The Case for Entering the NBA Draft and Economic Opportunity Costs

Occasionally I hear Jim Barnett and Bob Fitzgerald, the Warriors’ TV announcers, talk about how players who stay in college for additional years do not lose much from doing so – that not only do such players get better and become more mature from the experience, they also end up making the same amount of money (or perhaps more) from elongated careers.

As a Cal Bear, this makes me think of the upcoming decisions of super freshman Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Sorry Jim and Bob, I disagree with you because of former Warrior Chris Porter.

Porter is expected to be a late lottery pick in the June NBA draft. He could have been a lottery pick had he come out after an All-American junior season last year.

Andy Katz, (May 2000)

Chris Porter lost potential lifetime financial security by staying in school
Chris Porter lost potential lifetime financial security by staying in school

Over 15 years ago, Chris Porter was a hot NBA prospect, projected to be a lottery pick after his junior year. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A year later, after giving scouts a full year to focus on his weaknesses, he was drafted by the Warriors at the 55th overall pick (I was very excited by this pick, as I remember).

He went on to have a nothing career.

This is the danger of giving up guaranteed money.

Let’s break this down for Rabb and Brown.  As of today, according to DraftExpress (a reputable source on pre-NBA talent), Jaylen Brown would be the 4th pick (or is the 4th best prospect, however you want to read it) in this summer’s draft. Ivan Rabb is 14th. Both would be considered “lottery picks”, draft picks for teams that do not make the NBA playoffs, just as Chris Porter could have been so long ago.

So why should both Rabb and Brown leave for the NBA?

In a worst case scenario, any 1st round draft pick gets two years of guaranteed money upon signing. As of this year, the amount for the lowest 1st round draft pick (30th) is approximately $1.9 million dollars. Even if a rookie has a terrible agent (see: Ricky Williams / Master P), he would still more than likely get at least $1.5 million. (I am going to leave any net present value arguments out of this entire discussion, as well as taxes, agent fees, etc.)

If their draft positions hold, Rabb and Brown would get closer to $3M and $7M, respectively.

Minimum $1.5M dollars and a (virtually) guaranteed spot at worst case on a NBA basketball team for two years is nothing to scoff at, especially if you did not grow up in a fairly affluent family. I went to Business School at Kellogg (Northwestern). If I were offered this deal today, I would absolutely take the $1.5M now, despite having a good amount of work experience and knowing I can do other things. Thus to paint 20 year olds (who are probably unable able to do other things at this state in their lives) as silly for taking the money is a bit ridiculous.

Yes, it sounds great to believe in your talent, that the money will always be there, but that’s actually the dumb move.

Taking money now is the smart thing, if it is guaranteed. For any player’s long term development, he has to be in a good team situation in which he can grow (compare San Antonio Spurs vs Brooklyn Nets) – this is something a player has much less control over and thus, has much more risk. The money is guaranteed while the opportunity to play, be liked by a coaching staff, is not.

What are the opportunity costs for staying?

Other than having your draft position go down, costing you literally millions of dollars, if you get booted to the second round as Chris Porter, you will not have a guaranteed contract, or a contract at all. Let’s ignore the chance for life-changing injury too, which could happen but is rare.

If you go to the NBA DLeague (the minors) on your own to try to make it to the NBA, you can make up to $25K a year. This could easily be 19K or 13K as well.

In other words, if your stock falls for whatever reason and you fall out of the 1st round, you will AT BEST be making just 3.3% of what you would have made, IN THE WORST CASE, as the lowest chosen first round draft pick.

This is a huge drop. Yes, someone could make good money (six figures to low seven figures) internationally, but if you are just starting your career and feel you are an NBA player, you will probably try the DLeague first.

A key thing to note here is not just the relative different of the 96.7% drop in salary, it’s the absolute drop. If you had this disparity with Kobe Bryant’s pay, you would still be making $750K per year, a ton of money for 99% of Americans. But this is $25K, and you won’t be flying first class, staying in nice hotels. This is bus life, a hard way to earn $25K (roughly equivalent to making $13/hr at a full time job for a year).

If a player stayed in school in order to complete his college degree and then dropped out of the first round, I would say he wasted the point of going to college. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, get in the draft now and go to summer school in the future.

