Quick Thoughts

1.    More Age Limits?:    This has been one the more exciting NBA regular seasons that we can remember but back stage things there may have been some interesting changes being proposed on an administrative level.  Just a few days ago,  David Stern and NCAA president Myles Brand were talking about requiring basketball players to stay in college (or just out of the NBA) until two years after high school graduation.  Obviously, the NCAA has every financial interest in keeping players in college as long as possible.  The NBA, for its part, probably wants to avoid a reputation as cradle robbers, though Stern has been very astute and kept the matter as strictly an issue of NBA teams being able to have enough information in drafting players (i.e. evaluating a player on an established body of work against a high level of competition).  Stern noted that: “[w]e had, in fact, proposed two years the last time but settled for what we thought was gettable at that time [which was a one-year restriction].  I have no doubt that it is very good for the NBA to get a chance to see players develop, see them get collegiate-level coaching, see them play against collegiate-level competition, have them spend the year in college and ultimately see them deal with the pressure of the NCAA tournament or even the Final Four. … That year in college will cause NBA teams to have different judgments with respect to particular players. And that’s good because draft choices are very valuable things.”

Just yesterday, Slam has reported that the NBA backed off this idea and that the NBPA was not on board with raising the age limit.  The NBPA has some incentive to restrict competition too but apparently they believed that taking two years off of a player’s potential career was just too much to abide.  It’s good to see a line drawn on this issue.  We have reviewed this issue and think that it’s a bit of smoke screen for the NBA to argue that it needs more time to view prospects.  There is little to no evidence that NBA teams have been hurt when they speculate in high schoolers.  In fact the rate of return on high school picks has been quite good.  To prove this point, here are the high schoolers drafted since 1995 and how they turned out relative to their draft slot: 

-1995: Kevin Garnett (4th overall):  That worked out quite well, he was by far the best player in that draft, with Rasheed Wallace a distant second.

-1996: Kobe Bryant (13th overall), Jermaine O’Neal (17th overall):  Let’s see…a Hall of Famer and an All-Star with mid-to-late picks.

-1997: Tracy McGrady (9th overall):  Isiah’s shining moment, finding the second best player in the draft.

-1998: Al Harrington (25th overall), Rashard Lewis (32nd overall), Korleone Young (40th overall):  This was a memorable draft as we watched all the high schoolers fall on the board and there were images of Lewis crying in the green room (though I don’t specifically recall that).  Well, Harrington blossomed into a good regular and Lewis is going to earn $100 million in his NBA career.  Young represents the first high school washout, though he can’t be considered a bust since the NBA wasn’t that high on him to begin with.  He’s still playing overseas, last seen in Israel but hasn’t been a huge star abroad.

-1999: Jonathan Bender (5th overall), Leon Smith (29th overall):  Bender was a star in high school and dominated the McDonald’s High School game.  He was never really healthy as pro because of knee issues and retired at age-25.  It is quite possible that a year or two of college might’ve revealed his knee issues to the NBA but you can’t assume that the knee weakness would’ve manifested itself to give the NBA notice on the much shorter college season for two years.  Smith is a whole different animal, who was troubled emotionally and was cut in the middle of his rookie season.  He wasn’t a disappointment against expectaations as much as a late gamble that didn’t work out.  A year or two of college might’ve helped him from a maturity stand point, but that assumes he was ever suited for college life.  In any event, no NBA wasted a huge amount of resources speculating on his potential.  Smith actually worked his way back into a couple more NBA cameos and is currently playing in Mexico.

2000: Darius Miles (3rd overall), DeShawn Stevenson (23rd overall):  Miles ended up being a bit of a bust and a bit of a jerk but he was reasonably effective when healthy.  Miles looked pretty good his first few years and intermittently since.  He fooled enough people (well just Portland owner Paul Allen) into getting a huge extension 2004.  Since then, Miles has feuded with Maurice Cheeks, played poorly, and been injured with chronic knee issues (he hasn’t played a single game since 2005-06 when he was 24).  Would two years of college have caused Miles to fall a bit in the draft?  Possibly.  But he was pretty solid in his first two seasons and the 2000 draft was notoriously weak anyway (he was taken just behind Stromile Swift and right after Marcus Fizer) so he likely would’ve been a high pick if he waited a year or two to later to enter the draft.  As for Stevenson, he came into the NBA as a raw two-guard, who had a potential statutory rape charge on his head.  Stevenson has turned out to be a pretty good pro, and probably would be a lottery pick if the 2000 draft were re-done with a crystal ball.

