For a number of players who could have returned to a college campus in 2016-17, the uphill battle to make an NBA roster has begun. It began without hearing their name called on Thursday night in Brooklyn, and continues from here.
An important part of the NBA Draft this year, and one that has been much-talked about, is restoring the deadline to pull out of the draft to a date closer to draft night than the national championship game. It allowed players more time to get feedback from NBA teams, which is a plus, and led to over 100 college players initially declaring before 57 pulled out.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of decisions you can question based on results, just like there are plenty that made perfect sense. And there are other reasons some of these moves made sense. This is really no different than any other year in that respect.
Ten first round picks, including the first three and five of the first eight, had completed their freshman year of college. This marked the seventh year in a row that the number one pick had played just one year of college. Those players made decisions that are unassailable. They aren’t really the subject here; it’s hard to knock Ben Simmons leaving for the NBA when he goes with the top pick.
But as expected, there were plenty of underclassmen who left who didn’t hear their name called at all. This year was a big year for seniors, though that wasn’t reflected in the first round as only five were selected – more than last year, but only twice in the last 12 NBA Drafts have fewer seniors gone in the first round – and there are still international players, seven of whom were taken in the first round. Their college teams could really benefit from having them back next season, and arguably, the players could benefit more from playing 30-35 minutes a night of game action instead of practicing and barely getting off the bench in a game, if that.
Cat Barber stayed in the draft after a stellar year at NC State; no one called his name. The Wolfpack could certainly use a guard who would be a serious ACC Player of the Year candidate. USC took a big hit when Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic stayed in the draft; neither was called up to the stage on Thursday night. While Ben Simmons went first overall, it wasn’t a banner night overall for LSU, as teammate Tim Quarterman didn’t hear his name called, either. Wayne Selden (Kansas) and Jaylen Reynolds (Xavier) were highly regarded coming into college, with Selden having a nice career and Reynolds having his moments, but neither was drafted. Texas could use Isaiah Taylor in 2016-17, another who went undrafted, and West Virginia would be even better if undrafted forward Devin Williams would be back on campus next year. Indiana could use Troy Williams as well.
There are some who were not drafted whose decisions you can understand on another level. Hawaii’s Stefan Jankovic will probably sign overseas anyway; he’s older and the program will be ineligible for postseason play after a magical run this season. Boise State’s James Webb III will turn 23 in August, and his stock seems unlikely to improve with another year, especially given his age. At some point, players have limited or no upside left, so moving on makes sense. In fact, it’s for that reason that Rodney Purvis’ decision to return to Connecticut surprised a few people.
Even some players who left early and got drafted were thought to be higher picks than they ended up being, which had to make for a humbling experience for a few. Marquette’s Henry Ellenson was thought by many to be a safe top 10 pick, but fell to Detroit at No. 18. Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere sat and waited until the 28th pick, barely getting guaranteed money. Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis, Kansas’ Cheick Diallo and Maryland’s Diamond Stone won’t get guaranteed deals by virtue of slipping into the second round. Davis, in fact, left the Green Room at one point. Providence forward Ben Bentil stayed in the draft perhaps with the idea that he might get into the late first round, which was the prevailing thought at the time, but he was one of the final ten picks of the evening.
None of this will have the effects some will desire of discouraging players from leaving early in the future. For starters, there are worse fates that could befall a player than this; while it’s a big stage, the NBA Draft is not the be-all, end-all of getting to the NBA. Additionally, the mentality of most players when making a decision like this is not to look at players they are similar to who fell in the draft or did not have much success in the NBA. Rather, they look at players they believe they are similar to who succeeded on both fronts.
Frankly, though, we should not want them to just simply come back to school. Let them do what they think is best, and hope for the best for them. College basketball will go on, as it has before.
Might it give some underclassmen pause in the future? Perhaps. But it seems unlikely to change anything of consequence given the above. Instead, players will continue to leave school early in hopes of getting drafted, or drafted high. Some will make decisions that pay off right away, others, not so much. For the latter, it means a further uphill climb to make a roster.