If you want a more current example of how delaying can matter, look at Skal Labissiere from Kentucky. If he could have entered the draft a year ago, he might have gone #1 overall. After a poor freshman season, however, he might now be picked towards the end of the lottery, a $4.5 difference in guaranteed money.

Is there another way?

In my opinion, college basketball (the talent level) suffers from elite players leaving early. It is harder for non-traditional powerhouse teams to create momentum off of strong seasons (if Rabb and Brown leave, the Bears program is very weak for next year). Players are unable to mature in a more natural (college) setting and have to develop their games in the constant pressure of the professional ranks among men 5-15 years older. In addition, unless they play for a terrible team, elite players will likely see more reps and minutes playing for a college team.This lack of elite players over consecutive years is also part of the college game’s ratings decline.

Solution: Let players enter the draft but continue to play in college.

How this would work:

  1. College Players can enter the draft anytime in their college career.
  2. If drafted in the 1st round, a player could stay in school up to their 4th year after their high school graduation year (you cannot stay in school forever).
  3. Contracts are guaranteed (as they are today) for 1st rounders, while contracts for 2nd rounders can be offered guaranteed (optional by the team, as today). Contracts take effect once the player decides to leave school.
  4. 1st round picks do not have to sign their contracts, but their rights would stay with the drafting team until the end of their 4th year after high school graduation. Rights to 2nd round picks would only stay with the drafting team until the next year’s draft (a bit like the college baseball draft).
  5. Players who want to maintain college eligibility cannot leave school and take time off to prepare for the draft process. Instead, teams can visit with them during specific break (spring break, summer break) periods. This will limit the number of workouts (and injuries) possible, but interviews should be fine. Schools like Kentucky would likely hold on-campus “Pro Days” as in the NFL, which admittedly could favor powerhouse schools in college recruiting.
  6. Players give up their college eligibility completely by leaving school and going through the normal pre-draft preparations – this would be no different from today.
  7. Teams can cut players with no salary cap hit (the year the player enters the NBA) in case a player seriously regresses (or for whatever reason), but the player still gets fully paid.

For NBA Teams

  1. Teams no longer have to pay to develop players (ex. Jermaine O’Neal) and then see them leave once they are physically and mentally ready to contribute to a team. Thus, teams pay more for actual expected contribution than potential.
  2. Insurance can cover players who (perhaps this can be paid in half by the player, through his contract, and the team) have a career-ending injury during college after being drafted.
  3. Per Net Present Value, it is always better to have a financial obligation later than sooner.
  4. Non-ready players take fewer jobs away from NBA veterans.

For College Teams and the NCAA

  1. Teams can hold on to players longer, and coaches would no longer be in this weird “I want you to stay, but I swear it’s for your own good, not for mine” position.
  2. Having players for multiple years helps sustain programs.
  3. Consistency and multi-year player resonance creates better television ratings and attention, i.e. business revenue.

For Players

  1. Significantly less risk. If you have a good potential draft position, get drafted and get guaranteed money when you leave. If you’re hot, strike. If you’re not, keep working.
  2. Make progress on a degree (what college is for), become more mature, and improve your skills so you don’t flunk out (see: Anthony Bennett) once you do reach the NBA.

Some other notes about why this makes sense. First, we can look internationally. Teams like the Spurs have signed professional international players for years, knowing they are unlikely to come to the NBA right away. In that time, these players develop further and come to the NBA ready to contribute. These aren’t necessarily older players either – many European players (Tony Parker, Ricky Rubio, Kristaps Porzingis) turn professional as teenagers, before their college-age years.

In addition, with the NCAA’s supposed focus on amateurism, under this plan, players will not get paid anything until they leave for school. This is like getting a job offer when you are still in college, which is pretty common. MBA students often finalize their jobs up 10 months in advance of the actual start date.

I think these changes will not prevent players who can play in the NBA right away (ex. Karl-Anthony Towns) from jumping, nor should it. However, it can help the many players who have the talent, but not quite the skill set, with Brown and Rabb as examples. Jaylen Brown cannot shoot or handle the ball particularly well, and yet his physical talent makes him a great NBA prospect. An additional year or two would allow him to become a great player and make more progress on his academic ambitions without financial risk (aside from if his family needed money to survive right now).

