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Saturday, December 02, 2023
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Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal and Kobe Bryant all have something in common.
They entered the NBA straight out of high school and though they are still young, they seem a lot older on the basketball court.
When these players controversially declared for the NBA Draft in the mid-'90s, general managers and fans alike wondered if they would have extra-long careers, or if every NBA player is limited to the same amount of years.
We are now starting to learn the answer to this question.
Have you seen Tracy McGrady or Jermaine O'Neal play lately? They are 30 and 31, respectively, but they look more like 40-year-old veterans out on the court.
Former all-star Kevin Garnett is only 33, but is currently breaking down before our eyes, while Rashard Lewis' numbers have dropped in each of the last three seasons.
Maybe David Stern was right to create an age limit for the NBA. Maybe kids coming out of high school need a couple of years in college to develop and prepare for the pros.
College players play between 30 and 40 games a season compared to 82 in the NBA. While college players were practicing less, playing less games and taking classes, teens that went straight to the pros immediately subjected their bodies to the rigors of the NBA.
Take Jason Kidd and Steve Nash for example. These two star NBA point guards continue to produce after long careers. Kidd, who is in his 21st season, is currently gearing up for a playoff run with the Dallas Mavericks. Nash, at 36, is the undisputed leader of the Phoenix Suns and is averaging 16.6 points and 11 assists per game this season.
Oh, and did I mention the most important part? Kidd played two years at the University of California and Nash had a four-year college career at Santa Clara.
Is it a coincidence that players like Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, and Andrew Bynum continually suffer injuries at their young ages?
Some people may argue that Kobe Bryant's (31) work ethic could have him five or six years of great basketball left in him.
However, Bryant, who is arguably the best player ever to come directly out of high school, may not be as invincible as we think he is. Bryant has suffered from numerous injuries this year, signs of an aging body that has gone through 13 grueling NBA seasons.
Kobe has played in 1,178 NBA games through March, and though he hasn't experienced a substantial drop off, doesn't seem to have the same quickness in his first step or the same lift in his jump shot that he once did.
It seems as if it isn't the age of these prep-to-pro stars that matters, but rather how long they have played in the NBA.
Which list will Kobe join: The list of Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, and Julius Erving who thrived in their mid-thirties, or the list of Jermaine O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, and Kevin Garnett, who suffered a severe decline once they hit the age of thirty?
If the fate of his fellow prep-to-pro stars is any indication, then it seems that Kobe will be part of the latter.
More importantly, what does this mean for the last group of high school stars gone pro?
At age 25, Lebron James may not have as long as people think he does to win a championship. He has played 592 games in his seven seasons, 324 more than Jordan played when he was 25.
Will LeBron age in basketball years, or prove to be the exception to the rule?




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