July 15, 2024

Was the NBA Draft’s two-day format a success?

NEW YORK — Two teenagers trekked down from the fifth-floor roof of a swanky but seemingly empty warehouse in downtown Manhattan. As they stepped off the first of five escalators, one looked to his left and noticed a graphic that took up most of the wall adjacent to the men’s bathroom.

“DRAFT 2024,” it read in all caps, with the NBA’s logo stamped next to it.

One turned to the other, confused, and pointed to the sign.

“What the f—?” he said.

Such is the experience of the NBA’s new draft schedule, when the first and second rounds are held on consecutive days in different places. The first night is a made-for-television yet significant event, featuring lottery picks, high-powered agents and fans who filing into Barclays Center. That did not exist Thursday.

Instead, the second round was for TV only, hosted at ESPN’s state-of-the-art studios in New York with a few players showing up at the warehouse next door to watch the coverage. This year, Thursday night’s U.S. presidential debate pushed up the draft’s start time to 4 p.m. Eastern.

The setup was new with players and their families sitting in a room off the studio. There were no fans and a few recognizable names in attendance, but the most enticing prospects who appeared at the first round Wednesday did not come to the second.

Kyle Filipowski of Duke and Johnny Furphy of Kansas, two players who remained in the green room after the first round, didn’t return for the second. Filipowski was picked by the Utah Jazz at No. 32 with the second pick on Thursday. Furphy was selected at No. 35 by the San Antonio Spurs, which then traded his rights to the Indiana Pacers.

There were a ton of trades as teams maneuvered up and some moved out of the draft. The scene, however, was so far from a fracas that two unsuspecting kids did not fully grasp where they were, even though they had a giant sign plastered in front of their faces.

The reality is that, even if comparisons to the NFL’s multi-day draft have framed the NBA’s decision to extend its draft from one to two days, this was not just a ratings grab. The league did not expect viewership of the second round, which rarely produces rotation players, let alone stars, to compete with Day 1. It wasn’t even the league’s business people who originally pushed this format.

NBA general managers were the first to encourage the split. Under the previous system, when the entire draft was one night, teams received five minutes to make each first-round pick but got only two minutes between second-rounders.

Once later parts of the night arrived, business became chaotic. Just as viewers get thrown off after 15 or 20 trades, wondering who owns which pick, so do the people running these organizations. They would scramble to make sure their boards were accurate. After the 60th pick came off the board, a rush to sign prospects to G League teams, two-way contracts and summer league followed.

The new system hands front offices four minutes between second-round selections. It gives them a night to edit their draft boards with an understanding of what occurred during the initial 30 picks. They can be more diligent about trades, negotiating during a welcomed layover instead of with a 120-second stopwatch ticking.

Of course, the league would not be disappointed if over time it encouraged more and more viewers to tune into Round 2. And it’s possible that down the line the NBA moves the second night of the draft, which it will broadcast in the evening next year, to a larger venue that can accommodate fans instead of holding it at the studio of a longtime media partner.

Maybe then two teenagers riding an escalator will know where they are walking.

The Athletic’s Kelly Iko contributed.

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(Photo of deputy NBA commissioner Mark Tatum: Jeff Haynes / NBAE via Getty Images)