Was The NBA Right For Keeping One-And-Done Rule In New CBA?

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks at the conclusion of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks at the conclusion of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA decided to keep the current one-and-done rule, prohibiting high schoolers to enter the draft, in the new CBA, but was it the right move?

I imagined it looked like a scene out of Mad Men. Months of back room debating between NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA Executive Michele Roberts – glasses were shattered, gallons of coffee drunk – and then a break through.

With the anticipation of upcoming TV deals, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association signed off on a new, seven-year deal on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The new agreement is filled with goodies including player contact increases and a clause helping develop the D-League. But the topic that always ruffles feathers is whether or not players should be able to jump from high school to the pros. And the new collective bargaining agreement sides with the current rule that players should at least play one season between their senior year of high school and the draft.

Is this the right move, though?

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The early success rate of high school-to-pro players was high. Darryl Dawkins was drafted in 1975 by Philadelphia and turned out a hall-of-fame career.

Between 1995 and 1997 Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Tracy McGrady all went from high school to the pros. That’s three likely hall-of-famers and an All-Star.

Their success probably inspired players like Jonathan Bender, Leon Smith, Darius Miles and DeShawn Stevenson to make the jump, four careers that flickered and faded quickly.

Between 2001 and 2005, 28 players chose the NBA over college. The results are spotty, with guys like Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard becoming household names while Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair and the like never quite developing. So if you strictly look at the success rate of players, you can make a case for both sides.

What the numbers say

There are many ways to analyze this from a statistical perspective, but let’s give this a try; the average NBA player plays just under five years, according to NBA.com. So what percentage of players drafted from high school reach that mark?

Before 1998, eight of the 10 players drafted from high school lasted more than five years. Korleon Young was drafted late in second round of the 1998 draft, so hardly a bust. But he still failed to turn out a productive NBA career. Prior to 2004, 24 out of the 30 players from high school lasted four years and 36 out of the 42 players that were drafted out of high school (too early to consider Thon Maker or Satnam Singh) survived longer than the average NBA player.

And even players like Monta Ellis, Louis Williams and Amir Johnson, who were late second round picks out of high school, turned out productive careers. So the argument can be made that even if you aren’t a high-profile player, you can make some quick cash and have long, productive career by making the jump to the pros.

But how about the elite players; lottery picks out of high school? Could their careers have been enhanced by at least a year in college? For that, we’ll compare players who made the jump with similar recruits who went to college and see who had the better career. Unless otherwise noted, these rankings are reported by basketball reference.

In 1995, fifth overall pick Kevin Garnet was the top high school prospect, according to Sporting News. Ron Mercer was ranked second. Mercer decided to go to college, won a national title with Kentucky and was named an All-American. But his career didn’t live up to KG’s.

Bryant was the darling of the 1996 class. Charlotte drafted him with the 13th pick. Tim Thomas was Sporting News’s second ranked recruit and played a year at Villanova. He was drafted seventh overall and 1997 and spent 18 years as a journeyman in the NBA. Not bad at all, but certainly no Kobe.

The NBA barred high schoolers from jumping to the pros following the 2005 draft. Ironically, it was the one year that the top-tier players who chose college turned out for the worse

But the anecdotal evidence seems to side with the high profile players who chose college compared to the pros after that. Jonathan Bender – the eighth ranked recruit 1999 – was selected fifth by Toronto (later traded to Indiana). His basketball twin and ninth ranked recruit, Carlos Boozer, played in college and turned out a great career. All-Star Gerald Wallace (fourth ranked recruit in 2000) chose college while the third ranked recruit, Darius Miles, didn’t.

The only significantly successful players from the 2001 high school class was Tyson Chandler and David Lee. Chandler, the classes fourth ranked recruit, skipped college and was drafted second. He made the All-Star team once while Lee was ranked 10th in the class, played four years of college and earned two all-star appearances.

Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry and DeSagana Diop, all players who were highly ranked and drafted in the top ten, never lived up to the hype. But to be fair, Kevin Tolbert and Dajuan Wagner were ranked second and third in that class, went to college and flamed out in the pros.

Amar’e Stoudemire was 2002’s top recruit. He skipped high school, was drafted ninth by Phoenix and obviously crafted a stellar career. But Chris Bosh, a comparable player and 2002’s fifth best recruit, chose college and turned into a potential Hall-of-Famer and NBA Champion.

Of course, there was LeBron James in 2003, who went straight from high school to the pros and dominated from day one. But then there is Ndudi Ebi (fourth) and Kendrick Perkins (fifth), who skipped college and were drafted in the first round. The former became a no-name while the later a journeyman. The class’s sixth ranked recruit, Chris Paul, played a pair of years at Wake Forest and became one of the league’s best point guards.

Five of the top six players in the 2004 draft class – Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith and Sebastian Telfair – all went pro. The only one who didn’t was Rudy Gay. Hard to say his NBA career turned about better than the other five. But the best player, besides Howard, in a class that saw a record eight athletes jump from high school to the NBA did go to college. And that was five-time NBA All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

The NBA barred high schoolers from jumping to the pros following the 2005 draft. Ironically, it was the one year that the top-tier players who chose college turned out for the worse. The class’s top post players, Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough both went to ACC schools and never reached the highs of 2005’s third best post player, Andrew Bynum’s, career. Martell Webster and Monta Ellis, ranked second and third in the class, skipped college and crafted better careers than almost any other baller from 2005.

But 2005 is an outlier to the rest of the data, an exception to the rule. Examining each draft, it appears that players who went to college were better off than those who skipped. Boozer fared better than Bender in ’09, Lee over almost every one of his counterparts in ’01, and Bosh turned out better than Stoudemire

Yes, there was LeBron in 2003, but Paul, who went to college passed up a handful of duds in the pros. And it seemed like Aldridge was helped by his college experience compared to a plethora of high school stars who chose the NBA.

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Yes, you can say most of the players who went pro after high school made out well. Almost all of them lasted five years, probably making enough money to provide for their families for generations. But when you put comparable, elite recruits side-by-side, more often than not the college grad had a better career than the high schooler that went pro.

Surely that’s information the NBA considered during the recent collective bargaining debates. And surely it helped influence their decision to keep the current rule.