Monday, May 27, 2013

Making The Case: A New NBA Draft

Photo Credit: Thomas Beindit
With the NBA Draft right around the corner, it seems like a good time to talk about the current format of the NBA Draft and its impact on the league, the college game, and the players.  Michigan has a special relationship to the NBA Draft this year with two of its players (Trey Burke & Tim Hardaway, Jr.) leaving college early for the NBA.  This post isn't necessarily about dissecting whether these or other players made the best decision for themselves, but more about whether the NBA has set up the right framework for its draft process on all three levels.

First thing first, let's go through what the current NBA Draft process looks like.  For a player to declare for the NBA Draft, they must be at least 19 during the calendar year of the draft.  Essentially, a player must be removed from high school for at least one season.  The NBA doesn't clarify what players should do during the 1 year break, but the vast majority go to college to attempt to improve their game and earn a draft spot in the NBA.  Once the year has passed, players can enter the NBA Draft.  Basically, under this system, a player could potentially go through 3 NBA decisions following their freshman, sophomore, and junior years.

This is actually a relatively new system.  Before the introduction of the 19 year old rule, players only had to be 18 years old to qualify for the NBA Draft.  This is the system that players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James used to enter the NBA.  They opted to forego college careers and enter the NBA immediately upon high school graduation.  For the most part, the two systems were largely the same.  It was a rare development for players to head to the NBA immediately following high school simply for the fact that it there were only a few players truly good enough to be drafted, but it still did allow players like LeBron and Kobe to jump a year earlier.

For me, both of these systems have some major flaws.  First, the current 19+ system forces athletes like LeBron and Kobe to enter college for at least one season.  There's no reason that players of this caliber need to play at the college level.  They're clearly NBA talents and the odds that they would stay beyond 1 or 2 seasons and get a college degree is probably pretty low.  So essentially, they're wasting a year of their NBA career in a league that is below their talent level.  The original system (18+) allows these guys to go pro, but still has it's downside.  It could theoretically add another year to their "decision" as they have to make a decision coming out of high school as well.

Given these problems, I'm going to make a case for the system used by the MLB and proposed by the Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart.  The great thing about this system is that it works out well for each of the three categories (NBA, college, players) that make up the NBA Draft process.  Essentially, this is how the MLB system works.  Players have the option to go pro or go to college directly out of high school.  If they decide to go pro, they can go pro, but if they decide to go to college, they must sign for three seasons.  In my opinion, this would be much better than the current system.

First, it helps the NBA.  Not only does it give them immediate access to the talents like LeBron and Kobe (which they don't have currently), but it will also lead to better draft pools down the road.  There are going to be some high school jumpers, but if players enter college, they are going to be proven by time they can go to the pro level.  If a player is in college for 3+ seasons, it's hard to believe they will still have major question marks.  Take a look at Tim Hardaway, Jr.  He has some question marks, but nothing even close to players like Steven Adams (Pitt) and Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse) who both jumped pro after one season and are rated higher than Hardaway by many scouts.  Overall, it gives access to the best talent and solidifies the rest of the talent field.

Next, it will also help the college game.  Nothing is worse for college basketball fans than the yearly hoopla surrounding some of their favorite players and their NBA decisions.  Well, nothing is different for the coaches's mindsets (excluding guys like Calipari) who recruit players with the intent to watch them grow as players and men.  This system would be a huge improvement in removing that pressure for fans, coaches, and programs.  The current NBA timeline leaves 3 years of decision-making on the schedule.  This system would have just 2 and one of those would occur before the player even got to college, which is certainly less significant than a post-freshman or sophomore decision.  It's hard to believe this wouldn't also improve the game as the average age and experience of players and teams would improve, plus it would make one year sensation teams like 2011-2012 Kentucky extinct.  I really do believe the college game would become much more competitive and consistent.

Finally, I really do believe it would help players in the long run.  Maybe not in every single case, but it would keep players like Nerlens Noel from suffering ACL injuries for no reason and ensure that players are developed enough to compete at the NBA level by keeping them from jumping as freshman or sophomores.  Undeniably, in some cases, players could have probably made more money if they jumped a year or two earlier, but how many players go to the NBA as freshmen or sophomores and crash out after a year or two?  This system wouldn't be guaranteed to help every player stay in the NBA
longer, but they certainly should have an improved game, plus they'll be a lot closer to a college degree than if they stayed for just one year, which would be a major advantage for a player that is finished playing in the NBA.

Overall, the debate will continue and the NBA seems no closer to changing this rule than they were a few years ago, but there are some strong arguments to adapting the current system to look closer to the model used by the MLB.  This system is not perfect either, but the positives for the NBA, the colleges, and the players seem to imply that this would be a major improvement.

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