The Single Biggest Myth About The NBA Draft Age Rule

11.29.11 5 years ago • 33 Comments
Amar'e Stoudemire

Amar'e Stoudemire (photo. Jonathan Mannion)

So they think they need a committee to study this stuff huh? It shouldn’t take a genius or even a formulation of a number of basketball minds to figure this one out, but as Yahoo! Sports is reporting, the NBA and the Player’s Association are discussing whether to form a committee to study the age minimum for the NBA draft with “the possibility that no immediate changes to the ‘one-and-done’ rule will come in the finalization of the new collective bargaining agreement.”

Good. Maybe they’ll finally discover what I’ve been saying all along.

There’s been too many instances to pinpoint just one person, but I’ve heard some semblance of the same argument over and over again for the majority of my life. A few days back I wrote my take on the NBA age requirement and whether pushing it further to two years, or even having one at all, was a good idea. While there’s no proof going to college helps iron out the wrinkles in your game, I think I can speak for most who say that feeling is probably true. At the very least, time spent in college should help round out any player’s game. But all in all, abolishing the high school-to-NBA route is incredibly unfair.

The reactions from many players affected by the rule are all over the board, although I bet many are simply PC answers. From a recent ESPN piece:

DeMar DeRozan: “So I’ve always been against the age rule. It was tough when I found out about it. I think I was 17 at the time and every kid when they were in high school, the first thing they talk about is going pro.”

Donte Greene: “Just being able to be young and not have responsibilities … once you leave college, it’s real life out there. You have bills. You have responsibilities. Not saying I wasn’t ready, but it would’ve been nice to have another year to be a kid.”

B.J. Mullens: “The rule, it’s taking kids’ years away from playing in the NBA. If a kid is good enough to play in the NBA at age 17, let him play. You know, the ball isn’t going to bounce forever. Guys think they have 15, maybe 10 years of being a superstar player, but the average NBA career is about 4.5 years.”

Mike Conley: “But at the end of the day, you’re like, ‘Man, I gotta manage my bills, I got all these other issues that come with all this money and all the attention, the responsibility of being an NBA player.’ It’s hard to deal with especially at 19 or 20 years old. Most people don’t deal with that until they’re 30 or 35 years old, so it’s a different kind of world.”

Cory Joseph: “I never really had any say in the rule. I would probably leave it how it is right now. I think the one year in college really helped me out. There are some players, like LeBron and maybe John Wall, exceptionally great players, you know, maybe they could have made the leap from high school, but I think that college helped me out a lot…”

DeMarcus Cousins: “I was in middle school when the rule came about. When I first learned about it, I had mixed opinions. In a way, it’s good because a kid needs that college experience — to go through those changes and being closer to being an adult and learn that responsibility at the college level. At the same time, I don’t believe the rule should be put in place because it’s predicting somebody else’s life…”

DeAndre Jordan: “When I first got my apartment I was 19 and I just sat in there alone and was like ‘Who am I gonna hang out with?’ In college, the guys you hang out with are your age and they don’t really have anything to do after practice besides homework and just stay at the apartment, so I had to get used to staying at home by myself and picking up new hobbies.”

Many of the truths surrounding the issue we hold on to are fabricated, born out of decades of untested beliefs and quite honestly, make us out to be arrogant parent figures. We don’t know what’s best for other people. These aren’t our children. We can’t say for sure one way or another how someone’s career will turn out. It’s their decision alone.

But the one myth I’m determined to end, and also the argument I hear used most often to force players into college is that we are protecting them from themselves. Because of us and this rule, we won’t have so many high school busts. Five years down the road we won’t need to look down the list and see the names of kids who screwed up and never made it.

Besides the arrogant aspect, that’s all fine. The problem? It’s entirely not true.

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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):

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

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

Kevin Garnett

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

Tracy McGrady

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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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)

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)

Martell Webster
Andrew Bynum
Gerald Green
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.

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