With the NBA Lottery having just happened, I think it's a great time to discuss the topic of the draft. I know this is an NCAA Tournament blog, and the topic may swing more towards the professional side of the debate, but all basketball is tied together. Right now, we're watching the quality of play in the college ranks diminish and NBA teams are drafting based on potential with the teams in need rarely getting the impact player they require to turn their franchise around. How can this be resolved? It would take a multi-faceted approach, one that I've put some thought into and will lay out for you here.
First things, first, the NBA needs to look to a model that already exists and is successful. In this case, we're talking about kids out of high school with the potential to play alongside pros, but in most cases lacking the maturity both on and off the court to accommodate the transition. In almost every way, this mirrors the situation in baseball.
Here are the requirements to be eligible for the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft:
- High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
- College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
- Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed
While the NBA draft is minuscule compared to the scope of the Major League's, the idea should be the same. We all know that there have been high school players who deserve to be in the NBA. Why not allow these great player the chance to prove themselves? Would we want to lose any of the time Lebron James has put in to the NBA simply because he didn't meet the age requirements of the league? If a player has the ability, they should be allowed to play with the best.
In order to prevent a flight of talent to the NBA, the second rule will preserve the college game in two ways. First, players that arrive at a four-year college will have to stay. No longer will teams watch their freshmen walk off the campus with only one season under their belt. Second, this will discourage high school players from entering the draft because they will be up against third and fourth year college players with a much larger track record and skill set. Consider this list of current NBA players who would have had to stay in college and would be eligible for the draft in 2009 if these rules were in place:
Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, Jr., Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Javaris Crittenton, Daequan Cook, Russell Westbrook, D. J. Augustin, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Marreese Speights, Ryan Anderson, Darrell Arthur
Some may not have been the players teams expected when they drafted them, but you still have a significant pool of talent. Any high school player facing a draft class similar to this would have to a truly special talent to consider entering the draft.
With a stronger draft class with more experience against the known quantities of NCAA play, teams could draft more for their immediate needs with a better hope for improvement in the following season. There would still be those players that need more work before being ready for the NBA, which would lead to a final change to the NBA system.
Currently, the NBA relies on the 12 man roster and the NBADL for their players. Too often a player is left to watch from the bench with little chance to prove their ability on the court. With the NBADL being a work in progress as it is, why not restructure it to mimic the minor leagues of MLB and the NHL. Assign each team a minor league team in a nearby city and give these young, raw players a chance to play everyday. There are many cities around the country with arenas capable of housing a minor league basketball team, and with a direct line to the local NBA team, fans can go to these games with the hopes of seeing the next stars on their favorite teams. As baseball fans know, when your team is doing poorly, it's nice to look at the minor league squad that's winning and imagine what those kids could do the following season. We all know there are NBA franchises that can use a little shot of hope to their fan base.
To fill these new minor league rosters, expand the draft by 2-3 rounds. While you won't be filling the entire roster, you will allow teams to target their projects while still keeping alive the hopes for those players looking for a free agent contract.
Changing the structure of the NBA draft could be a move that has the potential to change both the professional and amateur ranks significantly. As fans, we get the benefit of seeing our teams draft quality players when they need them instead of rolling an expensive set of dice with a high lottery pick. We also get to see the return of college basketball as it used to be played. With such a turnover of talented players, schools can't build season to season while their watch their best run to the NBA with hopes of scoring a big first contract, despite a game that still needs work. Finally, it preserves that excitement of the young kid that has a world of talent and ability. Do we really want to sacrifice the Kevin Garnetts, Kobe Bryants and Lebron James of the world simply because of age. Let them take that chance that only heightens our excitement when they do live up to the hype, a good 3 years younger than anyone else on the court.
With these changes, the NBA and college basketball could see improvement in the areas that many have watched both deteriorate in the past years. We watch, cheer and read because we love the sport, and seeing changes for the better would only serve to increase out enjoyment and love of the game of basketball.
Mario normally writes about craft beer but today indulged in his love of sports. If you'd like to read more from Mario, check out his regular blog at www.BrewedForThought.com where the topic is craft beer.