Jonathan Bender Exemption: Too Inexperienced (NBA)

Kevin Garnett –  much younger looking than he is today
Jonathan Bender – Chillaxing

Synopsis: In order to be eligible for the NBA draft, players need to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school. Today, most top players play college hoops for one year before declaring for the draft. As such, the requirement has become known as The One-and-Done Rule. In the following article, I explore the impetus for the rule change. Furthermore, I establish a Top 10 Bust exemption for players who wouldn’t have met the current eligibility requirement. As the first “None-and-Done” player to fail in the league, 1999 #5 pick Jonathan Bender gets the naming rights. At the same time, 2001 #1 pick Kwame Brown deserves an honorable mention because he exposed the problem as being worthy of the rule change. 


Quarterback Cardale Jones shocked the world in leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to the 2015 National Championship. In particular, he engineered upsets over both #1 ranked Alabama and #2 ranked Oregon in the first-ever FBS 4-team playoff. Three days after winning the championship, he may have shocked the sports world even more when he announced his decision to stay in school.

Prior to the announcement, ESPN’s NFL Live panelists unanimously expressed their belief that Jones would jump to the NFL. Of note, the Ohio State QB had only started three college games up to that point. As support, Adam Schefter commented about the press conference being held at Jones’ high school instead of at Ohio State. In addition, Schefter referenced the following Tweet.

jones tweet
Notice the date from over two years ago.

First and foremost, I’d like to congratulate Jones for changing his mind about the importance of his education and staying in school. Second, I’d like to thank him for throwing a curveball at the NFL pundits who thought he would be unwilling to accept the challenge of remaining OSU’s starter.

As a red-shirt sophomore this year, Jones has been out of high school for three years. Based on the current NFL draft eligibility requirements, he would have qualified for the 2015 Draft. Still, he decided to wait. Collectively bargained with the players’ union, the restriction has withstood numerous legal challenges. Coincidentally, Ohio State’s Maurice Clarett brought the last challenge by filing a lawsuit in 2003. 


Unlike the NFL, the NBA only requires that players be out of high school for one year and at least 19 years old by December 31st of the draft year. Thanks to witty journalists, the requirement has become known as the One-and-Done Rule. Prior to 2006, the NBA didn’t have this restriction. However, a few bad draft picks involving high school players changed things for everyone.

When the Minnesota Timberwolves took 1995 #5 overall pick Kevin Garnett, he became the first player drafted directly out of high school for 20 years. In 1975, the 76ers took Darryl Dawkins with the 5th pick while the Hawks took Bill Willoughby with the 19th pick. Despite skipping college, Garnett defied convention wisdom by somehow having the emotional and physical maturity to become a 15-time All Star as well as a one-time league MVP.

Immediately thereafter, 1996 #13 pick Kobe Bryant and 1997 #9 pick Tracy McGrady came right out of high school and experienced tremendous NBA success. Subsequently, more high school players entered the draft. In turn, more teams gambled on them. Unfortunately, the gamble didn’t pay off with the early selections of 1999 #5 pick Jonathan Bender, 2000 #3 pick Darius Miles, and 2001 #1 pick Kwame Brown. Due in large part to their underwhelming careers, the league and the player’s union agreed to an age restriction.

As the follow table indicates, Garnett, Bryant and McGrady transitioned smoothly from high school directly to the NBA. They didn’t come into the league as stars immediately, but each became an All Star and All-NBA player within two to four years.

1995 #5 pick Kevin Garnett, 1996 #13 pick Kobe Bryant, 1997 #9 pick Tracy McGrady 

Per Game Averages

Players Season Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Salary



Kevin Garnett

1995-96 10.4 6.3 1.8 1.1 1.6 $1,622,000 2nd Team All-Rookie
Kobe Bryant 1996-97 7.6 1.9 1.3 0.7 0.3 $1,015,000

2nd Team All-Rookie

Tracy McGrady

1997-98 7.0 4.2 1.5 0.8 1.0 $1,359,360  
  1st Yr Avg 8.3 4.1 1.5 0.9 1.0 $1,332,120


 Player  Season PPG RPG APG  SPG BPG Salary Recognition

Kevin Garnett

1996-97 17.0 8.0 3.1 1.4 2.1 $1,666,000 All Star
Kobe Bryant 1997-98 15.4 3.1 2.5 0.9 0.5 $1,167,240

All Star

Tracy McGrady

1998-99 9.3 5.7 2.3 1.1 1.3 $1,563,000  
  2nd Yr Avg 13.9 5.6 2.6 1.1 1.3 $1,465,413


