What Does the Emergence of the Professional Route Mean for Future High School Prospects?

Jul 5, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Basketball player LaMelo Ball in attendance of the New Orleans Pelicans against the New York Knicks game during the NBA Summer League at Thomas & Mack Center.

In May of 2019, the number 5 senior RJ Hampton shocked everyone. The 6’5 guard announced that he would skip college to take the professional route. He decided to play professionally for the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL. Less than a month later, LaMelo Ball followed in his footsteps by committing to playing for the Illawarra Hawks. These decisions to bypass college have already proven to have huge impacts on the decisions of top prospects. 

This year, some of the highest-ranked players including Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga also opted to forgo college, but with a different pathway. They chose to join the NBA G League’s Development Program, created to rival offers from Australia, among other countries. The program had been in place for a few years, but was given much more priority and funding this year. This was because of the NBL’s Next Stars program increasing in popularity. 

High Praise

G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim voiced praises for the development system in Australia and cited why the G League worked so hard to create a rival program.

“The NBA is the best development system in the world, and those players shouldn’t have to go somewhere else to develop for a year. They should be in our development system.”

It is still unknown how the G League program will work out. However, we need to look no further than LaMelo Ball for proof that going pro can help increase draft stock. When Ball announced his decision, he was ranked 21st in his class by ESPN. He is now ranked second after what turned out to be a successful stint in Australia for him. Ball averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. While there are major efficiency concerns, playing at such a high level against professional players saw his stock rise dramatically. 

There is also the factor of payment. Ball and Hampton reportedly earnt upwards of $500,000, the same amount Green and Kuminga will make in the G League. The NCAA does not pay college athletes, and they are not permitted to earn off of their name or image. Payment could be a huge factor in a decision to play professionally. 

Potential Change

There could be another option thrown into the mix for high schoolers. The NBA plans to lower the age limit for the NBA Draft, allowing players to declare straight out of high school. Players to do this in the past include Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James. 2022 top prospect Emoni Bates has already expressed his desire to jump to the league straight from school. This would likely only be chosen by top prospects who feel that they do not need the stagger between high school and the NBA. 

The rule change could mean that by 2022, there will be four options for top prospects. College, G League, NBL (Or any other professional route), or going straight to the NBA. All of these potential routes are hugely beneficial for the players, as they will feel differently about which option is best for them. Some may not be able to pass up on the college experience, and the potential of playing in March Madness. Some will favor a year Overseas or in the G League to continue growing. Finally, the very best of prospects may feel that they are NBA ready, and declare for the Draft. Avid College Basketball fans may not be too pleased with big names going pro. However, there are now a variety of paths for high schoolers to pursue, with each choosing the one that is best for them. 

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