The NBA Age Limit, Does It Work: Tracking The First Class Restricted by The CBA
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*All NBA Draft position statistics gathered from NBADraft.net
**All draft prospect information gathered from scout.com
At the start of the 2006 NBA season the league implemented a new age restriction as outlined in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
As of that season, draft-eligible players must be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school in order to be on an NBA roster. This effectively meant that high school athletes could no longer make the immediate jump to the NBA without playing one year of collegiate ball (although exceptions did occur).
As a result, debates have continued to rage on whether or not it violates a person’s right to seek employment.
Before this agreement the NBA was the only major sport to allow such a transition from amateur to professional; Major League Baseball allows high school players to join their Minor League systems, the NHL allows drafted players to join college teams, and the NFL prohibits players from joining their league without being three years removed from high school.
Statistics on this topic had been difficult to come by in the past. Both sides of the argument had their strong points; those opposing the restriction argued that the game’s best players, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard, all came straight out of high school, while those in favor suggested that the college game was suffering without the nation’s top players.
Now, as of this year, we have the first group of graduating seniors who began their college careers under this new CBA restriction. Perhaps by analyzing the road each of them has taken since being unable to declare for the NBA draft in 2006 one may be able to produce a more clear-cut understanding of the effects this new rule has had on the NBA, and whether or not its intended success has been realized.
By comparing each players’ national ranking before attending college against the position in which they were drafted during the year in which they declared one can begin to understand whether the new CBA is having a negative or positive effect on NBA rookies.
The statistics compiled for this study include the class rank, the school year during which the prospect declared for the NBA draft, and the prospect’s draft position for all 28, five-star recruits from 2006.
These statistics were used to determine whether or not each prospect was positively affected, negatively affected, or unaffected in terms of NBA draft position as a result of playing in college.
Now, in order to understand the system, one must first understand that simply because a player is the #10 prospect in his class he is not the #10 prospect in the country for that NBA draft.
Bear in mind the reality that as players of a particular freshman class move on to higher college grades more and more of them declare for ensuing NBA drafts so that by their senior seasons there are significantly less of them. In truth, by the time the top ten recruits of a freshman class become seniors there may only be three of them still in college.
Correspondingly, when the top ten prospects of one freshman class enter into an NBA draft they are not the top ten prospects overall - they are still battling for draft position with the seven best sophomore prospects, the 5 best junior prospects, and the three best senior prospects who still remain in college from their own respective classes.
As a result the #10 freshman prospect may project to be drafted behind as many as 15 better, older prospects (150% higher than his class rank), at #25 if he were to declare before entering college.
As an example, Thaddeus Young ranked as the #6 prospect in his high school class. In the 2007 NBA draft Young was drafted #12 overall by the Philadelphia 76er’s after playing one season at Georgia Tech. As the #6 prospect in his class, we would assume that there are nine older prospects who would grade-out higher than him in the draft (150% of his class rank, again).
Therefore, we would assume that he would be drafted behind the five prospects ranked higher than him in his own class, as well as behind the nine prospects in the grades above him—thus, putting him at a projected draft position of 15 had he declared the year before attending college. As a result of the CBA restriction, he attended college for one year and was drafted 12th overall which is a positive effect.
Should High Schoolers be allowed to go straight to the NBA without attending college?
When applying that system to the 28, five-star prospects of 2006 amongst whom may have declared for the NBA Draft it was found that 11 prospects were positively affected by playing in college, nine prospects were unaffected, and seven prospects had their draft position negatively affected by the CBA restriction.
One prospect, Vernon Macklin, transferred to Florida after his sophomore season and, as a result, sat out a year which means he is still enrolled at Florida and has yet to take part in an NBA draft.
So what does this tell us?
Most importantly, it tells us that the new regulation is working: the four best players in the 2006 freshman class (Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Brandon Wright, and Spencer Hawes) were unaffected by attending college.
The lower-caliber five-star recruits (Mike Conley, Earl Clark, DaJuan Summers, and Robin Lopez), regardless of how long or short their stints in college were, all had their draft positions positively affected.
Four of the seven players who were negatively affected from entering college ended up as graduating seniors. All in all, only three of the 28 prospects came out looking worse than they would have had they made the immediate jump to the NBA.
Another, overlooked, positive of this new regulation is a decrease in money wasted on unproven commodities by NBA franchises.
Had Chase Budinger been selected 12th overall in the 2007 NBA draft, as this model suggests he would have, one unfortunate franchise would have paid lottery money to a player who, a year later, was drafted 44th overall by the Detroit Pistons.
Instead, franchises are able to get a good look at players like Mike Conley (projected to go undrafted had he declared before attending Ohio State) who would eventually become the fourth overall pick in 2007 - money well spent.
NBADraft.net. "NBA Draft History - NBA Draft 2007". Date accessed Tuesday 11, 2011.
Scout.com. "Scout.com College Basketball Team Recruiting Prospects - 2006". Date accessed Tuesday 11,
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