Andrew Wiggins will officially go pro in about one month. He'll sign with an agent, choose a sneaker company, decide which teams get to see him work out and be one of the top three picks in June. He'll likely have a long, lucrative career. He could make some All-Star teams and some All-NBA teams. He could be an MVP. He could win a title.
And absolutely nothing he's done in Lawrence this season will help him get there.
No offense to Bill Self or the Kansas program, but if Wiggins had been allowed to join the NBA this season, his outlook would look exactly the same. He was a classic case of the prep player who was ready to make an impact at the NBA level. He had the body and skills needed to play serious minutes. Scouts had plenty of opportunities to see him over the years. In the digital age, conjuring up game tape couldn't be easier. Observers knew he'd be a versatile, athletic, long forward with huge defensive potential. In Lawrence, he's shown to be a versatile, athletic, long forward with huge defensive potential. Nothing that's happened in Lawrence has changed his pro outlook. He figures to be very good, and is worth a top pick.
So why the heck did the NBA insist he make money for someone else in 2013-14?
We know the reasons the NBA gives for instituting the age minimum: that it prevents busts, that it gives scouts more data and tape to analyze before making big decisions, that the NCAA helps develop players' skills, that it keeps NBA employees out of high school gyms. It's all malarkey.
There are as many busts now as there have ever been, despite strides in player analysis and tape availability. For every Kwame Brown, there's a Hasheem Thabeet. For every Korleone Young, there's a Joe Alexander. For every Eddy Curry, there's a Thomas Robinson. There was no avalanche of prep-to-pro failures; instead, there were some high-profile cases. You talk about Kwame (who went on to have a long if not notable pro career), but he's one of three high school kids to go No. 1 overall. The other two are LeBron James and Dwight Howard. What about them?
The NBA argues that teams make better decisions with more data and tape, and one more year of observation and development at the college level is necessary. Three college sophomores went in the top five of the 2013 draft: Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len. Those guys have ranged from disappointing to disastrous as rookies even with an extra year of college. Further, Kevin Pelton's recent study of player improvement showed that there is no actual advantage to a second year of college ball. So much for college development.
Some players are ready after high school and don't need even one year of college to grow. Wiggins, to use him as an example, may have improved over the course of this year. But he would have improved in the same way in the NBA without the distraction of staying eligible for the second semester and with a bunch more cash in his pocket. He hardly needed shelter under which to mature in Lawrence: his parents are pro athletes, and the NBA should trust itself to protect its young players; this is the entire point of the Rookie Symposium. LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Garnett and Howard all managed to improve without college.
The NBA actually develops players better than college. The idea that college basketball development is advantageous is a lie.
Go back to 2012. The best rookie was Damian Lillard, who entered the draft after his college eligibility had expired. The next two: college freshmen Anthony Davis and uber-raw Andre Drummond. Davis had been ranked No. 2 nationally in the class of 2011. Drummond was ranked No. 1 in the class of 2012; he reclassified to 2011 at the last minute to get to the NBA faster. What exactly did a year of college teach us about these guys? It actually hurt the decision-making of a few teams who passed on Drummond: they would have been better off not seeing some specific struggles he displayed at UConn because those specific struggles scared them off a great young prospect.
And the argument that NBA personnel no longer has to watch AAU games or visit high schools on recon? Please. Kyrie Irving went No. 1 in 2011 after playing a whopping dozen games at Duke. You think the Cavaliers (and every other team in the mix for No. 1) hadn't seen a grip of his high school work? Teams aren't drafting high school kids, but they sure still are tracking high school kids. If they aren't, they're falling behind.
That's why everyone knew Andrew Wiggins would be a very high pick before he landed at Kansas, and why -- surprise! -- he will still be a very high pick. What purpose did having him wearing Jayhawk blue serve? What purpose would having him wear Jayhawk blue for two seasons serve?
It's an absurd policy threatening to get even worse. There's no decent justification, and if the NBA can't prove it makes the league better, it should abandon the policy and any plans to expand it.