NBA Draft: Nothing Wrong With Testing the Waters

June 17th, 2008

Nothing wrong with testing the waters..

With the deadline for underclassmen to pull out of the 2008 NBA Draft now passed, it’s time to look at who used, and who was used, by the system, The rule that allows players to “test the waters” has come under fire from some analysts in recent weeks, as players with no business declaring for the Draft have left college coaches and fan bases anxiously awaiting their final decisions.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas even wrote that the “testing the waters” rule needs to be eliminated, feeling that all of the kids who declare do so with the intention of staying in the draft, only returning to school if they were forced to. While I can’t necessarily disagree with that, it’s hard for me to say that the system isn’t working.

To illustrate that, simply look at the list of players returning for another year of school. North Carolina has to be considered the early title favorite, with Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Danny Green all pulling out and returning to Chapel Hill for another season. Now, maybe all of them would have preferred to stay in the Draft, but now they return to school, knowing what they need to work on and where they need to show improvement for the 2009 draft. Where’s the harm in that?

Likewise, Arizona guard Chase Budinger declared for the draft, wasn’t able to get a good read on his stock, and decided to return for his junior season. How this does anything but help him is a mystery to me.

I understand the anxiousness caused by players declaring early, both amongst coaches and fans. North Carolina would have had a drastically different look if their terrific trio elected to stay in the draft, likely having to rely on incoming freshmen to carry a large load. Now, Coach Roy Williams knows he has an experienced, veteran group who enter the season sporting a large target. Not knowing who will be on the team in the fall can drastically alter a coach’s summer plans, be it on the recruiting path or even just in the gym, working out players.

But the rule also allows players to get honest feedback on their Draft status, adding another layer of protection to a high-risk process. Players now can declare, see where they stand, and return to school, having gained a knowledge of the process and an understanding of what they need to work on. If they were simply “in or out”, as some analysts would prefer, more and more players would be sure to slip through the cracks, becoming cautionary tales for future generations, following in the tradition of players like Omar Cook and Joe Forte. The draft is a risky endeavor for all parties, and any way to reduce that risk should be encouraged.

The system also is great for players at lower-profile schools, such as Lester Hudson at UT-Martin. A terrific scorer, Hudson was able to test his skills against a higher caliber of players than he faced during the season, giving him a better feel for his own skill set. Although he showed some potential, the process exposed holes in his game that he might never otherwise have found, and he returns to school a better player because of it. His name is also going to be on scouts’ radar all year now, and he has a chance to be a first-round pick in 2009.

I understand the process now encourages players who have no business declaring to give it a shot, hoping to catch fire in a couple workouts and convince a team to take a shot (i.e. Ronald Steele). But if the thought behind wanting to eliminate the rule is wanting to eliminate bad decisions…well that’s just not going to happen. Today’s players have too many friends, family members, runners, etc. whispering in their ears, telling them how good they are, and sad as it may be, that’s not changing anytime soon.

But as it stands now, kids are allowed to make a poor choice, and then reverse it. Today’s players can use the system to their advantage, and many of them did this year. There will always be poor decisions made by players who overestimate their own skill set – that’s not going to change no matter how many rules are put in place. IUPUI’s George Hill and USC’s Davon Jefferson, in my opinion, made poor choices staying in the draft, as neither will likely be a first rounder. But for guys like Hudson, Steele, the UNC trio, Budinger, Jeremy Pargo, Lee Cummard, Robert Dozier…the system worked great, and they will be better players because of it.