During the 2017 NBA Draft, 10 of the first 11 players selected were college freshmen. In total, 17 first round picks were selected just one year after their high school graduation. Many of those 17 players would have no doubt preferred to at least have the option of entering the draft right out of high school, and many of them still would have been first round picks. The same can be said for players like Ben Simmon the year before, Jahlil Okafor the year before that, Andrew Wiggins the year before that, and so on.
Of course, with the NBA’s so-called one-and-done rule, short of playing overseas, elite high school players have little choice but to spend a year in college before beginning their NBA career. To be fair, there are benefits to the rule, which has been far from a disaster. But the rule is imperfect, and the high volume of one-and-done players at the top of this year’s draft shows that. It’s time for the NBA to reconsider draft eligibility, and the model they should follow is the one used by Major League Baseball.
Under MLB rules, players can be drafted and sign with a team straight out of high school. However, if they don’t sign, they are not draft eligible for another three years. Presumably, they spend three or four years in college, using that time to develop their skills on the field and get a college education before pursuing a career as a professional athlete.
“Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: ‘Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake, but if after one year, you have options, that will be up to you and your family. Enjoy the college experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work. It’s not about family, it’s about business. So enjoy it.'”
There’s no reason why the NBA can’t operate in the same manner. One of the strongest practical arguments against the one-and-done rule is that it prevents 18-year old high school graduates from pursuing a professional career. Playing in the NBA is one profession that doesn’t require a college degree (although it can help), and so if a high school graduate thinks he’s ready for the NBA, he should be able to pursue that path right after graduation.
There are more than enough examples of players who were ready to make the jump straight to the NBA out of high school. Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Kevin Garnett all did, and there’s little reason to think that a player like Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz couldn’t have done it as well. As long as you have the talent and skills necessary, everyone should have the right to pursue a professional career, and the NBA should be no different.
On the other side, players regaining draft eligibility after three years would only accentuate the benefits of the one-and-done rule from the NBA’s perspective. After three years of college or playing overseas, the players entering the NBA Draft would be far more polished. Players would have more developed skill sets and be more developed physically. This would put them in a better position to contribute to an NBA roster right away. Teams would no longer be drafting purely on potential.
“It’s not working for the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. Our teams aren’t happy, either, in part because they don’t necessarily think the players who are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see.”
Of the last five NBA Rookie of the Year recipients, two (Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns) were hindered by the one-and-done rule and two (Damian Lillard and Malcolm Brogden) spent at least four years in college. There’s little middle ground in terms of NBA rookies who can contribute. Either they are elite talents who would have been ready coming out of high school or they are players who have benefited from three or four years in college.
The NBA adopting MLB’s draft eligibility rules would be the ideal solution to the one-and-done debate. Players who are ready for the NBA would not have to go through the charade of going to college for a year. Meanwhile, teams would either be drafted those elite high schoolers or polished college players. Either way, NBA teams would be drafting players more able to contribute right away.
Sooner or later, the cream will rise to the top. Players who belong in the NBA will get there, whether they go straight out of high school or spend three or four years in college first. In the long run, the NBA adopting MLB’s draft process will be what’s best for the league, for the players, and college basketball.