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Should Joe Ingles have come to the NBA sooner?

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With the seemingly increasing number of foreign basketball players coming stateside each year, basketball minds are left wondering: How long should they play overseas before coming to the NBA?

Christian Petersen

(Note: Following suit the rest of the Clips Nation staff, I've changed my handle from the simple "Erik O" to my given name, "Erik Olsgaksjdlkalskdjgfdard". We're just going to have to get used to it. Anyway, back to the subject at hand.)

Although this has always been an important question for the NBA, a tweet from our Clips Nation representative at Media Day, Jul Jessup, made it particularly relevant to the Clippers:

(Follow her right now!)

The Question

The meat of this question really parallels the familiar question about when NCAA players should make the jump to the NBA. And that question really leads to another more important question: For young players, which system is more likely to generate an NBA star — the NBA, or the NCAA?

With NCAA players, statistically we've typically found that "they are who they are" by their senior year. Or rather, players are less likely to surprise you in an Eric Bledsoe kind of way if they're joining the NBA at 22 years old. Sure, they can develop a few extra skills, but if they weren't a star in college, they probably won't be an all-star in the NBA. That's not to say it's not possible, it's just pretty unlikely.

Would those players have developed differently had they left for the NBA after their freshman year? Would Eric Bledsoe have gotten $70 million if he had spent 4 years at the University of Kentucky?

The Analysis

I don't have an answer to that question yet (nor does anyone else), and frankly I haven't tried to answer it because that's just a mountain of data to get through. But in the case of foreign players, it's a much smaller mountain of data. I ran some numbers on about 100 foreign-born NBA players since 1990 who either started out in overseas leagues, or had the opportunity to do so and passed on it.

If you'd like to re-run the same analysis, I used data from www.basketball-reference.com. I pulled the top 100 players, sorted by total minutes played, who were born outside of the US, and who did not play for an American university. Then, I grouped these players into age-tiers of about 20 players each, and I accumulated their entire careers' worth of data up to 2013-14 within each age-tier.

This analysis includes a large range of player types. There are the players who started very early in the NBA (e.g. Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker), players who joined the NBA after already establishing themselves overseas (e.g. Manu Ginobili, Nikola Pekovic), and players who have since retired (e.g. Vlade Divac, Marko Jaric).

The Numbers

Age Range

Tot MP

PTS/36

REB/36

AST/36

STL/36

BLK/36

TOV/36

FG%

2P%

3P%

FT%

TS%

PER

18-20

12,847

15.3

7.3

2.8

1.1

1.2

2.1

47.7%

50.1%

35.7%

76.4%

55.6%

16.8

21

12,907

15.0

7.0

2.9

1.0

0.9

2.1

46.6%

49.4%

37.0%

74.6%

54.6%

15.4

22

10,887

13.8

6.3

2.3

0.8

1.0

1.8

47.3%

49.2%

35.3%

74.2%

53.7%

15.1

23-24

9,842

12.9

5.2

2.4

0.8

0.7

1.5

46.1%

48.3%

37.4%

73.3%

53.7%

14.2

25+

8,786

16.5

4.6

2.2

0.8

0.4

1.6

47.5%

50.0%

36.3%

77.3%

55.5%

16.5

Conclusions

The results were a bit interesting. Frankly, I expected more variation between the age-tiers. Some of the numbers are skewed (note the higher rebounds for the younger tiers) due to the fact that foreign bigs tend to come to the NBA earlier than foreign guards, presumably because there are a ton of giants outside of the US -- and you can't teach height. But simply based on the all-around numbers, it would seem that the players need some kind of consistency to really develop. It appears that of the foreign players' success stories (as this analysis only includes players that actually played meaningful minutes, i.e. the good ones), the best of the best either come to the NBA early, or they come over late.

Now, bringing the point home to our newest Clipper, Joe Ingles, I'm certainly not saying that he'll have numbers similar to the above. But what I am saying is that there's no reason to assume that Joe will be particularly handicapped just because he's waited until 26 to come to the NBA.  In fact, he may even be more likely, than the Clippers' younger wings, to contribute right away.  Don't let me down, Joe.