The NBA Does Not Need an Age Limit

Okay, I admit it; when Duke’s Shavlik Randolph and Arizona’s Chris Rodgers enter the NBA Draft early, something is amiss. However, does the NBA need an age limit just because these college students suffer from delusion and make poor life choices? College students make poor decisions every day; why should student-athletes be exempt? Or saved?

In an article last month on the worldwide leader, Dookie V. wrote:
Hoops at the highest level is hurting with so many young, unprepared kids coming into the league. And college basketball is being hurt by talented players’ not coming to campus.

Excuse me? Dookie V. hyper-ventilated on national television, sweating profusely as he attempted to break the world record for superlatives, after the “greatest 48 hours in college basketball history,” which occurred roughly two months ago? Did his antics cut the oxygen flow to his brain, causing short-term memory loss? After the greatest tournament in recent memory, why do the pundits insist a change is needed? The 2005 NCAA Tournament was freaking unbelievable, yet these pundits think a change is necessary?

And, what’s wrong with the NBA, except the occasional Piston/Pacer slugfest? For the first time in years, there is not a prohibitive favorite to win the championship. Scoring has increased, more teams are playing an up tempo style, the talented players are just entering their prime (Kobe, TMac, Duncan, KG, King James, etc.) and more coaches are allowing players to make plays, instead of coaching like Rick Carlisle and dictating every possession of the game; even Jeff Van Gundy spurned a timeout at the end of Game 2 and allowed TMac to drive and hit the game winner. The Suns are flying, the Sonics are shooting, the Rockets are scoring, the Heat is dominating even without Shaq and the Pistons are ready to repeat. Honestly, when was the League better? Not in my thirty years on earth.

Sure, the Lakers/Celtics rivalry was great and saved the league, and Jordan’s dominance was brilliant, but the 2005 play-offs feature retribution (Jerome James vs. the Kings), an MJ cameo (TMac vs. the Mavericks; Dwayne Wade vs. the Wiz), a rivalry (Tyson Chandler vs. Brendan Haywood; Pistons vs. Pacers), a breakout performance (Andres Nocioni), and sensational first-round match-ups; has the Western Conference ever seen four first-round series so intriguing and evenly matched?

How would putting professionals-in waiting into the college ranks add to the excitement of the 2005 NCAA Tournament, which featured West Virginia’s run, the Vermont and Bucknell upsets, the Elite Eight comebacks, the Tar Heel coronation, Salim Stoudamire’s jumper, TJ Sorrentine’s three-pointer, Rashad McCants’ block, Marvin Williams’ put-back and the flawless overtime period in the West Virginia vs. Wake Forest barnburner?

I have yet to hear a persuasive argument in favor of it. As evidenced above, the level of play and excitement could not be any higher in the NCAA Tournament or NBA play-offs. However, these three reasons are often mentioned as reasons the NBA needs an age limit:

1. The young players are ruining the game. Yup, LeBron James is a bad thing for the league. The play-offs have been dominated by nothing but young players (aside from Steve Nash and Ray Allen). Young players like Dwayne Wade and Amare Stoudamire, have stolen the headlines. Beyond Bron-Bron and the other precocious play-off performers, ESPN Insider John Hollinger looked at this year’s rookie class, and the u-20’s are basically even with the over-20’s in player efficiency ratings, meaning those the age limit would prohibit did no better or no worse on a whole than did those who would be allowed into the league.

2. Young players are taking roster spots from veterans. A stupid argument. If Ndubi Ebi wasn’t sitting on the end of the TWolves’ bench growing mold, he’d be replaced by another player on a rookie contract. His spot would not be filled by a veteran; it would be filled by a different rookie, likely someone earning a living in Europe now after being selected in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft, somebody like former BYU and Atlanta Hawk Travis Hansen (picked 37) or Jerome Beasley (33), formerly of the Heat. An age limit would help these four-year players earn guaranteed rookie contracts; it would not provide more roster spots for veterans.

3. Young players lack fundamentals. In the rookie class, u-20’s and over-20’s are roughly even in shooting efficiency. Un-drafted free agent Matt Bonner is #1, followed by Andre Igoudala, Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard. International players Beno Udrih and Nenad Kristic are #5 and 7 respectively, sandwiched around Jameer Nelson.

The problem is not the age of player’s entering the league; the problem is NBA GM’s ineffectively evaluating talent (2nd Round pick Chris Duhon is Example A from this draft, while un-drafted Marquis Daniels is Example A from the 2003 Draft), NBA teams drafting unknown European teenagers who don’t play in the top divisions in Europe and teenagers getting poor advice from those close to them.

European players regularly pull-out of the NBA Draft if they do not have a First Round guarantee; why shouldn’t American teenagers approach the draft in the same manner? Of course, European teenagers have the use of an agent, and the pull the agent can exert, while American players cannot use an agent if they desire the option to return to college.

Maybe the answer is not an age limit, but an opportunity for American teenagers to more accurately judge their draft position before making the decision. Possibly, the answer is a more developed minor league system for the NBA.

The answer, however, is not an age limit that prohibits qualified players from entering the league, while aiming to protect GM’s and scouts from their own poor judgement. College should not be viewed as a minor league system for the NBA, and increasing the numbers of players paying lip service to a college education is not a positive.

College is not for everyone. Not everyone pursues a college education. Why force a talented basketball player with little interest in college classes, to attend college for two years before entering the NBA? Or, as Hollinger proposes, why force teenagers to pursue professional careers in Europe for two seasons before entering the League?

This is a knee-jerk reaction to popular perceptions that is not grounded in rational thought or legitimate reasons. Age is only a number; let the talented players play. If someone makes a poor life decision, life happens. Allow him to learn from his mistake like thousands of other college-aged people.

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