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The 4 biggest problems with the NBA’s new plan to pay elite high school players

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The G-League is offering real money to lure one-and-done stars away from college. There are still a few issues.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is making a proactive move to address the pitfalls of the one-and-done rule before it can officially abolish its age limit. The league announced a new professional path for top high school players on Thursday, offering $125K in pay and a year of development in the G-League for would-be one-and-done talents before they can enter the draft one year later.

This new plan will go into effect at the start of the 2019-20 season, potentially impacting the recruitment of the top players in the high school class of 2019 — the top six players in the country in Rivals’ rankings remain uncommitted. The league reportedly still plans on abolishing its age limit in time for the 2022 NBA Draft, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The timing of this is not coincidental. The FBI’s month-long college basketball corruption trial, which has revealed the details of the black market that exists because of the NCAA’s outdated amateurism rules, is nearing its end. In addition to working within a pro infrastructure in the G-League, athletes who take this new path will also be able to sign with an agent, ink sneaker contracts, and profit off their likeness.

“Select Contracts are an answer to the basketball community’s call for additional development options for elite players before they are eligible for the NBA,” said NBA G League President Malcolm Turner. “The supporting infrastructure surrounding these newly-created Select Contracts is designed to provide a rich offering of basketball and life skills developmental tools for top young players to grow along their professional paths from high school to the pros.”

While a step in the right direction, this new professional pathway for high school players still leaves a lot of answered questions.

Who determines which players will be afforded this option?

The wording the league used in its press release is intentionally vague, saying the option is open to “elite players” before they are eligible for the NBA. Who determines what qualifies as “elite”?

Let’s use an example from the past to show the issue. Take a look at ESPN’s class of 2015 rankings:

Jeter was considered a five-star recruit and presumably would have been eligible for this G-League path. Would Mitchell? He was only a four-star recruit, ranked outside the top 40 in his class.

Fast forward a few years. Jeter is still playing at the college level at Arizona, while Mitchell is a rising NBA star.

Will this option only be available to top-10 recruits? Will it be available to all five-stars? All four-stars? The NBA must figure this out before locking certain players out of an opportunity that might benefit them.

What G-League teams will these players end up on?

For players, the opportunity to work within a pro infrastructure rather than spend a year in college going to school and playing for “free” is a huge incentive. You know who also has a huge incentive in this? NBA teams.

Even if these players become eligible to be drafted by anyone after one year, there’s a big advantage to landing a prospect the caliber of Anthony Davis or Ben Simmons for a season. Whichever team does can bring them into their farm system early and become comfortable with them as people and players. That gives them more information than the other 29 clubs when making a draft decision.

It raises the question: who will determine which G-League team these players suit up for? How can that be decided in a fair way?

What incentive do G-League personnel have to do what’s best for that player?

There’s also a competitive issue here, too. The average age of a G-League player is 25, so the level of play will be more difficult than it is in college. Will players who aren’t no-brainer top-10 talents like Simmons or Davis look good enough in the G-League to convince NBA teams to use a high first-round pick on them?

Coaches will also be put in a tough position. Do you develop an 18-year-old who may never play for your pro affiliate at the expense of the grown men on lesser salaries who are trying to grind out pro careers at the G-League and ultimately gain enough exposure for an NBA shot? There are a lot of potential conflicts of interest, based on how much G-League coaches want to win and how much loyalty they have to their veterans.

How these young players will be treated by their older, poorer peers could also get sticky. How will other G-Leaguers react to an 18-year-old making $125K when they’re making $35K? These recent high school players will have a huge target on their backs.

Will high school players actually want to take this route?

We’ve written this before: college basketball offers a lot of perks than the G-League will never be able to touch.

Woj put it more succinctly:

The $125K offered by the G-League sounds great, but remember that it’s $75K less than DePaul allegedly offered Brian Bowen.

Remember: high school players already had the option to play in the G-League. The only thing really changing here is the pay. When Darius Bazley decided to join the G-League instead of honor his commitment to Syracuse, he was only getting $35K per year. Now, he could get $125K.

Bazley ultimately decided to drop out of the G-League and train the entire year for the draft. Why? Because he realized it’d be hard for him to look good in a league against grown men. He turned down guaranteed money in the present to (in theory) help secure more money in the future.

Everything about this new G-League venture sounds great on paper, but there are real issues to work out because it’s a viable path for top-ranked high school players.