On Wednesday, Adam Silver showed once again that he is the most sensible commissioner in sports.
In an interview on Fox Sports' The Herd, Silver revealed he is rethinking the NBA's stance on the so-called one-and-done rule, which was enacted in 2006 and changed the minimum age for American players entering the NBA draft from 18 to 19.
Getting rid of the one-and-done rule benefits players. Although professional athletes are well-compensated, they have a short window in which to earn money. If NBA teams believe an 18-year-old can play professionally, that player deserves to be paid for his skills. It's specious to argue that the value of one year in college and the potential for a degree down the road exceeds even the lowest rookie salary ($976,300) for a first-round pick.
An argument that typically emerges from this line of thinking is the NBA will be diluted with high school busts, but history suggests otherwise. In the 11 drafts from 1995 to 2005, otherwise known as the NBA's prep-to-pro generation, 39 players were selected straight from high school.
Ten of them were at one point selected to an All-NBA team or an NBA All-Star team. Depending on your evaluations, another 10 or so became above-average players. NBA scouts are highly skilled, and GMs are scrupulously evaluated; if high school players consistently fail in the NBA, they'll be drafted less frequently.
For the NBA, expanding the pool of players has many benefits, most importantly in improving the product of the D-League. Given that Gatorade recently spent a significant amount of money to rebrand the NBA's development wing the G-League, it stands to reason that it'd like a return on its investment. It also stands to reason that more people will tune into summer basketball in Las Vegas if it is the first opportunity to see prominent high school stars take on professional opponents.
On the college basketball side, some observers are lamenting that an already oft-criticized product will become more diluted. But again, only 39 players were selected in 11 drafts during the prep-to-pro era, which averages out to about 3.5 players per draft.
Although advanced emphasis on skill development (as opposed to size and strength) in the modern NBA might reduce the number of high school players selected each year, let's assume for the sake of argument that the number doubles. That would leave college basketball short seven NBA-caliber players each season.
The top seven players in the class of 2016, per the composite rankings compiled by RSCIhoops, were Josh Jackson (Kansas), Harry Giles (Duke), Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Jayson Tatum (Duke), Markelle Fultz (Washington), De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky) and Jonathan Isaac (Florida State). Would college basketball have been considerably worse without that group of players? Perhaps the sport would have lost some air time on ESPN debate shows in the middle of the season, but much of the coverage of those players concerns their ongoing NBA draft evaluations anyway.
The best college basketball players are already upperclassmen. The four most recent national players of the year have been seniors, and since advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy began compiling efficiency-based player-of-the-year candidates in 2011, 71.4 percent of the top 10 each season have been upperclassmen (juniors and seniors). Only nine, total, have been freshmen. But the freshmen seem to receive far more fan and media attention.
When it comes to the sport's signature month, March, one-and-done-heavy teams don't have a great track record. Among that group of seven players, one (Fultz) didn't make the Big Dance, three (Giles, Isaac and Tatum) didn't make it out of the first weekend and none led their teams to the Final Four.
It's not unreasonable to think year-to-year continuity of college basketball stars would enhance rooting interest in the NCAA tournament from the beginning—and reduce any drop-off in interest that comes when one-and-done stars have been eliminated.
College basketball has correctly focused on making tremendous strides in improving its on-court product in the past few years. It has shortened the shot clock, allowed for more freedom of movement on offense and, most importantly, created more compelling November and December contests. If the power brokers in college basketball continue to focus on improving the overall product, that would more than offset the loss of a handful of the best players to the NBA each season.
The argument here isn't that the one-and-done era has been bad for college basketball. It's that these annual freshmen aren't vital for the sport's survival. As is the case with college football, fans' rooting interest is based as much or more in their connection with the school than in their support for individual players. And there is no argument against the idea that allowing high schoolers to enter the draft is the fairest system for players.
While the NFL is even more stringent (players must be three years removed from high school) and MLB is even more arbitrary (players must enter out of high school or spend three years in college), the NBA can position itself to have the clearest process for attracting incoming talent.
Time and again, Silver has proved to be a thoughtful, logical leader. Eliminating one-and-done is a perfectly sensible next step for his league.