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|Kendrick Perkins, above, was a late first round pick out of high school in the 2003 draft.(Courtesy of NBA.com)|
In the last few years, the Celtics have drafted or traded for a few players that came directly from high school to the NBA (Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Kevin Garnett). Before the NBA draft lottery, it was looking like the C’s were going to get either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Both were freshman phenoms, and if there was no NBA age limit (at least 19 years old) in place, they probably would’ve gone straight to the draft in 2006. With Oden’s new injury that could sideline him the entire 2007-08 season, it got me thinking. Would Oden be suffering the same injury if he went right to the NBA?
Now, I know it’s a blanket statement, but it’s worth thinking about. I think it’s definitely possible that Oden may not have suffered this injury if he went directly to the pros. My argument is that he probably wouldn’t have played that many minutes to begin with at the pro level. He probably also wouldn’t be in a playoff situation in his rookie season because he would be an early lottery pick on a presumably bad team, so there would be no pressure on him to play at a high level. In his only season in college at the Ohio State University, Oden played much of the year with a hand injury. He also led his team to the NCAA Championship Game. He was facing media attention and piling pressure to play hard and play well. He probably shouldn’t have burned himself out…but what if he did? What if playing in college burned him out?
USAToday’s Ian O’Connor was vehemently against the age limit. He said that the players should be old enough out of high school to make their own decisions. If they can enlist in the army, join a worker’s union, and NOT go to college, then why can’t they go to the NBA?
Eighteen-year-olds with no interest in college can apply for work in a bank, a clothing store, an Army platoon, whatever. Under Stern’s initiative, LeBron James couldn’t have signed for the $103 million Nike was ready to give him out of St. Vincent-St. Mary, not to mention the top-pick pocket change the Cleveland Cavaliers were prepared to throw into the pot.
How absurd is that? As absurd as the notion that the prom-to-the-pros trend is sucking the lifeblood out of the NBA. Already among the league’s five best players, James has been charged to single-handedly save the Cavs from an epic collapse. Amare Stoudemire is an All-Star member of a desert juggernaut, and Tracy McGrady is holding up just fine in Houston. Rashard Lewis has recovered nicely from those draft-night tears. Kobe Bryant won three titles before his 24th birthday. Kevin Garnett has carried himself with dignity since he kick-started this procession 10 years back.
It may sound like I’m a proponent for the abolition of the NBA age limit, but I actually think it’s a good thing for the NBA, and a really good thing for basketball fans in general.
The limit allows players to develop at a more relaxed pace. Besides Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard, and others, there are numerous disappointing players drafted right out of high school. Kwame Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, etc. have all taken a long time to develop.
It has to be difficult to go from playing 25 games per season in high school to 82 games per season in the NBA. Young players, despite their youth, tend to tire out at a faster rate during the long season. If they were to go to college first (where they would play 35 games) they would be better ready for the long NBA season.
In college, players have the chance to earn a free education, and have a chance to make a name for themselves early. They can also learn to handle the media at a young age and slower pace (Let’s face it, the NCAA players do not get as much coverage as NBA players). College players will also have the chance to gain valuable post-season experience on a big stage.
For example, Carlos Boozer (a 2nd round pick in the 2002 draft) was far more prepared than Kwame Brown (the No. 1 pick in 2001). Boozer won an NCAA Championship with Duke in 2001, gaining valuable playoff experience. Brown has averaged 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in his career, which has included several off-the-court incidents. Most college players have a chance to learn discipline before making the pros. Brown chose to not have this luxury and has paid the price.
I mean, just look at Telfair. He looked lost at times last season as a point guard. There was a reason he was getting like 10 minutes per night by the end of the season. He wasn’t even good enough to play when the team was marred by injuries. Telfair also had some off-the-court issues, but he’s dealt with those (maybe). We will see if he’ll ever take off and develop like prognosticators figured.
Just look at the fan aspect of it: can you imagine LeBron James in college? How about Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant? Where would they play? Would they turn out differently?
Interesting questions, but no answers.