Monday, July 6, 2009

Anti Age Limit

The NBA offseason offers us a period of time to think about issues that often get pushed aside during the hustle and bustle that is the regular season. With constant action taking place from October to June, there is little time to consider or discuss the larger League issues. With the Finals over and free agent frenzy in full swing, I thought I’d take the opportunity to discuss an issue that has caused much controversy and consternation; the League-mandated age-limit. Several years ago the League shut the flood gates on the constant flow of high school-to-NBA prospects by mandating a one year removed from high school requirement. This of course allowed players to experience college, become more mature, and make a well-informed decision. There was solid evidence for the decision, along with numerous examples of protégés who were outstanding high school ballers, but never quite panned out in the NBA (Kwame Brown, Sebastain Telfair, Darius Miles,etc.). Many felt that this lack of professional success was directly related to the individuals’ decision to forgo college and head straight into the L. Such players were called every name in the book, from stupid to selfish, and were ridiculed for not taking the extra time to become more mature as both a player and a person. Thus, the League mandated the age requirement to limit such occurrences, and it has thus far received mixed reviews.

I personally have been against the age limit since its inception for three major reasons, which I explain below:

1. It should be the player’s choice: If a player is talented enough to consider making the leap directly from high school to the NBA, and a team is interested enough to select them, who is the League to try to stop them. There is no age requirement to do construction work. You don’t have to be a year separated from high school to work at a restaurant, so why should you have to be to play basketball? Players who make this decision know that they are taking a calculated risk, and that success at the next level is very difficult to come across. However, after considering all the possibilities, if a player feels that it is the best decision for him and his family (let’s be honest, suddenly having the money to supply for your family and buy yourself a couple cars can be very tempting), then the League shouldn’t be standing there to tell them no.

2. Many players have had great success: Proponents of the age limit are quick to point out all the busts or players who went straight from high school and never lived up to their potential, but they rarely emphasize the other side of the argument; the side where some of the NBA’s best players decided to skip the extended party known as college and head directly into the League. For every Kwame and Darius there’s a Dwight, Tracy, Kobe, Lebron, and Kevin, which demonstrates the fact that many are indeed able to make the jump successfully, and develop into the game’s greatest. Therefore, the level of success one achieves while making the jump from high school into the NBA depends largely on the individual and the situation, and a blanket statement should not be made regarding such individuals either way. Many of the League’s brightest stars came straight out of high school, and there should be no barriers blocking others from having the same possibility.

3. Negative effect on college basketball: Many college basketball fans and purists feel that the newly imposed age limit has disastrous effects on what was once a very pure form of basketball. Players would play for the love of the game and the representation of their school, rather than for money or personal success. However, in this world of agents, and one-and-doners, the same type of commitment to school and team isn’t there. College basketball has developed into a sport where teams have a one year window to win a championship with a superstar before they quickly bolt for the promised land that is the NBA, leaving their team in the dust to consider their options for the future. In other words, players see college basketball as mandatory step on the way to their ultimate goal, and therefore use it as a stage to elevate their own personal status and draft stock, rarely considering the impact their actions and decisions have on their team and the game as a whole. I do not blame the players for this dilemma, as they are simply working within the boundaries created by the NBA’s age limit framework. Without this age requirement, players could make their own decision; the one which they feel would actually be best for them, thus meaning the players suiting up for colleges across the country actually wanted to be there, because as it stands now the age limit isn’t just hurting the NBA, it’s hurting the NCAA as well.

For these reasons, I feel that the NBA should again allow players to enter the draft directly out of high school. It added an element of uncertainty and surprise that is missed in the League today, and allows players to make decisions that are in their best interest.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hope Comes on a Holiday

Heading into last Thursday’s draft it was quite clear that the 76ers were on the market for a point guard. The uncertainty of Andre Miller’s situation (there has been much talk of his potential departure), coupled with the lack of depth at the position and no point guard prospects of the future currently on the roster, the position the Sixers were in need of became obvious. The player they would select with their lone pick (Round 1, Pick 17) however was not so obvious. The draft was chalk full of 1’s, from overseas stars (Rubio, Jennings) to proven points (Lawson, Maynor) to promising prospects (Holiday, Teague). With such a deep class of point guards entering the League this season, there was almost certain to be a high-caliber point guard available at the time of the Sixers selection. And there was. Rubio and Jennings were locked up in the lottery, leaving the rest of the litter for the team to mull over.

Once Jennings was taken off the board, I was praying that Ty Lawson would still be available at the seventeen spot. I viewed him as an exceptional athlete who had experience leading a club, as only a few months ago he fought through injury to help lead the Tar Heels to the National title. Much to my surprise (and pleasure), when it came time for David Stern to announce the Sixers’ pick, Lawson was still available. As the commissioner walked toward the podium, I anxiously waited, beer in hand, to celebrate the selection of the team’s P.G.O.T.F., but just as I was preparing to exchange high-fives with my friends, a different name came out of Stern’s mouth; a name that I hadn’t thought about or really even considered for the 76ers point guard position: UCLA’s Jrue Holiday. At first I was shocked, saddened, and sullen. I had of course seen Jrue play and was well aware of his talent, but I was also aware of his pedestrian stat line (8.5 points, 4 dimes, 4 boards a game) in his only collegiate season. I was neither confident nor comfortable with the pick, feeling that the more proven and experienced Lawson would have been a better fit for the Sixers’ system. I viewed Holiday as a project, while Lawson was a pre-wrapped package that was personally delivered to the Sixers, only to be passed over. However, as is customary with being a Sixers fan on draft night, I began to search for reasons to rationalize the pick, and unlike most years, I was actually able to produce some.

Holiday was a projected lottery pick, who was assumed by many to go in the top 10. He was ranked as one of the top point guard prospects in this year’s draft, and slid out of the lottery due largely to injury concerns. He has undeniable skill and raw talent that was not fully showcased in his single season at UCLA due largely to the splitting of guard duty with fellow 2009 draftee, Darren Collison. However, Holiday showed flashes of his greatness and potential consistently throughout the season. UCLA has had no shortage of great point guards over the past few years, many who have found success in the NBA (Farmar, Westbrook), and had Holiday stayed another year he certainly would have improved his numbers and his all-around game. However, the talent and potential seen by the experts is hard to deny, as many justify the pick as taking the best talent available.

Sure, Jrue may be a project, and he may not be quite ready to lead the team this year, but if Andre returns, then he will be able to pick his spots and learn from a veteran. At only 19, Jrue has quite some time to grow as a player and a leader, and if all goes according to plan, the Sixers might have found their point guard of the future.

Draft grade: The team addressed their biggest need and by taking the best available player, were able to get a player who was a projected lottery pick based on his talent and potential. He has the chance to contribute to the team this season, and become a fixture in the rotation for years to come. B+