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Oden's Knee and the NBA Age Limit

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As you have probably heard by now, Greg Oden had his rookie NBA season halted before it actually began with microfracture knee surgery which takes us a year(or longer) to make a full recovery from. The upside for Oden is many players have had this surgery and returned to the game with very little trouble. Over at AOL Fanhouse the question has been raised as to whether the NBA age limit is worth it considering it was first instituted to give NBA teams a better look at these players in an effort to expose weaknesses and get a better handle on their potential. It was the hope that this would save NBA GMs from wasting money on players who never lived up to potential which was previously based on limited information. Now you have an injury to a #1 draft pick which seems to have short circuited that intent.

One problem with this logic is the very random nature of injury renders this issue moot. The age limit was to deal mainly with issues GMs had in recognizing potential. Oden could have spent four years at Ohio State and still blown his knee out during the first game of the season and never been the same again. Whatever a player does in college does not give any indication as to how or when they might get injured in such a way as to destroy their career. That is unless the player shows a potential to be injured and the team ignores it. In my opinion Portland made the same mistake that led to the age limit except it was not about misjudging his potential on the court, it was about misjudging his potential to have physical issues. Between the wrist injury which caused him to miss a few early games at OSU to a wide variety of peculiarities discovered in pre-draft workouts the Blazers fell into the same trap dozens of teams have fallen in before. They ignored any number of warning signs in favor of the potential aspect.

And this has nothing to do with Kevin Durant, that is a separate issue altogether. The Blazers made the mistake of looking past the physical issues because they saw Oden could(and still might be) a dominant defensive center and he happened to be a great kid with lots of marketing potential. This kind of blatant failure at due diligence is why an age limit was created because NBA GMs can be abjectly stupid with whom they choose in the draft. Instead of drafting on known goods, the NBA decided to start drafting on potential and telling kids before they declared that they would be lottery picks which caused a mass exodus right out of high school. After the umpteenth kid turned out to be a bust the NBA stepped in to put a check in place to slow the madness down so to speak. As the Blazers have proven here, the age limit still does not stop GMs from misappropriating their draft picks and money.

In fact I would argue that this situation points to extending the age limit another year to put these kids through two years of college basketball. Given the physical nature of the NBA and the length of the season I would think NBA GMs would be in favor of putting these kids through two full seasons at the college level for development reasons as well as seeing what kind of constitution they have. As I said earlier, the random nature of injury makes it somewhat of a crapshoot anyway and players like Grant Hill, who stayed in college four years, still turn out to have chronic injury issues. At the same time, isn't it better to have as much information as possible about these young players when you are talking about millions of dollars invested in them? Maybe two years at Ohio State reveals little new information about Oden or maybe it shows all of the physical issues we have seen since the draft. We have no way of knowing that but the bottom line is until NBA GMs start behaving with common sense, AOL Fanhouse may be right, the age limit might be worthless.