The last high schooler drafted in the NBA was Amir Johnson. He was the 56th pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2005. Since then, the 6-11 big man has played for four teams as a role player, career averages of 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds. His stats are evidence that the high school to the NBA pipeline produce the Amir Johnsons of the world more than they produce the LeBron James of the world. The NBA wasn’t better because Amir Johnson was a member and neither was Amir Johnson. A couple of years of training would have helped his game and the league.
In the same draft as Amir Johnson were high school players Andrew Bynum, Gerald Greene, C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis, Lou Williams and Andray Blatche. Blatche never made it to his second contract. Greene was out the NBA and played in Russia before returning and he has suited up for 8 different NBA teams. Monta Ellis wasn’t in the league this year. Lou Williams won Sixth Man of the Year and C.J. Miles spent a lot of time in Utah before Indiana and Toronto. Andrew Bynum was the lone All-Star and NBA champion of the bunch and is retired after 8 years in the NBA. Hardly the KG-Kobe-McGrady-LeBron excellence.
HIgh schoolers have always been feast or famine. Exceptional or average, or just not interesting. Maturity has always been a factor. When Robert Swift flamed out he went the heorin home invasion route. Korleone Young lasted three NBA games and then was an answer to a trivia question: who drafted him? Darius Miles was athletic but so what? Leon Smith came into the league with psychological issues and only played 14 games because his mind was as troubled as his game. But on the flipside, NBA busts aren’t isolated to 18 year olds who never took Introduction to Medieval Literature. Javaris Crittendon was at Georgia Tech for a year and then after his brief NBA stint he murdered someone. Anthony Bennett was a number one pick and is still trying to breathe oxygen into his career. Hasheem Thabeet was the number two pick, a Connecticut player who went to the Final Four, but was a seven footer who couldn’t rebound in the NBA.
The NBA is trying a different strategy of inclusion. They don’t want to leave high school players unprotected in a sink or swim ethic the way they used to do. They hope to provide them with camps and NBA life training before the draft and assign them advisors. For sure, it is an upgrade against the native cruelty but those small detail changes address maturity issues and not game-ain’t-ready issues. Nevertheless, it is compromise with the NCAA whose product was ruined by the NBA.
Consider when you watch March Madness, half of the evaluation is judging who is going to be a lottery pick, who is going to have a NBA career. But when you watch college football, you root for Alabama or USC or Clemson or Notre Dame. The NFL is way off the radar.
The NBA plans are still being worked out but the framework will go something like this. You can enter the NBA draft as a high schooler or commit to college for two years. If you commit to the NBA, you join the G-leauge for an undetermined amount of time with a competitive salary. How much time and how long and what is the salary and what if you can play right now and help a team? Those are the questions that need to be ironed out. Also, what if you don’t fit in the G-league, if you are not good enough? can you get your college eligibiity restored in that first season?
The tough questions aside, it looks like LeBron James is going to get his wish and play against his son at the end of his career. But as the NBA goes backwards into the past a new reality is set to begin. The current G-League players are going to get squeezed because of high school players sudden entry. There are only so many spots. The affected G-leaguers are going to be the non drafted free agents. There just aren’t going to be as many spaces for them and they’ll be forced into the European market but spaces there are going to shrink as well.
Adding high school players increases the talent pool without increasing the employers and so a lot of players are going to have their dream, not just deferred, but disappeared. As a whole, the NBA won’t be better because high school players have decided to enter. It won’ t be worse, either. The league will just be much younger. It will be entertaining and perhaps annoying to have LaMelo Ball as an 18 year old roaming around on someone’s team and LaVar trying to orchestrate things.
The irony of the last great high school player preparing to leave the NBA when the first high school players are returning to the fold may be an ominous sign of things to come as the NBA tries to change the past and at the same time reclaim the past.