2001: Kwame Brown (1st overall), Tyson Chandler (2nd overall), Eddy Curry (4th overall), DeSagana Diop (8th overall):  Kwame is probably the text book waste pick that Stern thinks about when putting forth his age limit argument.  Chander and Curry have alternated between bust and boom (Chandler is now on boom and Curry isn’t on bust but is a quasi-disappointment).  Finally, Diop (who made his name playing well in games against Chandler and Curry in high school) is a very solid back up center.  Would watching these guys for a  year or two of college have changed this draft at all?  Hard to say exactly.  It is highly unlikely that a Brown would still be the top pick.  It should be noted that Brown was something of an off-beat pick by Michael Jordan and, though a top pick, probably went above consensus of his ability.  Looking back, all four would’ve been top 10-15 picks, with Chandler near where he should’ve been and Curry slightly too high.

-2002: No high schoolers drafted.

-2003: LeBron James (1st overall), Travis Outlaw (23rd overall), Ndudi Ebi (26th overall), Kendrick Perkins (27th overall), James Lang (48th overall): That LeBron guy worked out okay I guess.  Outlaw and Perkins also turned out to be great late value picks.  Ebi and Lang crapped out, though the investments of time and money were limited.

2004: Dwight Howard (1st overall), Shaun Livingston (4th overall), Robert Swift (12th overall), Sebastian Telfair (13th overall), Al Jefferson (15th overall), Josh Smith (17th overall), J.R. Smith (18th overall), Dorell Wright (19th overall): Wow.  The high school revolution really peaked here.  Oddly enough, the ratio of successful pros is quite high.  Howard is the best player here and Jefferson and Josh Smith also look like All-Stars.  Livingston looked good and Swift looked okay before their knee issues.  Telfair and J.R. Smith may or may not have long NBA careers.  Wright looks like a marginal pro.  If the draft was re-done, Livingston, Swift, and Telfair would fall but almost everyone else would move way up (we’re not counting second-rounder from P.J. Ramos because he went to High School in Puerto Rico but his career doesn’t tell us much either way).

2005: Martell Webster (6th overall), Andrew Bynum (10th overall), Gerald Green (18th overall), C.J. Miles (34th overall), Ricky Sanchez (35th overall), Monta Ellis (40th overall), Louis Williams (45th overall), Andray Blatche (49th overall), Amir Johnson (56th overall):  The final high school draft was a weird one.  We’re still not sure where Webster will end up and Bynum would be a top five pick (if he stays healthy).  Green looks like a washout but there are tons of value picks in the second-round.  Miles and Blatche look like solid pros and Ellis, Williams, and Johnson should be starters at some point soon.  

Overall, the ratio of high school prospects drafted has offered a very quality rate of return, probably higher than the rate of all prospects overall (we can go through a litany of busts from all college seniors and Euros to prove this fact).  In terms of horrific busts, we only have Kwame and a few injured players like Bender, Miles, and, perhaps, Livingston.  Kwame seems like the only totally off picks and even he is a serviceable pro.  The upshot of all this is that there is little proof that the NBA can’t value high schoolers.  If anything, they’ve undervalued some marginal prospects, who have turned into good pros and you have a really good shot at finding a potential Hall of Famer from this talent pool every couple of years.  If Stern wants to keep the lid on high schoolers he and the union can do so but their current rationale for doing is not supported by the data. 

2.    NCAA Title Game Stuff:  I’m not a huge NCAA fan but the title game was definitely an interesting viewing experience and yet another super painful loss for John Calipari.  In fact, while the NCAA Tourney is crazy and unpredictable, the title game is usually pretty mundane.  But Memphis’ inability to make free throws combined some clutch play by Kansas created a great finish.  The number of great final games is quite rare.  Indeed, even the close games usually aren’t memorable except for their results.  For the fun of it, here’s my list of the top title games since 1978-79: 

10.  1986, Louisville over Duke 72-69:  Freshman Pervis Ellison carrier Louisville over Danny Ferry and Duke.   

9.  1999, UConn over Duke 77-74:  Defensive specialist Ricky Moore locks down Trajan Langdon on the last possession and Langdon couldn’t create a shot.

8.  2008, Kansas over Memphis 75-68 (OT):  A great comeback but not quite as exciting as some the others below in my opinion.

7.  1997, Arizona over Kentucky 84-79 (OT):  Mike Bibby & Company prevent Kentucky from repeating in a close one.  

6.  1993, North Carolina over Michigan, 77-71:  Chris Webber’s late non-time out blows open a barnburner.

5.  1985, Villanova over Georgetown 66-64:  Not actually a fun game but the upset was amazing and Nova could not miss.

4.  1987, Indiana over Syracuse 74-73:  Keith Smart wins it at the buzzer

3.  1983, North Carolina State over Houston 54-52:  Yes, Houston blew this game by sitting their stars too long but it was a tight game and you won’t find a crazier end to a game.

2.  1982, North Carolina over Georgetown 63-62:  The famous MJ jumper, followed by Worthy clinching it with a steal.

1.  1989, Michigan over Seton Hall 80-79: My favorite title game where a loaded Michigan team was taken to the brink by Seton Hall.

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