NBA draft early entries: Evaluating each player's decision to turn pro
John Wall, Evan Turner, Wes Johnson & Gordon Hayward headline the no-brainers
Despite early hype as a potential lottery pick, Eric Bledsoe's stock has cooled off
Lance Stephenson may be in for a rude awakening in the near future
Every year we see a slew of "report cards" and "winner/loser" style articles written by clairvoyant college basketball journalists criticizing underclassmen for electing to leave the cozy confines of college basketball. More often than not we read about "bad decisions" made due to "poor advice" received from people in a players' inner circle (agents, runners, greedy parents and AAU types).
There is a flip side to that argument, though, and that story deserves to be told as well, with a sober analysis more in line with the realities of today's professional basketball world.
A few of these realities:
Players have a limited window of approximately a decade or less to exploit their athletic prowess and maximize their career earning potential.
Some players just aren't that interested in the academic side involved in being a student-athlete and would instead rather begin a professional career while helping support their family. That is their right, isn't it?
The NCAA refuses to provide underclassmen with a fair opportunity to evaluate their options with the new May 8 early-entry deadline.
Being drafted in the second round is no longer the death sentence it was once considered to be.
The NCAA does not hold a monopoly on developing talent. The NBA Development League is an increasingly viable option for players looking for an alternative route to the NBA, as is Europe.
With that in mind, let's evaluate the decision made by each early entry.
Solomon Alabi, Florida State: Coming off knee surgery and already having redshirted his freshman season due to another injury, the risks of coming back for a fourth year were likely too great considering that he's almost certainly a first-round pick. Alabi surely could have developed his offensive game a bit more, but he also could have had a Jerome Jordan-eqse draft-hype-extinguishing year as well.
Cole Aldrich, Kansas: Aldrich could have been a top-10 pick in last year's draft, and after a disappointing early NCAA tournament exit and a season that did not get many NBA scouts a whole lot more excited, he's making the right choice to get his pro career started.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest: Likely to be drafted somewhere in the 5-10 range, no one can question Aminu's decision, especially since he could have already been picked very high last year.
James Anderson, Oklahoma State: Not oozing with upside, but nevertheless one of the more productive wing players in college basketball, Anderson is entering the draft right as his stock has hit its likely peak following a Big 12 player of the year-caliber season.
Craig Brackins, Iowa State: Projected as a likely top-20 pick by most NBA teams we spoke with last year, Brackins was convinced by his college coaching staff to return to Iowa State last season, a decision that many questioned at the time. Following an underwhelming season, in a draft loaded with players at his position, his stock has plummeted deep into the second round, making him the poster boy for why staying in school isn't always the right decision.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky: A surefire top-five pick and one of the most dominant interior presences we've seen at the collegiate level in quite some time, Cousins used his time under John Calipari wisely and is clearly ready to cash in on his immense talent.
Ed Davis, North Carolina: Coming off a mildly disappointing season and enduring the scare of his first serious injury, Ed Davis made the safe decision of going pro, which makes sense considering he's a likely lottery pick. He likely would have been far more ready for the NBA physically and skills-wise with another season at Carolina, but the risks of getting hurt again were likely too much to endure.
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech: One of the most coveted prospects in this draft and a likely top-five pick, Favors had every reason to declare and didn't waste much time electing to do so.
Tiny Gallon, Oklahoma: Caught up in a scandal in which he reportedly took money from a financial adviser (as reported by TMZ), Gallon didn't seem to have much of a choice but to declare for the draft and start his professional career, as he likely had nowhere to return to.
Gordon Hayward, Butler: A smart, skilled and versatile player who is not oozing with potential, it's difficult to see how much higher Hayward's stock can rise after helping his team reach the NCAA final. He likely has enough fans among NBA GMs at this point to warrant a solid spot in the first round, which is tough to pass up when considering the risks involved in returning.
Xavier Henry, Kansas: Henry is clearly ready to be picked in the 10-20 range of the draft after handling his business perfectly on and off the court in his lone season at Kansas, making his decision hard to criticize. While he may not possess overwhelming upside, he appears to be an extremely safe pick for a good NBA team to add to its rotation and could develop into a terrific player.
Darington Hobson, New Mexico: Advanced in age after having bounced around quite a bit throughout his basketball career thus far, it's difficult to see how much Hobson could have improved on the well-rounded season he had for New Mexico, which was ranked in the top 10 for a good portion of the season. Not a particularly explosive athlete and more or less a finished product at this point, Hobson would have ran the risk of having his game completely picked apart by scouts had he elected to return to school. With that said, he's not guaranteed to go in the first round, although there are teams that like him in the 20-30 range.
Wesley Johnson, Syracuse: Turning 23 later this year with four years of college basketball under his belt and projected by some teams as top-five pick, this may have been the easiest decision of any player in this draft.
Dominique Jones, South Florida: Jones dominated the Big East in certain stretches this season, but he doesn't have a single NCAA tournament appearance to show for his career efforts, despite playing 3,500 minutes of college basketball. Although he can probably still stand to improve his jump-shot, it's tough to see how much more he realistically has to prove at the college level, making it difficult to fault him for feeling ready to get his professional career started.
Mac Koshwal, DePaul: Twenty-three years old and in a hopeless situation at DePaul, Koshwal made a wise decision to begin his professional career. Players with his physical tools and rebounding ability are coveted commodities worldwide. As the injuries he already suffered while playing NCAA basketball for free have likely reminded him, 6-10, 260-pound big men only have a limited window to begin setting themselves up for life after basketball.
Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech: Lawal already entered the draft last year and found himself on the first-round bubble, and appears to be in a very similar situation again this year. His strengths and weaknesses are well defined at this point and it's difficult to see how much he could move the needle on his draft stock with another season in Georgia Tech's chaotic system.
Greg Monroe, Georgetown: Monroe's sophomore season at Georgetown helped him develop into a better NBA prospect than he was the year before, and despite an early NCAA tournament exit, his stock is still solidly in the lottery territory, making this a pretty straightforward decision.
Daniel Orton, Kentucky: NBA teams are excited about Orton's prospects, despite the fact that he averaged only three points and three rebounds per game. That might be difficult for the casual fan to understand, but Orton lost a parent and already suffered serious knee problems before he even stepped foot on a college campus, making this decision quite a bit more complicated than some Kentucky fans realize. If Orton is drafted in the top-20 portion of the first round and is able to develop his skill-level on the job while drawing a paycheck, his situation won't be all that bad.
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky: Patterson leaves Lexington with his college degree in hand and a "likely lottery pick" projection, making this one of the easiest decisions on this list.
Larry Sanders, Virginia Commonwealth: Sanders is projected as a first-round pick, and thus doesn't have to explain his decision to anyone at this point. The college coach that recruited him left VCU last year for a higher paying job at Alabama, making this even more of a no-brainer for the long and springy shot-blocker.
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