Take the bait or wait?

Updated: February 4, 2005, 10:37 AM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
It's now a fact of life that the greatest lifeline in any NBA draft is college underclassmen.

By the time most players reach their senior seasons, their class already has been picked clean. While every year there are a handful of nongraduates who make bad decisions about declaring for the draft, for the most part, the NBA embraces college underclassmen.

Since high school stud Kevin Garnett broke the college barrier in 1995 and declared for the NBA draft directly from high school, the number of college seniors in the first round has dwindled at an alarming rate.

In 1995, there were 20 seniors taken in the first round, six in the lottery. In 1998, the number dipped to 14 seniors, with five in the lottery, and the slide continued each year thereafter:

  • 1999: 13 first-round seniors; only four in the lottery.
  • 2000: 11 first-round seniors; only three in the lottery.
  • 2001: Four first-round seniors; only one – Shane Battier – in the lottery.
  • 2002: Eight first-round seniors; only one – Melvin Ely – in the lottery.
  • 2003: Nine first-round seniors; only three in the lottery.
The 2004 draft was among the worst ever for collegiate seniors. Just four – Rafael Araujo, Luke Jackson, Jameer Nelson, and Tony Allen – were taken in the first round.

This year should be better. Four or five seniors seem to be first-round material. The other 25 or so picks will have to come from a growing pool of underclassmen, international players and high school seniors.

This college underclassmen class might be as important as ever. The high school class is the weakest it's been in years, and teams are getting increasingly wary of the influx of young international players.

That means that the bulk of this year's draft will be college underclassmen.

Who's thinking about declaring and where would they go? Insider talked to a group of NBA scouts and other league sources to get you the lowdown on where this year's underclassmen stand.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer