Not very many… There are currently 30 teams in the NBA. Each team’s roster is limited to 15 players during the regular season. This means that there are about 450 official NBA players at any given time.
However! The number of players in the NBA can vary wildly over the course of a season. Let’s take a look…
How Many Players are in the NBA Right Now?
So, again, 15 players on a roster, 30 teams in the NBA, there are typically close to 450 players in the NBA. But not always.
During the offseason, teams are allowed to carry as many as 6 additional players on their rosters. From the day after their last game of the season, up through Summer League and the preseason, to opening day, a team can carry as many as 21 players on their roster. 21 players on 31 rosters is a max of 630 players in the NBA through the offseason.
The extra guys are prospects or players in development. It’s a sort of a try-before-you-buy arrangement. A team wants to see how you work in their schema. Most of these players will never see real NBA court time, but it’s an opportunity to show a team (and the NBA at large) what you’re capable of.
In addition to the 15-man regular season roster, teams are allowed to carry 3 two-way players (that number is up from 2 with the 2023 CBA). These 3 two-way contracts don’t count against your 15-man limit. They do count against the expanded, 21-man offseason limit.
A two-way contract allows a team to retain a player with their G League affiliate. In return, the player receives 50% of the current NBA rookie minimum as a salary. This is a significant jump from the standard G League salary, but it’s a small fraction of what you can earn on an NBA roster.
If a team drops a player from their roster due to injury or trade, they can call up a two-way player to join the team, sometimes overnight. These two-way players then receive a pro-rated NBA rookie minimum salary until they’re returned to the G League.
There’s currently space for 90 players on two-way contracts with the NBA. These slots are not always full. Contracts are entered into at the discretion of both parties. There’s no obligation here to fill these two-way contracts.
The Active List
While there are typically 15 players allowed to a roster during the regular season, teams are allowed a maximum of 13 active players at a time. Players that are not on the active list cannot play.
This means that, going into a game, any player not placed on the 13-man active list gets labeled inactive. There are some loose restrictions that discourage teams from maintaining rosters below prescribed limits. In practice, most teams do their best to keep their roster slots filled.
How Many People Have Played in the NBA throughout history?
This number is growing constantly. Over the course of a season, teams can trade and waive players and they can sign new players.
One of the more accurate ways to check how many players have hit the floor in an NBA season is via the basketball-reference player totals. Scroll to the bottom of the list and check the final number to see how many players saw floor time of more than a minute in a given season.
I made a graph because I think it’s kinda a cool way to look at the growth of the NBA over time. The Blue is the number of teams in the league (multiplied by 5 to make it easier to see).
To get the current total number of players in the league, I wrote a scraper that crawls through the years and counts players for each year. I’ll run the script periodically and update the total. But the current number of total NBA players throughout history, in my calculation, is 🥁
So, we’re getting up there pretty close to 5,000 players who have logged playing time in NBA regular season games, in all of the nearly 80 years of NBA and BAA history. Not a lot.
The scraper I used is written in Python. It takes stat lines from each player with minutes played in every NBA season, then it removes duplicate player entries. If you’re curious, I’m happy to show you how I built this, or give you access to the source code, but you’ll have to reach out to [email protected] and ask nice.
This is all a little bit of a bummer if you’ve got your eyes set on an NBA career. Even if you somehow have all of the genetic advantages, your chances of making one of those 450 spots are pretty slim.
And that’s 450 current players. The number of spots open to newcomers, in their viable prime, is a lot smaller. There are only 60 draft spots available every season. A big chunk of those picks will get sent off to development leagues and never see playing time.
You might be better served to pursue a career in the NFL. Of course, there’s that brain trauma thing to consider.
Honestly though, the chances of playing any kind of professional sport are minimal. And when you look close, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be anyway. You’re always grinding, and you’re always on the road, and worst of all, you’re a low level employee. You can make a lot of money, sure, but you also have a lot of bosses.
If you’re looking to dig deeper into how many players are in the NBA at a specific time, the most accurate reference point for current NBA rosters is likely the NBA’s official roster listing.
The best reference for the rules that dictate NBA rosters is Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ. This site covers all of the ins and outs of the NBA CBA. However, the site hasn’t been fully updated to reflect the latest CBA.