The Detroit Pistons are banking on the young talent they have acquired in the last three NBA drafts.
Today, NBA prospects often enter the league at nineteen years old, but the level of skill a rookie faces has never been higher. Playing against NBA veterans, the average one-and-done prospect is way behind the curve.
Could a new path to NBA success be paved through developmental leagues that provide a balance between education, life skills, and professional basketball beginning at a young age?
Detroit rookie Ausar Thompson and his brother Amen are the highest draft picks to come out of Overtime Elite, a development program that has only existed since 2021.
In Summer League, Ausar showed an exciting skill level and feel for the game. Playing against college and G League talent vying for an opportunity, the Thompson brothers showed their preparation to be at least equal to that of most college players.
Detroit Pistons: Is college basketball still the best path to the NBA?
Programs like Overtime Elite and the G League’s Ignite offer educational opportunities, courses in life skills, and elite basketball training. They’re meant to a hybrid between the American AAU/College approach and European professional basketball leagues.
Foreign players often play several years of professional basketball in Europe before joining the NBA, which means they’ve competed against NBA veterans and grown men.
Years ago, players attended three if not four years of college before entering the draft. Even Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan, the physical prototypes for the modern, athletic wing, enjoyed long college careers in part because professional basketball didn’t pay that well at that time and in part because NBA teams wanted developed players.
Today’s teams have larger and better player development programs than ever before, yet many high draft picks struggle to get on the floor for competitive teams. The Golden State Warriors’ recent draft picks are excellent examples, and James Wiseman was no exception.
This year Pistons fans will have the opportunity to judge for themselves the success or failure of Overtime Elite. Every night, hopefully, we’ll have the chance to see Ausar Thompson grow and develop, and, perhaps, we’ll see the future of developmental programs focused on preparing young men to navigate and perform in the modern world of professional sports.
In the 2023 NBA Draft, four of the top five picks didn’t come from college basketball, and as programs like OTE and the G-League continue to grow, the NCAA may no longer be the path for the best prospects.