The unofficial end to every college basketball season is the NBA Draft.
It’s not the climax — that would be the Final Four in April — but it’s the scene at the end of every action movie that sets up the sequel and either has a happy or sad ending.
For instance, if Mo Bamba stuns the world and is taken as high as No. 2 in the draft on Thursday, then it sets up a lot of things for Texas and coach Shaka Smart in recruiting. He’s now produced two NBA first round picks and one No. 2 pick in the draft. Kind of like a sequel, there will be high expectations for Smart to land bigger recruits and produce better results.
But then again, if someone drops out of the lottery or top 10, like Trae Young of Oklahoma or Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., it’ll be a stunning fall from players that was setting the sport on fire over the past year.
Don’t take draft success lightly in recruiting. A big reason why Duke and Kentucky win recruiting battles over each other and other prominent programs has a lot to do with draft success and general NBA success from those players.
With that said, there are a lot of Big 12 players who are hoping to get drafted. Some will. Some won’t. Here are 12 things about this draft in terms of the conference:
12. Who will have the most players drafted?
Kansas won’t have a player drafted in the first round, but could have as many as three drafted, four if we’re counting Billy Preston as a Kansas player (we shouldn’t). Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will have players drafted in the first round. TCU and West Virginia could have players get drafted as well.
It looks like Kansas will have the most players taken from the Big 12. Devonté Graham is a lock to be taken by someone — and he’s talked about Frank Mason’s relative success last season on the Kings will be a model for him. Malik Newman, one of a handful of once mega guard recruits now slotted for the for second round selection, should be on the radar for teams. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been talked about being a draft pick since the day he joined Kansas and it’ll be surprising to me if a team doesn’t invest at least a second round pick on him– and while there are some mock drafts looking at both rounds that don’t have him being taken, he is the most likely Jayhawk to sneak into the first round.
The NBA is a position-less basketball league that loves 3-pointers, and Mykhailiuk is 6-foot-8-inches tall and one of the best 3-point shooters in the class.
After Kansas, Texas Tech has the best chance of having multiple picks followed by TCU. We know Zhaire Smith will be drafted in the first round. But will Keenan Evans, the third best point guard in college basketball last season when healthy, get drafted? Some mocks have in going late in the second round. As The Ringer’s Bill Simmons loves to note about the NBA, there’s a glut of point guards in the league. However, I’m fairly sure that West Virginia guard Jevon Carter will get drafted on Thursday, which means Evans should at least be discussed as an option.
TCU’s Kenrich Williams — who could have the Draymond Green DNA all NBA teams are looking for these days (though people forget that Green was an All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year at Michigan State) in the second round. His teammate Vladimir Brodziansky doesn’t appear to be getting a lot of draft looks, but at 6-foot-11-inches with the ability to shoot, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s taken.
11. The biggest draft surprise will be?
Mo Bamba has the biggest potential to surprise everyone on Thursday in good and bad ways. Some are in love with his potential. Others are not. If he’s taken between the third and six picks, it won’t be surprising. But if Sacramento takes him, or a team trades up and takes Bamba No. 2, it’ll be the biggest realistic surprise of the draft. If Bamba drops out of the top seven, another realistic thing that could happen, it’ll be the biggest surprise of the draft.
But both are surprising because it shouldn’t happen. Bamba should go between picks 3-7.
10. The biggest steal of this draft from the Big 12 will be?
While the three likely first round picks, Bamba, Young and Smith, all have risks and rewards, unless Young or Bamba fall out of the top 10, I don’t think they can be considered “steals.” Maybe if Smith, a late lottery or late first round pick, falls to the back, back end of the first round — like say Golden State, Houston, etc. — that would be a heist.
The biggest steal of possibly Big 12 draftees could be Preston. If you count Preston as a Big 12 player, which I really don’t but he did spend half of last season practicing for Kansas.
If someone takes Preston, who had a financial question about a car that he was driving surface which forced him to miss every game of the season before he eventual left campus for a short stay in a fringe European basketball league, was seen as a likely first round pick a year ago. Of course no one saw him play at the college level, but coming out of high school the 6-foot-10-inch forward was drawing comparisons to former Big 12 Player of the Year and Kansas star Marcus Morris in terms of how he would fit in at Kansas. NBA teams could put all the non-basketball stuff aside and take him on potential in the second round and get a steal.
9. My favorite Big 12 draft pick will be?
My favorite Big 12 draft pick will be whoever takes Jevon Carter in the second round.
At 6-foot-1-inches with OK, but not great offensive skills, Carter’s work ethic and defensive mentality could certainly make him the guy in this draft who winds up having the longest career of any Big 12 player. Not only does Carter already look like a 15-year NBA veteran, he’ll have the confidence of one when he plays defense.
In the second round of this draft, if the San Antonio Spurs take him, I swear I’ll believe the whole thing is rigged.
