Thursday, April 26, 2007

Monta Ellis Wins NBA Most-Improved
(Or: Why the NBA Age-Limit Is a Fraud)

(Click here for the blog's NFL Draft preview.)

OK, so while I'm talking about resonant
symbols that shatter the myth of the need for pro-sports age limits, like the NFL willingly and happily drafting a 19-year-old super-talent in the top half of the first round, as I did in the post below...

Monta Ellis wins NBA Most Improved
: How ironic, given the anti-"Prep-to-Pro" sentiment coursing through the league, media and fans in this inaugural season under the NBA's new age-limit rules. Please remember that Ellis was a prep-to-pro who dropped into the second round, much to the joy of prep-to-pro haters. He struggled in his rookie season a year ago, again to much celebration of the value of playing in college to your NBA future. Now? He's the only untouchable player on the Warriors roster.

The award affirms a few things: Ellis' rapid development, to be sure. But also his decision to turn pro out of high school, as well as the NBA's decision to let him in straight out of high school.

Let me be VERY clear: You cannot argue that both Ellis AND the NBA aren't better off for his having come straight out of high school to the NBA. You cannot argue that Ellis gunning his way through a single year at Mississippi State last year would have prepared him as well as directly learning his hoops lessons in the NBA last year. And you cannot argue that he would be a better pro this year and in what seems like a bright future without being a prep-to-pro.

Two Junes ago, proponents of an NBA age limit used Ellis as their poster boy for "bad decisions." Guess what: He made the RIGHT decision, as -- surprise -- an inordinate proportion of prep-to-pro players did. Their success rate, particularly when viewed against classes of players with any of the four years of college experience, is nothing short of astounding.

Then again, prep-to-pros (way more often than not) self-selected their NBA-readiness, usually helped out by the NBA's economic and player-personnel "market forces" – meaning, by selecting them (or assuring they would be selected), GMs affirmed the players' worthiness of being in the NBA. (Here's a fascinating paper on the subject.) What has been most remarkable isn't the rate of success itself, but the jaw-dropping degree of that success -- most prep-to-pro players who stick in the NBA are either superstars outright or pretty damn good.

Ellis is now the poster guy for why the NBA's age limit is so misguided (and anti-competitive). I hope supporters of the NBA's age-limit policy recognize that as they:

Root for Kobe to make it a series...

Root for Amare to integrally help the Suns improve the sport with a deep playoffs run...

Root for Dwight Howard to give the Magic their only chance against the Pistons...

Root for JR Smith to help the Nuggets keep it competitive with the Spurs...

Root for DeSagana Diop to continue to be, statistically, the biggest game-changer of the Warriors-Mavs series...

And, of course, root for LeBron to star above everyone.

-- D.S.


Dave Jackson said...

Dan, you forgot one:
Root for Kevin Garnett to get traded to a team that actually has a chance to make next year's playoffs.

Natsfan74 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Natsfan74 said...

Posting something like this at the end of the day on Friday makes sure no one actually read it, or the comments.

So you think a year of college ball would not have helped Ellis prepare? Tell that to Carmelo Anthony, I guess. Or ask Greg Oden if he appreciated the extra year.

Your article that you link does nothing to sway the argument, other than to say these players are getting robbed out of money. Ellis was a 2nd round pick, who signed a 3 year contract for $1.8M (the 3rd year of $700K is a team option year, which they will no doubt exercise).

Assume that if he plays one year of college, he jumps to the 1st round (the last guard taken was Mardy Collins by the Knicks). Collins contract is $1.8M for 2 years. Gee, one year of college and end up making the same money? That's assuming that he would only move up 10 places in the draft. If he had a great college year, let's assume he'd move to a lottery pick: the last lottery pick gaurd was Thabo Sefolosha, who signed a contract worth $3.5M in the first two years. The first guard taken (Brandon Roy) signed for $5.4M in the first 2 years. Think Ellis would trade one year of college for twice as much money over the same time period?

Again, there have been 50 HS players declare eligible since 1995. 41 have been drafted (1 of the undrafted was Charlie Villanueve, and we know how that turned out). 2 have been ROY, and only 8 have ever played in an all-star game. There are some up and coming young prep-to-pros stars, but they are only a success story if they make an impact in their FIRST Year. After that, we're comparing them to Carmelo Anthony. 'Melo made $10M in his first 3 years. Think Ellis would want 6 times what he is making now?

Anonymous said...

Soo...I notice two things from the above post:

1 ) The surprising lack of prep-to-pros flame out examples, especially with the recent news about Telfair. Telfair could be seen as the poster guy for the age limit as much as Ellis winning the 6th man award is the poster guy against it.

2 ) The lack of any sort of playoff success for the majority of prep-to-pros out there. Kobe won with Shaq & Phil and KG made it the conf finals w/ Sam C. & Latrell.

Amare has a great shot at a title this year. T-Mac looks to finally get out of the first round ( after 10 years ). LeBron looks to make it to the conf finals in the East after getting the easiest draw ever.

