I have just one retort for my basketball-genius brethren: They’re all ready, because enough NBA scouting departments have deemed them ready. And if the people with the purse strings believe you already can play or develop into a player at their level, it’s immaterial whether you become a 10-year pro or a three-and-out bust.
You have to go. Now. Or risk losing millions of dollars up front.
Both Len and Porter almost certainly will be lottery picks in the upcoming draft. Gauging by different draft Web sites, Porter could go as high as the third pick overall, and Len should be taken between the seventh and 10th picks.
All the hand-wringing, all the moral certitude, about how another year of college can benefit those two kids goes out the window with one unalterable fact: Through no fault of their own, their stock may never be higher in the league’s severely flawed system, an apprenticeship program that actually penalizes players such as Roy Hibbert and Jared Sullinger for having the wisdom to stay for another year of college.
Sullinger, a big piece of sheetrock in the post, bulled over the Big Ten as an 18-year-old. He was projected to be the No. 1 pick after his freshman season at Ohio State, ahead of Kyrie Irving. Instead, he stayed another season and was taken 21st, which became the difference between making $5.1 million his rookie year and $1.08 million. One more year of room, board and cafeteria privileges in Columbus turned out to be worth basically $4 million.
Hibbert’s story is more refreshing because he parlayed the confidence gained his senior year at Georgetown into his second NBA contract, a $55 million maximum deal. As a formerly uncoordinated 7-footer who morphed into an NBA all-star, he could be a role model for Len.
But should a still-raw 7-1 kid such as Len take that chance to buck the odds and become the next Big Roy? That’s a much bigger gamble for a player with a finite number of earning-power years than for the NBA front office executive who’s taking the chance, an official who will get another job after he’s fired.
Len isn’t a transcendent talent, but he had to leave school early simply because the NBA said he had to go.
Has Len developed the necessary back-to-the-basket skills to be a competent center in a game that barely employs any true big men anymore? No. Is he rugged enough to withstand a forearm in the throat from Metta World Peace and still come up with a loose ball? No. Can he put a couple of shots in Row D and make enough jump hooks and 10-footers to tantalize his new general manager into believing he can become the NBA’s next premier pick-and-pop guy? Definitely.