The NBA Age Limit Debate

nba-logoI was engaged in a very “spirited” debate recently with another WP blogger on the subject of the NBA age limit. The argument centered around Jeremy Tyler, the San Diego HS junior who has decided to skip his senior year of HS to play pro ball overseas. A lot of people feel like the age limit is stupid and I used to be one of those people. I felt like if a tennis player or a baseball player could go pro at a young age or straight out of HS, then what’s wrong with a HS kid who plays basketball doing it? I used to feel that it was racial issue because basketball is predominately played by blacks while those other sports are not. Well, I don’t feel that way anymore. I think what David Stern did is pure genius and that’s why I think he’s the best commissioner in any sport hands down.

First off, let’s not allow David Stern to shoulder all the blame for the age limit rule. This was voted on and put into place by the NBPA which is the union comprised of active, veteran NBA players. Secondly, let’s look at a sport like baseball which drafts kids straight out of HS. The current baseball system is divided up this way: MLB, AAA, AA, Class A, Class A-Advanced, Short Season-A, Rookie Advanced & Rookie which is the lowest level of minor league baseball. Not to mention you have independent leagues which aren’t affiliated with MLB but still drafts kids and pays them. I don’t know how many players that comes out to based on all of those leagues, but it’s clearly obvious that there are many, many more opportunities for a kid to succeed in pro baseball than in pro basketball which only has the NBA (30 teams) and the D-League (17 teams) with 12-15 players per team. The failure rate in pro-basketball is astronomically high, therefore while imposing an age limit on entrants doesn’t necessarily “guarantee” success, forcing a kid to wait a year and play college ball, go to prep school or the more recent trend of playing overseas prepares him mentally, physically, and exponentially increases his chance to succeed in the NBA.

Some say that if a HS kid is ready to make the jump to the pros then let him; but how do you evaluate that? Ask any HS player who’s nationally ranked in the top 20 of their class if they’re ready to make the jump to the NBA, I guarantee you 90% of them will say yes. But they’re not saying yes to being able to compete, they’re saying yes to the money. NBA teams were investing millions of dollars into a HS kid based on his upside and potential and more often than not, they never saw a return on their investment. The player came up, but the organization got screwed. So even though teams weren’t losing their shirts, a line had to be drawn somewhere. For every LeBron James, there’s a Korleone Young. For every Dwight Howard there’s a Leon Smith. The NBA and its teams are in the business of making money, not giving it away.

Ultimately I don’t feel that the rule needs to be changed or eliminated because I think it’s for the betterment of the player, not the league. Look at the success that Derrick Rose and OJ Mayo experienced this past season. Had they been allowed to jump straight from prep-to-pro would they have had the same success? Probably not. In fact, the coaches on their respective teams wouldn’t have given them the ball right away and they probably would’ve sat most of their rookie season. Guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudamire, LeBron James and Dwight Howard are all exceptions to the rule. Sure they all struggled their rookie seasons, but they were also integral parts of their respective teams and each cracked the playing rotation. Guys like Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson all had to wait a couple of years before they became stars in the NBA; it was hit or miss with them. Here’s my list and classification of every prep-to-pro player and you can decide for yourself:

Prep-To-Pro Stars (Players who currently or used to have a featured role on their teams)

  • Kevin Garnett
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Jermaine O’Neal
  • Tracy McGrady
  • Rashard Lewis
  • Amare Stoudamire
  • LeBron James
  • Dwight Howard
  • Al Jefferson
  • Monta Ellis

Prep-To-Pro Contributors (Players with significant roles on their teams)

  • Stephen Jackson
  • Al Harrington
  • DeShawn Stevenson
  • Tyson Chandler
  • Travis Outlaw
  • Kendrick Perkins
  • Josh Smith
  • JR Smith
  • Andrew Bynum
  • CJ Miles
  • Louis Williams

Prep-To-Pro Busts (Players who’ve never or have yet to pan out in the NBA)

  • Korleone Young
  • Jonathan Bender
  • Leon Smith
  • Darius Miles
  • Kwame Brown
  • Eddy Curry
  • DeSagana Diop
  • Ousmane Cisse
  • Ndudi Ebi
  • James Lang
  • Shaun Livingston
  • Robert Swift
  • Sebastian Telfair
  • Dorell Wright
  • Jackie Butler
  • Martell Webster
  • Gerald Green
  • Andray Blatche
  • Amir Johnson

Of the 40 HS players drafted since Kevin Garnett entered the league in 1995, almost half of them can be considered busts. That’s both shocking and alarming and the reason why the NBA age limit should be in place. A year or two in college could’ve helped these guys significantly. Sure they’re all millionaires now, but if that’s more important than being the best basketball player you can be then there’s certainly a problem. For a lot of these guys, the money is the only thing that mattered. And that’s not what the game is about.

