If the NBA only had 9 teams as in 1964 which players would be out of the league?

(Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The NBA is set to tip off ts 69th season on October 28 with a double header on TNT. In addition to the 2 games on TNT, a 3rd game will be shown on NBA TV on opening night. The NBA’s other 24 teams will open their season over the next two days, but it is astonishing to see the NBA’s growth when looking back 50 years to 1964 when the 6 teams playing on opening night this year would have accounted for two-thirds of the teams in the entire league. 

Photo: NBA photos via NBA.com
Photo: NBA photos via NBA.com

The NBA today with its 30 teams and 15 available roster spots for each, it can employ up to 600 players per season. In 1964, there wasn’t quite the same opportunity to play professional basketball with only 9 teams and a maximum roster size of 12 per team. Only 108 spots were available for those looking to play basketball professionally 50 years ago. That means that there was a tremendous amount of talent on each team, many of which couldn’t crack the rotation. What that also means is that a lot of great basketball players in those times had to choose a different profession altogether due to the scarcity of openings in the NBA and internationally.

What if there were only 9 teams and 108 roster spots today? What level of talent would be on the outside looking in? What would a 12 man roster look like today if we had to condense the near 600 players down to one-sixth it size. The answer is pretty easy to ascertain.

We decided to conduct a draft using the pool of the current NBA players for the 2014-15 season and the original 9 teams from the 1963-64 NBA season. The order of the draft is the reverse order of the teams win-loss record in the 1963-64 season, with the first pick going to the team with the worst record, the New York Knicks.

In order to prevent having legendary players known for playing with one team look peculiar by being listed with another team, such as Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, our team at Raining3s decided to select one player as a territorial pick for each team. For each of the 9 teams one player was selected from the current day roster who is synonymous with the franchise.

Territorial Picks (current team name in parenthesis):

New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony

Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond

Baltimore Bullets (Washington Wizards): John Wall

Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant

St. Louis Hawks (Atlanta Hawks): Paul Millsap

San Francisco Warriors (Golden State): Steph Curry

Cincinnati Royals (Sacramento Kings): DeMarcus Cousins

Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo

We started the draft following the assignment of territorial picks.

Top 30 picks:

  1. New York Knicks: Lebron James
  2. Detroit Pistons: Anthony Davis
  3. Baltimore Bullets: Kevin Durant
  4. Philadelphia 76ers: Blake Griffin
  5. Los Angeles Lakers: Chris Paul
  6. St. Louis Hawks: Damian Lillard
  7. San Francisco Warriors: Russell Westbrook
  8. Cincinnati Royals: Kevin Love
  9. Boston Celtics: Marc Gasol
  10. New York Knicks: Dwight Howard
  11. Detroit Pistons: Derrick Rose
  12. Baltimore Bullets: Serge Ibaka
  13. Philadelphia 76ers: James Harden
  14. Los Angeles Lakers: LaMarcus Aldridge
  15. St. Louis Hawks: Dirk Nowitzki
  16. San Francisco Warriors: Tim Duncan
  17. Cincinnati Royals: Kyrie Irving
  18. Boston Celtics: Chris Bosh
  19. New York Knicks: Klay Thompson
  20. Detroit Pistons: Goran Dragic
  21. Baltimore Bullets: Joakim Noah
  22. Philadelphia 76ers: Dwayne Wade
  23. Los Angeles Lakers: Andrew Wiggins
  24. St. Louis Hawks: Al Jefferson
  25. San Francisco Warriors: Kenneth Faried
  26. Cincinnati Royals: DeMar DeRozen
  27. Boston Celtics: Jabari Parker
  28. New York Knicks: Tony Parker
  29. Detroit Pistons: Anrew Iguodala
  30. Baltimore Bullets: Paul George

After completing the 11 rounds and drafting all 108 players to the 9 teams the rosters depth are pretty impressive. Note: the number to the left of the player’s name is the position they were drafted.


