Saturday, June 26, 2010

Youth vs. Experience

I guess experience is overrated. In Thursday's NBA draft, a college senior was not taken until pick 23. The entire lottery, and first 22 picks were all underclassmen. Even Trevor Booker, picked 23rd, was a surprise. I didn't expect him to go in the first round. Taking things a step further, look at the prospects for next year's draft. According to ESPN's draft expert, not only are there no incoming seniors atop the 2011 draft board; there is not a single CURRENT COLLEGE PLAYER in the top ten. Picks one through ten next season are all high school players or foreign players. I don't even know who the best incumbent college player is. Elias Harris? JaJuan Johnson? Dare I say, John Henson?

This happened for a number of reasons. One, which had been touched on when players were declaring, was the fact that many of the guys in this year's draft purposely left 'too' early to avoid next year's possible lockout/salary changes. Even current pending free agents are thinking of opting out of contracts that end in 2011 just to get a few more years of money guaranteed before the unknown. So perhaps this factored in to Ed Davis, Lance Stephenson, Daniel Orton, and many others leaving school when they could probably have used another year of growth.

Maybe the more pressing matter at hand though is the decline (demise?) of college basketball. Name the stars of college basketball. There aren't any. No one stays long enough to become a household name. John Calipari, the head coach at Kentucky, was at the draft two days ago. He said that today (meaning draft day) was the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history because they had their first number one overall selection in John Wall, as well as five players get drafted in the first round. What he forgot to mention in this interview was that at least three of those five guys were recruited to Kentucky knowing they would leave after one year. Also, Calipari decided not to bring up the fact that his current roster has no one on it. Rather than dubbing that the best day in Kentucky history, shouldn't it have been their darkest? Five players, all leaving early after failing to win a championship, and leaving their former teammates, classmates, coach and alumni with not a single player to lead this team next season.

Perhaps these things are cyclical. Once a new agreement is signed in the NBA, and things change with the salary cap and bargaining agreements, maybe players will decide to stay longer in college. Maybe players will be forced to stay longer in college. Who knows? But is experience overrated? Do these guys hurt themselves at all by leaving early? To decide this, I am going to take an arbitrary look at the greatest starting five of two groups of players: those who went straight from high school into the NBA versus those who stayed in school all four years. Now even though this is only a small sample of 12 players (let's give each team a 6th man) I am going to use this to decide the answer to the entire argument.

Starting Five of the Straight From High School Team:

C - Moses Malone
PF - Kevin Garnett
SF - LeBron James
SG - Kobe Bryant
PG - Monta Ellis? Wow. There has never been a good point guard to come straight from high school? Let me re-do this.

C - Moses Malone
PF - Kevin Garnett
SF - Tracy McGrady
SG - Kobe Bryant
Point Forward - LeBron James. What the hell. We don't need a point guard. Our sixth man will be Amar'e Stoudemire. This is a giant team, with Kobe, checking in at 6'6", being the smallest player.

Starting Five of the Four Year Graduates Team:

C - Bill Russell
PF - Tim Duncan
SF - Larry Bird
SG - Jerry West
PG - John Stockton. Unlike the high school team, the graduates team actually had point guards to choose from. I went with Stockton over someone like Steve Nash. Our sixth man will be Grant Hill. He can play a couple of positions, is a good defender, and wouldn't complain about coming off the bench.

Well, the graduates team is definitely more old-school, although we do have some recent players as well. The high school team is obviously mostly recent players, but all deserving (with the possible exception of Amar'e.) Let's take this position by position to see who has the edge and who would win in the battle of youth vs. experience.

Center: Moses Malone is one of the top dozen players ever. The problem is Russell is the greatest center to ever play. The edge goes to the graduates, but not overwhelmingly.

Power Forward: Again, a very close match. Kevin Garnett could be called the second best PF alive. However, without a doubt, the best is his opponent here, Tim Duncan. The edge again goes to the graduates, but not by much.

Small Forward: This match-up is not close. McGrady is a two-time league scoring champion but does not compare to Larry Bird. Although there could be a discussion about switching up the high school team's lineup and match-ups, when it comes to McGrady vs. Bird the huge edge goes to the graduates.

Shooting Guard: Jerry West is a legend. Kobe Bryant would be as well, if we were looking at him from 20 years in the future. I have to give the slight edge here to Kobe, just because of pure numbers. He won more, scored more, etc. I'm not sure who would win in a game of one-on-one with both in their prime, but from a historical standpoint, the edge goes to the high school team here.

Point Guard: Now this may have been unfair. There is no way John Stockton could guard LeBron James. Even bringing Hill off the bench to help guard him, LeBron has the tremendous edge in this match-up. Stockton is a very good player, but he isn't an all-time guy. He never won a title. He put up staggering numbers, but so has LeBron, in only a few short seasons. The edge goes to the high school team by a wide margin.

Overall Team: The size advantage goes to the high school team. The edge for winning pedigree has to be given to the graduates however. As for a lineup that could actually play well and cohesively together, a huge edge goes to the graduates. That seems like a team that could actually take the floor.

In the end, the winners are the team of graduates. But this (may) have been a slightly unfair exercise since the player pool for guys coming straight from high school to the NBA is small and, for now, plugged. The rules prevent this from happening currently, and no one before Malone had ever done it. In the end, the best pure roster could probably be made from players who went to college but left early: a mixture of youth and experience. However, it could be argued that eight of our 12 players here are all-time greats.

The fun part would be to compare these lineups to the 2011 Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Joakim Noah might want to take a run at them.

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