Adam Silver’s New Age of Restriction

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

After saying goodbye to David Stern, Adam Silver is already making some controversial noise as the new NBA Commissioner.

In the summer of 2005 the NBA constructed a new collective bargaining agreement and within that agreement it was decided that no player under the age of 19 is allowed in the NBA. Athletes must be one year removed between their high school graduation prior to entering the league, either by way of draft of free agency. Some applauded the decisions, others saw the potentially negative impact the new age restriction created.

“You’re always going to have that percentage of players who can play,” player agent Charles Tucker told USA Sports. “It’s not a bad situation. You’re only going to hurt maybe 5%. That’s the elite group. It’s going to help colleges. You’re going to see more players prepared to play. In the long run, it’s going to save players’ careers.”

Tucker was only making an estimation, but I’m curious — which players taken in NBA drafts between 1995-2005 would be considered part of the five percent affected? During that timeframe there were 39 players taken out of high school, that’s over a span of 11 NBA drafts. Of those 39 players, 25 are still playing in the league and 12 of them are listed as starters on their respective teams. Because it’s unfair to consider a current starting position as the qualifications for being a member of the five percent, ‘club,’ we must look at a player’s overall body of work.

For the sake of this experiment, if a player made the All-Star Game in at least half of their years of service — that player is part of the five percent.

  • Kevin Garnett — 19 years of service; 15 ASG appearances.
  • Kobe Bryant — 18 years of service; 16 ASG appearances.
  • Amare Stoudemire — 11 years of service; 6 ASG appearances.
  • Dwight Howard — 10 years of service; 10 ASG appearances.

In three of those 11 drafts, only one high school player was selected. That leaves us with eight drafts. From there, only two HS players were taken on three separate occasions. Three HS prospects were taken in ’98, five in ’01 and ’03, eight in ’04, and nine in ’05. Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, Korleone Young, Jonathan Bender, Leon Smith, Darius Miles, DeShawn Stevenson, Kwame Brown, DeSagana Diop, Ousmane Cisse, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Kendrick Perkins, Ndudi Ebi, Travis Outlaw, James Lang, Shaun Livingston, Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair, J.R. Smith, Josh Smith, Dorell Wright, and Al Jefferson were all taken out of HS but didn’t qualify as members of the five percent club. Of these players; two never went on to play in the NBA, four played less than three seasons, five of these players played less than five seasons, 20 played for 10 or more seasons and four players have played nine years in the league.

There were 60 players with NCAA experience taken from 95-05 that never saw a single minute playing in the league.

It’s the last sample (the ’05 draft) that tells us there may have been nothing wrong with the system formerly in place. Every player with NCAA experience selected in the 2005 draft played at least one minute of professional basketball. These are the nine players selected directly out of high school that year.

  • Martell Webster
  • Andrew Bynum
  • Gerald Green
  • C.J. Miles
  • Monta Ellis
  • Louis Williams
  • Andray Blatche
  • Amir Johnson
  • Ricky Sanchez

With the exception of Sanchez, all of these players have found a role playing somewhere in the NBA. The size of that role varies by player, but all of them – in my opinion – are respectable in their own right. However, none of these player can be considered part of the five percent supposedly affected by the age restriction rule. Why? Because there is only one ASG appearance between all of them.

So why change the age restriction from 19 to 20?

Perhaps the new commissioner is thinking about the NCAA. After changing the rule in ’05, we started seeing a new breed of college athletes labeled, “one-and-done,” players. Here’s a quote from former University of Arizona coach Lute Olson reacting to the rule change just under 10 years ago.

“I think it’s a compromise that accomplishes very little in terms of limiting the numbers of early entrants,” Olson said. “A lot of the guys coming out now are at least 18 years old, very close to 19, which leaves colleges in a difficult position. If you recruit such a player, it could turn into just a one-year commitment. Very seldom does one year of college benefit either the player or the program. Carmelo Anthony might be the only example of that.”

The following are all examples of one-and-done players, and whether or not they qualify as a member of the five percent club.

