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NBA develops players better  


During his one-on-one interview with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Malcolm Gladwell granted Silver the ability to wave a wand and change anything about the league he wanted. (Despite the perception of predecessor David Stern, the commissioner does not enjoy such power.)

Of all the issues he's highlighted during his first month-plus on the job, Silver chose to raise the NBA's age limit, preventing players from entering the draft until two years out of high school. This issue, which was tabled during negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association on the last collective bargaining agreement, was discussed in sports lawyer Michael McCann's paper here and has been a consistent theme for Silver.

Debating the NBA age restriction

Tuesday, March 11
Chad Ford: The good, bad and ugly of increasing the NBA age restriction. Read

Jay Bilas/Jeff Goodman: Winners and losers of upping the age restriction. Read

Amin Elhassan: Why an age restriction limit works. Read

Kevin Pelton: How the NBA develops players better than the NCAA. Read

Wednesday, March 12
Tom Haberstroh: Comparing sophomore vs. freshman success rates in the NBA.

Chad Ford: No-freshmen lottery mock draft.

Jeff Goodman: How good would Duke, Kansas, et al be if the freshmen stayed?

"If those players had the benefit to play for some of these great college coaches for longer periods of time," Silver said in his availability at the All-Star Game, "I think it would lead to stronger college basketball and stronger NBA ball, as well."

The implication here is that an increased age limit helps all parties. The upside for the NCAA is obvious, and NBA teams would certainly prefer more time to scout prospects. But the numbers suggest that the players themselves might not benefit as much from another year in college as Silver suggests.

Going back to school

While we can't run an experiment on how things would be different with a higher age limit, there is a group of relevant prospects we can use as a point of comparison: Players who chose to return to school for their sophomore seasons. Specifically, I looked at players from the last five drafts who were in Chad Ford's top 30 the summer before their sophomore year and were ultimately drafted in the first round. Not all of these players would have been first-round picks had they turned pro as freshmen, but many of them -- notably Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and Cody Zeller -- passed up on the chance to go in the lottery.

As a control group, I used players who actually were one-and-done from the equivalent recruiting classes, covering the 2008-12 drafts. This group is somewhat more talented -- it includes four of the five No. 1 overall picks -- but the sophomores are strong in their own right. Of the 14 sophomores who qualify, 12 went in the lottery, and James Harden and Paul George are now All-NBA contributors.

We're not interested in the overall performance of these groups anyway. Instead, we want to focus on how they developed year to year. That's where my NCAA-to-NBA translations come in handy. They allow us to put college and NBA performance on the same scale (using player win percentage, the per-minute component of my WARP rating that is equivalent to PER).

That shows something remarkable. On average, the sophomores who return performed only marginally better than they did as freshmen.

Sophomore development (player win pct.)
Player Draft Pick Fresh Soph Rookie Imp. 1 Imp. 2
Paul George 2010 10 .374 .452 .477 .077 .025
Ed Davis 2010 13 .385 .439 .510 .054 .071
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 2013 8 .398 .448 .367 .050 -.082
Al-Farouq Aminu 2010 8 .355 .393 .402 .038 .010
Jonny Flynn 2009 6 .361 .385 .413 .025 .028
Terrence Ross 2012 8 .363 .361 .394 -.001 .032
Kawhi Leonard 2011 15 .426 .421 .569 -.006 .148
Greg Monroe 2010 7 .459 .452 .558 -.007 .106
James Harden 2009 3 .504 .493 .515 -.011 .022
Alec Burks 2011 12 .419 .405 .420 -.014 .015
Jared Sullinger 2012 21 .459 .444 .458 -.015 .014
Harrison Barnes 2012 7 .329 .311 .376 -.018 .066
Cody Zeller 2013 4 .464 .410 .403 -.054 -.007
Austin Daye 2009 15 .423 .349 .446 -.074 .098
Average .408 .412 .451 .003 .039
Amazingly, of the 14 sophomores who qualify (which requires playing at least 500 minutes all three seasons, a criteria that knocks out Blake Griffin, among others), nine rated worse as sophomores than freshmen. That includes basically all the high-profile freshmen who passed on the draft and saw their stock fall.

One-and-dones develop quicker

For comparison's sake, here are how the one-and-done players who qualified developed over the same three seasons, two of them in the NBA.

Freshman development
Player Draft Pick Fresh Rookie Soph Imp. 1 Imp. 2
Eric Gordon 2008 7 .364 .474 .460 .111 -.014
Brandon Knight 2011 8 .329 .422 .415 .093 -.008
Maurice Harkless 2012 15 .339 .431 .462 .092 .031
Kyrie Irving 2011 1 .527 .615 .606 .089 -.010
John Wall 2010 1 .401 .482 .518 .081 .035
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 2012 2 .355 .424 .381 .069 -.043
Derrick Rose 2008 1 .404 .465 .503 .062 .037
Jrue Holiday 2009 17 .397 .454 .512 .057 .059
Bradley Beal 2012 3 .422 .466 .446 .044 -.020
Derrick Favors 2010 3 .410 .449 .532 .039 .083
DeMar DeRozan 2009 9 .323 .361 .372 .038 .011
Anthony Davis 2012 1 .594 .626 .719 .032 .094
Austin Rivers 2012 10 .284 .256 .361 -.027 .104
Kevin Love 2008 5 .631 .555 .643 -.075 .088
Jerryd Bayless 2008 11 .380 .302 .431 -.078 .130
DeMarcus Cousins 2010 5 .530 .444 .599 -.086 .155
Michael Beasley 2008 2 .580 .454 .464 -.126 .010
Xavier Henry 2010 12 .399 .257 .326 -.141 .068
.417 .461 .497 .044 .036
While this group rated slightly better as NCAA freshmen, which makes sense given their perceived higher upside, 15 of the 21 improved as NBA rookies relative to their translated NCAA performance. On average, their win percentage went up by 10.5 percent, better even than we'd expect from players of this age.

Now, this study could be picking up on the superior potential of one-and-done prospects, a possible factor in why they were generally more coveted after one year in college. However, the development advantage disappears by the time both groups are in the NBA. In their third year out of high school -- the rookie season for the sophomores and second year for the freshmen -- the sophomores actually improve slightly more. But this difference isn't nearly enough to make up the development they missed out on between their two years of college. Here's how the averages compare visually:

NBA Chart

Why the NBA develops better

Despite the quality of coaching at the NCAA level touted by Silver, there are a variety of reasons why the NBA might be a better place for elite prospects to develop. Their athletic and skill advantages, especially against the lesser foes that are commonplace on non-conference schedules, might allow them to get away with coasting rather than developing their ability. And opponents often attempt to make up that gap with junk defenses and zones that don't allow stars to showcase the strengths that will help them in the NBA.

That makes Mark Cuban's position intriguing. The Dallas Mavericks owner said last week that he thinks the NBA Development League is a better place to develop young talent than the NCAA. Though Cuban's argument was built on the ability to support players off the court, he also said there's "no question" that prospects would be better off basketball-wise in the D-League.

Since few top prospects have skipped college hoops entirely, there's no comparison group of D-Leaguers to assess Cuban's claim. But the league shares common rules with the NBA and offers a more consistent level of competition than the NCAA, two potential advantages for development.

Any changes to the age limit won't be determined until the players association has named a new executive director. Whoever replaces Billy Hunter in that role would be wise not to assume an increase in the age limit is in the best interests of the players in the long run. Instead, recent results indicate that ensuring top prospects can come to the NBA after one season in college may be best for their development.

Veröffentlicht : 11/03/2014 9:37 pm