Thanks to an NCAA rule change this season, underclassmen are allowed to declare early for the NBA draft, go through the evaluation process and then choose to go pro or return to school (if they haven’t signed with an agent). From now until May 25, which is decision day, SI will periodically weigh in on the most interesting decisions left to be made. Up next is Louisville sophomore center ChinanuOnuaku.
Season review: Karnowski’s would-be senior campaign did not last long, as he was sidelined by a bulging disc in his back after just five games. Surgery in December officially ended his season and Karnowski left the door open for a medical redshirt application to grant him another season of eligibility.
The Case for College: With all the obvious caveats about the speculative value of such things, the 7’ 1” Pole is absent from NBA mock drafts and the assorted pre-draft buzz, a discouraging indicator of his current standing among scouting departments. That is not to say there is not plenty to like. For one, Karnowski’s size—he is around 300 pounds—makes him a rare physical presence. He has also proven himself as a back-to-the-basket scorer (he ranked in the 89th percentile in post-up efficiency as a junior, per Synergy Sports) and as a passer from his position. That said, he is perhaps too much of a back-to-the-basket scorer, as his affinity for posting up—he did so on about 62% of possessions the last two seasons—is not necessarily in keeping with the versatility and positional flexibility in vogue in the modern NBA. According to Synergy, Karnowski shot just 10 jumpers as a junior; though he made five, developing and showing off a better touch beyond the post in an additional college season would be a boon to his stock.
Of course, the most important question about Karnowski is his health. He was expected to need six to nine months to recover from surgery, a timetable that would greatly hinder his ability to make an NBA roster. Another year in Spokane would allow him to prove himself healthy and productive.
The Case for the NBA: A general thought: Every unnecessary year spent in college is sacrificing one year of a fleeting window of earning potential to further serve the NCAA’s broken kleptocracy. In most cases, if the market grants you value, it’s best to get yours. This could be particularly true for someone in a position like Karnowski’s, in which he is recovering from a painful injury and fits a cross-section of height and weight that does not portend well for long, healthy careers. If someone will pay him now, why risk further or worse physical issues that could compromise that?
Given his current stock and the original timetable for his recovery, Karnowski being drafted or playing his way onto an NBA roster seems unlikely. One would imagine the likely alternative for a pro career—playing in Europe—is less daunting for the Poland native than it might be for some American-born players. There’s a good living to be made across the sea. Chase your dreams wherever they may bring you.
Mock Draft rankings: SI (first round only): Unranked; Draft Express: Unranked; NBAdraft.net: Unranked
Final verdict: Without knowing the details of Karnowski’s health and what he wants and needs at this point in his life, it’s pretty hard to say. We wish him the best.