As I wrote about previously, UNC recruit JR Smith is still thinking about skipping college and going to the NBA. Heels fan Ryan Wilson of Heels, Sox & Steelers does a little analysis of others who skipped college since 1995.
His analysis doesn’t prove that Smith shouldn’t go to the NBA. The numbers really aren’t too bad. Taking a further look however, it doesn’t look quite as good. I think Ryan missed out on a few players, including several busts like Taj McDavid, Ellis Richardson and Tony Key who weren’t even drafted. Include all the players and the numbers won’t look as sound.
Take a look at this list of early entrants since 1995:
Year Player Drafted Team
1995 Kevin Garnett No. 5 Minnesota
1996 Kobe Bryant No. 13 Charlotte**
1996 Taj McDavid -- --
1996 Jermaine O'Neal No. 17 Portland
1997 Tracy McGrady No. 9 Toronto
1998 Al Harrington No. 25 Indiana
1998 Rahsard Lewis No. 32 Seattle
1998 Ellis Richardson -- --
1998 Korleone Young No. 40 Detroit
1999 Jonathan Bender No. 5 Toronto***
1999 Leon Smith No. 29 San Antonio****
2000 Darius Miles No. 3 L.A. Clippers
2000 DeShawn Stevenson No. 23 Utah
2001 Kwame Brown No. 1 Washington
2001 Tyson Chandler No. 2 L.A. Clippers
2001 Eddy Curry No. 4 Chicago
2001 DeSagana Diop No. 8 Cleveland
2001 Tony Key -- --
2001 Ousmane Cisse No. 47 Denver
2002 Amare Stoudamire No. 9 Phoenix
2003 LeBron James No. 1 Cleveland
2003 Travis Outlaw No. 23 Portland
2003 Ndubi Ebi No. 26 Minnesota ** -- Traded to L.A. Lakers
*** -- Traded to Indiana
**** -- Traded to Dallas
What you might notice is that the only true All-Star caliber players who have been in the league three years are Garnett, Bryant, O’Neal and McGrady. The closest (excluding James and Stoudamire who haven’t played three years yet) is Rashard Lewis, who had a breakout year this year, his sixth in the league.
Several other players have progressed steadily and slowly (like Al Harrington and Eddy Curry), indicating that they were correct that they belonged in the league, just probably not at the time they entered. Going to college likely would have helped all of those players by giving them some years to grow up mentally and to practice in a system that puts more emphasis on teaching individual skills. In the NBA, they don’t practice much during the season and what they do is usually going through offensive and defense sets, not working on how to drop step or box out.
Sure, those guys are all earning big bucks now, but you could argue that if they had been more prepared to play, then they’d have been more likely to succeed in their first three years. Rookie contracts (for first round draft picks) are for three years, so it behooves any player to show that he’s a potential (or current) star by the end of his third year. If he’s still learning how to play, he might cost himself tens of millions.
So my advice to JR Smith – go to Chapel Hill for a year or more. Learn the game and then go make your millions.