Player Season  PPG RPG  APG SPG BPG Salary Recognition

Kevin Garnett

1998-99 18.5 9.6 4.2 1.7 1.8 $2,109,120 All Star
Kobe Bryant 1999-2000 19.9 5.3 3.8 1.4 1 $1,319,000

3rd Team All-NBA

Tracy McGrady

2000-01 15.4 6.3 3.3 1.1 1.9 $1,767,120  
  3rd Yr Avg 17.9 7.1 3.8 1.4 1.6 $1,731,747  
 Player  Season  PPG  RPG APG SPG BPG Salary Recognition

Kevin Garnett

1999-2000 20.8 10.4 4.3 1.7 1.8 $14,000,000 3rd Team All-NBA
Kobe Bryant 2000-01 22.5 6.3 4.9 1.6 0.9 $9,000,000

All Star / 2nd Team All-NBA

Tracy McGrady

2001-02 26.8 7.5 4.6 1.5 1.5 $9,660,000 All Star / 2nd Team All-NBA
  4th Yr Avg 23.4 8.1 4.6 1.6 1.4 $10,886,667


All three players produced somewhat as “freshman” (i.e. rookies). However, they each progressed nicely during what would have been their college years. For instance, Garnett made the All-Star team as a “sophomore” and “junior.” In turn, Bryant made the All-Star team as a “sophomore” and the 3rd Team All-NBA as a “junior.” McGrady progressed more slowly than Garnett and Bryant. However, McGrady bridged any gap by his fourth year in the league when he too became an All Star and earned a spot on an All-NBA team.

These three players averaged approximately $1.5 million per year for their first three years in the league. Not surprisingly, Garnett earned the most as a #5 pick and Bryant earned the least as a #13 pick. For the most part, their teams paid for them to develop into NBA players (versus being NBA-ready from the start). However, each one was underpaid by the time his rookie contract expired. Based on their success, they signed new contracts averaging approximately $11 million for their “senior” years. It’s hard to argue that any of these players would have been better off in the short or long-term if they went to college instead of entering the NBA right out of high school.

As a quick summary, here’s what those three “None-and-Done” players accomplished in the NBA.

  • Garnett: 1x NBA Champion / 1x MVP / 15x All Star / 9x All-NBA Selection / 1x Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Bryant: 5x NBA Champion / 1x MVP / 16x All Star / 15x All-NBA Selection / 2x scoring champ.
  • McGrady: 7x All Star / 7x All-NBA Selection / 2x scoring champ.

Based only on the early success of these players, teams willingly drafted unproved high school players. As the following table shows, the top three “None-and-Done” players drafted from 1999-2001 didn’t have the same type of success.

Jonathan Bender (1999 – #5), Darius Miles (2000 – #3), Kwame Brown (2001 – #1)
    Per Game Averages  
Players Season Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks



Jonathan Bender

1999-2000 2.7 0.9 0.1 0.0 0.2 $2,214,600
Darius Miles 2000-01 9.4 5.9 1.2 0.6 1.5


Kwame Brown

2001-02 4.5 3.5 0.8 0.3 0.5 $3,697,440
  1st Yr Avg 5.5 3.4 0.7 0.3 0.7


Players Season  PPG RPG APG SPG BPG Salary
Jonathan Bender 2000-01 3.3 1.0 1.3 0.5 0.1


Darius Miles

2001-02 9.5 5.5 2.2 0.9 1.3 $3,054,840
Kwame Brown 2002-03 7.4 5.3 0.7 0.6 1.0


  2nd Year Avg 6.7 3.9 1.4 0.7 0.8 $2,901,160
Player Season PPG RPG APG SPG BPG Salary

Jonathan Bender

2001-02 7.4 3.1 0.8 0.2 0.6 $2,546,760
Darius Miles 2002-03 9.2 5.4 2.6 1.0 1.0


Kwame Brown

2003-04 10.9 7.4 1.5 0.9 0.8 $4,252,080
  3rd Yr Avg 9.2 5.3 1.6 0.7 0.8


Player Season  PPG RPG APG SPG BPG Salary 
Jonathan Bender 2002-03 6.6 2.9 0.9 0.2 1.2


Darius Miles

2003-04 10.9 4.5 2.1 0.8 0.8 $4,130,701
Kwame Brown 2004-05 7.0 4.9 0.9 0.6 0.4



4th Yr Avg

8.2 4.1 1.3 0.5 0.8


Clearly, these three players didn’t progress during their “college” years. Miles came out of the gates strong and earned a spot on the All-Rookie 1st Team. Still, he never deviated much from his career averages of 10 points and five rebounds per game. Starting out at much lower production levels, Bender and Brown showed progress early in their careers. However, they both topped out during their “junior” seasons. Bender had a ceiling of seven points / three rebounds per game while Brown had a ceiling of 11 points / seven rebounds per game. Needless to say, they left some unemployed people in their wake.

