The best thing in the NBA is to be young and good, or to at least be young and have the potential to be good.
As a rebuilding piece, or as a trade chip, a talented one-and-done like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, in his second year, has already served as a needle-mover in the Paul George-Clippers trade and a building block for a Thunder team slowly transitioning into a rebuild.
But the fetishization of young talent (remember the hype during Jayson Tatum’s rookie year?) has left a scouting blind spot: the four-year college player, who must be flawed if it took him so long to enter the NBA Draft.
Two of them were on display last night:
The Hornets’ Devonte’ Graham, second-rounder in 2018 after four years at Kansas, buried the Nets with five straight points in the final minute of a win in Brooklyn. He’s averaging 20 points and 7.6 assists per game this year after a slow rookie season.
The Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon, second-rounder in 2016 after four years at Virginia, dropped 29 in a win over the Celtics. In his first year in his big contract, he’s the best player (and a potential All-Star) on a 16-9 team.
Some others: There’s Fred VanVleet (undrafted in 2016, 18 points, seven assists this season) who played four years at Wichita State, Draymond Green (second-rounder in 2012) who played four years at Michigan State, Joe Harris (second-rounder in 2014) who played four years at Virginia, and so on.
It’s what NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh dubbed the Diploma Bias in an article in June:
“Perhaps we’ve invested so far in the one-and-done era that there may be what I’ll call a Diploma Bias -- guys who played all four years may be undervalued in the market. These prospects are usually labeled as “low upside” players, but VanVleet just proved his ceiling as one of the best players on a Finals team.”
The same bias against VanVleet is why Devonte’ Graham can go from 34th overall pick to one of the most exciting players in the 2018 NBA Draft.
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