March 27, 2011
In an attempt to give its audience a better product and ease the strain on National Basketball Association management, the NBA installed a rule that prohibits players that are not at least one year removed from high school from entering their name into the NBA draft. This rule was made to protect the integrity of the league and raise the quality of basketball being played in games by putting athletes into college programs. Theoretically, the one-and-done rule gives the student-athletes a year of college to mature emotionally, a year of basketball at a higher level which prepares them for the professional level, and gives general managers another year to assess their talent against better competition and in different systems. In theory, this rule is beneficial to both college and professional basketball because it showcases the best talent in college and forces them to play within the constraints of an established coach’s system. That, in turn, readies them for learning and excelling at a pro style offense. However, the one-and-done rule does not produce any of its intended results for the National College Athletic Association or the NBA. It depletes college basketball of its most valuable resource while simultaneously reducing the quality of its product. It often suffocates the creativity and thus the effectiveness of players while acclimating them to a new system and the new surroundings of a college campus. And consequently, they become less valuable to NBA general managers because of poorer play at the lower levels.
College basketball is suffering due to the one-and-done rule. Proponents of the rule say that the fans of college basketball would miss seeing the best talent in college basketball if the rule did not exist. Freshman phenoms like Derrick Rose and Greg Oden would never have played in the Final Four if the rule was not in place. College fans would have been robbed of seeing the clutch shooting antics of freshman, Brandon Knight, during the 2011 NCAA tournament, or the upset of the overall number 1 seed, Ohio State, led by freshman Jared Sullinger. The fact that these freshman define the state of college basketball, is proof that play in college basketball has attenuated greatly. Knight and Sullinger are talented basketball players and will play professionally, however they are not the dominant players that Rose and Oden were in their freshman years. They lack the physical explosiveness and emotional impact on the game that those two players had. Rose and Oden, by all accounts could have made the jump from high school to the pros seamlessly. Knight and Sullinger would have had to attend college. At the conclusion of this basketball season, Knight and Sullinger will not ready to play professional basketball, but they probably will leave college anyway. Though the talent that enters the college basketball landscape is steadily increasing, the level of talent staying in college and the play and cohesion of teams is diminishing rapidly. Because it behooves them to leave after one year of college, the best freshman jump into the NBA draft regardless of their readiness to play at the next level or how it depletes their college team. For a freshman with NBA potential, every year that they stay in college is another year decreasing their overall earning potential in the NBA. 3 years costs the average NBA player at least $3-5 million dollars. In addition to simple economics, there is no guarantee that a player’s draft stock will rise with extra years of college. For every Brandon Roy that became a star and a lottery pick during his senior year, there is a David Lighty who could have left after his freshman season and been drafted in the first round with his teammates, but now is not going to be drafted before the 2nd round. For every Tim Duncan that stayed four years and honed his game to become one of the best players in college and NBA history, there is a Kalin Lucas, who could have been a lottery pick after his sophomore season, and now may go undrafted because of numerous injuries. The most logical step for gifted freshmen is to enter the NBA draft. The one-and-done rule and staying in college does not benefit players financially.
And, the one-and-done rule also hurts student-athletes’ growth as basketball players. College basketball coaches often stifle some of their most talented players. Dean Smith, the former coach of the North Carolina Tarheels who is regarded as one of the best coaches ever, was famous for being the only person to hold Michael Jordan’s scoring under 20 points. He also slowed James Worthy,Vince Carter, and Brad Daugherty. But at least with Coach Smith, the players learned basketball, honed other skills, and eventually excelled at it. He also guided less talented players like Serge Zwikker, Pete Chilcutt, and George Lynch into the pros. He was one one of the few teachers of fundamentals in basketball. Most tenured coaches across the nation, do not help improve the skills of their players. Under Coach Krzyzewski at Duke University, if you do play the guard position in his system, you will not improve your skills and be drafted in the lottery. Christin Laetner, his best big man, was drafted because he learned to play on the wing. As a senior, he shot 50% from behind the arc and proved versatile enough to drafted high. Elton Brand and Sheldon Williams, two other Duke posts that were drafted in the lottery, never improved as basketball players. They never developed a go to move and therefore, never became dominant at the next level. Their basketball growth was stunted playing under Krzyzewski. Miles Plumlee, a current Duke big man, has regressed offensively in Krzyzewski’s guard-friendly offensive system, despite being one of the most physically-gifted centers that he has ever coached. Other coaches like Roy Williams, Bill Self, Rick Barnes, and Billy Donovan, who all reside at highly touted basketball campuses, simply plug the best athletes into positions in their systems and ready themselves for another year of basketball. If a player does not fit, he is relegated to the bench. Players, under these coaches, over the course of four years, never increase their skill level. Why would a player stay in college, bring millions of dollars in endorsements to the school without being paid, ignore the millions of dollars that await them at the next level, all without bettering their position in the draft? A student-athlete that opts to enter the draft, has the best NBA personnel and former players to teach them how to shoot, dribble, and apply skills to different situations, at their disposal. The one-and-done rule stunts player development, by forcing college kids into a system that does not necessarily fit their skill set, by not refining those skills, and by robbing the high school players of better teachers.