This is a solution that helps everyone – both NBA and NCAA teams, younger players in college, older players in the NBA, and the NCAA as a business. Fans get to watch their NBA teams’ young talent in college and become more devoted and hopeful for their futures while enjoying their favorite college players for multiple years.

Failed Sales Conversion – Santa Cruz Warriors

One of my first jobs was in Customer Service for Webgamezone, a company that later changed its name to RedOctane and produce the Guitar Hero videogame (yes, I was part of the team then too) franchise. I was on the front lines (I was told to “figure it out”) of dealing with hostile customers, but learned a lot in the process that people want to respected, listened to, and receive transparency.

[Edit: On March 16, I had a call with Gina Antoniello, Director of PR & Community Relations at the team. She was apologetic about the situation and explained what happened. Overall, she was friendly and understanding – I accepted the apology and hope that this won’t happen to future fans.]

That’s why I am very sensitive about customer service, and how often companies think dealing with customers as a cost center, and not a branding and loyalty growth opportunity.  I also often write about poor and disrespectful customer service that leads me to hate the company and stop using it.

Sports teams, unfortunately, are probably more prone to this problem. Teams with established fan bases often treat social media as a team-to-fan one way channel, with no need to address fan issues or reasonable direct-revenue fan questions. Where does a fan turn to when these things happen?

For example, the Golden State Warriors earned the Co-Retailer of the Year Award. Beyond this lofty recognition, which supposedly considers Customer Service as a factor, I can tell you that the Warriors Team Store has never answered one of my emails about purchasing the last few years.

But why should the Warriors care about me? They’re on top of the world – Stephen Curry and World Championships put them in good shape with or without me.

But how about the Santa Cruz Warriors, the Warriors’ minor league team that competes for 2,500 fans a night?

After attending the team’s 2nd ever home game, of which I enjoyed, I had been looking forward to going back. Then, I heard that Baron Davis (former Warrior great) had joined the NBA DLeague and would be playing in Santa Cruz. I messaged Baron on Twitter and asked if I could say hello and take a photo with him at the game. He gave me the thumbs up through a Like.

Wanting to be respectful of the teams and players, however, I wanted to ask the Santa Cruz Warriors the best way to do this – should I come early, where should I wait, etc. After all, the team was heavily promoting the Baron Davis visit to sell more tickets, and I was not asking anything unreasonable. I emailed the team (nearly a week in advance) through the email listed on its website, and sent messages on Facebook and Twitter. A few days later, I followed up on my email. Facebook showed that the Warriors read my Facebook (private) message.

The Warriors never replied. As the week closed along with forecasts of rain, I became more hesitant about going to the game. Not only would the weather be bad, (I would have a lengthy drive as well) but the Warriors did not seem to care about me as a fan and answer a simple question.

When Sunday (yesterday) came, I decided to not go. In addition, this experience has soured me on not going in the future. In past years, the Santa Cruz Warriors have also not answered my emails (about purchasing game-used jerseys) and messages (about being unable to unsubscribe from their promotional emails), and this experience has been a new reminder that the Warriors do not care. Unlike the Golden State Warriors, which could claim they get too many messages to reply to, the Santa Cruz Warriors average about 20 messages per day on Twitter. Why support private messaging and emails if you have no intention to reply?

Ultimately, it turned out that Baron didn’t play due to a minor calf injury. This somewhat validated my decision to not go, and general fear of missing out (FOMO). However, the Warriors game sold out, so I guess the team can say they didn’t need / want me to come anyway.

Thanks, Santa Cruz Warriors. Do not count on me for future sales or positive recommendations.

ShotTracker [Basketball Trainer Review]


If you want simple data to track your shooting efficiency, ShotTracker delivers on that promise. However, do not expect it to track your actual shooting location (it sounds like ShotTracker’s new partnership with Spalding and Decawave will deliver that, and likely at a much more expensive price point). In addition, ShotTracker is a bit pricy ($150 retail) considering it does not track location.


I have been interested in the ShotTracker since first hearing about it at the end of 2014. It promised to monitor your shooting performance via data.

The first thing I noticed is that ShotTracker cannot actually track your shooting location. Instead, it tells you what kind of shot to practice, and will track the shots made and missed. If you ignore the instructions, ShotTracker won’t know. This was a tremendous disappointment and mismatch of my expectations. Thus, if you want to freely shoot around all over the court, ShotTracker will have no idea of what areas you are in – you will only receive a summary of total makes and misses.

