The NBA Draft is the best way struggling teams can regroup and attempt to compete with the likes of the Miami Heat and other elite teams that have built their teams through free agency. A team can use free agency to help them get over the top and compete for a championship, but every insider will tell you that great teams are built through the draft.
Finding good young talent is harder than meets the eye. The physical talent is easy to spot; finding the intangibles is where the real talent in scouting lies.
As the NBA Draft is fast approaching, the NBA’s worst of the worst will have the chance to start over, regroup, change the direction of their franchise, and select a young man to become the face of their organization.
The NBA Draft has always had some sort of controversy attached to its name over the years. Whether it’s the “innocence” of the lottery process, as it hardly ever seems that the worst team receives the number one draft pick, or the draft-day trades that always seem a bit too good to be true, the draft has had its fair share of controversy.
But above all those underlying marks, the biggest problem with the NBA Draft is the issue of eligibility.
Under the current NBA rules, a player must be at least one-year removed from high school and must turn 19 during the calendar year of the draft.
After Tuesday night’s draft lottery, the Cleveland Cavaliers will receive the number one overall pick in a rather weak draft class. They will most likely select Kentucky freshman center, Nerlens Noel.
At this time last year, Noel was heralded as the number one high school recruit in the nation, and committed to playing for the reigning National Champion Kentucky Wildcats and head coach John Calipari. Life couldn’t get any better for the 18 year-old from Massachusetts, who figured one year of college basketball would refine his raw offensive game and improve his already stout defense.
Flash forward to now, and although Noel still has his sights set on the number one pick in June’s NBA draft, his personal situation is much different than one anyone could’ve ever imagined. After a disappointing year for Kentucky, one where they didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, Noel tore his ACL in January, sidelining him until Christmas.
When Noel went down with the injury, critics of the NBA’s controversial “one-and-down” rule pointed right to his injury as a reason why the rule is unnecessary and hurting the players.
Noel was lucky; his injury won’t cost him millions of dollars. But for others, an injury that devastating could’ve not only played a toll on a player’s physical career, but the likelihood of earning millions of dollars during their professional career.
In the NBA, only players drafted in the first-round are given guaranteed contracts. Anyone drafted in the second-round or signed as an undrafted free agent must make the team if they want to earn a paycheck.
The window of opportunity in professional sports is one that is very small and can close instantaneously. If an 18 year-old kid is good enough to play in the NBA, what difference does one year make to their maturity or readiness? I realize that a year in the collegiate ranks can do a lot for a young man, but why should we have the authority to tell someone they can’t play with the best if they are good enough to compete with the best? The NBA is no place for kids, but in accordance with the law, technically an 18 year-old is entitled to all the same opportunities as a man twice his age. What’s different about the NBA?
The “one-and-done” rule has had a lot of positive benefits to many young men thinking about taking their game to the NBA, who came to realize that they needed the college game as much as it needed them. College basketball can develop players’ games and help them maximize on their raw talent before they officially decide to make basketball their profession. Besides all the benefits of improving one’s basketball game, receiving a free education from some of America’s elite universities is something you can’t put a price on either.
The positives are easy to see, but the ultimatum is even easier on the eye. I see the NBA’s point of view on this issue (which is a first I must admit), but holding a player back from the opportunity to pursue their dream and make millions of dollars is something I can’t help but think is morally wrong. Nerlens Noel will earn his paycheck even after his devastating injury, but other highly touted “one-and-done” products may not be so lucky in the future.