NBA, NBA Draft / Nov 22, 2011 / 11:00 am

The Black Sheep Of The Lockout: The NBA Draft & The Age Rule

Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett (Photo. Gary Land)

Lost amongst the back and forth of the lockout, the BRI, the mid-level and the luxury tax is a “system issue” with the chance to change the landscape of professional basketball. It’s hardly mentioned and yet has more potential to affect our game than 51/49 or three-year mid-level contracts instead of five years. The age rule. One vs. two years. High school prodigies and seasoned college vets. It might not happen, but we know the owners and David Stern want it: to increase the already restricting age limit to 20 years old, or two years in college.

Arguments abound for why it’s better to have high school kids stay one year or even longer in college. Yesterday’s Smack hit most of them: they mature emotionally, learn to live on their own, get teaching from coaches that actually want to teach, learn to be the focal point for a team and improve their overall presence so when they do come into the NBA, we don’t have as many one-trick players running around.

But basketball players don’t need college to improve. Of course in the NBA, coaches are more worried about their jobs, keeping their stars happy and making it through that next three-games-in-four-nights road swing. But players have the resources to make the jump. They have personal trainers, 24/7 access to gyms, shot doctors and nothing to occupy their time (especially during the offseason) other than the newest Call of Duty. If they never develop, that’s their own fault. Don’t give them the excuse of never having attended college. When Kevin Garnett came to the NBA, he dressed up his floor game. Kobe improved his body. Amar’e grew a jump shot. Even Rashard Lewis developed into one of the league’s better all-around scorers during his final few years in Seattle. If Dwight Howard had gone to college for a year or two, would he be the next Kevin McHale? It’s doubtful. But he did improve tremendously in his first few years in the NBA.

I know the worth of college. Before I went, I was a socially weak, tunnel-visioned kid who cared about nothing other than playing ball during the day and hitting the sticks at night. I couldn’t manage money. I couldn’t speak to strangers. I couldn’t carry on a conversation off the hardwood. But some of my growth would’ve happened regardless. Maturity happens. You grow up. We’ve been programmed to believe all young, brash, future millionaire basketball players can’t handle the fame. So we coddle them, pretend we know what’s best, limit their opportunities ourselves and yet give the world to young musicians, young actors/actresses, teenage Olympians and other baby pros. But not basketball. So the game isn’t as good as perhaps the 1980s? How much of that really has to do with high schoolers? Many of the league’s best players all came from high school. I’d argue they’ve improved the product rather than hurt it.

Why is the emphasis on college basketball so large this season? Obviously the lockout has a huge hand in this. People will find basketball any way they can, and college ball is currently the best game going. But I don’t think I’m the only one more interested in teams like North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and all the rest because of the presence of potential NBA stars.

“The true NBA fans barely watch college basketball, and the true college fans barely watch the NBA,” John Calipari told AL.com recently. “The college fans will look at it and say, ‘Ahhh, you don’t play until the fourth quarter.’ And the pro fans will say, ‘They can’t even make layups. They’ve got no skills.’ That’s how it is. None of that will change.”

Okay Cal. I get that. Pros fans will be pro fans. College lunatics will stay loony. But the more future pro stars end up staying in college sports, the more we will care, and the more money certain people will make.

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  • EvanZ

    Is this issue even on the table? The owners might want it, but they didn’t even put in their last proposal (unless I missed something).

  • Da man

    Man I say let the high schoolers choose what they want 2 do with their life. Making somebody go 2 college for a yr just 2 play basketball is a waste of time. That 1 yr not gonna show u much. Scouts get paid alot of money so they should b able 2 tell u everything u need 2 know about the player their team drafting.

  • First & Foremost

    You can’t exactly prove collusion so even if this rule change doesn’t get approved by the players, the effect can still happen. If the owners/GMs really want players to stay an extra year, they would just stop drafting 1&done players. All of a sudden there is a stigma placed on players who only have 30 or NCAA games under their belt.

    Life is about making choices. People will fight to the death in many instances about having the right to choose, regardless of meaningfulness of the decision. Let the player make the choice to attend college at all or go pro. If he chooses to come out “early” then that player will have to deal with those consequences.

    The age restriction is just another way of coddling a player.