However, ShotTracker does provide a sizeable list of different Drills and Workouts (Sets of Drills) that you can practice. For example, if you want to shoot left and right elbow jumpers, the app will start you on one side and then your phone will beep when it’s time to switch positions. You can then get an understanding of how you did on each side. This is a decent workaround.

In terms of tracking the actual shots, ShotTracker does this well. You have two sensors to connect to your phone via Bluetooth – a net sensor and arm sensor. My feeling is that both sensors are accelerometers that register a certain level of velocity in movement. This is pretty simple technology, but it works. The net sensor only works with string nets (my feeling is that metal nets are too heavy and do not create enough movement to register when a made shot goes through the net) and is easy to attach if you have a small stool or step ladder to bring with you. For this reason, ShotTracker makes more sense for home courts than it does at public recreational parks. I live one minute’s walk away from a court, so it’s not so annoying for me to bring a small ladder, but imagine walking 10 minutes to a court. If you have a car to travel to courts, this is less of a problem. If ShotTracker wants to reach mass-market sales, this is the type of Design Thinking that is missing from the product currently. The more obstacles (including technology requirements and price) needed to use the product, the market size for the product diminishes.

Beyond that, the app is visually attractive and fairly easy to use, though I have some comments for improvements below.

Shottracker Charger and Box

Suggested Improvements and Other Notes

  • There are plenty of different drills to do, but you can only filter by position (guard, center, forward). I would like to see more filtering options. For example. I can’t shoot 3’s, so I don’t want to shoot 50 3’s. I also only shoot by myself, so it’s very difficult to shoot curls. Since there are so many drills, looking through them all and finding them one by one each time you practice is a real pain and barrier to exploring the app.
  • I would also like to create my own “playlist” of drills. This functionality is available through the free Coach’s App, which is free but only available on Android and iOS Tablets. From my experience in product UI, however, it would not be particularly tricky to allow the player to do this on mobile. From my admittedly older Samsung Android Tablet, I found the Coach’s App a bit sluggish to use.
  • You need to keep your phone unlocked while the ShotTracker app is running – if it goes into sleep / lock, ShotTracker will not be able to monitor data. The app should be more explicit about this behavior.
  • In the Player App, there are a number of features that are generally worthless and can be hidden so that there are fewer options in the navigational menu. For example, if there are no active Challenges (I would love to see at least one of these a week, even if not for prizes) or Camps, those should be hidden or put into an “Other” menu. Even the activity feed of Homecourt, showing everyone’s activity, and Players, a feature to search people, have no real use unless you want to track someone’s activity. From my perspective (but perhaps not matching that of the target demographic), these are all less-used features within the product and can be removed from direct sight.
  • I would like to better understand how good am I compared to the whole community – the app suggests this feature when you look at your Profile – there are comparative goals with people your age. However, there is no app section to enter your age in and my comparative data is blank.
  • One way to create value in Players is to help the user find players within a 5 mile radius that he could befriend, and potentially shoot with. I am guessing this is in the plans, as ShotTracker already asks for Zipcode.
  • An aspect I like about Drills is that you can watch video instruction of how to do the shots. However, I have no idea if the video is pre-installed into the app or I am using my data each time I am watching the video. It would be nice for all video to be pre-installed and I be explicitly told that no data will be used. In addition, even though all the videos feature a wide aspect ratio, I cannot rotate the phone to see the videos in their natural setting. I am forced to watch these videos in the tall / long setting on my phone, and the videos only take half the screen on my iPhone 5S.
  • For the App’s Help Section, I suggest showing a quick list of all the Question answered, with users being able to tap to see the answer to the question. The current format is Question, Answer Text, next Question, etc. This would allow me to quickly scan what information is in the App rather than scroll the entirety of the page (it’s quite long). In addition, I would add a button to quickly send a question / support comment for things that I do not see addressed. When I had questions, I had to look on the ShotTracker website for contact information. If the product itself is mobile-only, support should also be geared accordingly.
  • After using ShotTracker for over a month at an average of two hours a week, I am happy with the battery performance of the sensors – I have not needed to recharge them yet.

To read more of my basketball training product reviews, please click here.