The NBA Draft is the culmination of years of scouting, and it
all happens very quickly.
Sixty players celebrate the fact that they are a team’s
priority, albeit to varying degrees. But what about the guys who go
undrafted? They have very big decisions to make in a very small
amount of time, and the wrong decision can derail their goal of
playing in the NBA.
That paints an overly negative picture, though. While there are
certainly more failures than there are successes, there are plenty
of examples of undrafted players performing exceptionally well in
the NBA. Hall-of-Famer Ben Wallace and NBA champion Avery Johnson
went undrafted, as did former New York Knick John Starks. Fred
VanVleet and Christian Wood — two promising, modern-day studs —
were also undrafted.
But the path from undrafted rookie to established player is a
hard one, and it varies dramatically from one player to the next.
Some luck out and latch on to a team almost immediately thanks to a
strong performance in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League or in
training camp (or both), while others build support among front
offices via strong play outside of the NBA for weeks, months and
Either way, undrafted players are faced with very tough
decisions, and it is mostly money that complicates it. In a vacuum,
remaining in the U.S. — where they can learn a pro-system, receive
top-notch training and remain in contact with NBA personnel — is
ideal. But most guys find that it’s simply more lucrative to play
overseas. Foreign leagues like the EuroLeague, China's CBA and
Australia’s National Basketball League all pay significantly better
than the G League. And with well-staffed front offices,
technological innovations and stronger competition overseas and
elsewhere, it’s easier than ever to remain on the radar of NBA
But there are very real drawbacks. For some, traveling overseas
for months on end and being away from home is a non-starter. And
that’s just addressing home sickness and/or family challenges here
in the U.S. There are also language barriers, new customs,
transportation challenges and new training regimens. And that’s
before we get into the limitations on Americans (as well as all
other foreigners) playing overseas.
Most foreign leagues restrict the number of foreigners signed to
each team, limiting the opportunity to the best-of-the-best. For
example, the EuroLeague and the CBA allow a maximum of two
foreign-born players on a roster at any given time.
But while remaining in the U.S. on a G League contract may not
be the most rewarding idea in the realm of one’s wallet, for many,
relatively new innovations and mechanisms in the NBA’s collective
bargaining agreement — like Exhibit 10 contracts and two-way
contracts — have created viable alternatives for undrafted rookies
who may not be sold on playing overseas.
Ultimately, Exhibit 10 deals and two-way contracts were written
into the collective bargaining agreement for teams to maintain the
rights of non-roster players while allowing players to be paid for
remaining under the control of an NBA team.
But there’s a catch, teams can sign only have six players signed
to Exhibit 10 deals and two signed to two-way contracts at a
Exhibit 10 deals are essentially one-year, non-guaranteed
minimum contracts with built-in clauses enabling teams to convert
them to two-way contracts so long as the conversion takes place
prior to the beginning of the regular season. Otherwise, players on
Exhibit 10 deals become non-guaranteed minimum deals. Exhibit 10
deals also feature bonuses of between $5,000 and $50,000 that kick
in if the player is waived and they report to the team’s G League
affiliate for at least 60 days. They are particularly useful
between the draft and the start of the regular season, enabling
teams to determine if they want to pursue a longer-term agreement
(like a two-way deal) with a player. Only teams with a G League
affiliate can utilize Exhibit 10 deals, meaning Denver, Phoenix and
Two-way contracts allow players to earn as much as $449,155 (as
of 2020-21 season), but players on two-way deals can appear in a
maximum of 50 games in a given season with an NBA team. Once a
player plays 50 games, he must be sent back to the team’s G League
affiliate for the remainder of the season or the NBA team
must covert his contract to a standard NBA deal, which requires an
open roster spot.
Both Exhibit 10 deals and two-way contracts are relatively new,
having been introduced in 2017, and rules surrounding both have
been already re-worked a few times.
Still, these deals appear to be working exactly as intended for
the 2021 draft class.
In the few days since the 2021 NBA Draft, 54 undrafted rookies
have already signed contracts with NBA teams, including
Daishen Nix (G League Ignite) and Mac McClung (Texas Tech). Of all
the undrafted rookies who have signed deals, 23 are Exhibit 10
deals and 10 are two-way deals. The remaining 21 are either summer
league deals or deals for which additional details have not been
For a better idea of what the deals might do for the league, we
can simply look back and gauge how they’ve worked so far. Granted,
it’s a small sample size, but since 2017, two-way deals have paved
the way for the success of Duncan Robinson, Lu Dort, Chris Boucher
and Alex Caruso – all of whom went undrafted in their respective
Undrafted rookies have more resources to help them succeed than
ever before. If they are open becoming an expatriate and living in
a new country, going overseas is still a viable option. If they
want to remain stateside, though, there are some new, fairly
But whichever route a particular prospect prefers, there are
simply more of them than there were as recently as a few
years ago. And more options should translate into more talent — and
that’s good for everyone involved.