Today, prospects are learning that playing college ball for more than the single requisite year can have a substantially negative impact on your draft value.
As an example, here are the statistics and measurables for two prospects in this year’s draft. To account for the minutes imbalance, I’ve adjusted their statistics out to per 40 minutes (Note: this adjustment will always favor the player who played fewer minutes).
Prospect A: Top 10 high school recruit, 13.6 ppg, 13.3 rpg, PER 19.8, FT% 50%, Height 6'9.25", Wingspan 7'3.25", Standing Vertical 27.0”, Shuttle Run 3.00 seconds
Prospect B: Top 10 high school recruit, 17.2 ppg, 12.8 rpg, PER 21.7, FT% 66.3%, Height 6'8.75", Wingspan 7'1.5", Standing Vertical 28.5", Shuttle Run 3.23 seconds
The main takeaway: these two are almost identical prospects. Can you guess who they are? Prospect A is the aforementioned Harry Giles, Prospect B is Ivan Rabb.
Yet Giles is valued over Rabb in every single mock draft. Often times their disparity is drastic, as in The Ringer’s excellent draft guide, which has Giles as a lottery pick (No. 14) and Rabb as only a second rounder (No. 35). That would net Giles more than $7.5 million for his first three seasons, while Rabb would have to negotiate a deal that is historically around $1 million per season (Second-round selections are not included in the guaranteed rookie scale.) All because Giles was born in April 1998 while Rabb was born in February 1997?
Or was it because Rabb, who was unanimously considered a lottery pick in last year’s draft had he left school, decided to return to Cal to expand his game and become more NBA-ready?
“There are some improvements on the floor I want to make, and why not make them in college before I get to the next level?” Rabb told Sports Illustrated’s Brian Hamilton at the time. He was rewarded with, potentially, a $4 million pay cut.
That’s a huge difference. But why?
The answer lurks in a study that was published by three faculty members from the Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business on this exact phenomenon, entitled “The Preference for Potential.” Here is their thesis statement:
We propose that compared with references to achievement (e.g., “this candidate has published 10 papers” or “this artist has won an award”), the relative uncertainty surrounding references to potential (e.g., “this candidate could publish 10 papers” or “this artist could win an award”) can stimulate greater interest and, ultimately, more favorable reactions.
The study then tests the thesis with six experiments, one of which even centers around NBA players. I’ll summarize it here, but I’d recommend reading the full experiment.
The research participants were asked to imagine they were general managers of an NBA team, having to decide the terms of a contract to offer two particular players. One player had played five seasons in the NBA, and the participants were given his actual statistics — which increased every year, steadily from 11 ppg and 3 rpg to 15&6 — and they were told these were good stats. The other player was a prospect coming out of college, and the identical statistics were given as projections for his first five seasons. Every other variable was the same; same college (Duke), same position (forward) and so on. Then the participants were asked what they would be willing to pay for each of the players’ sixth seasons, so as to eliminate the variable of age.
First the participants were asked their willingness-to-pay on a 0–10 scale and thenguess how many points per game the players would average in their sixth season (open-ended). Finally, they were asked to asses how likely it was that each player would make an NBA All-Star game (1–7 scale).
As you can probably guess, the participants were more willing to spend on the unproven prospect (5.25) than the tested veteran (4.26), more optimistic about their sixth season scoring average (17.45 ppg vs. 16.18 ppg), and more likely to predict an All-Star nomination (4.47 vs. 3.81).
The bottom line: Don’t let scouts see you play, for fear that your flaws may be exposed.
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