    What if O.J. Mayo stayed 1 more year. Would he have gotten a growth spurt, learned how to play cards better, and play the point? What if another year got his weaknesses exposed and he dropped out of the top 3? Like the article said, the players once they turn pro, no longer have academic restrictions holding them back from getting better at their craft.

    I read an article a while back about a player who decided to make the jump because he had dominated all throughout high school. Had he gone to college, he would have been player with more of the same people.

    In the end we will all agree that it varies from person to person… but let the person decide.

  • First & Foremost

    @Da Man – Some teams fired all of their scouts due to budgetary conerns. So yes, in theory, your scouts should be able to tell you a lot about a player you might want to draft.

  • UncheckedAggression

    I’ve already had my say on this after yesterday’s Smack. The whole thing is kinda silly, as there is no real evidence that college solves any of the problems some people say it does.

  • yoda

    “But he did improve tremendously in his first few years in the NBA.”
    well, some owners want finished product and not to have to pay someone 4-5 mill a year for 2-3 years until they develop. when was the last time that highschool kid had impact on his team, except LBJ? even one and done players, there is only few of them who made it such big impact.

  • mike

    High schoolers should be able to go straight into the league but if they go to college they gotta stay 2 years

  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips

    Great piece, Sean.

  • First & Foremost

    @Yoda – If they wanted a finished product they would have drafted a finished product. If you want a Ford Mustang you don’t buy a Smart Fortwo and then wait until you get your money right to fix it up.

    If NBA teams really wanted to draft fundamentally sound basketball players, they would. Nothing is stopping them. If I want a Whopper I’m not standing in line at Pizza Hut.

    If you draft on potential only you will be left with potential only.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    I want to see the best basketball possible. Let them play in the NBDL, make it like a farm system. The stars can come up and play, but by and large, after the top 15, not too many are worth the money and investment a pro contract provides.

  • Sean Sweeney

    @EvanZ The owners proposed an age limit of 20 in the latest proposal rejected by the players. We don’t hear about it as much because Stern basically called it a B issue. Whereas some of the other demands are set in stone, this is one the owners are willing to negotiate on.

  • http://www.psychodrama.com Chicagorilla

    Again, I’ll post what i wrote the other day.

    Everyone is pissed at the players for worrying solely about money during this lockout. Claiming that the love for the game and the fans is the reason they should just fold and give the owners what they want.

    but for some reason, all that shit is thrown out the window when you start talking age limit and staying in college. No one ever brings up love of the game, or giving the fans what they want.

    Me personally I say f^ck the money. my career is more important. F^ck trying to come out early because i want to get a faster start on my rookie contract so i can get into free agency faster. F^ck not wanting my weaknesses to be exposed or nitpicked.

    You brought up OJ Mayo. Well I personally think he’s an a$$hole for coming out early with the glaring weaknesses in his game. Then all of a sudden he wants to be a PG? Why didn’t he go to a college who produced actual PGs (say Arizona) and could teach him the game. Instead he came out early, and tricked the Grizzlies into trading Kevin freaking Love for him based on his potential.
    Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook both have proven they are better than Mayo. I think its f^cked up that teams are forced to make uneducated (or mildly educated) guess’s on players.

    Everyone always says its the owners fault if they draft someone out of HS and he sucks. Ok well fine, but what about all the kids who fail? For every KG, Kobe, and Lerbon there are 10’s of Ousmane Cisse’s and Koreleone Youngs.

  • Big Island

    I can’t say I am going to add anything to what we got into yesterday, but an age requirement isn’t going to help anything except college ball. I stick to my guns from yesterday though.

    If you are a lottery lock, go pro. Your career ends at your age, not your years of service, so get as much as you can now.

    Big guys benefit from college ball more than guards. Trying to learn how to play the post against grown men is much tougher than guard play.

    So KG comes in, does well, Kobe, and every NBA team went after high school kids. Then Dirk, Manu etc. had everyone scouring Europe. Yao Ming had Dale Brown talking about a gym full of 200 Chinese 7 footers. Adam Morrison killed college for a long time, he’s laughed at now. Laettner. Marcus Fizer. Harold Miner. O’Bannon’s. Corliss WIlliamson (loved that dude). There are a bunch of guys who did great in college and never really hit it in the pro’s. It isn’t an age thing. Sometimes you are just really good for your age, like little league world series kids.

