On the day he was selected in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft by the Warriors, former Villanova striker Eric Paschall was 22 and had another birthday showing up in less than five months. Most teams in the league make their choices in an age-old beauty policy, so he had to wait for another 45 players to be announced before hearing his own name.
On the day he was chosen to represent the United States-born contingent of the league during the All-Star weekend at the annual Rising Stars game, he was 23 and averaged 13.5 points for sixth place in the standings. the league rookies.
NBA teams are obsessed with the age of players when it comes time to make their annual draft in June, and the Rising Stars game offers further evidence that this design approach may not always be the best.
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The average age of the top 10 teams in last June's draft was 19.5. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, as some of the players chosen were Zion Williamson (18 at the time), Ja Morant (20) and RJ Barrett (19). However, when the Suns made an exchange with the Timberwolves for the 11th choice and the chance to summon the wing Cameron Johnson – a player who was 23 years off on draft night – the move was met with a hysterical response.
This was not due to doubts about his ability. It was because he was, well, old.
SB Nation said Johnson did not have "enough advantage to justify such a high choice". Bleacher report called Johnson the "anti-positive perspective of this draft". Sports Illustrated wrote, "He is already 23 years old." Almost all reviews recognize that Johnson is a sniper, and almost everyone cited reasonable concerns about his possible defensive problems and lack of great strength. The most common criticism, however, was Johnson's age.
Paschall's age was a factor in being selected in the second round, although he brought many qualities that the NBA covets: endurance, ability to defend various positions, long-range shooting, a lot of experience in winning. He is one of four players to play the game Rising Stars, which spent four seasons in college. (Technically, Heat's Kendrick Nunn, who moved from Illinois to Oakland, spent five.) Another three played three seasons, including Brandon Clarke of Memphis, who also spent four years in college after the transfer. Of the 21 players selected for the game, 12 played several seasons in college.
"It is strictly the impact of the analysis," an Eastern Conference executive told Sporting News. "Many teams have come to have data to increase decision-making, and age always comes back as the NBA's biggest success indicator. So now more young people come in, and there is a deeper pool to write."
"Apparently, it's a good idea, but most guys are just not ready. That's why you see all these guys being traded."
Is the way of writing the NBA working for teams that follow this course? It seems not. We are in the fourth season since the 2016 draft took place. Of the 30 players chosen in the first round of that season, 20 no longer have their original teams. Eighteen of them were traded. One was launched completely. One was negotiated and released.
Interestingly, of the 10 players still with their original teams, only one played his teenage rookie season – Denver's Jamal Murray – and the average rookie age for these players was 21.
A Western Conference executive explained to Sporting News that the main reason teams are so committed to hiring younger players is related to the contract. If a selected player is valued, the team will have – during the player's rookie years and the subsequent free agency advantages of the design team – the opportunity to comfortably retain that player for eight years.
For a team that draws the player at 19, this covers until he is in the early years of the NBA. If he enters the age of 23, control will take him to the age of 30, when players normally decline.
"That's the difference there. That's the commercial element of the whole thing," said the official. "Our league is so young that every year, a new player breaks our record as the youngest player in wearing our shirt. We found out how to league: when you graduate from college, you evaluate it properly after four years, and if you're physically in place, your game is unlikely to see much growth.
"All of these things need to be assessed individually. We try not just to give a youngster a pass. There are a lot of imperfect players and people, and you can't just say that he is young."
However, not every person at the front of the league agrees with this in principle. The Eastern Conference executive replied that there is nothing undesirable about controlling a player until he is 30, especially since a player who is 20 is more likely to be physically mature.
The idea is for players to be fully trained after long college careers have been contradicted by the experience of countless players over the past decade. Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Klay Thompson, Fred VanVleet, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard may seem like exceptions, but surprising successes like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Kelly Oubre, Kelly Adams Oubre, Steven Adams and Bam Adebayo are equally rare.
Defending NBA champion Raptors defeated the Warriors with an eight-man rotation that included no players who entered the league as a teenager. Only three of the eight – Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard – entered at age 20, and the average age in their debut years was 21.5 years. The Warriors were slightly younger, with an average age of 21.2 years old and two players – DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney – who joined the league as a teenager.
This does not mean that players entering their teens are not very successful. LeBron James and Kevin Durant are obvious examples of stars who have followed this path. They were extraordinary talents whose potential was clearly established. That's why James was number 1 in the 2003 NBA Draft and Durant was number 2 in 2007, directly after another teenage phenomenon, Greg Oden.
The fact that the league assumes that players finish making major improvements when they turn 22 is not supported by the facts. Lillard was chosen sixth overall at 22 in the 2012 draft, averaging 19.0 points as a 22-year-old rookie and then increased his points average over four consecutive seasons. This year, at 29, he is producing the best career results, with 29.5 points and 7.9 assists per game. VanVleet was not even summoned after four years in the state of Wichita, which included an appearance in the Final Four in the first year and an undefeated regular season in the second year. He averaged 2.9 points as a rookie. He has 18.0 points and 6.8 assists per game in his fourth season.
"Whenever you choose the draft, you are always faced with a choice. But forget the potential versus the production. What you need to focus on first is talent," Fran Franchchilla, who analyzes the ESPN draft, said SN. "Buddy Hield was ridiculed as a choice, but he’s a very good NBA talent. I don’t mean he’s a star, but the guy averaged 20 points on a team almost in the playoffs. The most important factor is the NBA talent. "
Hield is another who, although he entered the league at age 24, almost doubled his points average in season three.
What will Johnson become? He averages 7.7 points in 19.8 minutes per game and shoots 39.0% beyond the arc. This is within the same range of established stars as Lillard, Kemba Walker and Paul George.
"Cameron Johnson was 11 years old, and what is the instant reaction of every person watching, is that it? It's like 'Wow, what the hell are they doing?' East. "Maybe they are in a different cycle than a team, they don't want to wait for a player to contribute, they want someone ready to go and they can connect him. It doesn't happen anymore, so it shocks everyone when it happens.
"This guy can be a good player. They may really need him. It's easy to look at him in a vacuum. There's more to it than that."