9 Team Draft

  • The Knicks end up with the best player on the planet, Lebron James, by way of having the first overall pick and they round out their front line with the best pure perimeter scorer in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony and arguably the defensive center in basketball, Dwight Howard. The Knicks depth at center is amazing, having the option of bringing in Greg Monroe, Kevin Garnett or Nerlons Noel to spell Howard.
  • The Pistons front line is the most imposing in the league with Anthony Drummond and Anthony Davis. Quality players like Nene and Tyreke Evans might not see playing time due to the depth of the Pistons roster.
  • The Bullets are led by the duo of Kevin Durant and John Wall on offense and a formidable defensive wall with Serge Ibaka and Joakim Noah. A two time All-Star like David Lee couldn’t crack the starting line-up with the Bullets front court depth.

9 Team Draft 2


  • The 76ers formed a team built around athleticism at all positions, with Embiid at center, Griffin at the power forward spot, Wade, Lawson and Harden rounding out the 3 perimeter spots. Current day All-Star Luol Deng and Gortat who just signed a lucrative 60 million dollar contract can only secure back up roles.
  • The Lakers have amazing depth at the point guard spot, with CP3, Mike Conley and Victor Oladipo who might not even find playing time on this team.


9 Team Draft 3


  •  The number one overall draft pick in 2013, Anthony Bennett, is barely able to crack a roster, being selected in the final round of the draft for the Warriors.
  • McDermott and Dante Exum were highly touted prospects with tremendous upside coming into the 2014 NBA draft, but in a league with only 9 teams, they will be hard pressed to get playing time. In Exum’s case, he nearly went undrafted, having been picked with the final pick of the our draft.

What is more eye-grabbing then seeing current day All-Stars and lottery picks barely make NBA rosters in a hypothetical 9 team league is the talent that went undrafted and out of the league.

Notable players not drafted:


Notable Players Out

  •  Michael Carter-Williams was the 2014 Rookie of the year.
  • Tiago Splitter was the starting center for the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
  • Tony Allen has been named to the All Defensive Team 3 times.
  • In the just completed 2014 NBA Draft, Aaron Gordon went 4th and Noah Vonleh 9th.
  • Dion Waiters 4th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft
  • Only 4 players on the current Los Angeles Lakers roster were taken in our 9 team draft (Bryant, Lin, Young and Jordan HIll), leaving accomplished and still very serviceable players like Carlos Boozer and Steve Nash out of the league.

The purpose of this undertaking was twofold.

One, it was to provide perspective for those players that played in a time where the level of talent throughout the league was at a ridiculously high level, well above the point of the current day NBA. To show appreciation for players like Jerry West, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Walt Bellamy and Bob Pettit who dominated the game in a time where the level of competition was at an optimal level, not watered down by expansion that came years later. These weren’t scrubs they were putting up those absurd numbers against, it was against the same level of talent at that time as the best one-sixth in the NBA today. Players on the Lakers roster in that 1963-64 season like Hub Reed or Mel Gibson (not that Mel Gibson) couldn’t carve out a career in the NBA in those times, but had they played in today’s NBA that had more opportunity, they could have found themselves with a starting role or even becoming an All-Star.

Secondly, it simply gave us an opportunity to rank the 108 top players in the NBA today, which is always fun and stirs debate. Debate was definitely stirred during our process when Anthony Davis was taken with the 2nd pick over Kevin Durant. The rest of the draft went pretty much as expected and without voices being raised to disturbing the peace decibel levels. While you can make a case for many of the players that went undrafted over those that were, nothing to the point of crying injustice (we don’t believe.)



Writer & NBA fan who’s been hooked since the days of Magic v Bird. Love basketball debates without it ending in a knife fight. My BBall nickname: “Todo El Dia” (All Day.) Hit me up on Twitter @fullcourtfern or Instagram: @raining3sdotcom