What Is A Protected Pick In The NBA? Explained

Every year, sixty players are drafted into the NBA. However, some teams have already lost some of their future draft picks during trades. This usually occurs when a contending team tries to get better players to help them in the playoffs further.

But the NBA has a particular ruling to allow teams to protect some of their picks based on pick protection clauses making their draft pick a protected pick.

So what is a protected pick in the NBA?

Protected picks in the NBA are draft picks with pick-protection clauses or conditions agreed upon by teams involved in a trade. This means that even if a team trades away a protected pick, as long as the pick still lands within the protected range, its original owner will still keep it.

Now, let us understand more about protected picks that are usually included in trades.

What is a Protected Pick in the NBA?

In the NBA, Draft Picks is considered a commodity that teams can use to boost a trade deal. Depending on the caliber of the player they are trying to get, there can be one or more draft picks thrown into the deal.

For example, in the agreement by the Los Angeles Clippers to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, they included five (5) first-round picks, including one protected pick.

As I’ve already mentioned, a protected pick is a draft pick usually included in trades. If they fall in the range under the protection clause initially agreed upon by the teams involved in the trade, the original owner of the selection will get to keep it.

Another example, in the James Harden (Brooklyn Nets) – Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers) Trade, the Nets will also receive a protected first-round pick in the 2027 Draft. This draft pick is said to be Pick Protected 1-to-8.

This means that if, in the draft lottery, the 76ers land any pick from draft positions from no. 1 to no. 8, they will retain the rights for the draft pick. However, if the draft picks land from pick no. 9 to no. 30, the Nets will get the pick. All selections are in the first round.

What are the Common Protected Pick Positions in the NBA Draft?

The commonly protected picks are the Top 3, Top 5, Top 10, and Lottery Picks (Top 14). Aside from protected first-round picks, protected second-round picks are also common.

There are also instances where the trade protection clauses can have another shot or roll over in the next year. For example, the protected first-round pick of the Nets from the 76ers in the 2027 NBA Draft is from no. 1 to no. 8. If this is not settled during that year, it will have another go in the 2028 NBA Draft.

There are also other technicalities in trades that we will discuss in future articles.

What is the Difference Between a Protected and an Unprotected Pick?

The main difference between a protected pick and an unprotected pick is the presence or absence of a condition of how the traded pick will be acquired.

For a protected pick, the condition of the protection clause must be satisfied first before the draft pick will have turned over to the receiver. Another example is that Team A trades a 2025 First-Round Top 14 Protected Pick to Team B. If Team A gets a pick from 15th to the 30th, Team B will receive that pick. If they receive from 1st to 14th spot, Team A will retain the pick.

On the other hand, an unprotected pick doesn’t have any clauses or conditions. For example, Team A includes a 2025 First-Round Unprotected Pick in a trade with Team C. Whatever happens during the season, Team C will still get the unprotected pick.

What is a Heavily-Protected Draft Pick?

A draft pick is said to be heavily protected if the conditions to get the draft pick are low. For example, Team A adds a Top 20 protected pick in a trade with Team B.

This means they will retain the pick as long as Team A gets the draft position from no. 1 to no. 20. On the other hand, the only time Team B will get the pick is if the draft position goes from no. 21 to 30.

What is the Stepien Rule?

The Stepien Rule, named after the late Cleveland Cavaliers owner, is a rule that prohibits teams from trading their first-round picks in consecutive years.

This ruling blocked teams from trading away too many of their future first-round picks to obtain other established players.

What is the Seven-Year Rule in the NBA?

Aside from the Stepien Rule, the NBA also prohibits teams from trading away draft picks more than seven-year away into the future. This is a protection so that teams will not be deprived of their future if acquisitions of more established players don’t pan out.

So if you check into future draft picks of NBA teams, you can only see as far as 2029 (looking from 2022).

Final Thoughts

Each year, the NBA gives the team with the lowest standing a higher chance of getting top-rated rookies in the NBA Draft. This is to ensure that the weaker team can have the opportunity to build their teams organically.

However, these draft picks are also a widely used commodity for teams eager to acquire developed talents faster, as shown by teams trading away their draft picks. But teams would also try to hold on to their chances of landing the top incoming talents by placing conditions on their draft position.

Protected Draft Picks are one of the complexities in the NBA, but they are also part of the reasons that make NBA Lottery Drafts a little bit exciting.

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