8. The guys who stayed in the draft who wished they hadn’t?
Pretty easy since so many decided to return to school. Oklahoma State players Yankuba Sima and Tavarius Shine decided to stay in the draft and they aren’t expected to get drafted. Best case scenario is they sign G-League deals — they should have opportunities to — but the chances they’re playing in the NBA next year aren’t great.
7. The guy(s) second-guessing his decision to return to school on draft night
I think there are only two here.
Udoka Azubuike of Kansas might have been a first round pick — there were some teams telling him that — but it wasn’t a sure thing. Though he’s a massive 7-footer with a 270-plus pound body, he had more flaws than positives. However, if a team in the back end of the first round takes a center with similar questions, he could be second-guessing his decision.
The other is Lindell Wigginton. The future first team All-Big 12 preseason team member may be wondering if he had made the tournament last season, would he be a first round pick? He certainly is as talented — not as athletic — and better natural scorer than Zhaire Smith, but it’s Smith who is a lock to be taken in the first round, while Wigginton will be enjoying the beautiful landscape of Ames, Iowa for a second year.
6. Looking at the 2019 draft
It’s tough looking at the U18 FIBA Americas tournament and not think in-coming Kansas freshman and The Woodlands College Park product Quentin Grimes, a 6-foot-5-inch combo guard, won’t be a possible lottery pick next season. He shot 49 percent from the field and had 10 steals to go with 23 assists at the tournament. He finished with an average of 14.7 points and 3.8 assists in six games and won the tournament’s MVP. He’s the best freshman entering the Big 12 this fall.
Outside of Grimes, Kansas may have a few more players with lottery potential. Dedric Lawson has drawn a lot of buzz — he’s a big reason why Kansas is atop of many projected preseason polls — and there’s also Azubuike, who may have been a first round pick this year.
Outside of Lawrence, I think lots of eyes will be on Austin. Jericho Sims could be the prospect that is blowing people’s minds by the end of his sophomore season. The problem with Sims will be if he falls into the trap that many power forwards at the college level get stuck in: Will he play his role and to his strengths? Or will he get caught up in trying to prove he can shoot 3-pointers and handle the ball like a point guard? I think the model for him will be what Wendell Carter of Duke did this past season. He’s immensely talented and Texas should feature him on offense next season.
It’s not just Sims though. Obviously Kerwin Roach and Matt Coleman could have huge seasons but if you’re looking for the next Zhaire Smith, maybe 4-star recruits Gerald Liddell and Kamaka Hepa could explode on the scene, but it’s less likely.
Obviously Wigginton will be playing for a first round selection.
Kansas State has three players who could draw NBA attention in Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Xavier Sneed. TCU has a bunch of players who could play themselves into picks, from Jaylen Fisher to Desmond Bane and Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver will be the featured player in Lubbock.
West Virginia has shot blocking savant Sagaba Konate, but also Esa Ahmad who will try to get the attention of the NBA with this shooting and size attributes.
I wouldn’t expect many NBA scouts showing up for the Bedlam games this year in the state of Oklahoma.
5. The happiest coach on Thursday will be?
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard probably never envisioned Zhaire Smith becoming a first round NBA pick after one year. No one did. So the fact that Beard produces a from-nowhere possible lottery pick in his first full recruiting class at Tech is something to behold.
It’s really hard to recruit players to Lubbock, but showing you can develop less-known prospects into one of the 30 NBA first round picks is program changing. No matter where he gets drafted, Smith will be the guy Beard and his staff talk about the most in living rooms for the next few years.
4. The saddest coach on Thursday will be?
If no Kansas player is drafted in the first (likely) and second (unlikely but possible) rounds, Bill Self will be unhappy as he wipes his tears with one of his 14 Big 12 championship T-shirts.
3. The best fit for Zhaire Smith
Smith is both a player who could help a team right away but also could be a project depending on who takes him. But it’s for different reasons than most.
For instance, he’s athlete who can play amazing defense, and he showed he can be a good offensive player, but he’s probably not ready to be the big-shot taker for an NBA team next season. Yes, he shot 45 percent from 3-point range. No, he didn’t shoot a lot of 3-pointer. If you’re a rebuilding team, you draft him and are able to play him right away but he could have a limited impact for a team not expected to win. He also needs to figure out his position at the next level.
But say he is taken later in the first round or lottery by a team with a chance to make the playoffs and maybe Smith has a bigger impact. He’s not a 3-and-D guy yet, but he could play defense next season. A team needing a guy off the bench who can defend the “glut of guards” in the league is more valuable for a team trying to make the playoffs then a team rebuilding, in my opinion.
If I’m a team picking between 14 and 20, Smith looks like a good pick up. If I’m a team picking between 21-30, Smith looks like a present from the Almighty.
I don’t see anyway he rises into the top 10 because he didn’t have the expected “measurables” at the combine. At Texas Tech Smith was listed as 6-foot-5-inches. At the NBA Combine in May he had shrunk to 6-foot-2-inches.
