The NBA is younger now than ever before. In the 1998-99 season, the average age was 28.3 for players who played at least one game, while this past season, the average age was 26.1. If the NBA drops the one-and-done rule in 2024, will the quality of play worsen as the league gets younger?
Before you step on your soap box and holler at me about undeniable talents like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett achieving success straight out of high school, let’s discuss the hundreds of players who did not fare well, such as James Lang, Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, or Sebastian Telfair. They were not prepared for the league. It takes a special kind of player to make the jump.
The NBA needs more rookies that are ready to contribute, not more projects.
While growing up, it was refreshing to see an NBA-ready senior like Grant Hill or junior Shaquille O’Neal arrive and immediately make an impact. This is compared to watching a mercurial Kobe shackled to the end of the bench because he was not ready physically or emotionally for the rigors of the pro game.
Michael Jordan would not have dominated his rookie season, averaging 28.5 points and finishing third in scoring behind seasoned veterans Bernard King and Larry Bird, if he had not spent three years at North Carolina learning under the sage tutelage of Dean Smith. Anthony Edwards is the lone player in the past two drafts to cross the 20-point per game threshold. Once the NBA allows 18-year-olds again, statistics will continue to dip while they warm the bench and are groomed.
For example, three-time Sixth Man award winner Lou Williams was drafted in 2005 by the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. Despite this, he only appeared in 30 games and averaged 1.9 points per game. He did not start until his fifth season and flourished once he received more playing time.
Are teams willing to wait three years for a player to develop while riding the bench or in the G-League? By the time they are ready to contribute, they are almost ready for their second contract. Will the team receive a return on investment before the player signs with another team and explodes into an All-Star? Tracy McGrady is a perfect example because the Raptors never experienced the high-flying Hall of Fame shooting guard he developed into once he departed Toronto for Orlando.
The first three years for Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Tracy McGrady were marked by inconsistency and slowed development. Bryant averaged 7.6 points, 15.4 points, and 19.9 points,
Garnett averaged 10.4 points, 17.0 points, and 18.5 points, while McGrady averaged 7.0 points, 9.3 points, and 15.4 points. For those Hall of Famers, it took three years before they significantly impacted their team.
College basketball suffers
The controversial one-and-done rule took effect in 2006. The rule allowed players to play one year of college and then depart for the NBA. Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Zion Williamson, and Anthony Davis are a few examples of great players who gained experience in a college setting.
While on campus, players gain name recognition and create their brand. Williamson was widely known by basketball fans everywhere because his high school highlights trickled across your Twitter feed daily. His lone season with the Duke Blue Devils proved he was a can’t-miss prospect at the next level as his splits were 22.6/8.9/2.1, leading to his Naismith Award for best player in the country.
If 18-year-olds declare out of high school for the NBA draft, the league should duplicate the MLB rule. If you attend college, you must remain for three years. For players who prefer to pursue the NBA out of high school, there are more avenues available than there were in the past with the G League or going overseas. Thus, players should only enter the league ready to play and not learn on the fly.