Are there long term side effects of cutting class for the NBA?

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Kobe Bryant and LeBron James NBA TV’s Open Court is a round table of successful former NBA basketball players discussing all aspects of basketball and life.  When asked what one thing you would do if you could be NBA commissioner for a day, Charles Barkley said he would expand one of the newest rules that affects potential NBA players.  The rule now is that a player has to be one-year-removed from high school in order to be drafted.  Barkley said he would make that two years.  He makes the argument that a person goes from playing with boys to playing with men.  The actual physical size difference was negligible for some players, so why would Barkley make a comment like this?

After the 2011 NBA finals, critics picked apart holes in Lebron James’ game that had never even been whispered before a TV audience.  It was apparent that even though Lebron is the most dominating athlete in the NBA, possibly the best athlete in the world, that there were some things that he did not do well on the court.  We have all seen this in our sports experiences from the kid who could jump higher than anyone, but could not actually make a layup, to the football player that could tackle anyone, but could not catch a ball unless you hit him in the chest.  These players “lack the fundamentals” necessary to get to the highest level possible.

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College provides the perfect environment to develop these fundamentals.  Some players develop quicker than others, and NBA teams judge every year if and/or when these under-developed players will blossom and match their game-play with their athleticism.  When a player leaves early to join the NBA, development slows because the level of competition increases.  Therefore the learning curve is much harder, hence the “jump” players feel going from the amateur ranks to the professional ranks.  When a player takes his time in college to develop his game, he often reaches his potential sooner, and lasts longer in the NBA.

Developed players win championships in the NBA, under-developed players don’t.  Therefore, players that continue to polish their game, and work hard in the areas that need improvement tend to be more successful.  Average NBA talented players can turn into veterans that play for 15 to 20 years, and above average talented players turn into superstars that win multiple championships.  Examples of current NBA players that stayed in school, and turned their average NBA talent into many seasons of prosperity include Shane Battier(four seasons at Duke), Mike Dunleavy (three seasons at Duke), Kurt Thomas (four seasons at TCU), and Keith Bogans ( four seasons at Kentucky).

When you have above average talent, mixed with time in college, and time spent polishing their game, you come up with hall of fame type players.  Examples of current players include Paul Pierce (three seasons at Kansas), Steve Nash (four seasons at Santa Clara), Ray Allen (three seasons at UCONN), and Tim Duncan (four seasons at Wake Forest).

On the flip side, examples of talent minus years in college and minus the necessary work to improve their fundamentals include J.R. Smith ( no college), Sebastian Telfair (no college), Michael Beasley (one year at Kansas State), and Demarcus Cousins (one year at Kentucky).

There are players who are on the fence. Players that lack either college time, or the time polishing skills. The lack of developing these skills could change a player from NBA to NBDL, or Hall of Fame candidate to a great player on a good team. Dwight Howard needs to polish his skills. Specifically, he can play defense better. He can play up on the ball when he guards the other team’s center. He can be more aggressive defending pick and rolls. He can definitely move his feet better when playing one-on-one defense. On offense, he is limited to playing with his back to the basket 10 feet away. He has no jump shot. He can only score on pick and rolls when he is attacking the rim. If he could work on these things, then we are talking about a sure Hall-of-Fame player. He could be the next Shaquille O’Neal (three seasons at LSU), or he could be the next Tracy McGrady (no college).

David Gallagher is an NBA writer for The Sports Blitz

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One Response to Are there long term side effects of cutting class for the NBA?

  1. For every Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James there are players who could have used at least 3 years in college. What do they care…they make their millions. That’s all most of them care about. 

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