With sources saying NBA Commissioner Adam Silver proposed to the Players Union that the draft age be changed to 18 years old allowing high school seniors to declare for the draft, as you can imagine this has spurned a debate about the whether or not such a move should be made. Many have suggested that this is directly related to Zion Williamson spraining his knee against North Carolina, but there has been no evidence to support the notion that the league has not been thinking this over for quite some time. Even though the Duke freshman’s injury might not have been the reason that Silver would make the recommendation, it does allow all of us to see one example of why it would be made.
There would be no worse scenario than a player who is a lock to be the #1 overall pick in the draft, sustains a major injury during a regular season game, thus causing that player to drop a few spots or more in the actual draft. Obviously this does not seem to be a possibility with Williamson considering the injury turned out to be a sprained knee, but you cannot help but envision how easily something like this can occur. Let’s take a look at some of the arguments for and against changing the one and done rule starting with why it should be changed.
Everyone is given the opportunity after graduating high school to make decisions that will effect the rest of your life. Imagine if you were a 4.0 student in high school and a tech whiz, which led to companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. to recruit you for future employment. Sounds good right? One small problem, in this hypothetical scenario there is some sort of legislation barring certain companies from hiring employees until they have been out of high school for at least a year or meet an age requirement. This is essentially what is currently going on with top basketball recruits. In the professional basketball world there are no better employers than the 30 teams that make up the NBA, and for many of the top recruits, these teams would love to draft them following their high school careers. With that said, it would seem to go against logic that if A. NBA teams want to draft these players, and B. The players want to go to the NBA, to not allow it to occur. To go back to the previous real world example, if Google and other tech companies wants to hire an individual, and they want to work for them, there is no barrier preventing this. The NBA is directly preventing potential employees from entering the free market and being compensated for their rare and unique skills. To top it off, you are the essentially forced (Unless you want to go oversees or the G-League) to attend college for one year and use those same skills at that level for payment (Scholarship, Boarding, etc.) which is pennies on the dollar compared to your market value if you are a high level prospect.
There is also now what we can call the “Zion Argument” which is that by preventing top recruits from entering the draft out of high school, a player can get injured and possibly hurt their draft stock. The only problem with this argument is that a player can get hurt doing any type of basketball related activity, which could happen when training following the high school season. This counter argument could also be extended to the fact that life can throw crazy things at you, and a person is at risk for injury any time they leave their home. The simple fact that a player could get injured is a tough argument to make. However, you can make the argument that due to this risk, a player should be able to capitalize on their value as soon as they can, so if a player gets injured after they have been drafted as an 18 year old, they are in a much better position financially.
The last of what we consider the most valid arguments for changing the rule, points out the fact that due to the current construction of rookie NBA contracts, you don’t really start making crazy money until your second contract. A star player who is still on their rookie deal is a steal for a franchise, which makes it in the players best interest to get to their second contract in the fastest way possible. By having to wait a season in college, these players are forfeiting what could possibly be a one year salary of over 20 million dollars. For players that receive the league maximum in offers for their second contract, it is well over the 20 million. For someone like Williamson, lets assume that his second deal will be a max contract. Deandre Ayton, the number one pick in the 2018 NBA draft is slotted to make $6,804,300 this season while someone like John Wall will make $37,800,000 in the first year of his contract extension that kicks in next season. This disparity is obviously large, and why shouldn’t a player be allowed to reach this sort of deal as fast as an NBA team is allowed and willing to offer it?
As with any rule change, there are those that would like things to stay the way they are. While it seems the majority of fans would like the rule to be changed, there are definitely valid arguments and reasoning behind not allowing someone to join the NBA straight out of high school. The first argument is admittedly against the players interest, but it is on the basis that the NBA is first and foremost a business. By not allowing players to enter the draft after high school, it allows teams another full year to evaluate the players from their time in college or oversees. In theory, it limits the amount of risk that a team has when selecting a player. The same logic can apply when you consider that the current rule delays the team having to pay a players second contract another season. It is also not great business to have policies and rules that directly effect your talent in a negative way.
The second argument for keeping the rule is that more players who came straight out of high school did not have great success in the league, than became stars. Everyone knows players like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Kevin Garnett but proponents of keeping the rule can point to names such as Korleone Young, Leon Smith, and Ndudi Ebi as reasons you could use another year to see a players development. The way to fix this issue is to have the G-League play a more prominent role in the development of talent. If a senior in high school is getting feedback from NBA teams that he could be a 2nd round pick or go undrafted, then that player and his family will have a decision to make. The G League can be the fallback if they do not get selected, but more money will need to be allowed for those salaries. At that point if a player wants to try to get better through the minor league of basketball, that is their decision and they can get paid as they develop.
Another thing that is said by the media and on social media, is that a year in college is also a way for players to improve their draft stock and help build their individual brand. Obviously for players who are guaranteed to get drafted straight out of high school this does not apply, but for someone who would end up in the G League, you can argue that there is much more exposure at the college level especially if you play for a blue blood program. At the beginning of the season, many draft sites including this one. had RJ Barrett going #1 overall in mock drafts. This changed pretty quickly into the season as Zion Williamson showed from the start he was arguably the best player in college basketball. Would Williamson had gone #1 in last years draft? Probably not, so he has definitely benefited from his time at Duke regardless of how much any one person buys into the argument that players need a year after high school to mature.
This could all be fixed in a way if players were to start being compensated in college beyond the scholarships, but that is another issue that would effect much more than players that are NBA prospects. Ultimately this is a rule change that given the history of players coming out of high school into the draft, should only impact a small number of prospects compared to the number that will still elect to go to college. If the NBA can make the G League into something that resembles the organizational structure of teams in the MLB, we could see that number rise. The details of how this will be phased in haven’t been determined, but all signs point to a rule change coming, with a goal of allowing high school seniors to enter the 2022 draft. It is a long way out, but it should be a good step in the direction of giving players more control over their professional future.