Every April, young NBA prospects are faced with the decision to see if the reality of being an NBA player is as sweet as the dream. Let’s discuss who made the best decisions and who made potentially costly ones.
Wise to enter
Cody Zeller, Indiana, So.
The “Big Handsome” didn’t take the big step forward this past season that many analysts expected, but his ability to score efficiently with both hands in the post as well as his basketball IQ are undeniable. Next year’s draft will feature Mitch McGary from Michigan and Willie Cauley-Stein from Kentucky, so Zeller stands to be drafted higher this year with only Alex Len, Gorgei Dieng, Kelly Olynyk as the other center prospects.
Gorgui Dieng, Louisville, Jr.
Coming off a national championship, Dieng’s stock is at a high, and like Cody Zeller, he will benefit from McGary and Cauley-Stein returning. A native of Senegal, Dieng’s age may also come into question as it does with many prospects from Africa. His stock has little to gain if he’d decided to return to Louisville.
Shane Larkin, Miami, So.
Miami had a phenomenal season with Larkin running the show and his stock also has little to gain from returning. In few drafts does a player of Larkin’s physical profile stand a chance of becoming a first round pick but in this weak draft class overall, it is certainly possible.
Questionable decision to leave
Adonis Thomas, Memphis, So.
When Thomas first arrived at Memphis, he was a specimen oozing with potential to become a prototype NBA small forward. However, two years later, he has yet to realize his upside. His ball-handling and perimeter shooting have been rather sub-par thus far. Any success he has had in college thus far has been a product of strictly his athleticism and motor. Memphis fans just would’ve hoped he’d return and round out his game a little more before leaving. He’s likely a mid to late second rounder this year, but if he’d returned he could’ve eventually been a first round pick.
BJ Young, Arkansas, So.
Young has shown that he can be an explosive scorer in the SEC, but he is the typical 6’3″ guard surrounded with question marks regarding his ability to play the point guard position. He’s likely a mid second rounder this year, but like Thomas, could’ve eventually been a first rounder if he improved his playmaking ability.
Steven Adams, Pittsburgh, Fr.
Adams reminds some people of Byron Mullens – a highly regarded high school center prospect expected to eventually become a top overall pick in the draft. Like Mullens, Adams struggled in his freshman season, but showed all the physical tools to become a solid NBA big man. And like Mullens, who left Ohio State after one year and has since bounced around and landed on a horrible Bobcats team, Adams will enter the draft, citing the need to “provide for his family”. If that’s the case, then he must do what he feels necessary, but from a business standpoint, Adams stands to lose a lot of money long-term, like Mullens perhaps, by leaving Pitt.
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky, Fr.
Goodwin was a highly touted recruit coming into Kentucky, but despite his obvious world-class athleticism, his lack of an outside shot and limited playmaking ability take away a little bit of the luster. He may be a late first round pick this year based on potential alone, but he could have catapulted himself into late lottery discussion for next year if he would have returned and improved his point guard skills.
Wise to return
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, Fr.
Cauley-Stein, despite playing in the shadow of Nerlens Noel, has arguably just as much potential. He moves as fluidly as you could possibly expect a seven-footer to move, and from a basketball IQ and offensive fundamentals standpoint, he is certainly ahead of Noel. This year, he would have likely been a late lottery to mid-first round pick, but he has the chance to catapult himself into a top-five pick next year if he can help return Kentucky to dominant form.
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, Fr.
Robinson flashed immense NBA potential, reminding analysts of Andre Iguodala. With Trey Burke entering the draft, Robinson will have the chance to emerge as a leader for the Wolverines. He could’ve been a lottery pick this year, but Robinson’s return was not about the money or elevating his stock as much as it was about rounding out his game and preparing himself to be an immediate NBA contributor whenever he decides to enter.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor, Fr.
The prospect that reminds many of Jonathan Bender from some years back, Austin hopes to not make the mistake as Bender. If you remember, Bender was a rail-thin seven footer out of high school was tremendous athleticism and an intriguing skill set for a man of his size. However, the NBA proved to be too physical for Bender to handle, and unfortunately his body broke down. Not to say that the same fate awaits Austin, but he could stand to get stronger and develop his post game.
Questionable decision to return
Russ Smith, Louisville, Jr.
Like Larkin, Smith had a phenomenal year. Smith was the best player on the best team in America and he has a national championship to his name. However, by returning, I doubt that he can raise his stock any higher than it is now, even if Louisville were to repeat. There are still going to be the same questions about Smith’s game – he’s still a shooting guard trapped in an undersized point guard’s body – so the risk of injury outweighs the chance to improve upon his, at best, second round grade.
Doug McDermott, Creighton, Jr.
McDermott is the type of player that makes college basketball exciting to watch. A classic four-year, mid-major player looking to finish what he started. You have to respect that. But as a three-point shooting specialist with very limited upside, McDermott’s best chance to be a first round draft pick is this year. Next year’s draft class is loaded with quality wing players, so the tweener from Creighton may see himself slip into the mid-second round next year.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Fr.
Again you must respect the pride that Smart has in his game to turn down big money and return for his sophomore season. But at the same time, Smart could very well have been a top-three pick in this year’s draft depending on how the ping pong balls fall. Spencer Dinwiddie from Colorado and Andrew Harrison from Kentucky will offer much more stiff competition to Smart as the top point guard than Trey Burke or Michael Carter-Williams would have this year.