I’ve seen Smith go as high as 14 in a mock draft and as low as 25. The Ringer has him going No. 14 in their mock draft to the Denver Nuggets, and that seems like a terrific spot for a team in a conference with the best guards and looking to play the playoffs.
If Smith drops, the Spurs at No. 18 could be an option, but I think if that happens, it’s the Minnesota Timberwolves who will pounce on him and are the best fit for him in that range. A defensive specialist and elite athlete playing for Tom Thibodeau seems like a win for him.
2. The best fit for Trae Young
Maybe the only prospect more divisive in the draft than Bamba is Young, who was already facing size questions, measured at 6-foot at combine, two inches shorter than his OU listed height.
On one hand no one wants to be the general manager who passed on the next Stephen Curry. Then again, no one wants to be the general manager who drafts the next Jimmer Fredette in the lottery.
Few players have ever been better offensively in college basketball. I’m a big believer that if you produce at an elite level playing at a Power 5 school you’ll produce at the NBA in some way. Young at the very least should be an elite NBA chucker, but people who think that’s the only thing he’s good at didn’t watch him play. He’s a terrific passer with great court vision.
The problem is he could truly have a Curry experience if he’s taken in the top 10. People forget the first several years in the NBA, Curry didn’t exactly set the league on fire. It wasn’t until a few more pieces, better coaching and new owners took over when he really flourished and became one of the best players of the last 30 years.
Think about everything that had to happen for Curry to become that? Remember when people killed the GSW for giving him the extension before he started winning MVPs?
Some mock drafts have him going as high as No. 3 to Atlanta, which seems absurd. Others have him at No. 10 to the New York Knicks and No. 6 to the Orlando Magic. The Knicks and Magic aren’t that much different from where Golden State was a decade ago. The Knicks are a bad fit because they drafted a point guard high last year.
The Magic would give him the keys and are actually a tremendous fit for him since they have so many forwards but not the best guards.
Atlanta is interesting because their general manager comes from Golden State, but they won’t use the No. 3 pick on him. But trading down to a team that wants, say Mo Bamba, Jarren Jackson or Marvin Bagley at No. 3 and taking Young in the top 10, that seems like a thing if Atlanta wanted to copy the Golden State style.
Still seems unlikely and Orlando feels like the spot.
1. The best fit for Mo Bamba
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The only spot I see Bamba not in play at is No. 1. He’s the most divisive prospect expected to go in the lottery. How divisive? Some call him the next coming of Rudy Gobert. Others call him the second coming of, gulp, Hasheem Thabeet.
The Thabeet comparison is ludicrous. The Gobert comparison is more accurate.
The biggest flaw with him among draft reporters is Bamba’s “motor” and “passion” which seems both fair at times and incredibly dumb. To say he won’t be good because he cares about things away from the court is the stupidest criticism I’ve read.
As far as whether he plays hard all the time or not is viable, but a good situation can eliminate that to a certain extent.
Texas fans will want him to drop to the Dallas Mavericks at No. 5. That’s potentially a good fit with him playing for a great coach and filling the same role that Tyson Chandler played during the 2011 NBA Championship season. But Rick Carlisle had issues with Nerlens Noel and hasn’t had the best experience with younger players the last few years. Which begs the question:
Who was the last NBA All-Star that was drafted by Dallas and developed in Dallas? Dirk? Josh Howard?
The Dallas front office has made a lot of awful decisions over the last several years. It seems like if Dallas wants to rebuild, taking another player here could be the way to go. Take Michael Porter and give him a redshirt — or draft Young — tank again and go for another high pick next year. Dallas could take Bamba and do this, but if you’re already planning on tanking and Porter is available, you take Porter because his upside is greater than Bamba’s.
But if Dallas wants to contend for the eighth seed of the West, they take Bamba and see if he can block shots, but not really give him a chance to develop offensively. It’s a tough situation for Bamba because he should be going to a team that will let him play a stretch post position and see if he can develop the shot that scouts love.
The thing with Bamba that makes him such a unique prospect is that he could both contribute next season because of his length and shot blocking ability, or be a project on a team willing to let develop as an offensive player. It’s all about the role he gets after the draft.
Atlanta is rebuilding and doesn’t have a center who could reasonably play over Bamba and the coach, Lloyd Price, just came from the Philadelphia 76ers.
I can’t think of a worse situation for Bamba than Orlando, where post players go and are never heard from again ever since the Dwight Howard trade.
Memphis is intriguing because pairing him next to Marc Gasol could be great for Bamba, and the Grizzlies are looking to return to the playoffs next season when Mike Conley returns from injury. He’ll be able to contribute but not have the pressure of the world on him.
But Memphis should take Marvin Bagley, who I think is the best player in the draft and someone we’ll be reminded of constantly that the Suns, Kings and Hawks passed over.
In the end, I think Bamba goes in the top six and if there’s one player I think teams will trade up to get, it’s him. An interesting wrinkle: if he drops out of the top seven, and Cleveland is up at eight, all sorts of Lebron James think-pieces will be written in three minutes prior to the pick.
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