Unlike a lot of his younger Timberwolves teammates, Luol Deng had the option to skip college and enter the NBA. Deng graduated high school in 2003, before the NBA instituted a rule that said players must be at least 19 years old before they could enter the draft.
Deng was a McDonald’s All-American and could have been a high draft pick in the same draft as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, but instead opted to attend a year at Duke.
“People said I should’ve came out,” Deng said. “But I knew I needed college.”
So it might sound like Deng wouldn’t be in favor of the NBA’s current desire to roll back its age limit from 19 to 18. But he is, arguing that it would benefit the game — and the players — to allow them entry into the league earlier.
“People may not believe it, but I think it really affects the game better,” Deng said. “You have so many guys now in high school, so many people are telling them they’re one and done … so when they go to college they could average maybe lower than 10 points and not really focus on their development.”
So why not just develop in the pros? This issue is more than theoretical. The league and the players’ association are discussing how to end the so-called “one-and-done” rule that would pave the way for the top high school prospects to skip their token year of college and enter the NBA. This debate gained even more steam when Duke forward Zion Williamson, the current consensus No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, sprained his knee during a recent game against North Carolina. Williamson’s injury sparked conversation around how fair it was to his financial future that he’d risk serious injury playing in college when he could have cashed in a year ago.
The Wolves have multiple one-and-done players, such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Derrick Rose and Andrew Wiggins, all of whom are former No. 1 picks. There’s also Tyus Jones, a first-round pick and another former Duke player whose brother Tre is teammates with Williamson. Tyus Jones would like the league to change the rule.
“I just feel like it should be the player’s decision,” Jones said. “I enjoyed my one season at Duke and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I do think it should be a player’s decision if they want to do that or if they feel like they’re ready for the NBA straight out of high school. I don’t think it would hurt the college game at all.”
Wiggins said that year in college could be a “big risk.”
“If you get hurt, you could ruin your basketball career and potentially everything you have planned for in the future could be all gone with one injury,” Wiggins said.
When the NBA instituted the rule in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement, one of the concerns was the maturity of the players — how that year in college would help players get ready not just physically, but emotionally and mentally for the NBA.
“It’s up to the teams,” Deng said. “If you don’t want a guy from high school, just take the guys from college.”
The Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins put it bluntly when speaking to reporters last week.
“What’s the difference between 18 and 19 or 17 and 18?” Cousins said, according to ESPN. “You’re immature, you’re young, you’re ignorant to life in general, so what’s really the difference? You still got a lot of growing to do as a man.”
According to the players, you might as well do it in the NBA.
• James Harden’s streak of scoring 30 or more points ended Monday night when the Rockets defeated the Hawks 119-111 and Harden scored only 28 points.
Harden’s streak ended at 32 games, the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain, whose run lasted 65 games in the 1961-62 season. Harden had an opportunity to go for the record in the closing seconds, but he let the clock wind down instead of attempting a shot. Asked about Harden’s decision to let the streak end, coach Mike D’Antoni said: “You guys probably would’ve killed him on Twitter, right?”
• It’s been an active couple of weeks on the NBA’s all-time assists list. Rockets guard Chris Paul (9,014 career assists) recently passed Gary Payton for eighth place on the list and likely will pass Isiah Thomas for seventh before the season is over. Meanwhile, LeBron James passed Andre Miller for 10th place, making James the only player to be top 10 in points and assists. Paul joked about the all-time assists leader John Stockton, who has 15,806. “I don’t like saying never, but ain’t nobody catching that,” Paul said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
• Normally when coaches call timeout near the end of an already decided game, they want the crowd to cheer for their players. On Monday, the Clippers called a timeout late in their win over the Mavericks so the Staples Center could salute an opposing player — Dirk Nowitzki. Unlike Dwyane Wade, Nowitzki hasn’t announced if he will be retiring after this season, but he said of Rivers’ gesture: “It was sweet. I’m really appreciative.”
Chris Hine covers the Timberwolves for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @ChristopherHine. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org