  • Carmelo Anthony – yes
  • Shawne Williams – no
  • Kevin Durant – yes
  • Javaris Crittenton – no
  • Greg Oden – no
  • Mike Conley, Jr. – no
  • Brandan Wright – no
  • Spencer Hawes – no
  • Thaddeus Young – no
  • Daequan Cook – no
  • Michael Beasley – no
  • O.J. Mayo – no
  • Eric Gordon – no
  • Jerryd Bayless – no
  • Derrick Rose – yes
  • DeAndre Jordan – no
  • Kevin Love – no
  • Anthony Randolph – no
  • J.J. Hickson – no
  • Kosta Koufos – no
  • Donte Green – no
  • Tyreke Evans – no
  • DeMar DeRozan – no
  • B.J. Mullens – no
  • Jrue Holiday – no
  • John Wall – no
  • Derrick Favors – no
  • Daniel Orton – no
  • Hassan Whiteside – no
  • Tiny Gallon – no
  • DeMarcus Cousins – no
  • Xavier Henry – no
  • Eric Bledsoe – no
  • Avery Bradley – no
  • Kyrie Irving – no
  • Tristan Thompson – no
  • Brandon Knight – no
  • Tobias Harris – no
  • Cory Joseph – no
  • Josh Selby – no

Since 2005 there have only been three members added to the five percent club; Anthony, Rose and Durant. Does this mean players like Love, Wall and Cousins aren’t future perennial All-Stars? No, because they — assuming they stay healthy — could rip of a streak of consecutive ASG appearances and eventually become a part of the prestigious club; joining Garnett, Bryant, Stoudemire and Howard as five percent type players.

____

So who really benefits from the rule change?

There’s not enough evidence to debunk the idea that allowing players to enter the league without waiting a year after graduating from high school is depriving the league of talent, nor is there any reason to believe that the one-and-done player is either better, or worse, than those who were provided the same opportunity without having play college basketball. So why change anything?

Going back to Olson’s quote, University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari has become notorious for his ability to recruit one-and-done players. Calipari has found a way to attain multiple talented players, even if it’s only for one season, and turn the short time period he has to coach these players into a successful, championship-type season. However, not everyone may want to be a one-and-done player — perhaps staying in school an extra year helps boost a prospect’s stock. Player development is often overlooked in all of this. Just ask Joel Embiid.

Embiid is projected as a top-three selection in the upcoming 2014 NBA draft. However, he has gone on record to say he may stay in school another year — Embiid has only played organized basketball for three seasons. Why would perfecting, or detailing, his craft among the college ranks prior to entering the world’s best basketball league be a bad idea? Still, Embiid playing another year at the University of Kansas would be an inexplicable decision considering his draft stock — what if he were to injury a knee, or sprain an ankle? If that were to happen, staying behind to rehab and regain strength prior to trying to play with the world’s best may be a better option. Insert Brandon Ashley.

Although Ashley is already 19 years of age, a sophomore at the University of Arizona, I’ve still decided to use him an example. Prior to suffering a season-ending foot injury, Ashley had been on the fence about whether he would enter the draft this summer or remain at school and continue playing at the U of A.

“I wasn’t 100 percent (about coming back) before the injury,” Ashley told ESPN.com. “But I’ve thought about it, and there’s a very, very, very strong chance I’ll be back at the University of Arizona next year.”

Not only does playing college basketball help players develop after high school, it acts as a safety net for injuries such as Ashley’s.

But why would one of Silver’s first moves as the league’s new commissioner be for the players, and not the NBA itself? 

Here’s where we can get all types of theoretical.

Many would say changing the league’s age requirement to be 20, and not 19, would only encourage players to, “head where the money is.” We see players going overseas all the time, won’t they just go play somewhere else if they’re required to wait almost two-full calendar years before entering the NBA draft? Brandon Jennings is someone that comes to mind when considering this idea. Jennings made over three million dollars, including endorsements, playing Euroleague basketball instead of attending an American university while waiting to turn 19 before entering the draft.

Playing in Europe, or anywhere overseas, is something the NBA — or anyone for that matter — is capable of preventing. If athletes want to play sports overseas, that’s their decision. However, like situations similar to Ashley’s or Embiid’s — players that are already playing college basketball (theoretically) are more likely to understand their circumstance and in-turn become more aware of what’s best for their well-being. Ashley may feel he needs more time to recover from injury, Embiid may want to further develop certain elements of his game. But, and here’s a huge proverbial spitball, what if student-athletes decide that graduating with a degree is something they may want to pursue?

