Charlotte Hornets

The impending NBA change Jay Bilas calls ‘a slow drip of chaos’ for basketball

“A slow drip of chaos.”

That’s what ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas expects once the NBA returns to a system where U.S. high school players can enter the draft, rather than wait for another year to pass That change seems inevitable, and could happen as soon as the 2021 draft, if the league and the players association work out details.

Charlottean Bilas has a rare vantage point to all this, as a longtime college basketball analyst and also part of ESPN’s annual NBA draft coverage.

Bilas favors the NBA returning to the rules as they were before 2005, when future stars such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett turned pro out of high school, because he endorses options. But Bilas knows there will be “casualties” — players turning pro too soon, based on bad information — and he thinks so-called “one-and-done” college players have become a convenient scapegoat for the NCAA’s problems.

“The casualties will be real, but the policymakers aren’t really going to care because their money is going to be protected,” Bilas said, referring to pressure on college basketball and football to additionally compensate players.

“Football coaches making $10 million a year, and we’re still calling this amateur?

“There is something in this that smacks of the NCAA being able to blame all its problems on one-and-dones; that once we get these 30 one-and-doners out of the game, we don’t have to worry about all of these money issues and the (corruption cases) in the federal courts. I think that’s a red herring. A lie, really.”

The timing of this change will be key because NBA front offices and college coaches will need warning to adjust how they fill their rosters. But the momentum is there: NBA commissioner Adam Silver endorsed the change last summer, and the NCAA has done so as well.

Bilas discussed the ramifications on the NBA, college basketball and the players who will be in position to make these choices with Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell on Tuesday:

How different will this be for NBA front offices in draft preparation?

“Quite a bit because they are going to change their rules again, and they’re going to have to do it in advance so everybody is prepared for 2021 or ‘22,” Bilas said. “Where is the NBA going to be allowed? Can they go to high school gyms (for games)? Are they allowed in daily practices? Can they only go to certain (age group) events?

“At all these summer events, pro scouts will be there. You’ll have an NBA scout at a high school game watching (the next) Zion Williamson, and the 10th-best player (in that game) is gonna think ‘They’re here watching me.’ ’’

Bilas said high school seniors being draft-eligible again will put more emphasis on developing young prospects, but the NBA is already better equipped to do that via G-League affiliates. Each of the 30 NBA franchises now has direct control of a G-League team.

The development of young Hornets Dwayne Bacon and Devonte Graham with the Greensboro Swarm last season demonstrates how much better coordinated the system now is.

How different will this be for college basketball?

Different, but not as different as some might predict. Bilas doesn’t see every player good enough to be drafted skipping college, because there is still an argument for college over a season spent mostly in the G-League.

“Until the money and exposure (for developmental players) are ramped up, college is still going to be a very viable opportunity. For a lot of players, you’re probably better off going to college for a year,” Bilas said.

“In college, you’re flying around on private planes, eating really well, being developed. (Top college programs) are pouring resources into it. Would you rather go to the G-League to pocket a couple of bucks and you’re living in Sioux Falls, S.D.? Why not play in college ball for a year?”

Bilas said college coaches will have more complicated decisions whether to recruit a player good enough to consider the NBA out of high school. But ultimately, Bilas said, this won’t change who is elite among college basketball programs.

“The best available kids will still go to the same schools — the No. 1 prospect will still be choosing between Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina,” Bilas said.

Bilas finds it laughable that some argue college basketball is better off without the so-called “one-and-dones.”

“It’s undeniable that (Duke freshman) Zion Williamson made all our (television) ratings shoot through the roof,” Bilas said. “So are we going to deny that Zion Williamson was good for college basketball? Or players like him?”

Also, Bilas notes that making high school seniors draft-eligible won’t end “one-and-dones.” Rather, it means different players will turn pro following their freshman seasons in college.

How different will it be for players?

To Bilas, this change will amplify a trend already in progress: kids speeding up their high school graduations in order to reclassify when they are college-eligible.

If you’re identified as an elite prospect as a high school freshman or sophomore, then why not spend what would be your last season of high school eligibility playing at a top college program?

“The calculus is, ‘Why should I stay in high school and play against a bunch of guys not anywhere good as me? What am I getting out of that when I can go to college and get better facilities, better training, better food and really work on things so I’m far better prepared to go to the NBA in another year,’ Bilas said.

“We’re seeing way more of that, and we’re going to see yet more of it.”

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
Support my work with a digital subscription