The NBA’s one-and-done rule remains one of the most contentious issues in the sport. Last week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that the rule could use some tweaks.
“My sense is it’s not working for anyone,” Silver said before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Since being instituted in 2006, the NBA’s one-and-done rule has transformed college basketball. Under current rules, players must be a year removed from high school graduation or 19 years old to enter the NBA draft.
The rule was created to curb the growing trend of top talent leaving for the NBA early. Unfortunately, it’s effectively done the opposite. The league needs to reform this rule, on both ends.
Ten freshmen were selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. Draft Express expects that number to explode to 16 in the 2017 draft. Nine of the top 10 prospects are freshmen, including consensus top-two picks Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball.
Before the rule went into effect, basketball was not like this. In 2005, the last NBA draft before the rule went into effect, only one freshman was selected in the first round: Marvin Williams from North Carolina. Four other high school players joined him. The year before, only Luol Deng left school after a year and got picked in the first round, though eight high school players were also selected.
It appears the rule lowered the threshold for players who consider themselves “one-and-done” level prospects. While leaving school early to be a top pick makes sense, players are almost completely disavowing the benefits of staying in school because they go in considering themselves “one-and-done” players.
Kentucky big man Bam Adebayo is a notable example in this year’s draft. He likely is not ready to contribute at an NBA level, but both Adebayo and John Calipari planned for his departure from the second he stepped on campus. Former Duke point guard Tyus Jones also opted to leave early after the Blue Devils’ national championship largely because he saw his peers doing the same.
Ultimately, players are heading to the NBA less developed than ever.
“It’s not working for the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from,” Silver said. “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.”
While the discussion is often limited to the NBA, college basketball also is suffering because of the rule. Players are leaving earlier, causing the sport to become more inconsistent.
The most recent trend is making a mockery of college athletics. LSU’s Ben Simmons is a notable example of a player who joined a program without any intentions of going to class. He reportedly left the day after his season ended since he did not care about having to stay eligible. The only thing keeping him out of the league was a dumb rule.
Rather than forcing every kid to go to school, the NBA and NCAA should work together to establish a baseball-like rule.
The MLB allows players to enter the draft right out of high school. However, if a player attends a college program, they must stay for at least three years. That way, players who are ready can earn money for their families. If they go to college, they stay long enough to truly become part of the program and take advantage of educational opportunities.
More than almost any other sport, basketball athletes are able to compete at 18 and 19. Athleticism develops early enough, and many teenagers have been trained to the point where they have an NBA skill set earlier than ever. Players at the caliber of LeBron James or Simmons deserve to play in the NBA when they are ready.
Additionally, college kids should be incentivized to unpack their bags and establish roots within a program. That isn’t necessarily the case when they can dip out after a year.
Maybe three years – baseball’s rule – is too long to wait. Two years might be more appropriate. Regardless, the baseball model is proven.
Helping college basketball
Obviously, losing some of the top players in each class will hurt college basketball. But it did benefit from getting to see Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. In this system, perhaps none of them would have played in college.
However, only a few players every year will feel they are ready for the NBA immediately. Like in years before the one-and-done, though, many will go to college and stay for multiple years.
“I think we would welcome longer stays,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told SEC Country. “In fact, I know we’d welcome longer stays. If there’s a change to the one-and-done rule, that has to be made between the NBA and the NBA players association, and we understand and respect that.”
That system helps fans make relationships with players. It brings college basketball closer to its purest form, where it develops players and also helps them attain educational and personal goals. It’s hard to believe that can really happen in a year. Two or three years is much more realistic. Heck, imagine where Kentucky would be if Calipari got to keep Anthony Davis, Devin Booker and Towns for multiple seasons.
Obviously, some top players would not play college basketball. Not getting to see that talent is a loss. Regardless, development within the college game would be better off because of it.