Revisiting the NBA’s One-and-Done Rule


This is what you get when you draft college freshmen.

The National Basketball Association instituted a rule that requires its players to attend college for one year or be one year removed from their high school graduation in order to be eligible for its annual draft at the conclusion of every basketball season. The rule was put into place to protect players from entering the draft too early and ruining their professional careers, and to protect general managers from drafting athletes that are too immature to handle the pressures of becoming an overnight celebrity while playing longer games in different cities every night. In theory, it could help both the NBA franchises and the players by taking the pressure off of general managers to find the next Kobe Bryant, and allowing basketball players to mature a little more before making their favorite hobby their new profession.

But, there are three major flaws in the one-and-done rule. One, general managers are making the same mistakes even though the highly-touted players are getting another year of basketball at a higher level. Two, there is no real difference in most players after one year of college (or more realistically one semester), and the best players in the NBA are athletes who jumped straight from high school. And three, the one-and-done rule significantly diminishes the overall quality of basketball in the NBA. The one-and-done rule has failed.

The first supposed strength for the one-and-done rule is that it protects general managers and players by prohibiting immature athletes from being drafted too early. However, the rule does not adequately shield general managers from picking players that will negatively impact their teams, because most NBA general managers are inept at their jobs, and playing basketball at the college level for such a short time period can be more detrimental to a player’s development than helpful. The one-and-done rule forces players to play at a level that is below their abilities and forces them to conform to a playing style that might not fit their talents. College coaches often hold more power than the college president ( For instance,who is the head basketball coach at Duke University and who is the AD or president? Most casual fans can name Coach K, but not the other faculty), and the athletes that do not conform to the coaches desires will not play and possibly hurt their development. Some players do walk into the perfect situation to showcase their talents, like Derrick Rose or Carmelo Anthony. But, there are many more cases where the players skills are stifled until they get to the next level, like Rajon Rondo, Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, or Russell Westbrook. And after a year of diminished playing time and deflated college statistics, the NBA general managers still have to draft the same players because of their potential at the next level rather than their production in college. One extra year of basketball does not better prepare an athlete for basketball at the highest level, nor does it make management teams any better at assessing talent. Only a few franchises consistently collect players that significantly aide their teams. The Los Angeles Lakers, the Portland Trailblazers, and the San Antonio Spurs consistently get the best talent in the draft. The Houston Rockets, the Chicago Bulls, and the Atlanta Hawks draft unconventionally, but their rosters are always full of solid players. Almost every other team in the NBA drafts poorly.

The second major flaw to the one-and-done rule is that some of the best players in NBA history have gone straight to the pros from high school. With very few exceptions, the players that dominate in the National Basketball Association came straight from high school. From the older generation of prep to pro like Moses Malone or Darryl Dawkins to Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and many other current superstars, straight to the pros players ruled basketball over the last fifty years. A study by a visiting Harvard Law researcher, Michael McCann, actually proved that the best players in the NBA have been prep-to-pros players. The one-and-done rule was created to stop players from deciding to leave school early, but the problem does not lie with the player. It lies with the management team and its decisions. McCann, who is also the director of the Sports Law Institute at the University of Vermont Law School, conducted another study that revealed four-year players and high school athletes face similar struggles as they transition to the NBA. So, there is no significant difference between the transition that a kid who enters the NBA straight out of high school would make and a player who left college would make, except that their earning potential could be cut by as much as $100 million dollars. Forcing these men to go to college saves owners money on contracts and diminishes players’ career earnings without any real positive consequences for the athletes. In college, these players learn a new system that may not utilize the strengths of their games when they could be learning their craft at the highest level from teachers who specialize in improving fundamentals.

“A lot of players, relatively high draft picks who played four years of college, have struggled,” said McCann. “I think that’s because the college game is so much different.”

The third desultory fact about the one-and-done rule is that it negatively affects the quality of basketball in the NBA. NBA athletes are getting progressively bigger, stronger, and faster, but they are also becoming increasingly less skilled. A casual fan probably could not name five pure shooters in the league today when just ten years ago there was one on every squad. Today’s players seldom learn the fundamentals of the game before practicing crossovers and dunks. AAU basketball, And 1 culture, and the lack of teachers in college basketball have all contributed to the decline of basic basketball. Hence, the quality of the game of basketball being played at the lower levels is exponentially worse now than it has been in thirty years, despite the athletes being better than ever. The addition of the one-and-done rule has also had a few unintended consequences. It has decimated the game of college basketball. In years past at the college level, some of the more physically talented players have had to wait to get on the court because their fundamentals and their understanding of the game were not up to par with more established players. Both John Wooden and Dean Smith were notorious for benching freshmen, but they were also well-respected for making their players better basketball players and men. They taught them to set picks, to use back cuts, and to work without the basketball. Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller made Hall of Fame careers out of moving without the basketball and scoring off of screens and cuts. Today’s programs like the University of Kentucky regularly boast line-ups littered with the best freshmen in the nation, but rarely improve their skill sets. They do not learn how to score without isolating on the wing. The proliferation of college kids joining and leaving teams decimates college basketball. It puts less skilled athletes in important roles, because they have more natural ability. College teams now have less chemistry, their plays have less continuity, and coaches lose credibility because they have to woo and coddle the more talented freshman rather than building their programs. And, younger, more talented athletes never learn to play within a team concept or improve specific skills. The one-and-done rule is just giving immature players a bigger stage to confuse scouts.

The one-and-done rule is also inherently biased against one group of people. It has been called racist, but that term is harsh and presumes that the NBA suppressed access to the league on the basis of outright prejudice. David Stern and the powers that be (the man) never crowded into a small, secluded room hidden away from society and decided to screw young Black athletes out of millions of dollars. No, owners wanted a viable option for giving millions of dollars to young athletes that could not give them quick returns on their investments (the exorbitant salaries). Granted, treating a man’s physical ability to work as an investment sounds eerily fairly similar to slavery, but in the NBA, the employees get a big payoff and there is no threat of lynching for poor play. They get paid more money than most people will earn in a lifetime over the course of a decade to play the sport that they would play for free. That is not the exact model of racism. However, the one-and-done rule only affects black men, so there is a fundamental bias.

The one-and-done rule is flawed. Regardless of the provisions made by the governing body of the National Basketball Association, the draft is plagued by various separate obstacles. The general managers invariably choose the wrong players, the game of basketball is in an ever-declining flux because players are drafted on potential not production and visible effective skill level, and the quality of the game of basketball suffers because of it. If a better substitute for the one-and-done rule is not found soon, the NBA may lose its hold on the market and ultimately itself.


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