It’s no secret NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made lowering the NBA Draft age minimum from 19 to 18 a clear priority. He’s brought it up many times over the years and firmly believes the NBA should allow 18-year-olds to enter the draft.
“I’m on record — when I balance all of these various considerations, I think it would be the right thing to do,” Silver said most recently in July. “I am hopeful that that’s a change we make in this next collective bargaining cycle, which will happen in the next couple years.”
This campaign began back in 2017, when he used his annual news conference at All-Star Weekend to float the idea that the age issue needed to be revisited. He publicly cemented his position in the summer of 2018, and the league formally proposed it to the National Basketball Players Association seven months later.
Yet nothing has changed. The rules still state that a player must turn 19 years old within the calendar year of the draft, and that American players must be one full NBA season removed from graduating high school.
Now, for the first time in more than four years, Silver has some traction to achieve his vision. On Monday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that “the NBA and NBA Players Association are expected to agree on moving the age eligibility for the NBA Draft from 19 to 18, clearing the way for the return of high school players making the NBA leap.”
I wouldn’t say this news surprises me, but the impetus for such a change has always been interesting. Sources around the league had historically been somewhere between ambivalent to outwardly hostile about it. As one of the people who lives year-round within this ecosystem, several questions nagged at me. Why now? Does this really help the NBA? Is it really the right thing to do?
After canvassing various NBA, college and youth basketball stakeholders for opinions, I believe the answers to those last two questions is “No.” I don’t think allowing high schoolers back into the NBA will add to the overall health of the league, and I’m not necessarily convinced it’ll benefit the 18-year-olds who would become eligible to enter the NBA workforce. More importantly, if anything changes regarding the overall development of youth basketball players, it will be for the worse. There’s no current problem that lowering the age minimum will solve.
Many of the reasons often floated in favor of the league allowing high schoolers to enter the draft at 18 don’t stand up to scrutiny. The actual level of play within the league will be hindered, not improved, by this move, in part due to a league-wide shift in the way talent evaluators define player value.
But the biggest issue with Silver’s position is that despite its pro-labor roots, it is actually worse for prospective NBA players than the current alternative, not better. What works for a typical workforce will not work for this one.