The NBA Age Limit

Brian Phillips of Grantland a while back on any sort of NBA age limit:

That’s the biggest problem with an age limit. There’s already plenty of examples that make all this reasoning look ridiculous. The two best players in the world are Kevin Durant (one year in college) and LeBron James (none) — they seem to be doing just fine with leadership. The best young player in basketball spent only a year at Kentucky. Nobody’s convinced by the clichés that Silver’s selling. This rule will screw young, NBA-ready players in a pretty obvious way.

I hate when people make the argument this way. So Phillips is using one of the 8 best basketball players of all-time, and the 2nd best player in the NBA right now as his argument. The third player he is referring to is Anthony Davis. This is like saying, “Mark Zuckerberg turned a company into billions when he was 20, so the rest of the 20 year old will be fine”.

It’s funny how Phillips choses not to mention the Kwame Brown’s and Darius Miles’ of the world. The list of NBA high school draftees is full of busts and lots of other good, but not great players. Would any of these guys have truly benefitted from a year of college? Impossible to say. But it’s likely that it would have helped teams like the Sonics realize that Robert Swift at #12 in 2005 was a horrible decision.

The bigger sample sizes are, the more accurate information they provide. Having another year, at a higher level of competition to evaluate a player is huge. I saw Eddy Curry play in high school. He was a half a foot taller, and 50 pounds heavier than every single guy on the court pretty much all the time. Go play against some 12 year olds and you can see how you can dominate with nothing but size. A year of college would have shown people whether he could learn to play against guys closer to his size. When he had to have some skill, and not just measurables no one else has.

College is obviously not the whole answer to successful evaluations. Plenty of guys with college experience. Guys from the 2010 class like Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh and Cole Aldrich all went in the top 11 after spending 3 years in college.

The real problem is that the focus is always on the cream of the crop. LeBron, KD, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and never on guys like James Lang and Sebastian Telfair. Maybe those guys would have left after one year of college, or two, no matter what. But maybe they would have figured out they weren’t as good, and either gotten an education or gotten better.

The notion that we are “screwing” 1-2 guys per year, guys who are almost certainly going to make millions anyway is foolish when we could be helping hundreds of guys per year work their way toward an education, and a fallback plan if basketball doesn’t work.