Yet, those are a hand full of guys showing moderate success versus the dozens of other HS players that will never really amout to much. Miles, Stevenson, Olowokandi, Bender, Leon Smith, Telfair, Cisse, Outlaw, Ebi, Perkins etc....

Deathwatch Conundrum said...

What about the fact that Ellis spent a good portion of last year in the NBDL?

Shouldn't your story mention that at least. It's not like he was with the Warriors learning every day. He's playing in the equivalent of D-1 program.

stooncer said...

What a one sided argument. As a paying customer, do you want to shell out thousands of dollars to watch an 18 year old kid struggle? Do you want to pay to watch them adjust from playing 15-18 year olds in the high school game to the NBA game and some of the greatest players this game has to offer? That's the big difference between playing a year of college ball to play like competition and going straight to the NBA where they fail for a year or two before finally emerging. I'm all for the league rule.

Look at what we've experienced. It took Kobe, Garnett and Jermain O'Neal a couple of seasons to emerge. Lebron is the exception. Just look at Andrew Bynum - he's not even 19 yet, has been in the league for 2 years and has yet to be a consitant, reliable player in this league. Will it happen? Possibly. But how much money do you want to spend to watch this guy develop?

pv845 said...

I completely agree with you. A couple of success stories does not mean that the HS limit is wrong. There have been many, many more players that have not done well. Evidentally Dan didn't read you post a couple of days ago when you made the argument very eloquently showing the lack of success.

And there is no way I would ever root for the "star" Lebron.

Christopher G said...

This debate seems to be focused in the wrong area though. I don't think a player's success is correlated with whether or not they go to college. Players like Sebastian Telfair still could have gone to college, been drafted in the same position, and not emerge as a star player in the NBA. Michael Olowokandi went to college for 4 years, was drafted #1, and has since been a huge disappointment.

What I like about the age limit rule is that it will make the NBA Draft worth watching again. The last few years have been so boring because fans would have no idea who these high schoolers were. You'd hear their name on draft night and probably wouldn't hear it again for 2-3 years when they either start to emerge as a solid player or labeled a bust.

This is the main reason I like the new age limit. It uses the NCAA as a hype machine for incoming NBA players. If the age limit wasn't imposed, Greg Oden may have entered last year's draft and been the first pick. However, nobody would have really known that much about Kevin Durant.

Mikepcfl said...

I think one thing has changed about the issue over the past few years. I think many of the prep-to-pro washouts happened because NBA teams didnt know how to handle the high school kids. Once the floodgates opened in the late 90s, teams would draft these kids and then treat them like adults and not 18 year old kids.

Teams now know how to take care of the kids better and there arent going to be as many flameouts. I think it just took the league awhile to adjust.

C.West said...

Are you kidding me Dan? You are argument is based on this one award. How come you haven't mention the other great success story. The celtics prep-to-pro "star" and SI's cover boy Telfair.

Then you use the NFL. The NFL does NOT have an age limit. It is "years after high school" limit. This kid out of Louisville is 19 but he had graduated out of both high and college. He isn't leaving college earlier. He is a smart kid with good grades.

Unknown said...

"Those who stick with the NBA are stars"

Most just don't stick with the NBA.

Unknown said...

Wow, looks like Dan published this post within hours of the award announcement...funny, I must have missed his other ultra-quick post defending Telfair when the Celtics all but announced they are cutting him earlier this week. Oh wait...

Dane Buzzle said...


You’re acting like this sort of situation is abnormal in our society, which is the opposite of how our world works. Every one of us has to complete some sort of “eligibility” in order to work in their chosen profession. Whether it be a degree, or some sort of work experience, every employer in the world has requirements for their various positions. Why should the NBA be any different?

If a prep doesn’t want to go to school, he can do what anyone else would have to do. Take a lesser position (in another league perhaps), and work his way up the ladder just like anyone else. The NBA has basically created a 1 year degree in basketball, and I for one am a fan of it.

DougOLis said...

I'm not sure how this proves the age limit is a fraud. All it proves is that he wasn't ready to play in the pros last year; which is kind of an argument in favor of the age limit.

Dunce said...

how about the fact that the age limit precludes those who are OF AGE to enlist in the armed forces (not to mention make decisions about who's running our country) from working in their desired profession? seems pretty fraudulent to me. you can go to iraq, get shot and killed at 18 but sorry, no nba becaure you need to learn zone defense for 1 year in college.

Nathan said...

I agree with you that this rule is stupid and I also believe the NCAA should pay it players for all the money they generate. However I will offer that I think one year of college does help to bring players into the limelight a little bit better (e.g. I may have known more about Monta at the beginning of this season if he was killing people last year in college as opposed to the situation where I did not know much about him to begin the year). Thats the only counter point I can think of that makes sense.

Unknown said...

all this proves is if jason richardson hadn't been injured, monta wouldn't have won. or if jason went down last year instead of this year, he wouldn't have won. let's give credit where credit's due: to jason richardson's timely injury.

spanish bombs said...

