Who Will Win the NBA Finals/Abolish One-and-Done

The Warriors obvious. Have you not been paying attention for, I don’t know, the last 5 years? Next question?

I was going to write about the NBA, but I didn’t feel like I could offer anything substantial to the discussion. I might write a piece in early April when the playoffs actually begin, but for now, I’m waiting until I have something original to say.

Looking for new inspiration, I found it in Zion Williamson’s shoe. Duke’s Freshman sensation, and likely #1 pick in the NBA draft, Zion Williamson injured himself in a game against North Carolina Wednesday night, a knee injury after his shoe split at the seams as he was making a cut. It was a freak accident that doesn’t seem too severe, but Duke will be without their star forward until at least the tournament next month.

Zion’s injury brought back to the forefront the debate about whether college athletes should be paid. Warriors center Demarcus Cousins said it was unfair that the athletes getting injured don’t see a dime of revenue from this game. Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell tweeted out something similar, and he was retweeted by Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.

On the record, I do think it should be legal to pay college athletes. In general, people should be free to charge whatever their services are worth. Not all college athletes need to be paid, because for many of them a college education is the requisite compensation for their services. But if Duke needs to give Zion $30,000 on top of his scholarship to win his services, they shouldn’t be penalized for doing so. The arguments against it don’t check out, and I’ll write a piece on why at some point in the future.

But before we ask why Zion isn’t getting paid to play at Duke, why don’t we ask what he’s doing at Duke in the first place?

The answer is a rule informally called one-and-done, a rule change from 2005 that mandates that to play in the NBA an athlete must be 19 and be one year removed from their high school graduation. As such, any young baller has one year to waste after graduating high school before they can go pro, most of them spending a year playing college ball before they declare for the draft.

Kentucky is famous for this tactic. Anthony Davis, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Devin Booker, all spent a year with the Wildcats, enjoyed success at the college level, and then left for the NBA. Zion will likely follow the same path. Anyone who knows college basketball understands what I’m talking about.

Apart from giving NCAA basketball at least one year with top talent, none of the reasoning behind this rule holds water.

An age requirement exists in the NFL, requiring athletes be out of high school for three years before being eligible for the draft. For football, this makes sense. No 18 year old offensive lineman is physically developed enough to fight in the trenches against Aaron Donald. But anyone who has seen Zion Williamson play basketball knows that this kid is physically ready for the NBA. That young man is physically ready for the Justice League.

Young players have enjoyed great success in the NBA, even straight out of high school. Lebron James averaged 21 points a game at age 18. Other ballers to come straight out of high school include Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, and a number of other player who went onto to have successful careers. Jayson Tatum led the Celtics to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals just after his 20th birthday last year. Lonzo Ball had a triple double just after his 20th birthday. The point is, basketball players don’t need to be 22 or 23 until they’re ready to play. They can succeed right out of high school.

What about the argument that players are going to be drafted out of high school and never amount to anything? Or worse, they will declare for the draft, waive their chances to play in college, and never get drafted? There are obviously instances of this. Kwame Brown was drafted first overall out of high school by the Wizards in 2001, and he’s most famous for being called a “bonafide scrub” by Stephen A. Smith. But Kwame Brown still played for 12 seasons and is now a multi-millionaire. Maybe not the talent he was drafted to be, but he’s done fine.

However, the MLB drafts athletes out of high-school, and the system works fine there. Once drafted, a player has until August to accept a contract, or they can say decline in favor of college, where they must complete at least 3 years. This seems far better, and far more respectful to market forces and freedom of choice, than the NBA system. Also, because the MLB draft has an obnoxious number of rounds, and each team has half a dozen farm teams to develop talent, the risk of a high schooler getting drafted in the 34th round and never making it is far greater than it would be for the NBA. But no one is asking for one-and-done in baseball.

The arguments about the relationship between high school and the NBA don’t work out either. Some coaches like to claim a year in college allows them to better evaluate players and how they’ll perform in NBA. But in 2011, Kyrie Irving missed almost all of his season at Duke, and still was drafted first overall by Cleveland. Something similar happened with Nerlens Noel in 2013. College basketball is simply not a necessary step for evaluating the quality of athletes.

On the high school side of that equation, there’s an argument that making athletes go to college, even for a year, keeps the NBA and the media out of high school gyms. There are a couple problems here. First, I fail to see the difference between NBA scouts and college recruiters. Second, professional teams already have their eye on high school players, especially with mixtapes and information on the internet, and are ready to gobble them up after their obligatory year in college. As for the media, there is no shortage of media attention surrounding top basketball recruits.

If you want athletes to get an education in case basketball doesn’t work out, then make them stay in college. But one-and-done doesn’t do this either. There is no physical, academic, or social justification for this policy. All it does is prevent the best from playing with the best.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is talking with the NBA player’s union about repealing one-and-done. It would be wise for them to approve it.

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