good eyesight, great coordination, reflexes, fit physique)

  • Perform under pressure

  • Are competitive and driven to win

  • Are dedicated to the sport and training

  • Ready to travel and relocate as needed

  • Must have years of experience playing the sport

  • Earn good grades to stay eligible to play on a college team

  • Compete at high levels

What is the process like for athletes?

Becoming a professional athlete doesn’t just happen overnight. There are years of dedication, practice, competitiveness, perseverance, drive, and luck that go into it, and it starts at a young age. Here, the future star builds up interest and displays a natural athleticism. Then, he or she will compete all throughout middle school in a league or on the school’s team.

In order to get a shot at playing for the NBA, you must get the attention of a recruiter, and this only happens when you excel in high school athletics. You must constantly train and work towards bettering yourself at every practice, scrimmage, and game.

Your college years as an athlete are extremely important. If you have hopes of joining the NBA, your chances depend on getting noticed by scouts who search for talent. This means that by the last year of college, not only should future ball players start and play in most of the games, but they should show their determination and leadership skills off and on the court.

How does their training differ once they’ve made it?

Once a player is drafted into the NBA or signed with a team, training is all year round. June through September is summer break for most people, but if you’re an NBA all star, this is the most important time to train before the normal season begins. Professional athletes rely on a number of exercises to keep their hand-eye coordination sharp. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors takes zumba classes to improve his footwork. Bulls center Joakim Noah jumps into the pool with weights for a high intensity cardio workout. Atlanta Hawks All-Star guard Kyle Korver swims with sharks to improve his decision making skills under pressure. Kobe Bryant doesn’t leave the gym until he gets 400 shots in. Athletes rely on a number of methods to keep them mentally and physically fit, but what they all have in common is their dedication to the game and drive to be the best at what they do.

What do scouts specifically look for?

Vertical: How high their jump is and how easily they can get to the rim of the basket

Quick Feet: Athletes who have ultra quick feet and explosive lateral (side) movement, which is important for many positions on the court

Dribbling speed: Athletes who can dribble around other players are valued

Work Ethic: Will these athletes push themselves on and off the court during the season and during off season?

Coachability: It’s not only important to be skilled at basketball, you must be willing to learn new strategies and absorb feedback from coaches

Athletic Ability: can players shoot the ball with both hands? Can they make hard to make shots? Do they have the potential to become stronger, faster, and better with their technique?

When NBA star Russell Westbrook started playing basketball, he was only 1.7 meters tall and wasn’t scoring many points per game. In the summer of his senior year of high school, he grew to 1.91 meters, became physically stronger, and scored an average of 25 points per game. While attending and playing for the University of Southern California, Westbrook earned the Defensive Player of the Year and was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics (which became the Oklahoma City Thunder just days later) in 2008. So what did OKC see in Russell Westbrook to draft with the #4 pick? Some of the strengths OKC saw were: elite NBA athleticism, rapidly-improving skills, great effort and energy level and true point guard skills. They were able to recognize a player who has a great attitude, is extremely coach-able and had the potential to be a big time scorer when given the chance.

What do the most successful NBA players have in common?  

The most successful NBA players all share a drive to constantly push themselves to train as hard as they can so they’re always giving it their all on the court. These aren’t the players who slack off during off season. They’re always in shape, always working to prove they deserve a spot on the roster. Another characteristic NBA players have in common is their positive attitude. They believe they are champions no matter what stage in their career they’re at. Steph Curry said he has confidence in his abilities and a positive outlook. “Every time I rise up, I have confidence that I’m going to make it.” Michael Jordan,one of the best basketball players of all time, also feels confidence and a good work ethic are important. “I never feared about my skills because I put in the work. Work ethic eliminates fear. So if you put forth the work, what are you fearing? You know what you’re capable of doing and what you’re not.”