The NBA Draft is quickly approaching, and the underclassmen deadline came and went. Before you know it, the likes of Jay Bilas will take over your television preaching his WINGSPAN gospel. The word “potential” will be said more in the next two months than the other ten combined. At the forefront of the “potential” revolution is the young underclassmen.
Each year, numerous underclassmen declare and eventually sign with an agent (officially eliminating their ability to return to school) for the NBA Draft. There wasn’t a Marcus Smart-level player this year who decided to stay. (The Kentucky Harrison twins probably rank at the top, right?) There’s no point in getting fancy about this; we all know how it works. The cream of the crop college player typically stays one, maybe two years in college before leaving for the much greener pastures of the NBA. But not every underclassman that declares gets drafted, and many of those fortunate enough to get drafted find themselves picked much lower than they expected.
The common rule of thumb is to leave if you’re projected in the lottery, but from there the water gets murkier. Bad pre-draft workouts, interviews or even luck can be the difference between a projected 15-20-range player ending up sliding to the late first round or even second round. For some fringe players who leave early, getting drafted anywhere is hard enough. Staying an extra year or two doesn’t always end up being the best decision either. Those who are more potential than player risk scouts falling out of love with them if they don’t perform exceptionally. Case and point is former Tar Heel James Michael McAdoo, a once-projected top-ten draft pick, who after returning to school two more years is now projected to go in the late first round-second round area.
This year is no different from any of the last few years. There are countless underclassmen officially in, and drastically less upperclassman. But the question remains: did those underclassmen make the right decisions? Let’s take a look.
Tidbit on my thinking process: if he’s projected to go high, coming back is never a good option. (Financially at least… stay in school, kids!) I also follow the Urban Dictionary definition of an underclassman, meaning juniors are not on this list.
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1. Joel Embiid
Freshman, Center, Kansas
Surprised? Regardless of the outcome of the countless physicals tests teams will put Embiid through, the writing was on the wall for Joel to declare. What does he gain by staying? More injuries? Sure, there will be some scouts and whatnot who are scared to draft a possibly fragile big man given the history (they should make an Embiid version of the Lillard commercial where he says “I don’t want to be an injury-prone big man drafted before a star!” with Oden nearby looking heartbroken. Then Embiid says “No, no, not you Greg. I mean a big man drafted before a legend!” with Sam Bowie nearby. Make it happen, adidas!), but Embiid’s as talented a big man in recent memory. He’s been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon!