Not only do the Minnesota Timberwolves have the worst GM in the NBA (especially with the recent firings of Billy Knight in Philly and Isiah Thomas in New York), but they also have the worst luck when it comes to NBA Lottery ping-pong balls. Yes they did have the league’s third-worst record and got the third pick, but when Chicago gets the #1 pick when they had only a 2% chance to do so, well, you can’t help but feel a little frustrated. Picking third means they miss out on the two can’t miss prospects in the draft in the Best Player In the Draft Derrick Rose and The Guy Who Will Go First Michael Beasley. After that, it’s a pretty sketchy group with very few if any sure things. Right now NBA draft guru Chad Ford has Minnesota taking Stanford 7 footer Brook Lopez, which would be funny if it wasn’t destined to happen. Lopez definitely qualifies as a Big Ugly White Center, and sometime before the draft I’ll explain why you never take one of those in the first round. Ever! I don’t care what Chad Ford or any other draft expert says: Lopez is the next Andrew Bogut.
Anyway, someone else who is sure to be on the Wolves radar is OJ Mayo, who is getting attention these days for all the wrong reasons (after the Reggie Bush fiasco resulted in nothing, if USC doesn’t burn for this thing with Mayo, what’s the point in all of these NCAA rules? Actually what’s the point of all of these NCAA rules anyway. I think they call that a segue…). As I’m sure you’ve heard Mayo allegedly took cash from an agent before enrolling at USC, which woulda/coulda/shoulda made him ineligible last season. Whatever the investigation brings, Mayo will be untouched by the NCAA and making millions in the NBA by next month. Every media outlet has weighed in on the Mayo allegations, from some guy named Luke Winn on SI.com to wiley veteran sports writers Tim Keown and Gene Wojciechowski (who both used to write for SI) and college hoops guru Andy Katz on ESPN.com.
While their venom is spewed in varying directions, all four, as well as just about everyone else I’ve read or heard on the topic, come to the following conclusion: the NBA Age Limit (which says players must be 19 and/or one year removed from high school) is the problem here, and if we’d just get rid of it and allow high school kids back in the draft, we’d have a lot less OJ Mayo’s to whine about.
While they're all excellent basketball writers and smart guys, they're wrong. The Draft limit is not the problem- the NCAA is. And getting rid of the draft age limit is not the solution: the solution is a true minor league system.
Allow me to explain…
Look I don't disagree that this whole convoluted system of trying to push basketball players through college for a year or two is messed up, or that the high school and AAU scenes are flawed and in bad need of an overhaul. But the fact is, 18 year old kids are NOT ready for the NBA. I know, I know, Lebron James was 18 when he took the league by force. No argument there. Good lord look at his numbers from his 18 and 19 year old seasons:
2003-04 39.5 MINS 20.9 PTS 5.5 REB 5.9 AST 41.7 FG% 18.3 PER
2004-05 42.4 MINS 27.2 PTS 7.4 REB 7.2 AST 47.2 FG% 25.74 PER
Holy cripes that is sick and wrong! Let there be no doubt that King James was ready, and is the most physically gifted basketball player we've ever seen. But please, somebody, ANYBODY, give me another example from the last 40 years, other than Moses Malone, of a teenager who was ready to jump into the league, be a starter and make an impact. These two are the exception, people: NOT THE RULE.
I also hear from those who oppose the age limit "Look at the best players in the league! Look at how many of them never went to college! Lebron! Kobe! KG! D-Howard! T-Mac! Amare!" While it's true that these stars have been very successful in the NBA without spending one single solitary second on a college campus, there is still ZERO evidence to suggest that jumping straight to the NBA from high school was the best way to develop their skills.
Here are the numbers for the aforementioned NBA superstars for their teen years after high school (KG, Howard, and Amare were all 19 their rookie year. Oh, and remember a PER of 15 is league average):
96-97 15.5 MINS 7.6 PTS 1.9 REB 1.3 AST 41.7 FG% 14.4 PER
97-98 26.0 MINS 15.4 PTS 3.1 REB 2.5 AST 42.8 FG% 18.5 PER
95-96 28.7 MINS 10.4 PTS 6.3 REB 1.6 BLK 49.1 FG% 15.8 PER
04-05 32.6 MINS 12.0 PTS 10.0 REB 1.7 BLK 52 FG% 17.27 PER
97-98 18.4 MINS 7.0 PTS 4.2 REB 1.5 AST 45 FG% 17.4 PER
98-99 22.6 MINS 9.3 PTS 5.6 REB 2.3 AST 43.6 FG% 20.6 PER
02-03 31.3 MINS 13.5 PTS 8.7 REB 1.1 BLK 47.2 FG% 16.23 PER
Not exactly Lebron-type impacts, were they? While they all became stars by their third season, they were not taking over the league as rookies. And while you could argue that the on-the-job training they got as rookies were better than college or any minor leagues 1) we don't know that for sure and 2) what about all the high school flameouts we've seen? Guys like Dajuan Wagner, Darius Miles, Kwame Brown, Gerald Green, and many more were teenagers when they came into the league and never made it because either the pressure of starting was too much, or they were buried on the bench and never got the chance. And sure, some of them might not have made it no matter what the system in place was, but shouldn't we have more options for development than trying to crack an NBA roster at 18 or 19?
NBA rosters are small, and there just isn’t playing time for everybody there. The NBA is not a developmental league, and it shouldn’t be. What is needed is a real minor league system for basketball. Baseball, hockey, and even international soccer have excellent developmental pro leagues. They are allowed to draft kids right out of high school, yet instead of having them toil on the end of the bench, they’re sent to the minors, or back to juniors or college (in hockey’s case), or are loaned out to play for smaller clubs (soccer). They can develop at their own pace, and when they’re ready to make an impact, then, and only then, do they get the call up to the big club.
EVERYONE benefits from this system. Pros can select kids and don’t have to worry about developing them on the fly, and the players get put in an environment more conducive to them learning the pro game. Everyone wins. So why hasn’t this happened with basketball? One word, or acronym: The NCAA.
The NCAA has been exposed as a poor way of developing NBA talent. Too many restrictions and not enough practice time means players don’t get the coaching or development time to make them effective pros. Would it make any sense to tell accounting students “you can only use your calculator for your homework for 10 hours per week.”? Of course not, yet the NCAA limits practice and game time for college athletes in much the same who are trying to learn their craft to become professionals.
The NCAA continues to and will forever try to hold onto the crock of sh*t that men’s football and basketball players are students athletes who are there to get an education and, oh by the way make universities and their presidents billions by playing sports. There’s a gigantic double-standard here for these two sports over any other that both the NCAA and Title IX will never allow us to handle properly.
First, the NCAA will NOT give up the billions of dollars they make off of football and basketball and share it with the players. Will never happen. Paying players in these two sports would alleviate the problem of agents or booster paying players illegally. It needs to happen but never will because the NCAA will not share, and nobody can force them to. Furthermore, even if that system ever started, the fine folks who continue to champion Title IX would never allow only male football and basketball players to get paid because that wouldn’t be fair to the women (not to mention male wrestlers, golfers, baseball players, or track athletes. But conveniently the male athletes in non-revenue sports never seem to get brought up by the feminists), even though, you know, the massive revenues are being made by men in these two sports.
The thought has been floated of shoe contract money going to the players instead of the coaches, but again the lovely folks of Title IX would sue until it was spread to all athletes for “fairness and equality”. Awesome, and it doesn’t solve the problem. The NCAA could also allow high school graduates to be drafted but not signed. If a kid wants to go to school first, he goes, and while he does not sign a contract or get any money from the team, he is under that team’s control for the next four or five years. When he’s ready to leave school- be it after one year of four- he the signs a pro contract and either joins the pro team or is sent to the minors. For the life of me I have been able to find an explanation on why the NCAA allows this for hockey, and yet does not for baseball, basketball, or football.
College basketball as it stands has passed its usefulness for developing pro players, and the only solution for the “one-and-dones” and creepy agent guys and tag-alongs is to make a real minor league. And don't even get me started on the NBA's current "developmental league", the NBDL. It has 14 teams with no affiliations to NBA teams. What the NBA needs are 30 minor league teams divided into three 10 team leagues. 8 teams make the playoffs in each league to give players more experience and playing time, and then the three league champs play a round-robin-style “Champions League” tourney to crown the minor league champ.
Each NBA team would have its own roster to fill with players that they could call up or send down, just like in baseball or hockey. The young kids would have a chance to develop at their own pace with proper coaching and LOTS of practice. Older vets and fringe players would also be given a better opportunity to make an impression. Not only that, all of your players would be playing NBA-style basketball instead of college or FIBA international rules.
This is the obvious solution, and yet no one seems to understand it. What's more, instead of each NBA team being forced to fund a WNBA team, why not have them fund something that will actually benefit themselves and the sport by funding a minor league team of their own? Instead of drafting kids who aren't ready for the league and hoping like hell that throwing them into the fire will teach them to play in the NBA, teams could draft kids on potential and know they'd have time to train and develop them properly. Yes, Lebron, KG, and Kobe may have benefited eventually from not going to college, but for many more we’ll never know what could have been.
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