As a part of the 2005 NBA collective bargaining agreement, the league extended NBA Draft eligibility rules to ban high school players from participating. However, like all rules, people have been trying to find loopholes ever since its inception.
A new trend has begun in prep basketball in which players reclassify ahead a class in order to play at the collegiate level sooner and therefore enter the NBA Draft a year earlier.
From Andre Drummond to Andrew Wiggins to Karl Towns, reclassification is beginning to spread and become ever more common. Reclassification may help players achieve their life-long dream of reaching the NBA at an earlier date, but reaching the league at a premature age is a risky endeavor.
In the summer of 2011, Andre Drummond, the consensus top prospect of the 2012 recruiting class, reclassified to the 2011 recruiting class and decided to enroll at UConn sooner than expected. Drummond’s combination of athleticism and size had deemed him destined for the NBA lottery at a young age, and his decision to reclassify would allow him to reap the benefits of NBA glory a year ahead of schedule.
Upon his decision to reclassify, Drummond immediately jumped to being the No. 2-ranked player in the recruiting class of 2012, according to ESPN, only behind Anthony Davis.
Yet while Davis went on to star at Kentucky and lead them to a national championship, Drummond struggled with inconsistency in his one year at UConn. Once a surefire favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Drummond dropped to ninth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Despite his immense potential, Drummond’s game lacked the polish necessary to dominate as was predicted at the collegiate level.
Drummond has played well in limited minutes with the Detroit Pistons this season, but it is still uncertain if he will ever live up to the grand expectations set forth for him during his prep career. The NBA may provide Drummond with better competition, but the professional sports lifestyle and the pressure that goes with it has proven to be a difficult venue for teenagers to develop their talent.
The question is, would Drummond have been better prepared for basketball at the professional level had he not expedited his journey to get there?
Even though the prep level or the collegiate level are far inferior to the professional level, they provide players with a friendlier and more supportive environment to work on their game. An extra year in this type of environment may have been more conducive to Drummond improving his offensive post moves, a skill he badly lacks.
This is all hypothetical, however, as who knows if Drummond would have made the necessary improvements to his game with an extra year at the amateur level.
Also it is not as if Drummond’s potential has disappeared and he is still only 19 years old. It would not be surprising to see Drummond slowly develop into a fantastic NBA post presence in a similar manner to Tyson Chandler. Like Drummond, Chandler was also not ready for the NBA at the young age he entered the league. But with time, Chandler has become one of the best centers in all of basketball. Even though their styles of play differ, Drummond’s career could take a similar path.
Already this year, two more top prospects have followed in Drummond's footsteps and made the same decision to reclassify. Andrew Wiggins, the ultra-talented Canadian wing player, reclassified to become a member of the recruiting class of 2013, and the big man, Karl Towns of Metuchen, N.J., reclassified to become a member of the recruiting class of 2014. Both of these players are taking the same risk as Drummond in order to realize their dreams of playing in the NBA a year early.
Even though Drummond is evidence of some of the difficulties this decision can create, it is important to evaluate each player’s situation on an individual basis. Wiggins, who happens to be the son of the former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and Canadian Olympian Marita Payne-Wiggins, has shown a more refined skill set throughout his high school career than Drummond ever exhibited.
Not only does Wiggins have game-changing athleticism but he also intertwines this natural ability with an expansive arsenal of offensive moves, a lethal jump shot and great court awareness. It remains to be seen, but it is possible that Wiggins’ game may already be NBA-ready.
If this is the case, expect Wiggins to make a smooth transition to the collegiate level and be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. However, success at higher levels is never guaranteed. Therefore, even with Wiggins’ combination of talent and skill, his decision to reclassify is still an unnecessary risk.
In a sport like basketball where career-ending injuries are extremely unlikely, spending an extra year at the prep level could do no harm to Wiggins and only serve as an added opportunity to improve.
Karl Towns, the most recent notable prospect to reclassify, is a far more similar player to Drummond than Wiggins. If you watch their high school highlight tapes, the similarities are obvious. Like Drummond, Towns possesses the size and athletic ability to project as an NBA superstar one day, but also like Drummond, Towns’ game has a long way to go to be complete.
From a physical standpoint, Towns’ decision to reclassify makes perfect sense. But from a basketball perspective, it may be shortsighted. An extra year at the prep level would allow Towns to continue to develop without constant national attention. Towns may be postponing an eventual NBA payday by a year. But in the end, waiting a year could actually make more sense economically.
Even if Towns were the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, due to the NBA rookie salary scale, the maximum amount of money he could receive would be $4.75 million. This is unarguably a significant amount of money, however, it is less than the average NBA salary of $5.15 million.
Entering the NBA prematurely can often lead to a player’s early departure from the league. As seen by these figures, a long NBA career is far more profitable than a fleeting one, even if the player is a high draft pick.
If Towns were not to reclassify, he would have more time to improve his skill set and mature before reaching the NBA, hence increasing his chances of having a long-lasting career.
All top prospects considering reclassification must ask themselves if receiving the rookie contract a year early is worth risking the possibility of shortening their career later on or not reaching their maximum potential.
For a player whose family absolutely needs the money now and cannot survive another year without it, the answer may be yes. Then reclassification is the right thing to do. But if the answer is no, reclassification may not be the right decision.
It will be particularly interesting to see how the effects of reclassification on the careers of Drummond, Wiggins and Towns affect the future decisions of other top prospects. Will the trend of reclassification continue to expand or will its risks deter future top prospects from trying to speed up their route to the NBA?