The first thing you hear whenever any underclassmen says that they are testing the waters of the NBA draft is that they should return to school if they are not going to be a first round pick because they are not going to get any guaranteed money from an NBA team.
But a study by NBC Sports proves that is not the case.
Of the 132 college players selected in the second round of the last six NBA drafts, 91 of them — or 68.9 percent — received at least a one-year guaranteed NBA contract, meaning they had at least one season where they made the NBA’s minimum salary. This past season, the NBA minimum for a rookie was $815,615, a number that will continue to rise as the NBA’s salary cap rises.
Those numbers get even more promising, however, as you look closer to the top of the second round. As detailed by Vice Sports, the latter parts of the second round was something of a dumpster fire during some recent drafts.
Of the 72 college players selected between 31st and 45th during the last six drafts, 65 of them — or a whopping 90.3 percent — received a guaranteed contract from an NBA team. Just two of the college players that were taken in the top 40 since 2012 did not receive a guaranteed contract during their first season as a pro.
One of those two was Grant Jerrett, the 40th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft out of Arizona. He went straight to Oklahoma City’s G League affiliate and, after a year, he was signed to a four-year deal with two years and $1.76 million guaranteed. Reports at the time suggested that the Thunder intended to sign him all along, which more means that UConn’s Deandre Daniels, the 37th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft who went to Australia instead of signing with Toronto, is the only top 40 pick in the last six seasons that didn’t get a guaranteed deal from an NBA team.
There is even more to those numbers, however, especially when you look at how things have been trending in recent years.
In the past two seasons, every college player that was selected among the top 50 picks — a total of 30 of which came in the second round — received a guaranteed contract. Of those 30, 22 were given a two-year guaranteed deal. In 2017, that would equate to roughly $2.19 million guaranteed at minimum. Some players — Boston’s Semi Ojeleye, Sacramento’s Frank Mason, Houston’s Damyean Dotson — received more than the minimum. Ojeleye’s salary this season was just $100,000 less than that of Josh Hart, the 30th pick in the draft.
Of the eight that did not receive a second season guaranteed, three were given partial guarantees for that second year while four more were given deals with first-year guaranteed salaries that were more than the minimum.
Thomas Bryant, who was taken with 42nd pick of the 2017 Draft by the Lakers, is the only player in the last two drafts that was selected among the top 50 pick that didn’t get either a two-year guaranteed deal or a one-year deal at more than the minimum.
But that still doesn’t tell the entire story.
There were seven college players that were taken in the second round of the 2017 NBA Draft that did not get guaranteed contracts. Five of those seven wound up signing two-way deals with the teams that selected them, and all five eventually made an NBA roster and played in at least one (and as many as 20, in the case of Phoenix forward Alec Peters) NBA game. Every organization has two two-way contracts at their disposal, which will pay a starting salary of $77,250 during the 2018-19 season and allow the team to bounce the player between the NBA and the G League as they see fit. Every day the player is on the NBA roster, they make more money with a maximum earning potential of $385,000.
One of the two college players that didn’t sign a two-way contract was Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss, and that was because he and the team that drafted him, the Utah Jazz, felt it better than he spend a season overseas. He’s playing with Serbian power Partizan Belgrade in the Adriatic League — one of the best leagues in Europe — and averaging 17 points and seven assists. He reportedly makes $130,000, a number that is inflated because European teams often cover things like housing, transportation and even taxes; that $130,000 is, essentially, his take-home money.
The only college player that’s left is Jarron Blossomgame, who was picked 59th by the Spurs and spent the year with their G League team. That’s not a bad spot to be in for a worst-case scenario.
We can go down that same path with the 2016 NBA Draft.
Ben Bentil, the 51st pick to Boston, was the first college player that didn’t get a full first-year guaranteed deal, but he still received a $250,000 guarantee. Two players that were picked after him — Joel Bolomboy and Kay Felder — both received three-year contracts with more than $1 million guaranteed, and two other college players got paid six figures in camp bonuses and partial guarantees before spending the year in the G League.
In total, there were just three college players selected in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft that did not get that kind of money guaranteed. One of them was Boston’s Abdel Nader, who signed a four-year deal with $1.167 million guaranteed after one season in the G League. Another, Tyrone Wallace, spent the 2016-17 season in the G League and 2017-18 as a two-way player for the Clippers, a team that he is now negotiating a longer-term extension with. Daniel Hamilton, the 56th pick, is the only other college player that was drafted in the second round.
As NBA stars start to make a larger percentage of the money, NBA and G League salaries continue to climb and more NBA jobs (i.e. two-way contracts) start to come available, it makes more and more sense to NBA teams to draft players in the second round that they want within their organization.
You never know when that pick is going to turn into a Malcolm Brogdon, or a Josh Richardson, or a Draymond Green — I could go on (Khris Middleton, Norman Powell) and on (Jae Crowder, Mike Muscala) — but it also allows those teams to bring players onto their roster in the cheapest way possible.
The easiest way to pay the three or four superstars you need on a roster to have a shot at a title is to get rotation players like Semi Ojeleye, Jordan Bell, Patrick McCaw and Abdel Nader on the cheap in the second round.
I say all that to say this: The idea that it is only a smart move to head to the NBA as an underclassmen is when you are a first round pick is antiquated.
There is plenty of guaranteed money out available for players picked in the second round, and it’s been nearly three years since a player coming out of college that was picked in the top 50 of the draft was unable to get a contract that guaranteed them less than one year’s NBA salary.
That doesn’t mean it’s always the right decision to forego remaining eligibility. These salaries are big, but they aren’t life-changing and certainly don’t amount to the kind of money that would allow a player to avoid having to work once their basketball career comes to an end. What it does is muddy the waters, and make it that much more likely that a borderline first round pick would opt to enter the NBA draft.