If these players had been selected with late 1st round or 2nd round picks, the “One-and-Done” rule never would have ever been proposed. The problem with the “None-and-Done” picks from 1999-2001 related to the mistakes made by the teams that took them. Given the 3-year guaranteed contracts for 1st round picks, the cost of each bet approximated $4.5 million for the first group of high school players (i.e. Group 1: Garnett, Bryant, and McGrady). However, the cost exceeded $9.0 million for the second group (i.e. Group 2: Bender, Miles, and Brown).

Season Group: Years  PPG RPG APG SPG RPG Salary
Rookie Season 1: 1995-98 8.3 4.1 1.5 0.9 1.0 $1,332,120
Rookie Season 2: 1999-2002 5.5 3.4 0.7 0.3 0.7 $2,917,920
2nd Season 1: 1996-99 13.9 5.6 2.6 1.1 1.3 $1,465,413
2nd Season 2: 2000-2003 6.7 3.9 1.4 0.7 0.8 $2,901,160
3rd Season 1: 1997-2000 17.9 7.1 3.8 1.4 1.6 $1,731,747
3rd Season 2: 2001-2004 9.2 4.3 1.3 0.5 0.8 $3,355,600
4th Season 1: 1998-2001 23.4 8.1 4.6 1.6 1.4 $10,886,667
4th Season 2: 2002-2005 8.2 4.1 1.3 0.5 0.8 $4,239,773

Based on the side-by-side comparison of the two groups, a few trends jump out.

  • Group 1 not only started out stronger than Group 2, but also progressed more rapidly. Players in Group 1 became superstars in time to negotiate their first contract extensions. Notice the average salary of $11 million for their 4th seasons.
  • Group 2 didn’t have the same upside as Group 1. In fact, the players in Group 2 topped out in their 3rd seasons with numbers comparable to the rookie seasons for the players in Group 1.
  • Unlike Group 1, Group 2 had rookie contracts which included a 4th-year team option. Despite the claim that Group 2 only included busts, each team exercised its option to keep the players. Perhaps the teams failed to acknowledge these players as sunk costs. Regardless, that wouldn’t explain why each player also earned a nice pay raise after his rookie contract expired.

I theorize that NBA owners and executives don’t like the idea of “None-and-Done” players. In particular, I believe they’re afraid of the potential ridicule associated with selecting a player who becomes a bust. At the same time, they don’t want to be ridiculed for passing over a player who becomes a superstar. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t, they decided to change the rule to avoid the entire situation. In essence, they’re like alcoholic liquor store owners who lobby to get a law passed prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays under the guise of improved health for everyone.

As the following table shows, each of the three players from Group 2 could be considered a bust.

        Per Game Averages
Player Draft (Pick) Games Played Yrs Lost to Injury Win Shares Rebounds Assists Blocks Points
Jonathan Bender 1999 (#5) 262 5 yrs 3.8 2.2 0.6 0.6 5.5
Darius Miles 2000 (#3) 446 3 yrs 9.5 4.9 1.9 1.1 10.1
Kwame Brown 2001 (#1) 607 3 yrs 20.8 5.5 0.9 0.6 6.6

Averaging 5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game during his career, Bender proved to be the least productive member of Group 2.

In a previous post, I established the Sam Bowie Exemption for players who produced enough to avoid being considered an all-time bust. Bowie usually is remembered for being the oft-injured player who was drafted ahead of Michael Jordan. At the same time, he has been forgotten for being a 10-year veteran who produced 27 win shares while averaging 11 points and 7.5 boards per game.

Unlike Bowie, however, Bender only produced a total of four win shares. As such, he certainly didn’t produce enough to receive that exemption. Instead, he arguably could have qualified for the Greg Oden Exemption, which I reserve for players who failed to live up to their potential because of injuries. On the one side, Bender sat out for the equivalent of five full seasons due to injuries. On the other, he never showed that he could be a productive NBA player even before getting injured. As a result, the injuries didn’t prevent him from succeeding.


