High Schoolers, College Kids, and the NBA Draft, Oh My!

You know, this whole declaring early, withdrawing, one-and-done, playing overseas, all just trying to get an 18-, 19- or 20- year old multimillions of dollars so he can buy an Escalade, about twenty PS3’s for his “posse”, and a new house for his mama because his daddy left them when he was a baby, is starting to get really old.

When the NBA created the Development League, the idea was to snatch the farm system idea from Major League Baseball without the multiple levels – you know, AAA, AA, High-A, Low-A, etc. – because the shelf life of an NBA player is about 5-6 years, while an MLB player can play for a good 10-12.

Of course, the NBA erred at once by creating it’s league acronym as “DL”. If you’re going to borrow from the MLB, you don’t want your league, which is supposed to have a similar function as the MLB’s AAA farm team, being called the DISABLED LIST (DL).

That said, the NBA really hasn’t gotten its DL moving as fast as it probably should be this time. There’s a stigma associated with the DL that just hasn’t gone away. Maybe it’s the “disabled list” thing. Maybe it’s the (very) small paycheck you get as a DL’er. Maybe it’s the (very small) per diem you get as a player. Maybe it’s the venues you play in – they’re not exactly major cities. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Or maybe it’s because it’s Just Not The NBA.

In addition, the NBA still has this silly rule that high schoolers cannot declare for the NBA draft; they must be one year removed from high school. This forces a lot of HS’ers that “think” they are good enough for the NBA – I say “think” because, really, if you’re in HS, are you really playing against elite competition? The answer is “NO” for about 99% of them – to consider one-and-done stints in major college programs. I mean, you’re not going to get one-and-done kids to go to West Texas Tech and Farming College… c’mon, be reasonable. The one-and-done kids have to get national recognition so they can up their draft stock, which means playing in a major program – like Arizona, or Maryland, or Florida, or UCLA.

Or they can take the Brandon Jennings route and try their luck overseas. Except that Jennings, who thought he was NBA material before he left, really didn’t help himself in Europe. In fact, he played poorly there – which just shows that a) he’s not really ready to play against elite competition (ie. the NBA, or even a elite major NCAA team), and b) he’s still a kid who thinks he’s better than he is. And yes, other kids are watching and seeing just how good those Europeans are – they’re WAY more physical and they concentrate on skills more than just raw athleticism. How many HS’ers are talented skillwise enough to play in Euroleague? Probably 1% of the 1% of the kids that even consider it.

The whole mess can be avoided if the NBA does something really simple – combine forces of the DL and the draft. Here’s how:

  1. Allow high schoolers to declare for the draft. However, HS’ers can only be drafted into the DL, where they must play their first year and may not be “called up” during their first season.
  2. NBA teams who draft a HS’er are not subject to the first round rookie scale contract – instead, they can negotiate a contract similar to second round draft picks which may or may not include incentive bonuses (they probably will include them though).
  3. If a HS’er decides not to opt for the draft, or is drafted and opts not to sign for the drafting team, the kid must play three years in college (this rule already exists for baseball and works perfectly well), or may go overseas but the same three year rule applies. Note that the rule is “PLAY THREE YEARS”. If you redshirt one of those first three years, you still have to play three years before being eligible.
  4. An NBA team that drafts a HS’er and is not able to sign said pick would receive a “compensation pick” in between the first and second round of the next draft. This is similar to MLB as well.
  5. After three years, the now-college junior or senior (see “redshirt” above) (or overseas player) may declare for the NBA draft, but has to decide to stay in or withdraw by May 15th. This will force kids to either sh_t or get off the pot and finish their studies so as not to penalize the school’s graduation rate.
  6. If the college student withdraws, the rule of “declaring twice means you’re automatically in” is moot because his next year would be his last year eligible anyway and he’d have to stay in.
  7. NBA teams who draft college kids are still subject to the first round rookie scale contract, however, they have the option to immediately send their draft choice to the DL. Their draft choice may be “called up” at any time.

What this would do for basketball at the college level and the NBA level would be a VAST improvement. For the college level, it avoids any further O.J. Mayo / Derrick Rose / Brandon Jennings problems. Kids either are committed for three years or they don’t attend at all. Money-hungry parents would not longer be encouraging their kids to do a one-and-done, if they value their kids education at all. Of course, Europe / Israel / Russia / Asia is still an option for those that are so determined to get their money that they don’t care where they play, just so long as they get their paycheck.

At the NBA level, it would really showcase the top talent – teams will have already drafted top high school talent and stuck them in the DL for a year of seasoning. If they aren’t improving enough to be called up, the kids can stay in the DL, and the team isn’t on the hook for a multi-million dollar rookie contract. If they wash out in the DL – they just can’t deal with elite talent – then the team can release them, and again, the team isn’t on the hook for a multi-million dollar contract for a draft bust. And for those kids that take the SMART choice and go to college for a couple of years, the kids get the benefit of a paid-for education (for at least three years), and play against elite competition the entire time, and the NBA will have to evaluate like it does now on draft day – and it will also have the option to draft a kid and send him to the DL, EXCEPT that if they draft a kid who has played for three years, they will be on the hook for a mega-contract if the kid’s a bust… which is how it is now.

Does it make sense? Of course. Will it be implemented? Not likely, unless someone from the NBA or Players’ Union is paying attention…