The NBA and the NBPA are reportedly in advanced talks, and expected to soon approve, lowering the draft eligibility age from 19 to 18 years old as soon as 2024. The move, which could be agreed upon as soon as this week as part of ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, would return the NBA to a bygone era when prospects could jump from high school to the NBA and would effectively wipe out the one-and-done era – a downstream effect on college basketball that arose after the NBA’s 2005 change in draft eligibility age from 18 to 19 years old.
College basketball has thrived during the one-and-done era with iconic teams and players not likely to have ever stepped foot on a college campus if not for the NBA’s age limit – Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose, John Wall and many others delivered indelible moments and big seasons for the sport – so the imminent change back to 18 years old for draft eligibility will mark another sea change moment in basketball. The change will have a reverberating effect impacting not only the NBA and college hoops but other pro avenues both within the states and abroad as well.
Here are five thoughts on the implications from the expected approval of the age limit change.
1. Talent drain for college basketball
The one-and-done era has produced stars and seasons that will go down as some of the best and brightest in the history of the sport. The Zion Williamson year. The Anthony Davis NCAA Tournament run. The John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins team-up year at Kentucky. Even Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley will be remembered fondly as legends in their own right having blazed unique trails to non-traditional college bluebloods.
It won’t just be big names that college hoops will miss, either. Over the last decade, just shy of three true freshmen one-and-dones were All-Americans on the first, second or third team as constructed by The Associated Press. They were big names and fun attractions, but they were valuable and productive, too. Replacing them with other recruits will be done in the post one-and-done era just as it was before the one-and-done era, but super-flame NBA prospects playing in college will become far more likely. There will still be one-and-dones emerging like D’Angelo Russell or Karl-Anthony Towns, but far more likely there will be Ja Morants or Jaden Iveys or Corey Kisperts – guys who burst onto the NBA scene after at least one season in college. Meanwhile, the true freshmen supernovas are more likely after the age change to take their talents and take the NBA route than they will be to risk going to college – even if Name, Image and Likeness rights has to an extent minimized that risk.
2. Players not in college pose more of a risk
For NBA teams, here is the good: the risk profile when the age eligibility changes to 18 years old will change for the better. If you’re the Mavericks and you’re picking, say, 22nd overall, you can make a decision: take a safe second-year player from Marquette who has 3-and-D upside, or take a big swing on the 18-year-old with a five-star pedigree who profiles as a prolific three-level scorer? Big swings like that will regularly be more available to teams in the draft.
For NBA teams, that volatility and dynamic risk profile could also be bad. If you don’t do your due diligence, relying solely on recruiting rankings or high school production, it could cost you big time. For example: Skal Labissiere, Cheick Diallo, Ivan Rabb and Le’Bryan Nash could easily have gone on to be top-10 NBA Draft picks. Their sample sizes posted in college ensured they were not. NBA teams won’t be afforded that luxury moving forward.
3. Imminent double draft delight
My friend and colleague Sam Quinn did a great job explaining what the “double draft” is – you can read that and more here – but this quick highlight cuts to the heart of why the much-discussed double draft is probably one of the two or three more interesting incoming implications from the age eligibility change.
All of the best freshmen from the 2023-24 collegiate season will be available as normal … but so will the best high schoolers graduating in 2024. This has led many to refer to 2024 as the “double” draft, though it’s a slightly exaggerated misnomer. It’s likely that some high-schoolers will go to college seeking a friendlier draft process in 2025, and we might see more possible upperclassmen throw their names in the ring in 2023 to avoid the double draft. Still, the raw talent in the draft pool in 2024 should be remarkable.
If the change takes effect in 2024, teams will inevitably be stocking up – or trying to stock up – on picks in 2024. Not only will the crop be stronger at the top because it will be a class comprised of both high-schoolers and college players for the first time, but it will likely invite strength in the middle and into the late part of the draft, too. Even mid-to-late first-round picks could carry the value of a mid-to-late lottery pick in a normal year.
As you might suspect, Sam Presti and the Thunder are big beneficiaries of this potential change. They own an unprotected first-rounder from another team in 2024 in addition to their own.
The Rockets and Pelicans also own unprotected firsts in 2024 as well. This was always a possibility – the draft eligibility age had long been likely to change in 2023 or 2024 – but the calculus will change dramatically in the 2024 class. Teams are going to be bending over to try and get involved in the double draft and selections in that cycle could be worth a premium – something to monitor as the trade market over the next few months adjusts to a new reality.
4. College basketball teams would get older
With one-and-dones no longer (or at least more infrequent, given) playing a season of college basketball, the average age of players in college hoops by extension is likely to once again get older like it was in the early 2000s. During the one-and-done era, and especially over the last decade, the average NCAA championship team was roughly 94th nationally in experience according to KenPom.com metrics. (More on how that is calculated here.) From 2007-2010, in the early years of the one-and-done era and before teams were constructed around one-and-dones consistently, each NCAA champion was top-20 in total experience.
Older teams used to mean better teams. That will likely be a byproduct of the rule change in age. There will be more older players more consistently, which will likely mean more recognizable faces emerging more often and for longer, which in the NIL era could mean big money for big names who stay on the college scene more than a year. Instead of top dollar going to one-and-dones with big marketability, college players – the Drew TImmes, Oscar Tshiebwes, Hunter Dickinsons – will draw in even bigger bucks on the NIL front that may not have been recognized otherwise.
5. Non-NBA pro paths wouldn’t be as attractive for recruits
From my view, the college hoops naysayers will continue to be college hoops naysayers. Which is to say: their projections about the end of the sport will be greatly exaggerated.
It’s other professional avenues that will be hurting more than college hoops. The G League Ignite was constructed several years ago with the idea that top prospects could use it as an alternative route to college. Same for Overtime Elite and the Rising Stars program with the NBL. Their pitches were all the same: We can prepare you to be pros until you’re draft eligible.
Those leagues will continue to exist but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to recruit in ways they did before. You don’t have to prepare to be an NBA player anymore. If you’re 18 years old, you can simply . . . be one.
Take the first G League Ignite class as an example: Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green would have most likely entered the draft because of their age qualification under new rules. Possibly Daishen Nix, too. Last year, Dyson Daniels could’ve done the same.
Some top recruits who saw alternative pro paths as a lucrative way to cash in before the NBA will no longer have tough decisions. Going to college, they can still make money. Going alternative pro paths, they can still make money. But for the elite of the elite, entering the NBA Draft will likely jump to the front of the line as preferred choice No. 1.