An NBA blog from Newsday's Bobby Bonett
Six years later, is the NBA draft's age restriction working?
In 2006, for the first time since 1994, no high school seniors were selected in the NBA draft.
It wasn’t that there was a lack of talent. After all, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Mike Conley were all graduating.
Instead, as part of the collective bargaining agreement, players and owners had agreed to restrict the draft to players at least 19 years old and at least one year removed from college.
The agreement ended an era spurred by Kevin Garnett in 1995: the most talented players in the country often opted to go straight from prep school to the pros. The system produced stars such as Kobe Bryant (1996), LeBron James (2003) and Dwight Howard (2004); it also produced afterthoughts such as Kwame Brown (2001), DeSagana Diop (2001) and Sebastian Telfair (2004).
NBA commissioner David Stern initially said the decision was one to keep scouts and general managers away from high school gyms. The Associated Press summarized Stern’s beliefs in 2005, writing that Stern felt “too many young urban Americans [were] looking at the NBA as a viable avenue – which it often is not – to financial security for their families and a quick path to stardom for themselves.”
In a 2012 interview, Stern changed directions some, calling the decision a “business rule,” not a “social program.” He added, “We would like a year to look at them, and I think it’s been interesting to see how the players do against first-class competition in the NCAAs. Then teams have the ability to judge and make judgments, because high-ranking draft picks are very, very valuable.”
Stern's viewpoint isn't universal, though, as there have been varying reactions to the rule change: Oden, one of the first high schoolers who had to wait a year before heading to the NBA, called the rule “unfair;” Jermaine O’Neal said, “As a black guy, you think [race is] the reason why [the age restriction] is coming up;” and earlier this year, Mark Cuban said, “It’s not even so much about lottery busts; it’s about kids’ lives that we’re ruining.”
Seven drafts and six full seasons later, what have the returns been? Have players entered the league more polished, proving the new age restriction is working? Or on the flip side, has it simply modified the “prep-to-pro” culture to a “one-and-done” mindset.
Newsday analyzed the six NBA drafts prior to the rule change and the six drafts after, a period spanning 2000-11. The following conclusions were drawn:
The amount of “one-and-doners” has skyrocketed
From 2000-05, 17 college freshman were taken in the NBA Draft. From 2006-11, 43 college freshman were taken in the NBA Draft.
Why? When entering the draft straight out of high school was allowed, players were more likely to jump to the pros directly from high school rather than play college basketball for a year; 30 high school players were taken in the draft from 2000-05, making a combined 47 high schoolers and college freshmen taken over the period. That’s relatively close to the 43 college freshmen drafted from 2006-11.
Only the Knicks, Jazz, Hawks and Cavaliers (two each) drafted more than one college freshman from 2000-05; 11 teams drafted at least two college freshman from 2006-11, led by the Grizzlies (five).
|Draft age and time frame||High school players drafted 2000-05||College freshmen drafted 2000-05||College freshmen drafted 2006-11|
|Total players selected||30||17||43|
|Players selected by team||Blazers - 4||Knicks, Jazz, Hawks, Cavaliers - 2||Grizzlies - 5|
|Clippers - 3||9 teams - 1||Kings - 4|
|5 teams - 2||Pacers, Cavaliers, 76ers - 3|
|6 teams - 2|
|13 teams - 1|
Point guards are coming out earlier now than before
The amount of “prep-to-pro” and “one-and-done” small forwards and point guards taken prior to and after the rule change saw significant changes. From 2000-05, 15 small forwards were drafted who were either high school seniors or college freshmen; seven high schoolers, and eight collegiate players. In the six years since, just seven freshman small forwards have been drafted.
On the other hand, young point guards are getting drafted much more often now than before. From 2000-05, three high school point guards and one freshman point guard were drafted. From 2006-11, 10 point freshman point guards were taken.
|Draft age and time frame||High school players drafted 2000-05||College freshmen drafted 2000-05||Total drafted 2000-05||College freshmen drafted 2006-11|
One-and-doners are seeing more NBA playing time, receiving more accolades as rookies than preps-to-pros
Isolating the high school freshmen taken from 2000-05 and the college freshmen drafted from 2006-11, the latter have been far more successful in their rookie seasons.
The 30 prep players drafted from 2000-05 were taken, on average, 21st overall. They played in an average of 40.9 games their rookie seasons, starting an average of 16.7. Prep players made the All-Rookie 1st Team 13 percent of the time and the All-Rookie 2nd Team three percent of the time. The Rookie of the Year was a high school senior two out of the six years, while 10 percent of players appeared in zero games their rookie year.
The average draft position for the 43 one-and-doners from 2006-11 was 15th. They played in an average of 54.9 games their rookie season, starting an average of 25.1 games. College freshman were named to the All-Rookie 1st Team 21 percent of the time and the All-Rookie 2nd Team 14 percent of the time. Four of the six Rookies of the Year from 2006-11 were college freshmen, and seven percent of those drafted appeared in zero games their rookie year.
|Draft age and time frame||High school players drafted 2000-05||College freshmen drafted 2006-11|
|Total players taken||30||43|
|Avg. draft position||20.5||15.4|
|Avg. games played||40.9||54.9|
|Avg. games started||16.7||25.1|
|All-Rookie 1st Team (pct.)||13%||21%|
|All-Rookie 2nd Team (pct.)||3%||14%|
|Rookies of the Year||2||4|
|Appeared in zero games (pct.)||10%||7%|
The average games played were weighted based on season length, taking into account the 2011 NBA lockout.
Certain schools have changed their system based on the new rules
In the six-year period prior to the 2006 draft, the alma mater of college freshmen taken in the draft was statistically random: 17 college freshmen were taken in the NBA draft from 2000-05 from 17 different schools.
Since, that has changed. Three schools had at least four freshmen taken from 2006-11: Kentucky (6), Ohio State (5) and Texas (4). Seven other schools had least two freshmen drafted.
Adding in this year’s draft, Kentucky has sent nine college freshmen to the NBA draft since 2006, an average of more than one freshman per year.
|Schools||None||Kentucky - 6|
|Ohio State - 5|
|Texas - 4|
|Memphis - 3|
|Georgia Tech - 2|
|USC - 2|
|UCLA - 2|
|LSU - 2|
|Kansas State - 2|
|Kansas - 2|
Is the system working?
From a statistical stand point, college freshman appear to be entering the NBA more prepared than high school seniors did. That’s not much of a surprise, considering players are entering the league older, more mature, and presumably in more NBA-ready shape.
The toll the system is taking on the college game is debatable, though. Is the college product affected by programs such as Kentucky, who seem to recruit players who are looking for just a one-year stay? And are one-and-done players taking scholarships away from other players who intend on having longer college careers?; after all, 26 more college freshmen were taken in the NBA draft from 2006-11 than from 2000-05.
Share your comments on the affect the age restriction is having on the college game below, and vote on whether, after six years, you think the NBA draft age restrictions are working.
As a note, the research does not include players such as Brandon Jennings, who instead of attending college, opted to play overseas for a season.