Fear and Loathing in Chicago, or How the NCAA Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the One-and-Done

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It would be hard to dispute that the Champions' Classic in Chicago on November 12th, 2013 was good for NCAA basketball.  It would also be hard to dispute that it was terrific for the NBA.  However, a lot of people seem to think that it was terrible for the game of basketball.  This schism doesn't make a lick of sense, and it shouldn't.  We got to see great players show us the future of the game, and somehow people are upset about it.  It was fantastic.
The NCAA has long since made its peace with the NBA policy mandating that players be one year out of high school before declaring for the draft.  It has done so mostly because it doesn't have a choice.  The NBA is a business and it can do whatever it likes as far as college talent.  A lot of opinionated folks, credentialed or no, think that this is the worst thing to ever happen to the game.  The problem is that none of them has a better solution, in large part because there may not be one. 

Let's discuss the differences between the pro game and the college one, and for a second forget about the contracts and everything that comes with them.  The most basic breakdown of college vs. pro basketball is this: people seem to prefer NCAA ball over NBA ball because college ball looks - in a word - hard.  This plays to the American sense that competition should be a struggle and that the winner is the one who combines talent, effort, and opportunity. 

The fundamental thing that turns people off of the NBA is -- and I can't stress this enough -- that the really great players make the game look easy.  It's what makes people hate LeBron James, even though his only mistake in his career was poorly marketing "The Decision," which he had every professional right to make.  LeBron makes basketball success look inevitable, which everyone who has ever played the game knows to be untrue.  I just don't get why people are so upset by greatness.  And this is where the 2013-14 NCAA season comes into play.

The freshmen class that has come into NCAA basketball this year is more hyped than probably any in history, and now we've seen that it is for good reason.  The games last night showed that we are in for something special.  Everyone should be super-excited about Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker.  They are all fantastic players.  But people are PISSED, and the reason is that these guys are NBA players playing in college.  They make a mockery of what these folks think college basketball SHOULD be, but their point is completely the opposite.  Somehow, they think these guys should be forced to stay for four years, like the "good old days."  No one who hates the current rules thinks that we should go back to the late 90's/early '00's rules where guys could go straight from high school.  Yet it makes more sense than making NBA-level talent stay longer than the current one-and-done rules.  There just isn't a good compromise, since some guys are inherently ready for the NBA game (Parker, Randle, and Wiggins in this case), and some aren't (hello, Korleone Young).  Do you have a good solution?

Everyone intrinsically understands and accepts that NCAA football is a feeder system for the NFL, yet there is this weird resistance to the interaction between NCAA basketball and the NBA.  Why?  What is the fundamental difference, besides the fact that NCAA football "student-athletes" (I wish I could make those quotation marks look more sarcastic) have to be there for three years vs. one year for basketball players?  Neither one of those blue-chip recruits gets a degree, so what's the fucking difference?  They both use the NCAA system to an end, namely, professional riches.  Maybe it's a function of the "warrior culture" of football (which the Miami Dolphins are actively showing to be a farce) and the perception that basketball players are not in the same strata of athletes (which is patently ridiculous).  Why can't we just enjoy these transcendent athletes while they are stuck in their indentured servitude, before they go on to their professional destiny?  The NBA teams should be smart enough at this point to know who they should and shouldn't draft, and if they don't, then that's not the NCAA's problem. 

Since you've spent this long reading my rant about NCAA bullshit, you should at least get to read my initial takeaways on this undoubtedly loaded NBA draft class.  Here are some takes on the top talents:

Julius Randle: Wow.  Strength, footwork, athleticism, hands, skill.  This guy has everything you'd want from a power forward.  Yes, he had a butt-ton of turnovers.  But he will be a better NBA player than he will be in college, I promise you.  The increased spacing of NBA ball will be tremendous for his skill set.  He is an uber-athletic Zach Randolph, and seemingly without all the emotional bullshit.  Any team could use the kind of nasty he's going to bring, especially bad teams like Sacramento, Boston, or (imagine) New Orleans.  Randle and Anthony Davis together would be the best frontcourt in the NBA by 2016.  But he'll probably go to Sacramento and just get high with Boogie all day long.  What a shame.

Jabari Parker: It's amazing to say that a player can be "complete" at 18 years old, but he sure is.  He sees the game in the sort of LeBron-like way, viewing the defense over the top and making the right decision almost every time, plus having the skill and athleticism to make the necessary plays in the meantime.   He looks like Paul George but not those first couple of raw years in the league.  He has all the skills to defend at an All-NBA level and add 20-25 PPG and 7+ assists.  Basically, he should be a superstar in the NBA.  When he builds out his body (by about 2017), he's going to be a physical marvel. 

Andrew Wiggins: It is no surpise that scouts have been drooling over him for months.  Physically, he is everything you'd want.  His skill set is so tantalizing.  I'm not sure I've ever seen such quickness at 6'8", both in his first step and his jumping ability.  I won't go into his killer instinct or lack thereof, which was a question coming into the year but he's now "answered" with his step-back jumper against Duke to basically seal the game.  He knows what is expected of him as a leader and a star player, and we won't know if he "has it in him" until way down the line, probably long after he's departed from Kansas and earned several million from whoever is lucky enough to contract his services (at a big rookie-scale discount).  Don't fret for Wiggins - he is going to be incredible, just on his quickness alone, and then for the player he'll eventually become.  He will eventually need to become a better shooter (like LeBron has), but his quickness and athleticism will carry him a long way.

Other Impact Players from Chicago:

Gary Harris: This guy is as NBA-ready as they come.  A sweet outside stroke, high basketball IQ, tenacious defensively, and quickness to get to the basket, he's all you'd want from a 2 (maybe minus a couple inches).  He's an advanced version of Eric Gordon (hopefully healthier) in that he'll be a pick-and-roll wonder and shoot the 3 at a great percentage, but defend more like an early career D-Wade.  Big future for this guy, even if no one is ready to admit him to the "superstar" club.

Perry Ellis: I read that he's a "tweener," but I don't see it.  He has the length and skill set of a power forward (and maybe a center eventually), and he really plays that way.  I saw a lot of inside ability that he can build on in that game.  Strong hands and footwork, mostly good defensive rotations and rim protection, and seemed more polished than he got credit for.  He's not one of those guys that will have a big impact in his first year in the league, but give him a couple seasons to develop his back-to-the-basket game, defensive rotations, and physical strength, and he's a potential strong rotation player.

Wayne Selden: Physically so strong, and seems to have a good basketball IQ.  Even if he never develops fully offensively, this is the kind of guy that you want to see dedicate himself to become a Tony Allen-type defensive player, and hopefully become a consistent shooter and attacker.  All kinds of ability.

James Young: Very smooth shooter, needs to learn to be more than just that.  Could be the second-best player for UK this year (behind Randle) if he develops real scoring chops. 

There's just so much to like from the 2014 NBA Draft.  It feels like if you're in the lottery, you are getting a legitimate NBA contributor this year.  Not sure when you could say that before this year.  We should all be excited for how good this college basketball season will be, but as I mentioned, most will just use it as an excuse to bitch about the NBA for some reason.  Can we please all agree to hate these people?  Terrific, thanks.