    I am going to laugh at the owners if they do have a 2 year wait to get their hands on a kid. Can you imagine Cleveland having to wait for Lebron? I hope that the NBA never comes back so Dirk goes down as the last Finals MVP ever and Lebron never gets a ring. And I won’t have to listen to Shaq.

  • 2cents

    I don’t think an age restriction should be put in place either. If someone comes out of high school looking like the tank that is LBJ, then I think he might be good for the NBA.

    Use the NBDL as intended and send any immature/under-developed players so they have the opportunity to learn and grow without the pressure of the spotlight. It helps the players and helps the NBDL become more popular.

    Why force kids to go to college and get into debt for 2 years without the promise of an NBA contract?

  • https://twitter.com/#!/djlocdog Loc

    If you can work at McDs if you choose,
    you should be able to work in the NBA.

  • http://www.psychodrama.com Chicagorilla


    That makes no sense. Every job has requirements. Some say HS education, some say GED or equivalent, some say college degree or 2 year degree. Every job has it’s on set of requirements your argument makes no sense at all.

    @Big Is
    “Your career ends at your age, not your years of service, so get as much as you can now”

    What? You must not be paying attention. Look at Tim Duncan and KG. They are the same age, KG came in the NBA at 19yrs old while Duncan spent 4 yrs in college and came in at 21 (KG was an old senior and Duncan was a young freshman in college). Even though they are the same exact age (both born in 1976) they entered the NBA 2 years apart from eachother.

    – Garnett has played 1195 Reg season games + 105 playoff games to total 1300 total NBA games played.
    -Duncan has played 1053 reg season games + 176 playoff games to totale 1229 NBA games played.

    So with just about the same amount of games played, both players bodies have damn near broken down on them at the age of 34(!!!!).
    here are their averages this past season
    KG – 15ppg 9reb 1blk 31MPG
    Tim- 13ppg 9reb 2blk 28MPG

    Here are some similar players to these guys and what they did at 34yrs old

    Hakeem Olajuwon – 23ppg 9reb 2blk 36MPG
    Shaq – 17ppg 7reb 1blk 28MPG
    Jermaine O’Neal(@32yrs old) – 5ppg 4reb 1blk 18MPG
    Karl Malone – 27ppg 10reb 1blk 37MPG
    Charles Barkley – 15ppg 11reb .5blk 33MPG
    Kareem – 24ppg 9reb 3blks
    David Robinson – 20ppg 11reb 2.6blks 32MPG
    Pat Ewing – 22ppg 11reb 2.4blks 37MPG
    Robert Parish – 14ppg 8reb 1blk 31MPG
    Kevin Mchale – 14ppg 5reb 1blk 25MPG

    ***I tried to list players who were relativly healthy through their careers like KG and Duncan.***

    Basically your theory is off. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters how many games you have played and how well you take care of your self over time.
    Almost everyone one on my list that spent 3-4 years in college were still pretty beastly and was the #1 or #2 option on their team when they were 34 years old.
    KG and Duncan are good, but Paul Pierce, Rondo, Manu and Tony parker have taken on the best player roles on their teams. Mainly because at the young age of 34 their bodies have caved on them from the large number of games they have played.

    Ironically, KG has made nearly $100 Million more dollars than Tim Duncan (KG $270Mill TD $183Mill). I personally think KG is the better player, but Duncan is widely considered the best PF ever. So does it make sense that KG made nearly $100 Mill more than he did all because he came into the NBA earlier? Sure that works out great for KG, but how does that work for the franchises paying those guys?

  • Knicksfan84

    2 Years of College is straight. At the end of the day it is a JOB. You know what… jobs require degrees or certain years of experience. Consider 2 years as forcing kids to actually obtain at least an Associates Degree is NOT A CRIME.

    Get it together people

  • BiGShoTBoB

    @Chicagorilla – It also depends on position as big men tend to break down sooner. Almost like a running back in the NFL. They take the most punishment so their bodies break down sooner. But if we look at guys like J. Kidd he still has a couple more years even.

  • http://www.psychodrama.com Chicagorilla


    Well guards lose their speed and it’s harder for them to compete against quick guards. Have you seen what happens when JKidd is matched up Rose, Westbrook, BJennings? He gets abused. But JKIdd is still smart.