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The Single Biggest Myth About The NBA Draft Age Rule

By 11.29.11
Jermaine O'Neal

Jermaine O'Neal, Dime #20


I decided to go D.I.T.C. for the history of the high school jump to figure out just how likely it was for a teenager fresh off the prom to end up as a bust, a future Hall of Famer, an All-Star or maybe even just a role player. What I found shocked even me.

Of the 48 players I found who entered the NBA Draft out of high school (I won’t count Charlie Villanueva because he never signed an agent, and then ultimately pulled out and went to UConn), 42 were selected. Only six out of 48 went undrafted (one of those being Taj McDavid, who seemed to declare as sort of a joke). Of those 42 players, only Korleone Young, Leon Smith, Ousmane Cisse, Ndudi Ebi, James Lang, Robert Swift, Gerald Green and Ricky Sanchez can really be considered flat-out busts. Guys like Eddy Curry and Kwame Brown never materialized, but when you play in the NBA for nine and 10 years, as they have done respectively, no one in their right mind can call you a colossal disappointment as a means to say you should’ve gone to college. They made money. They’re set for life if need be. Going to college could’ve been the worse thing for them financially.

What does that tell us? If you declare for the NBA Draft out of high school, you have over a 70 percent chance of making it in the league for years as at least a rotational player. I didn’t look up the numbers – for that would take weeks on end – but I’m willing to bet that’s a higher percentage than players coming from college, overseas or anywhere else. Much higher.

Year by year, here’s how the high schoolers from each draft panned out. I tried to stick to only players who went into the draft directly out of high school (that leaves out people like Moses Malone, Shawn Kemp and Brandon Jennings):

1963
Reggie Harding (only played four years, but back then, there were a whole host of reasons for guys not having long careers)

1975
Darryl Dawkins
Bill Willoughby (didn’t have a standout career, but even he says he never regretted skipping college)

1995
Kevin Garnett

1996
Kobe Bryant
Jermaine O’Neal
Taj McDavid
(This was almost a joke, so I don’t even want to count it)

1997
Tracy McGrady

1998
Al Harrington
Rashard Lewis
Korleone Young
(So this concludes a four-year stretch where we had two all-time players come from high school, two other perennial All-Stars and franchise players, another who made two All-Star Games, a solid scorer for the last decade… and then Korleone Young. I’d say that’s a pretty good success rate.)
Ellis Richardson (Same here as w/ McDavid… wasn’t even All-State in high school)

1999
Jonathan Bender (injuries derailed what was shaping up to be a 10-year NBA career… and yet still made over $30 million for his career)
Leon Smith (headcase)

2000
Darius Miles (never rounded out his game, but was a decent role player for most of his career)
DeShawn Stevenson (solid role player, and somehow went from crazy to slightly loveable)

2001
Kwame Brown (a decade in and he’s still getting signed)
Tyson Chandler (turned into a very solid role player)
Eddy Curry (I doubt going to college would’ve helped his work ethic)
DeSagana Diop (never that good to begin with)
Ousmane Cisse (huge bust)
Tony Key (didn’t qualify for college and so he had no choice… wasn’t a top high school prospect anyways)

2002
Amar’e Stoudemire
DeAngelo Collins
Lenny Cooke
(Collins & Cooke: perhaps the two biggest busts cases we’ve ever seen)

2003
LeBron James
Travis Outlaw
(turned an average career into a big contract from New Jersey)
Ndudi Ebi (huge bust)
Kendrick Perkins (championship-playing role player)
James Lang (bust)

2004
Dwight Howard
Shaun Livingston (injuries derailed him)
Robert Swift (bust)
Sebastian Telfair (I actually think he took advantage of the rule… going to college would’ve done nothing but cause his draft stock to plummet and he would’ve ended up here anyways but with a lot less money)
Al Jefferson
Josh Smith
J.R. Smith
Dorell Wright
(all four will be in the league for 10-plus years)
Jackie Butler (bust)

2005
Martell Webster
Andrew Bynum
Gerald Green
(bust)
C.J. Miles (nice success story)
Ricky Sanchez (bust)
Monta Ellis (should be an All-Star)
Lou Williams (another success story)
Andray Blatche
Amir Johnson

Take out the two or three instances during the mid-to-late 1990s where kids who couldn’t hack it at a D-II school decided to throw their name into the draft, and you have a system that works. The high school to NBA jump worked, and it did for an entire decade. While the influx of young, immature talent certainly affected the NBA’s product, it shouldn’t also be solely responsible for the decline many see in professionals fundamentals. For every year where three high school kids were drafted, the college ranks poured in dozens of prospective players, all of whom – if we’re going by the “traditional” definition – should’ve been “complete” players and ready to step right in and play. Tell me how that turned out. Rafael Araujo. Luke Jackson. Patrick O’Bryant. Foreign players like Yaroslav Korolev. Should I continue?

As I’ve said before, a rule forcing players to attend college for at least one year has it’s advantages. Just don’t try telling me that it’s to protect these kids from themselves because that’s obviously not true. The choice should be theirs because, simply, it’s proven to work.

What do you of people talking about high school busts? Is the age rule necessary?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

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