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5 Responses

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  2. First BC, since you took the time to comment (and reply) I feel the same obligation to respond to your point.

    I think the idea that prep players hurt the NBA draft is nonsense. You point out that Rose and Mayo would have been better off going to to the NCAA for a season and then jumping like they did. Maybe in Rose’s case that was true, but in Mayo’s case especially, I don’t see it. The only thing it did was probably increase Mayo’s likelihood to ignore barbs regarding to any controversy surrounding him. If that’s something college can do for a player, I wholeheartedly agree. Didn’t help for Josh Howard though. (Just saying. And I don’t think Howard smoking pot is a big deal, or should be made out to be. If it was legal, nobody would think anything of it I do believe. Or then again, maybe not.)

    The issue of education is important here. You point out some players on that list as busts. Eddy Curry I disagree with because he showed abilities under Scott Skiles. A Star? No, but he hasn’t done much in NY since receiving that heart scare in Chicago. Kwame Brown is another guy who is still trying to salvage a career in the NBA. He’s not a stud, or anything more than a role player, but that doesn’t make him a bust. I have an issue with the label “bust”. I really do. I think it’s unfairly justified. Is Joe Smith a bust cuz he went 1st overall? No, I don’t think so. I don’t see how that can be the case when he’s played a very long, and successful, career in the NBA.

    Yeah, maybe Diop isn’t that bad, but so what? He’s at least made a “meaningful” contribution at some point.

    Young, Smith (especially Leon Smith), Ebi were all big time busts. There’s going to be players from every group that were. Of course, none of those guys were picked that high either which is why I partly disagree. Whoever gave those players did them a disservice. That’s true of college agents and the AAU system as well as what the NCAA does too.

    Shaun Livingston was not a bust. He had the worst knee injury I’ve ever seen in a live game. Jonathan Bender was not a bust either. He had chronic knee problems that forced him to retire at 25 years old.

    I would put Robert Swift as a bust myself, and then again, I don’t think Swift was poorly advised. His career didn’t go along with what his talent suggested that was possible after coming out in 2004.

    Blatche, Johnson, Telfair and Webster are still on NBA with 2 guys on teams (Blatche/Webster) with contracts beyond next season. Maybe they won’t be great players, but there was enough to give them a chance beyond their first contract. Certainly it’s not hard to see Telfair or Johnson sticking beyond 2010 either. They’re both talented and young enough (and maybe still hungry enough) to get better. Plenty of players who went through 4 years of college bounced around the way Telfair has. It happens sometimes that way.

    If this is about the quality of education for young black men, than I would agree it’s an issue. As a Black man I see why it concerns you when a 17 year old kid decides to drop out of High School to play in Europe. But, at the same time, it doesn’t concern me. Jeremy Tyler doesn’t have terrible grades, and I fail to see how playing for his High School team (or a fake High School with an AAU team) will help him improve as a player.

    The issue here is that individuals need to make decisions that would suit them best. I think Jeremy Tyler’s and his father (not to mention his uncle) are doing exactly that. Would I say that John Wall would be best served by doing that? No, not really. Brandon Jennings said his biggest regret was NOT getting minutes. In otherwords, going to Europe wasn’t the problem. It was the “not playing” part. I think that’s something that would help Jeremy Tyler moving forward. (I also think Jennings preferred taking the money too.)

    Last thing I would say BC (after this way too long comment) is that I would hope that these kids look at all these examples and say you know what: Maybe jumping straight to the NBA isn’t such a good idea. Maybe 2 years of college (at least) would help my stock, and at worst, maybe I can get a quality education for simply being a quality basketball player. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that stresses such value. A big problem with that is the NCAA doesn’t stress that value. Therein lies the paradox of this whole solution.

  3. You do have a point,but I think a select number should be thoroughly evaluated and allowed to enter if they appear to be ready.I have a feeling that the Jennings,Tyler overseas defections are just the beginning.If you close one door the another one will open.

  4. I don’t remember armchair commentators harping on age limits when Jennifer Capriati turned pro at 13. Why should it be any different in basketball? This is America. If you’ve got the skills and someone wants to pay you for them, so be it. Here’s a video recap worth watching: http://www.newsy.com/videos/age_and_the_nba

  5. The age limit should be 17.

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