We're all slaves to the availability heuristic, a cognitive shortcut that our minds take which sometimes results in distorted perceptions. It's not our fault, it's just the way the mind works. The availability heuristic is when we make judgments based on what we remember or what stands out in our mind, rather than using the complete data. Let me give you an example: Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett are three of the best players in the National Basketball Association, and they were all drafted out of high school. Therefore great players don't need to go to college to be successful.
See the distortion?
It's precisely this type of flawed logic that my boy J-Meyer tries to use on me every year when the NBA Draft comes around. And he'll be spinning it again at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 28, when the draft is held in New York City. His first shot is always the same - a 3-point bomb that includes Kobe, Lebron and KG. The reasoning is that these guys obviously didn't need college because they were Just That Good. Then he'll come back with "Well what if Kobe blew out his knee jamming over some poor Florida State freshman?"
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These are valid points, but J-Meyer quickly dismisses my counter - Taj McDavid, Leon Smith and Korleone Young. Many don't recognize those names even though they were all drafted out of high school within the last 10 years, because none of them played more than 20 games in the NBA. As a result, they aren't openly considered when people argue about this topic - the availability heuristic alive and well.
(By the way, I wonder where any of those guys are these days. They're too young to be the janitor at their old middle school, so what are they doing? Seriously, how many times do those guys look over at their boys during a TV timeout of a game and say, "Man, what did I do?" Maybe in about five years someone will put together a reality show that's a cross between "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and "The Contender", where 12 former NBA first-round busts live together and compete for a 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks. I'd watch.)
My point is that Kobe, Lebron, etc. are the exceptions, rather than the rule for high school players drafted in the NBA Draft. To check it out, I looked back over the nine drafts since 1995 and saw that 28 players were drafted in the first round straight out of high school. 1995 was the starting point because it was the year in which KG decided to flap his wings straight into the NBA, causing a tidal wave that may have crested in 2004 when a record eight high school players were among the top 30 picks. But while the names Tracy McGrady, Amare Stoudamire and Jermaine O'Neal jump out at you from that crew of 28 ballers, they're only part of the data we have to consider:
1) If you toss out the eight high schoolers picked last year (since it is too early for a ruling on them) that would leave 20 guys who went from prom to pro. After the six we've already named, the rest have been marginal at best. Only three (Eddy Curry, Al Harrington and Darius Miles) are averaging more than 10 points for their career, and none of them have really been much of a factor. The 11 left include such game-changers as Chris Antsey, Kendrick Perkins and Kwame Brown. Pretty uninspiring.
Six out of 20 is only a 30 percent success ratio. That may not seem that bad, and it is about the same success ratio as with foreign-born draftees. There have been 33 foreigners picked between 1995 and 2003, and only 11 of them have really done anything (I know this is subjective, but I think I'm pretty liberal with my scoring. For example: Nene and Vladimir Radmanovic are OK, Frederic Weis and Efhimis Rentzias are not.). However, both of those percentages are lower than the nearly 49 percent success rate of drafting players who spent at least one year in college (again, "success" is defined as having at least a recognizable career. Kurt Thomas and Derek Fisher yes, Olivier Saint-Jean and Quincy Lewis no). In that time frame, 104 of 216 college players selected made at least Travis Best/Greg Ostertag-type contributions for their teams. That means that your odds of success are still a coin flip with kids coming out of college, but that's better than the 1-for-3 you're looking at with everyone else.
2) Since 1995, the 28 players that have Jumped have combined for 82,314 points in 5859 games, a scoring average of 14.0 per. Decent, but not eye popping. However, Kobe, KG, T-Mac and O'Neal account for 60 percent of those points and 43 percent of the games. If you remove those four from the equation, the remaining 24 players are averaging 9.8 points. Also, if you take the mean of all 28 career scoring averages - further limiting the effect of those for anomalies - you're left with a paltry 8.9 ppg average.
3) Another thing to consider is that since 1995 only 106 of the overall 299 players picked in the first round are still with the teams that selected them. That number includes the last two drafts, where all 59 ballers are still under their rookie contracts and are yet to go through free agency. If you eliminate the two most recent drafts, only 47 of 240 picks are still with their original teams - less than 20 percent. The point here is why draft a kid who will be a waste for his first few years and then watch him run off to star for someone else? T-Mac (picked by Toronto in 1997) and O'Neal (picked by Portland in 1996) are two perfect examples of this phenomenon.
People are always going to have differing opinions on the merits of prep-to-pro. Some believe that if a kid is old enough to serve in the military, he should be allowed to play professional basketball. Others point not to the kids, but to the NBA execs that keep spending high picks on these potential-laden players. These are both true, but it's a pretty individualistic approach. I'm more interested in The Game than I am Al Harrington, just like Harrington is more worried about his bank account than he is my opinion. I think that's fair.
I see kids wandering around the mall and I can't help but think about how equally arrogant and ignorant they are. Seriously, think back to yourself at age 18 - did you know anything? Were you nearly as ready for "real life" as you thought you were? Do you ever think to yourself, "Man, if I could go back and give myself some advice I wouldn't because I knew everything then?" I didn't think so. And I think it's the same with a lot of these kids that go pro too soon. They don't know what they're doing, and unfortunately they may not realize it until their mopping the halls of their middle school.
ARTICLE UPDATE: OK, I know I said on Tuesday that I'd have my Mockery Draft available on Friday. Well, I lied. It will be ready sometime next week, after next Tuesday's deadline for people to withdraw their names from the draft list. Sorry for any confusion, but make sure to check back with Doc's Sports next week for those last-minute tid-bits that will make you a Man amongst boys at your draft party.