Time and time again, especially with the NBA, we hear of athletes going broke after their time in the league has come and gone. Perhaps, sometime between the added year between high school and when a player is allowed to enter the NBA draft, a student-athlete (who aren’t necessarily always mature, responsible and upstanding adult citizens) decides, “Hey I’m not all that great at this sport, but I could really take advantage of this scholarship and better my future by obtaining a diploma. After all, thousands of my fellow classmates are playing thousands upon thousands of dollars hoping to graduate with a degree — wouldn’t that be a good idea?”

Continuing with theories. 

Maybe Silver is setting things up for a more profitable and prosperous minor league system for the NBA. Oh yea, there’s that D-League thing! The NBDL, or National Basketball Development League, has a goal to eventually have a 30-for-30 model where every D-League team has a single affiliation with an NBA team. It’s entering its 13th season after starting as a small, eight team league. At one point the NBDL shrunk down to six teams before expanding; going from six to 17 teams. The league has indeed been expanding and that’s with a few teams folding along the way (Arkansas RimRockers, Utah Flash (now the Delaware 87ers), and Florida Flame, for example). Right now there are 16 D-League teams shared between three affiliates while 14 NBA clubs have their own D-League franchise — that’s a total of 17 D-League teams.

After NBA prospects graduate from HS, just like the rest of us, they are faced with a choice. The most common decision these young men make is going to play collegiately until it’s decided that it’s appropriate to declare for the NBA draft. Coaches and family are the largest outside influences on the prospects future, that and the money (of course). Yes, there are cases – ala Jennings – where players may take their services overseas where they may be compensated financially. However, is this an inconvenience? Perhaps circumstances pertaining to family, friends, a significant other or whatever the case may be don’t allow for a young, 18 or 19 year old, man to venture overseas just to play basketball. At the same time, maybe school isn’t the route this player feels is best for him, or anyone else involved and affected by such a critical life decision — what options are left?

There are only three players in the NBA today that are younger than 20 years old. One of those three being Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has grown an inch since being selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in last summer’s draft. Another one of the three NBA players currently under the age of 20 is Nerlens Noel, who has yet to play a game this season and is almost a year removed from tearing an ACL playing at the University of Kentucky last season. If the league’s age requirement was 20 years old, no — we wouldn’t have a “Greek Freak,” playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, but it wouldn’t change our perception about Noel as NBA player. These talented youngsters have yet to emerge as stars, but conversely — also haven’t played enough games to be considered draft busts, either.

It may be a downright egregious claim, but — Silver’s ambition to require anyone entering the NBA to be at least 20 years of age just might be in the D-League’s best interest. There’s no data that insists keeping players from joining the NBA out of high school is preventing significant, game-changing, once-in-a-lifetime superstars out of the league. Perhaps forcing players to wait allows time for these young men to mature and consider what the best decision is for their future. Maybe heading overseas isn’t a viable option for every player, consider the idea that an 18, or 19, year old recently removed HS and placed in the real world wants to gain experience in a desired field while also making some cash along the way. That’s where the NBDL comes in.

If the D-League can somehow entice talented, young and potential long-time NBA players into signing a contract to play for a league-owned affiliate that would also put money in a young man’s pocket — that’s a win for everyone involved. Not only will a scholarship that would be occupied by a one-and-done student-athlete become available, but an exciting playmaker with potential to one day play among the world’s best would gain experience in an NBA system. The NBDL would work as a paid internship to teenagers hoping to put some money in their pocket, while also gaining valuable, hands-on experience in the field they hope to one day make living working in.

It’s an idea that theoretically makes for better business. Not only is it a decision that could benefit players, it could also improve a brand that former commissioner David Stern worked to improve for many, many years. We shouldn’t be quick to decide whether Silver’s idea is a good, or bad, plan for the longevity of the league until all who would be affected are taken into account. The rule that’s labeled one of his priorities isn’t intended to appease members of the five percent club, this is bigger than that — let’s let the new leader fail – or succeed – without ridiculing an idea that hasn’t been put into effect, not yet anyway.

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