John Clay

NBA changing one-and-done rule? Don’t hold your breath

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking at a press conference before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals between Golden State and Cleveland, has said he would like to see the league’s age requirement amended.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking at a press conference before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals between Golden State and Cleveland, has said he would like to see the league’s age requirement amended. Associated Press

I’ll believe when I see it.

Sure, there’s a lot of noise recently about the NBA changing the so-called one-and-done rule. Commissioner Adam Silver talked it. The majority of college basketball coaches — with one possible and notable exception who lives right here in this town — would love to change it.

But we’ve heard this talk before. Ever since the NBA instituted a minimum age requirement — 19 years of age or one year of college — back in 2005 there have been quick bursts of speculation the league and players’ might give the rule a tweak.

Such talk was normally shut down quickly by former commissioner David Stern, who installed the rule in the first place. Stern even blamed the colleges, telling Pro Basketball Talk, “A college could always not have players who are one-and-done. They could do that … they could get the players to agree that they stay in school, and ask for their scholarship money back if they didn’t fulfill their promises.”

That didn’t happen and it isn’t going to happen. If the colleges dislike the age requirement, they loathe the thought of lost revenue. They have that in common with the NBA. Both are businesses. And talented players put fans in the stands and in front of their televisions.

Still, the rule has hurt the quality of the college game. The overall product has suffered when players, who would have gone straight to the pros under the old rule, stay the required one year before bolting. Teams lack continuity. It’s harder for the fans to follow.

“My sense is it’s not working for anyone,” said Silver before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

That statement started the current buzz. And the statement might be true, but the rule is working much better for the NBA than the NCAA. NBA teams receive a year, free of charge, to evaluate talent. Not just that, but evaluate players competing against their peers and older players in a competitive setting rather than the typical AAU showcase.

Consider that in last week’s NBA Draft, 10 of the first 11 players selected were one-and-done products from the college ranks. The lone exception was Frank Ntilikina of France being picked by New York at No. 8. It was not until Detroit tabbed Duke sophomore Luke Kennard at No. 12 that a player with more than a year of college experience was picked.

Because of that one college year, one-and-dones are brand names. Basketball fans know UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Kansas’ Josh Jackson, etc. Same was true of Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and John Wall, all UK products and No. 1 overall picks. That visibility makes it easier for the league to sell those picks to fans.

It doesn’t guarantee immediate results, of course. At the NBA Awards Show on Monday night, Rookie of the Year went to Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon, who spent five years at Virginia. (Brogdon redshirted his sophomore year because of a foot injury.) And in college, the recent trend has rewarded experience. A veteran Villanova team, without a single draft pick, won the 2016 title. A North Carolina team that started two seniors and three juniors cut down the nets in April.

This week on the Dan Patrick Radio Show, Silver insisted the issue is on the table. He has admitted the league prefers to raise the minimum age from 19 to 20. The players’ union prefers the minimum age be lowered from 19 to 18. There’s no indication the two sides are close to a compromise.

Don’t look for one anytime soon. As far as a change in the one-and-done is concerned, this seems all talk and no do.

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