How hard is it to make it in the NBA? REALLY HARD. In the seven plus decades that the league has existed, there’s only been approximately 5,000 players to have ever made a roster.
Like any professional sports league, the NBA is one of the toughest to get into. You need the perfect combination of basketball IQ, skill, and athleticism just to get noticed; after that, you are still competing with thousands of other players just as good, if not better than you.
If you look at the NBA odds when it comes to who makes it to the big time, you’ll see that out of over 500,000 young prospects each year, only 110 will likely play at least one game. Long story short, you need to be a freak of nature to make a career in the sport.
Exceptional Skill Level
The first thing you will need is skill; not just any level of skill, but you need to be the best player in every game you play. NBA teams aren’t looking for players they need to plow years of training into; they want players already near the pro level. While teams will still mold players into superstars, they are still expected to be at a higher level than almost every other player their age or experience level. The odds of still making it onto the radar of an NBA franchise while not being the best player in your college or state are very, very low.
A player’s college career is one of the most significant factors in determining whether or not they will make it to the NBA. This aspect is two-fold; you need to be a standout performer in your team and a standout performer in a strong school and division. A player who spent their time at Duke or the University of North Carolina would have been exposed to high-level games and opponents. To be the best, you need to prove you were able to keep up with the best.
Basketball prospects no longer have just one road to the NBA. Up until the early 2010’s, the only path for the vast majority of talented players was to go to college. Even the best players would go to college for one year and then enter their name into the NBA Draft. Now prospective NBA players can go into the G-League — the NBA’s Developmental League. Not only do you increase your chances of making the league, but G-Leaguers salaries are high enough that they can actually make a living while chasing their dreams.
Sometimes things don’t work out for young players; either injury delays their journey, or they don’t break into the college scene. More often than not, this leads to them being in overseas leagues, usually in Europe. Breaking into these European leagues is a way to get on the NBA radar. While the competition is tough, many players use it as a way to make a mark for themselves. Giannis Antetokounmpo played in Greece before being drafted to Milwaukee.
There are some things that players just need if they are to make it into the NBA, the first one being height. While there are some exceptions, such as Allen Iverson or Nate Robinson, you need to be tall if you want to be noticed.
The average height of an NBA player is 6’7”, and while you don’t have to be near that to succeed, teams often prefer it. This is for one simple reason; you can’t make a player taller. No amount of training or hard work will make someone grow an extra foot.
Basketball players are some of the most athletic humans on the planet. Not only are the majority incredibly strong, but they can move their enormous frames around a court like it’s nothing, not to mention the incredible dunks many can do. Athletic ability is a vital aspect in any sport, but it is a necessity in basketball and can’t be hidden with pure skill alone. A player like Zion Williamson is arguably one of the best combinations of size, strength, agility, and skill.
There is a reason someone like Lionel Messi is regarded as one of the best athletes in the world; it isn’t just because he is skilled. It is because he knows how to read a game. Basketball IQ is the ability to read a play and an opponent’s movement and be two or three steps ahead all the time.
You need to be someone with a basketball mind, not just someone with the size or skill. Steph Curry is a perfect example of a player that may not be as big as everyone else but uses his basketball IQ to make passes and plays that make size and agility useless.