This is the time of year when just about everybody, it seems, talks about how terrible the NBA’s one-and-done rule is.
About how the players should stay in college for at least two years.
Or about how they shouldn’t be prohibited from entering the league directly out of high school.
Or even how restoring freshman ineligibility might be a good idea.
But the funny thing is, one-and-done may be the best system we have.
The first thing to remember is that this is an NBA stipulation, one achieved through collective bargaining with the players union and one that it will fight from going in either direction. The NCAA has nothing to do with it.
The other is that, contrary to the image of wholesale defections by freshmen that are supposedly ruining the college game, the average annual number of freshmen declaring for the draft since 2006 (when the current rule went into effect) is 8.2. That’s not even enough for a full scrimmage.
But because they dominate the top of the draft — the Pelicans’ game against Minnesota on Sunday featured the past three No. 1 picks in Anthony Davis (2012), Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014), all one-and-doners — their prominence is inflated.
And it won’t stop. NBADraft.net projects freshmen as this year’s first six collegians off the draft board.
Besides Davis, Bennett and Wiggins, the rosters for Sunday’s game featured five others who played only a single year in college: Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans, and Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine of the Timberwolves. None had the option of going directly to the NBA out of high school.
Gordon, the seventh pick in 2008 after a single season at Indiana, said that while he enjoyed playing for his home state Hoosiers, he would have preferred to at least have had the option to skip college.
“It definitely would be a possibility for me,” he said. “For some players, college helps get your body ready for a different style of play, but whenever you get a chance to play in the NBA, you have to take it. It would make the league even younger, though.”
Gordon certainly isn’t a fan of a two-and-done rule.
“Another year wouldn’t have done me much good,” he said. “How much better can you get? That’s the key.”
Likewise, Evans said he probably would have come out rather than spend a year at Memphis. Davis said he would have taken Kentucky over the NBA.
“I wasn’t ready mentally, physically or skill-wise,” he said.
Davis, who would be a senior this year if he had stayed in school — there’s a scary thought — said he would have benefited from another year in college because of the system coach John Calipari runs with the Wildcats.
“Cal’s coached in the NBA, so he knows how to get his players ready,” he said. “Even if we had to have stayed another year, I would have had more fun and probably have won another (NCAA) title.”
Houston’s Dwight Howard, whose draft class of 2004 was the next-to-last one with high schoolers, rejects the current prohibition.
“It can be a tough transition,” he said. “But in my case, I had a great support system and I was able to learn from the veterans about how to live the right way as a professional. I know some guys are used to being a big name, and it’s totally different for them. But guys should have the opportunity to decide for themselves instead of having it made for them.”
Sacramento coach George Karl is in favor of a form of that, giving players the option that exists in baseball: draft eligible after high school but not again until after three years in college.
“If you’re good enough to go after high school, that’s OK,” he said. “But there’s only a handful of them that are good enough. I think one-and-done diminishes the colleges and the pros. The NBA has plateaued because of that.”
Houston coach Kevin McHale is even more old-school.
“My position is that you get more mature by spending time in college,” said McHale, who as general manager of the Timberwolves drafted Kevin Garnett No. 1 in 1995. “I like the NFL’s three-year rule because you see those guys come out ready to handle everything. The NBA is a hard league, and I’ve seen too many young men come in with big dreams that get shattered because they left school too early.”
That rule isn’t likely to happen. Neither, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said, is reverting to allowing high schoolers enter the draft.
But the union’s opposition to the two-year rule is seen as a bargaining chip toward increasing the salary cap while shortening contracts, so there could be some movement there.
It’s a complex question, one that depends on the mindset and talent of the individual, rather than a blanket answer.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams views it from both sides.
“I see the right to work,” he said. “But I also see the benefit of going to college and staying there for a few years. I’m pretty much straddling the fence.”
While he’s doing that, Williams should consider that, without the one-and-done rule, the Pelicans wouldn’t have Anthony Davis.
Thinking about that, he’d probably consider the status quo a pretty good thing.