Is age a factor in the NBA draft?

June, 21, 2011
6/21/11
11:38
AM ET
By Peter Newmann and Dean Oliver
ESPN Stats & Information
Over the past 20 years, the NBA draft has changed dramatically. There has been an influx of young players coming from overseas and, until recently, straight from high school. This has led to many conversations among key decision makers: Do you draft the teenager with upside or the proven college player?

Over this span, 300 players were taken in the top 15, the two youngest being a pair of then-17-year-olds who have played together for six seasons: Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant.

Among the 15 youngest players drafted under these parameters, all came directly out of high school or from overseas, including Bryant, Tracy McGrady, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. Not a bad group.

The 19-year-old group includes All-Stars such as Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and Joe Johnson. It also includes players who have had good careers, such as Thaddeus Young, Luol Deng, Al Jefferson, Eric Gordon and Rudy Gay.

The NBA draft eligibility rules require a domestic player to be at least 19 years old by the end of the draft calendar year and that his high school graduating class be at least one year out. So there are still young players to be evaluated and many of them fall into the ‘one-and-done’ category. Among all domestic players who were drafted in the top 15 out of college in the past 20 years, many of the youngest have turned out to be the best.

The players who were drafted out of college at a young age have enormous potential. Of the 10 youngest college players in the past 20 years, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh have become perennial All-Stars, while several others have become solid rotation players.

On the flip side, older collegians tend to have a lower "ceiling" based on their age and experience at the NCAA level. The oldest collegian drafted in the past 20 years was Dikembe Mutombo, who was one day shy of his 25th birthday when he was drafted out of Georgetown in 1991.

The ceiling and potential of older players is lower and their careers tend to be shorter.

Players like Bryant Reeves, Reece Gaines, Luke Jackson and Ed O'Bannon were terrific college players who were 22 or older when they were drafted, but none went on to particularly impactful NBA careers.

Younger players who may not provide immediate contributions seem to get more chances and stay in the NBA for a longer period of time. Perhaps the poster child for this type of player is Kwame Brown, who was 19 when the Wizards drafted him No. 1 overall in 2001. Brown lasted only four seasons in Washington before he was given a second chance on the Lakers. He lasted less than three years in L.A. before being dealt again, this time to the Grizzlies. He then played two seasons with the Pistons and played with the Bobcats in 2010-11.

There is no question that Brown is an underachiever, especially for a No. 1 overall pick. But Brown has played 10 years in the NBA for five teams, made more than $50 million and appears to have found a place in the league.

There is no perfect formula to factor age into the equation, but the trend is that a younger, highly drafted player will have more success than an older one.

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