Err, not to copy-edit, but saying that the age limit is a "fraud" implies that it isn't real, ie Monta Ellis found some loophole. You, on the other hand, appear to argue that it is stupid and misguided, which doesn't have much to do with deception or false.

A couple counterpoints that could be raised are that high school players in the first couple years are typically deadweight, which hurts the quality of play. In addition, as was the case for Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady, the team that drafts the player (with the rookie deal of 3 years plus an option and the typical development of curve of 3 years for high schoolers) means that the team drafting the high schooler may not reap the dividends! The age limit can be seen as a way for teams to better sort the incoming draftees by forcing them to play one year in college. In addition, CURRENT players were made better off because there are now more roster spots available to veterans. Of course, one would think that the owners and players would also take how these high schoolers would change league profits into account, but it is not clear what this impact would be.

In regards to player welfare, it is hard to see how going to college would have improved Sebastian Telfair's well-being. By being drafted in the first-round, Telfair GUARANTEED himself an upper-class lifestyle; to say that he could have guaranteed himself $2 million instead of $1 million seems like much less of a big deal than the initial gain of $1 million. In addition, it is by no means clear that college would have improved Telfair's game enough for him to have been drafted higher. Mike pcfl made a good point that the NBA has been well-equipped for the past couple of years to ease the transition of high school players into the league, so it is unlikely that if a player could not develop in the NBA, he could develop instead in college.

Finally, someone compared the D-league to D1 college teams. Perhaps top 10 or 15 college teams, but in the NCAA, the very top teams do not play each other too terribly often. While I would probably bet on Florida to beat D-league teams, there aren't very many college teams about whom I would say that.

PS natsfan74 threw out some numbers. I don't know why; they go against his argument. In contrast to the high schoolers, since 1995, there have been roughly 600 college/international players (I really wish he would have seperated by age!) drafted. If they were to have the same success rate as high schoolers, they would need to have 84 All-Stars and 24 rookies of the year! Clearly, these numbers are absurd, and the ROY numbers do not even factor in that high schoolers typically need 2-3 years of weight training,etc. natsfan74 is kind of retarded, if anyone is still reading.

Ian said...

Excellent argument Dan, and I agree completely.

If you actually look at the list of prep-to-pro players, it's amazing how good so many of them are.

That list of 40 or so players shakes out like this:

8 superstars (Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Garnett, and I'm including Shawn Kemp because he never actually played any college basketball)

5 players on the cusp (Rashard Lewis-who could be on the top list, Josh Smith, Eddie Curry, Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson)

5 solid to very good role players (Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, Kwame Brown, Dasagna Diop, Tyson Chandler)

Then a few unknowns who could go either way (Kendrick Perkins, Shaun Livingston, Martell Webster, etc)

And only a couple notable busts (Johnathon Bender-injuries, Sebastian Telfair-legal issues, although I still have hope, I like him)

And I'm sure I'm missing a couple on each list. I would bet that if you stacked that up proportionally to college bred players it wouldn't come out to a quarter superstars, another quarter solid role players or up and coming players.

As for this: "Every one of us has to complete some sort of “eligibility” in order to work in their chosen profession."

No, you don't, not if you already have the requisite skills to come in and perform as well or better than most of your peers, as Lebron and others have proven they can. You don't have to attend Juliard to start a band, you shouldn't have to go to Duke to play basketball.

Kevin said...

Dan, have you ever taken a statistics course in school? Maybe you should. I know it makes for good blog fodder, but one prep-to-pro kid having a great second season does not mean that all prep-to-pro kids are great players who will succeed in the NBA.

kb said...

You can complain/rave about the age limit all you want Dan, but what are you going to do about it? Call David Stern? Sit down with Myles Brand? wah wah wah. If you can play, you can play. Whether or not you have to go have your school PAID FOR for a year doesn't matter if you can play.

Michael said...

The problem with College Basketball is these kids get treated like gods for the time they are there. They have no outside motivation to improve themselves, look at Noah, he didn't improve at all this year.

Ellis got his butt kicked, and worked really hard to improve his game.

And if we look at the stats, the college kids have more trouble with the law than the prep kids.

Anthony was making stop snitching videos, when LeBron was told to watch who his friends were.

Biggs said...

You cannot argue that Ellis gunning his way through a single year at Mississippi State last year would have prepared him as well as directly learning his hoops lessons in the NBA last year.

Why not? You cannot argue that it absolutely wouldn't.

Malcolm said...

The age limit is nothing but age discrimination. If you have an employer who is willing to hire you then you should be able to go and work for them period. Helping the NCAA be relevant again should have no place in your business model. You should be encouraging your teams to develop their own talent by opening academies and having youth teams. Why the NBA continues to allow the development of their work force to happen by other institutions that are profiting off of this development(NCAA, AAU in particular) is mind blowing.

RE: Carmello and that stop snitching video he didn't make it. You can go
to actually read about what was in the video.