The NBA Draft is as young as it has ever been. Fueled by the high school sensations of the early and mid 2000’s, the prized players of every year’s draft are now the raw and moldable 19 year olds with seemingly unlimited upside.
The one and done system owns the lottery, as the last #1 pick older than 20 was Yao Ming in 2002, and if you are just looking at the top of the draft, the system looks successful with many of the league’s stars benefiting from the one and done era.
But once you look past the first round, recent drafts tell a different story. NBA ready 21 and 22 years olds have been swept into the second round by unproven freshmen drafted solely on potential.
Yes, it is true that a prospect will improve exponentially given time to adjust to the game at the collegiate level, but that does not mean that a freshman averaging eight points-a-game is a can’t miss prospect just because he appears to have the physical tools to excel at the next level.
You can’t value what a prospect might be able to do in five or six years more than what they have already shown you. The scales have tipped too far in the last decade, and it is starting to show as we look back on recent drafts.
Jordan Clarkson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Montrezl Harrell, Josh Richardson, Norman Powell, Malcolm Brogdon, Dillon Brooks, Jalen Brunson, Eric Paschall are all second round picks in the last six years, and all of them made their NBA debuts at the age of 21 or older.
Every NBA General Manager in the league would be more than happy to get a prospect of this caliber in the first round. The fact of the matter is scouts and general managers have been viewing older players as damaged goods at the age of 22 and have become too enamored with 19 year olds who have a very small body of work.
In the last 10 years, there have been 11 second round picks who made an NBA All-Rookie Team. Of those 11, 10 were 21 or older to start their rookie season, but that is just taking into account the rookie seasons of these players.
According to analytics from the University of California at Berkeley, of all second round picks drafted between 2009 and 2013, 40% of those players that were still active as of March 2019 were drafted after their senior season. Furthermore, of the players drafted in that same five year period, more players drafted after their junior year are still active than any other class.
It’s simple. Second round picks have a very low success rate, but it is consistently the upperclassmen that defy the odds and make a career for themselves. It is time to stop seeing these players as lacking a high ceiling just because they wanted to stay in school.
Let’s take a look at this year’s NBA draft prospects. Payton Pritchard, a point guard from Oregon, averaged 20.5 points on 47% shooting and 5.5 assists in his senior season with the Ducks guiding the team to a 24-7 record and a #13 ranking in the country earning him a Consensus First Team All-American nod.
Cole Anthony was a freshman point guard at North Carolina. He averaged 18.5 points a game, but on a horrendous 38% from the field. He missed almost two months of the season, and in the 22 games he did play, the Tarheels went 10-12.
One of these guards will be drafted in the lottery this year. The other will most likely fall to the mid to late second round. I’ll give you a hint: The lottery pick isn’t the proven All-American with a full body of work.
To be clear, I am in no way saying that Pritchard will have a better career than Anthony, but the disparity in draft stock between the two is a blatant example of how age is overvalued in the scouting process.
This year’s draft is filled with talented juniors and seniors who won’t even sniff the first round. Seven out of the ten Consensus All-Americans were upperclassmen. Luka Garza, Markus Howard, Udoka Azubuike, Cassius Winston, Myles Powell, Malachi Flynn, and Payton Pritchard will all likely hear their name called long after the green room has cleared out with the Barclays Center half full.
It is hard for me to look at everything those seven players have accomplished in their collegiate careers and imagine less than two or three of them turning into legitimate starting caliber players in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the lottery is composed mostly of freshmen who have not even proven themselves on the college level. Anthony Edwards was inconsistent at best in his freshman year with the Georgia Bulldogs, and greatly under-performed in what was supposed to be a transcendent year for the program.
James Wiseman played a grand total of three games at Memphis before being ruled ineligible and leaving the school. Lamelo Ball played 12 games in Australia’s NBL before shutting it down for the draft after a minor injury. Jaden Mcdaniels struggled all season shooting 40% from the field for a mediocre Washington team.
All of these prospects are almost sure fire lottery picks solely based off of their performance against high school competition. How can we value these players so much higher than All-Americans!
The 2020 Draft may very well be a tipping point. In five years, are we going to look back at the talented and proven crop of seniors that were passed up for freshmen drafted mostly on what they did in high school and wonder what we were all thinking?
The one and done system has brought us unbelievable talent to the NBA, and many players only need one year of college to be NBA ready, but how do we know when the system has gone too far? How many more second round steals do we need to see before things change? For now this is all unclear, but the 2020 Draft may give us some answers.