Most of all though, the actual team play of college basketball has regressed because of the one-and-done rule. Prior to forcing high school graduates into colleges for one year of basketball, the best basketball players made the leap into the National Basketball Association, and those that were not ready went to campuses of higher learning. Players that were unsure about there status in the league, played college ball until they had done enough to make the jump to the pros. Sometimes, it only took one year to make the decision to enter the draft; often, it took two to three years. And, college basketball reaped the benefits of this. College teams were stacked with NBA talent, because players waited until their stock was at its peak to leave college. High ranking Division I teams commonly boasted three to four pros on each squad. The national champions often had five or more future professional basketball players on it. The quality of the basketball being played was high, because teams with national rankings had juniors and seniors playing a prominent role in the outcomes of games. The teams had more experience playing at a higher level and more time in their coaches’ system, so they executed plays and strategies better. The player knew each others’ tendencies, where they liked to catch the basketball, and where they were on the basketball court without thinking, because they had played together for years. Teams played faster and more effectively with the higher repetitions. Now college basketball has more talent, but far less experience. The college game looks unpolished and unfinished. Games are often decided by a blunder by an inexperienced player rather than a great play by an established star. The lack of familiarity with the system and teammates is caused by the one-and-done rule, and it hurts the flow and the finish of NCAA basketball. The NCAA tournament, college basketball’s crowning achievement, has been marred by the poor play inexperienced teams. The governing bodies in the NCAA say that there is great parity in the tournament this year, but they insinuate that the smaller conference teams have improved enough to challenge the bigger, power conferences. Truthfully, small teams like Butler and Virginia Common Wealth have improved their basketball programs, but they will play in the Final Four this year because conferences like the Big East and Big 12 underachieved greatly. The one-and-done rule has had one large unintended effect. The large schools still attract the best talent, but they also lose the talent every year. They have no stability in the players that they will put on the floor from year to year, and therefore the coaches constantly tweak their strategies and philosophy which leads to inconsistency in their teams. Against college basketball teams with inferior talent, programs like Kentucky and UNC dominate their competition. When they face competition with similar talent and some experience, a comedy of errors often ensues. College teams from the smaller conferences have not caught up with the higher profile teams. The big-name basketball schools regularly put substandard squads onto the court and lose to better quality, smaller teams. The one-and-done rule has lessened the effectiveness of the big schools to execute good basketball and the overall quality of play for the NCAA tournament.
Surprisingly, the National Basketball Association has reaped no benefits from their rule either. League management assumed that the reason that professional basketball’s product and therefore viewing audiences were declining was because the talent was decreasing. They thought that general managers were drafting players that were too young solely on their potential, and that the year of playing college basketball would make the drafting process easier for their franchises’ general managers. Hypothetically, a year of polish would help players become better decision makers, and give individual management a clear view of a player’s gifts. The problem with that viewpoint is that, the same inept general managers that made poor decisions based on team need and financial decisions only, made the same poor decisions with the added information. The same management teams that drafted well before the one-and-done rule was in existence, drafted well after it was established. The problem was not necessarily the players, though a few did flourish under the strict rule of college coaches. The problem was the NBA offices. They over-valued raw athleticism and drafted players that were to under-developed skill-wise to play in the NBA immediately. Unskilled players languished on NBA benches and cost quite a few general managers their positions. The answer to the poorly played basketball riddle was not to force players into college, but to find the players that were ready to fill a role once drafted.
By far, the best players in the NBA over the last decade, have been prep to pros players. Basketball is dissimilar to football in that, the physical maturation that happens in the late teens and early twenties does not separate the talent as much. Basketball relies on size and skill equally as much as athleticism, so the added pounds of muscle that the average player gains in those years are not necessary, though they do help. Moses Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett are former NBA MVP’s. Malone is already a Hall of Fame player, and the other two are sure Hall of Fame candidates that never played a game of college basketball. Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal, Shawn Kemp, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Amare Stoudemire, and Rashard Lewis played in multiple All-Star games and have dominated the league at their positions. Plus, NBA rosters are littered with dozens of players that never stepped on a college campus, but are the leaders of or significant contributors to their teams, like Monta Ellis, Kendrick Perkins, Andrew Bynum, J.R. Smith, Al Jefferson, Al Harrington, and Tyson Chandler to name a few. However, the biggest argument towards dismissing the one-and-done rule is LeBron James. Kobe Bryant is historically the second-best scoring guard that has ever played professional basketball, but he took two years to show indications of what he would become. The National Basketball Association has never seen a physical talent like LeBron James. He walked into the history books in his inaugural season by completing a feat that only two people had done before him, averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in his first year. He went on to do what only three other people in NBA history have done by averaging 30 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds in the same year. He is one two people to average 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists for 6 consecutive seasons. He is the only player in NBA history to average 26, 6, and 6 for his career. And he is the youngest player to do just about everything in the NBA record books. How can anyone validate forcing a talent like LeBron James into college? He dominated professional basketball from his first year until now. High school basketball translates more readily to professional basketball than college basketball. A high school team with a player that has the natural ability of a professional, fits their team concept around that player’s skills. The coach puts the basketball in his hands and tells him to go make a play. In the NBA, play is similar. Since it is a star-driven league, the best player always has the ball and takes the most shots. The coaches job is dependent upon how well he utilizes his star and how many games he wins. College coaches are only concerned with wins and losses, not the development of their athletes. The one-and-done rule robs the National Basketball Association of their most valuable resource, their talent pool.
The one-and-done rule has failed both college and professional basketball. Though the NCAA tournament is ripe with the upsets that fuel its following, the quality of play has waned uncontrollably. The smaller schools can compete with the power schools because of the attrition of basketball at those schools. The star power that drives both leagues is diminishing because of the lack of well-executed basketball and the lack of polished, experienced basketball talent. If players are talented enough to play in the National Basketball Association, then there is no good reason to stifle them in college basketball. However, if the players are not polished enough to play in the league, then they should not be drafted. Instead of forcing kids whose future is obviously in professional sports to attend college for one semester, why not force NBA general managers to pick the kids who are ready to play?