As a high draft pick with an unproductive career, Bender meets the criteria of a potential Top 10 Bust. Then again, his failure in the league doesn’t seem to be unexpected enough for him to earn the recognition. In particular, he never proved worthy of a top pick by producing in college or some other respectable league before entering the NBA. In case you’re wondering, high school doesn’t cut it.

Based on unproved players, I created the Jonathan Bender Exemption (e.g. “None-and-Done” players). In essence, the jump between high school and the NBA is so great that the expectations shouldn’t be high enough to warrant consideration as an all-time bust. Regardless, Bender earned an Honorable Mention for failing to produce as a 5th overall pick.

Jonathan Bender  – Expanding His Fan Base
jonathan bender
“Former NBA Star?” I guess Fox chose to use the word “star” quite liberally.

As the second most productive member of Group 2 with a total of 9.5 win shares, Darius Miles falls right on the borderline for a bottom 10% player selected with a 2nd-5th overall pick. He didn’t produce enough to qualify for the Sam Bowie Exemption. At the same time, he had enough injuries to earn the Greg Oden Exemption.

While averaging 14 points per game in his sixth year in the league, Miles suffered a severe season-ending knee injury. After undergoing micro-fracture surgery, he sat out for over two years. Interestingly, he underwent the same type of operation that didn’t work for Oden on three separate occasions. Perhaps more interestingly, Bowie, Miles and Oden all played for Portland when their injuries happened. All together now, “Hmm.”

Much to the chagrin of the Trail Blazers, Miles played at least 10 games in the 2008-09 season such that the team couldn’t get financial relief from his presumed career-ending injury. Appearing in 34 games for the Memphis Grizzlies that season, Miles averaged less than four points and two rebounds per game. Practically speaking, he had suffered a career-ending injury three years earlier at the age of 24. 

Even though Miles still was young when the injury happened, he had already worked through his rookie contract. Of note, he had another $34 million in guaranteed money that he wouldn’t have had if he had gone to college first. Could that be another reason for delaying players entry into the NBA? Nah, why would that matter?

Jordan came out of retirement to play alongside the player he selected with a #1 overall pick while serving in the Wizards’ front office.

While not necessarily a compliment, Kwame Brown produced more than any other player from Group 2. He never succeeded to the level that the Wizards or team executive Michael Jordan thought he would. Still, he averaged approximately seven points and six rebounds per game during his 12-year career.

As a former #1 overall pick with a total of 21 win shares, he produced enough to receive the Sam Bowie Exemption. As a “None-and-Done” player who never proved himself beyond high school competition, he also received the Jonathan Bender Exemption. While exempt from being called a Top 10 Bust, Brown still earned an Honorable Mention. Furthermore, he earned a spot as this site’s #6 Worst NBA Draft Pick. Of note, he was drafted ahead of two likely Hall of Famers (i.e. Pau Gasol and Tony Parker) as well as three All-Stars (e.g. Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, and Gilbert Arenas).

Despite the early success of 2003 #1 pick LeBron James and 2004 #1 pick Dwight Howard, the owners pushed to change eligibility requirements regarding high school players in time for the 2006 Draft. The underwhelming careers of Bender, Miles and Browns certainly helped the owners make their case. Since that change, “One-and-Done” players have became the new standard for top prospects.

Of note, seven of the last eight #1 overall picks left college after one year.

  • Greg Oden in 2007.
  • Derrick Rose in 2008.
  • John Wall in 2010.
  • Kyrie Irving in 2011.
  • Anthony Davis in 2012.
  • Anthony Bennett in 2013.
  • Andrew Wiggins in 2014.

While this list mostly includes NBA superstars and potential Hall of Famers, it also includes the #10 Worst Pick (Oden) as well as a potential Top 10 Bust (Bennett). With a Blutarsky-esque 0.0 win shares after 1 1/2 years in the league, Bennett needs 16 more to receive the Sam Bowie Exemption. There’s plenty of time, but it’s not looking good as of now.

As of November 2016, Bennett has a win share total of 0.4 based on career totals of four points and three rebounds per game. At this point, he purely serves in mop-up duty. Despite being the worst #1 pick ever, Bennett has the benefit of being taken in one of the worst drafts ever. While 2013 #2 pick PG Victor Oladipo has had a respectable career (16 ppg, 4 rpb, 4 asp), the team with the #1 pick (Cavaliers) already had an All Star PG (Kyrie Irving).

For those of you interested, Bennett has to double his current career totals to avoid Top 10 Bust status. For those of you who follow the NBA closely, Bennett has to find another gear to avoid the title.