Stay or Go? Indiana guard James Blackmon Jr. & forward Troy Williams
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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.
Season Review: Williams earned 34 starts for a team that won 27 games, clinched the Big Ten regular-season championship outright and reached the Sweet 16. Blackmon Jr., meanwhile, suffered a season-ending right knee injury in December, just days before Indiana’s Big Ten opener against Rutgers. In 13 games before the injury, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 46.3% from three-point range.
The Case for College: Williams could use another season to show his three-point shooting has improved from where it was when he started his college career in 2013. After attempting 42 shots combined from beyond the arc as a freshman and sophomore, Williams launched 75 times from deep as a junior. If he returns for his senior season, Williams could demonstrate he’s capable of recording a higher percentage on more attempts, which would improve his standing in the eyes of NBA talent evaluators. Williams also would have more leeway to create offense next season, as star point guard Yogi Ferrell expired his eligibility in 2015–16. The Hoosiers would lean on Williams to help replace Ferrell’s scoring and playmaking. Meanwhile, were Blackmon to leave for the NBA after this season, he would be doing so without having played in a regulation game since late 2015. Though he put up impressive numbers during the games he did play, Blackmon was facing weaker, non-conference competition than what he would have seen in the Big Ten. Blackmon also has yet to display that he can excel driving to the basket or that he can consistently set up scoring chances for his teammates. Blackmon can ease those concerns with another year in Bloomington.
The Case for the NBA: Williams has already spent three seasons in college showcasing his electric athleticism and finishing ability. As a junior, Williams made significant strides in wiping out one of the major concerns about his game from an NBA perspective: He knocked down 34.7% of his 75 three-point attempts. It’s not unreasonable to think Williams could improve his long-range stroke with more coaching at the next level. Though Williams’s inconsistency could hurt his stock in the lead up to the draft, it’s possible that trait would persist into his senior season. Williams can try to counteract that problem by repeatedly performing well in front of workouts for NBA personnel. There’s also the matter of Williams’ age (21); If he decides to stay at Indiana another season, scouts may have a less favorable view on his capacity to improve over the course of his professional career. As for Blackmon, he doesn’t need to come back to school to show that he could develop into a useful NBA player. Blackmon has already demonstrated that he’s a strong three-point shooter (40.1% on 279 attempts over two seasons) and though he only stands 6'3", that unfavorable height for his projected position (shooting guard) is offset to a degree by his 6'8.5" wingspan.
Blackmon Big Board rankings: SI (top 30 only): Unranked; DraftExpress: Unranked; NBAdraft.net: Unranked
Williams Big Board rankings: SI (top 30 only): Unranked; DraftExpress: No. 86; NBAdraft.net: No. 60
Final verdict: Both Williams and Blackmon should go because it’s improbable that they’ll greatly raise their draft projections by staying in college.