Last Thursday’s NBA Draft featured a record 16 freshmen being taken in the first round, with 11 of those coming in the lottery, a reality that easily shattered the previous record of eight freshmen lottery picks.
Former Kansas star Josh Jackson was one of those, going fourth to Phoenix, during a stretch in which nine of the first 10 picks were freshmen.
The one that wasn’t? Eighteen-year-old French point guard Frank Ntilikina, who, had he played college ball in the United States last season, also would have been a freshman.
Young talent dominating draft night is nothing new in the NBA. The draft has been trending this way for years, with team executives preferring to pick potential and invest in long-range visions over taking proven but older players from the college ranks.
However, according to basketball analysts Jay Bilas and Michael Wilbon, this latest surge of one-and-done selections might have been the beginning of the end.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently said that the one-and-done rule — which is currently defined by the 19-year-old age enforcement — is not working for either the NBA or college basketball.
Wilbon agreed whole-heartedly with that sentiment and said during the draft broadcast that the general feeling is that change is coming.
“They know who the best players are,” he said of NBA front offices. “They’ve known since third grade. The question is, for the business of college basketball and pro basketball, what’s going to happen moving forward? It seems like it’s going to be two years. So I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be talking about freshmen dominating the NBA Draft.”
The two-year time frame Wilbon mentioned was in reference to the idea of young players having the choice to turn pro directly out of high school or having to stay a minimum of two seasons in college before jumping to the NBA.
That is the model used by college baseball — with three years instead of two — and is the fix for which people in both basketball worlds long have clamored.
One such person is Kansas coach Bill Self, who said after Thursday’s draft that he, too, believed change could be on the horizon.
“I do think it’s moving in that direction,” Self said. “It’s got a lot of support from a lot of decision-makers and, of course, has the vast majority of support with college coaches to allow kids to go out of high school if, in fact, they can be drafted in a way that will provide them a career or at least an opportunity to have a head start at a career.”
The biggest uncertainty about the whole thing — a wrinkle that could delay any immediate progress — is how the NBA’s Developmental League (now the G-League) plays into the picture.
“I think that’s what my biggest concern is — how does the D-League affect high school kids being able to come out,” Self said. “You don’t want to (create) a situation where it minimizes the value of an education because everyone feels like, ‘Well, if I don’t make it (in the NBA), I can just go to the D-League.’ So that’ll be interesting how it all plays out. But I certainly think it’s moving in a very positive direction to do something with the age 19 rule.”
Perhaps the biggest factor in reaching a resolution is making a decision about how salaries would be handled in the Developmental League. For instance, if a player can leave high school and go make $75,000-$100,000 playing in the NBA’s minor league, that alone might, and likely would, entice more young players to skip college for the opportunity to start cashing checks.
Like Self, that fact also is Bilas’ biggest concern and he believes much more than an NBA rule change needs to happen to truly fix the situation.
“You’re still gonna see young players leaving college if college doesn’t address (player) compensation,” Bilas said.
While steps have been taken to move forward in that department, as well, pay-for-play debates remain as big a part of college athletics as anything out there.