As someone who knows more about European/FIBA basketball, but very little about how the NBA works, I was wondering how players currently playing for European teams (e.g. in Spain/Greece/eastern Europe) get drafted by NBA teams. They already have professional contracts with European teams, so I'm presuming the NBA team wishing to get the player has to talk to the European club and arrange some sort of transfer fee? But is this indeed the case, then how does it fit in with the draft system?

This occurrence is seemingly becoming more and more common each year, with 19 European players in the NBA draft this year, a record as far as I know. An interesting example is Álex Abrines, who has apparently been "drafted" by Oklahoma City Thunder, but still plays actively for Barcelona Regal. What's going on here, and in similar situations?


2 Answers 2


European basketball players can apply for draft, just as any other player in world (USA colleague or high school player). Most of them are already scouted by some teams.

All NBA teams participate in draft lottery. There is decided in what order what team will pick players. NBA team with worst record last season has biggest chance to win rights to choose players first.

When teams know what pick they have, then they focus on that talent group. If team has mid-range pick (15th, for example), they will try to estimate what group of players will be left by then. So, week before draft night training camps takes place for all players that are to be drafted, and each team focus on particular group of players. They evaluate their skills, plus and cons, scout an evaluate them.

At the draft night, each team chooses player that they think is best from the pool of players left in the order decided by draft lottery.

By this time European players had same treatment as any other player. He was in training camp, teams got time to meet, see and evaluate him. If they choose to pick him, they only get exclusive rights to offer him a contract. But, if he already has good contract in Europe, he will probably not play in NBA for 3 more years.

The reason for this is that player has to buyout his existing contract. Since he is restricted to rookie minimum for first 3 years, NBA team give him enough money to buy his Euro contact. After 3 years, NBA allows bigger contracts, and that is probably the right time for Euro stars to come in NBA.

Good example of this is Nikola Mirotić from Real Madrid. Bulls picked him in 2011 NBA draft (21st overall), but they will not even try to offer him any contract until 2014, when he is no longer restricted to rookie minimum.

  • Ah, this clears up a lot; thank you. In Abrines' case too, it would seem it makes sense to him to see out his contract playing for Barça, and then possibly sign one with Oklahoma at that point.
    – Noldorin
    Oct 14, 2013 at 16:30

NBA teams draft the RIGHT to sign the player. They then have to negotiate a deal with the European team the player is on in order to acquire him. Generally, a deal is able to be reached and the player moves to the NBA. It is possible that an NBA team would draft a player and then not be able to acquire him for some reason. In this case, they don't get the player but they still retain the rights to him - so if he ever did decide to play in the NBA, he would have to work with the team that drafted him.

  • Right, that makes sense. It's what I gleaned from @dugokontov's post. When you say draft the rights, I presume that only applies to within the NBA and thus USA, unless they have agreements with other leagues too... so in theory a player could be drafted by the NBA but stay outside the USA for his entire career? I suppose you're right, it would be weird for a player not to want to go to the NBA if they got a chance... but in some cases maybe a European club demands a price that an NBA team aren't willing to pay?
    – Noldorin
    Oct 15, 2013 at 23:13
  • Yup. And yes, it's for NBA only. If Chicago Bulls draft a European player, but then that player decides he wants to play for Barcelona instead, he is allowed to do that. However, he cannot decide he'd rather play for the Boston Celtics - if he ever did come to the NBA he would have to sign for the Bulls or try to get them to trade.
    – ZeekLTK
    Oct 16, 2013 at 13:26
  • Actually, there was an incident a few years ago where Milwaukee Bucks drafted Yi Jianlian from China. He did not want to play for Milwaukee and refused to sign. It took two months worth of negotiations before they finally reached a deal. If they had not, he would have kept playing in China and waited to be "traded" to another NBA team. There is more info about it on his wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_Jianlian
    – ZeekLTK
    Oct 16, 2013 at 13:31
  • Also, I believe this is what happens in Major League Soccer (MLS) as well. In fact, I think they have many more players that are "drafted" but end up going to (or staying in) Europe instead. But the teams retain the draft picks - if that player ever comes back the USA, even if it is 10 years later, they still have to sign with the team that has their "rights", which is usually the team that drafted them (some do get traded around while the player is overseas though).
    – ZeekLTK
    Oct 16, 2013 at 19:38
  • Ah right, interesting that it happens with MLS too. I suppose it's not as relevant, because there's small traffic between the leagues, and most of it's likely mediocre/old European players going over to US, to be fair... Good to know though. Thanks for clearing it all up!
    – Noldorin
    Oct 16, 2013 at 20:38

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.