Can’t Pass Up the Draft
Casey says timing is now everything.
by Casey Jacobsen
Just this past week, the media released the All-NBA First Team and one thing jumped out at me while I glanced at the list:
Do you notice what almost all (except DWade) have in common?
Answer: no college experience.
Kobe, LBJ and Howard came to the League straight from high school. Durant was “one-and-done” after a sensational freshman season at Texas. In 2010, four of the top-five players in the world have a combined one year of NCAA basketball experience. That’s amazing…and a little bit dangerous.
The guys mentioned above are unbelievable talents and are very deserving of all the money and attention they receive, but I’d argue their success has had a lasting effect on the NBA Draft process and has corrupted the minds of many teenage players in America.
Almost all of the talented kids think they are good enough for the NBA before they even turn 16 years old. It got so bad that David Stern felt he had to implement a rule, restricting high school players from entering the Draft.
I didn’t (and still don’t) support that rule, but I do understand why Stern did it. The Draft was being flooded by high schoolers who thought they could be the next Kobe and the NBA’s image was suffering. Kids have no issues with skipping college basketball. In fact, I think many kids feel like college will only “hold them back.” It used to be that college was a necessary stop on the way to NBA stardom. Now, college is viewed as a place where players who aren’t good enough for the NBA end up.
Most blue-chip recruits are going to college campuses with no intention of seeing their graduation day. I’m not blaming them, of course. I left Stanford early for the NBA as well and part of the reason I did that was because of the way that college upperclassmen are viewed by media and NBA general managers.
In today’s basketball culture, if you are a senior in college, most people believe you aren’t good enough to play in the NBA. If you were, you would already have declared for the Draft early and be playing in the League. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule as each year a small handful of seniors are selected in the First Round (I.e. Kenyon Martin, Shane Battier, Kirk Hinrich, Tyler Hansburough, etc.), but the recent draft trends are scary for college upperclassmen.
Some quick facts about the last five NBA Drafts (2005-2009):
• Seniors are still the highest represented class in the Draft, although the majority of them are picked in the Second Round (where contracts are non-guaranteed).
• There has not been a college senior drafted in the top 10 over the past three years.
• Senior selections in the First Round: 8 (2006), 6 (2007), 6 (2008), 6 (2009)
• Senior selections in the Second Round: 10 (2006), 14 (2007), 15 (2008), 14 (2009)
(Note: I predict an all-time low for senior selections in the upcoming 2010 Draft.)
• In the Second Round of the Draft, freshman-sophomore-juniors all have a higher likelihood of signing guaranteed contracts than a senior. Of the last four Drafts, in the Second Round, freshman sign 50 percent of the time, sophomores 75 percent, juniors 59 percent, and seniors 29 percent.
So…what does all of this mean?
I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that if your name were Landry Fields, you’d be facing an uphill battle for a NBA contract this coming June and July.
Who is Landry Fields, you ask? He’s one of the best college seniors in the country. Now before I go any further, I have to reveal that he is also from Stanford University. I know most of my readers find this suspicious so I will let Landry’s statistics do the talking right now:
6-7 small forward
’09-10: 22.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.8 ast, 1.6 stl, 49% FG, 34% 3FG (29-86) (leading scorer in the Pac-10) in 36 minutes per game.
I tried to do a little research on Landy’s draft status, but to my surprise I couldn’t find his name on two of the most popular draft sites on the internet (ESPN’s Top 100 Prospects and NBADraft.net) Really? Not even in the top 100 after averaging 22 points his senior year? That is hard to believe, until I try to remember my own decision regarding the NBA Draft.
During my sophomore year at Stanford in 2001, we were ranked No. 1 in the country for half the season but eventually lost in the Elite 8 to Juan Dixon’s Maryland team. Not even 20 minutes after the loss, some reporters started asking me if I was considering putting my name in the NBA Draft that summer. Honestly, I never gave it serious thought until then and I had no idea how much timing was involved. A lot of agents began calling me in the two months leading up to the Draft that year in 2001 to gauge my interest in leaving school early. Do you want to know what I learned from all those phone conversations with agents?
The most important thing to getting drafted in the First Round in the NBA is declaring when you are considered “hot.” The timing of when you enter the Draft is often much more important than your statistics.
I decided to return for my junior year because I wasn’t sure if I would get picked in the First Round. The following season in 2002, I had a good statistical year (21 ppg, Second Team All-American) but my team struggled, having lost four starters from the 2001 team. We were young and rebuilding, and, at one point during the season, I started to doubt whether or not I had missed my optimum window to get drafted in the First Round.
It worked out in the end as I declared after my junior year and was selected with the 22nd pick in 2002. If I wanted a guaranteed contract in the NBA, I felt I had no choice but to leave that year. I was scared to death to come back to Stanford for my senior year. Why? College seniors have to battle two major hurdles when it comes to the NBA:
1) The player has a longer exposure to NBA scouts, leaving more time for their skills to be over-analyzed. If you watch a player long enough, you WILL find weaknesses in their game. It’s inevitable.
2) He has a longer period in which he is vulnerable to injury.
The NBA Draft system puts seniors at a huge disadvantage. Some players will make it no matter if they stay one or four years (I.e. John Wall). I’m not concerned about these players. I worry for the players who could have been drafted in the First Round had they declared earlier (I.e. Chris Thomas of Notre Dame, Richard Roby of Colorado, Scottie Reynolds of Villanova). On the other hand, there are a lot of underclassmen who declare too early and get drafted in the Second Round or not at all and effectively ruin their chances of returning to college (Davon Jefferson of USC, Paul Harris of Syracuse). It’s a difficult process made even more difficult by the way the system works.
It used to be that only the unbelievably talented college players declared early (Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Stephon Marbury, etc.) and that’s the way it should be. To be completely honest, I wish it had been that way when I went to school. I left after my junior year because my window of opportunity was open right then and playing in the NBA is a window that usually isn’t opened more than once. I couldn’t pass it up. But had the system worked differently and being a senior didn’t carry such a negative stigma, I would have loved to come back to Stanford.
Landry Fields stayed all four years and will graduate this spring. He didn’t have the opportunity to declare early because he wasn’t good enough then. That’s not an insult to his ability. He didn’t get the playing time needed to develop until recently.
Just because it took him four years of college ball to reach his potential, does that mean he can’t play in the NBA? I don’t think it does, but I’m not an NBA general manager…yet.
Casey Jacobsen is a former SLAM High School First Team All-American and NCAA First Team All-American. He currently plays for Brose Baskets in Bamberg, Germany.