The teams with the most on the line with remaining NBA draft decisions
- Many programs have already watched key players leave for the NBA draft and sign with agents, renouncing their eligibility, but other programs could see stars return if those players elect to withdraw from the draft pool later this month.
We’re about a week out from the annual NBA draft combine in Chicago, which runs from May 9-14. It’s the second year that players with eligibility remaining who have declared for the draft without hiring an agent can withdraw up until 10 days after the event. For schools with fringe prospects, the next few weeks can be trying. There have been plenty of surprises so far, and many of the 94 early entry candidates are still undecided about their futures. Here are 10 schools that remain in flux as they wait to learn their final rosters for next fall:
Indiana: James Blackmon Jr., G; Robert Johnson, G
New coach Archie Miller began his tenure at Indiana with a double dose of good news: despite the coaching change, only one of the Hoosiers’ four early entry candidates, forward OG Anunoby, had hired an agent, and veteran forward Collin Hartman elected to return for a fifth year. Since then, another of those underclassmen, center Thomas Bryant, has hired an agent, but Indiana is still waiting on word from both Blackmon and Johnson, whose decisions to stay or go will go a long way toward settling the Hoosiers’ backcourt.
Blackmon was the team’s leading scorer last season, averaging 17 points on 47.7% shooting from the field. Johnson averaged 12.8 points, 2.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 2017-18, averaging 29.4 minutes, nearly as many as Blackmon’s 30.5. Neither player was invited to the combine, which should be a good indicator that they’ll likely return to Bloomington. Johnson’s decision to declare, in particular, was considered a surprise.
Should one of the two leave, even more responsibility would likely fall on Josh Newkirk, the only true point guard among the trio of guards who averaged more than 25 minutes last season. Newkirk would certainly have to up his production; a year ago he averaged 9 points, 3.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds. But if both return, Indiana will have one of the most experienced rosters in the Big Ten under a new and proven coach.
Louisville: Deng Adel, F; Donovan Mitchell, G
Mitchell, who as a sophomore averaged 32.3 minutes and 15.6 points on 40.8% shooting, landed a combine invite, and Adel is listed as an alternate. The forward, also a sophomore last season, saw nearly as much playing time as Mitchell, averaging 30.1 minutes per game. Together, they are responsible for 30% of the team’s total minutes on the court all year.
The Cardinals are already losing forward Jaylen Johnson a year early to the NBA. Despite not earning a combine invite, Johnson has (somewhat unexpectedly) hired an agent, renouncing his chance to return for his senior year. To have to replace him and Adel would be a major blow to Pitino’s frontcourt, which also loses forward Mangok Mathiang to graduation. However, the Cardinals have Ray Spalding, who has been inconsistent but shown flashes of greatness, waiting in the wings at power forward. That’ll help with the loss of Johnson and could even go a long way in providing some relief should Adel turn pro as well. V.J. King, a freshman last year, will see his role increase should either player head to the league, and at small forward Louisville has top recruit Malik Williams, who may have the talent to be a one-and-done come next spring.
All of which is to say: The Cardinals will lose a heap of experience should Adel and Mitchell turn pro, but they also have plenty of players that can help them compensate for those potential losses.
Michigan: Moritz Wagner, F; D.J. Wilson, F
Both Michigan big men earned combine invitations, suggesting they may be more likely to turn pro than return to the Wolverines. Both players are widely projected as late first-round or early second-round picks. Last season Wagner averaged 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds, while Wilson registered 11 and 5.3, respectively. Although Wilson was on the court more—averaging 30.4 minutes to Wagner’s 23.9—both were major contributors to and faces of Michigan’s frontcourt. Should both players leave, coach John Beilein will trot out a lineup next fall with only one returning starter.
If you’re a Michigan fan, you’re praying to the basketball gods that one or both of these guys feels a hankering for another year in Ann Arbor. Both improved last off-season, and the idea that they might not be finished developing should be enough to have fans drooling, even if it seems like the odds might be stacked against Michigan at this point. Should one or both leave, freshman Isaiah Livers—who’s shown an ability to both shoot and handle the ball and was named Michigan’s Mr. Basketball last winter—will have a clear path to more minutes. It’s also time for Austin Davis’s debut at center; he redshirted last season but the big man could be a force for the Wolverines.
North Carolina: Tony Bradley, C; Theo Pinson, F
The defending champs have gotten good news the past two weeks, when first Joel Berry II and then Theo Pinson, both guards, announced they were withdrawing from the draft. However, Roy Williams and company are still waiting to hear from one other early entry candidate in Bradley, a rising sophomore. Despite averaging just 14.6 minutes per game last season, he earned an invite to the combine. Why, you ask? The freshman averaged 19.5 points per 40 minutes, and he boasts a 7’4” wingspan despite standing 6’10”.
Losing Bradley before he’s had time to develop into a major contributor for the Tar Heels would be a tough break, but it isn’t certain. For now, he remains absent from most mock drafts. Should he return, he would figure big in North Carolina’s plans going forward and would see increased minutes now that Kennedy Meeks has graduated and turned pro. If he goes, well, there’s no surefire candidate to replace him.
Purdue: Vince Edwards, F; Isaac Haas, C; Caleb Swanigan, F
For the second consecutive year, both Edwards and Swanigan are floating their names as draft prospects, whereas this is Haas’s first go-around at testing the waters. Only Swanigan earned a combine invitation. Edwards and Haas are certainly fringe prospects, and both rising seniors may well return to West Lafayette. There’s plenty to be said of Edwards’s versatility and Haas’s size (he’s 7’2”, 290 pounds), but neither player has done enough yet to prove he’s a lock for the pros.
Should all three leave, Purdue will have to replace its three leading scorers. Swanigan, who also led the Boilermakers averaging 32.5 minutes, finished last season with 18.5 points per game, Haas and Edwards with 12.6. These departures would be especially concerning for Purdue’s future production from big men. But if only Swanigan leaves (which seems like the likeliest outcome), Edwards and Haas would be able to compensate for his production. Nojel Eastern, an incoming four-star recruit, could also figure into the frontcourt in small-ball lineups.
Seton Hall: Angel Delgado, C
Seton Hall is hardly a perennial contender, but there’s more optimism than usual about the team heading into next season. Much of that hinged on the team’s two original early-entry candidates, Delgado and guard Khadeen Carrington, both returning, and last week the Pirates got a bit of good news: Carrington will be back. Still, they’re waiting on word from Delgado, who led the country in rebounding in 2016-17. There’s cause for optimism: After the team’s tournament loss to Arkansas, he said it was more likely he’d return to school than go pro. But as of now, the big man has remained mum on his final decision. Delgado could very well be the best big man in the Big East next year, and should he leave, the school will likely have to embrace inexperience in its frontcourt. There’s consolation, though, in the addition of 7-foot center Romaro Gill, a junior-college transfer who needs time to develop but could be an exciting player in the future. Optimally, though, for the Pirates, he’d redshirt should Delgado return.
SMU: Semi Ojeleye, F
Ojeleye, who has shined with the Mustangs after transferring from Duke, is currently projected by most as a second-round pick. He certainly looks the part of an NBA player, but his is a nuanced case. He’s played in only one of the past three seasons after transferring and then taking a redshirt to sit out a season in which SMU was banned from postseason play, so there isn’t a wealth of recent tape on the big man. That said, what he did in 2016-17 was impressive, averaging 19 points and 6.9 rebounds. Another contributing factor: His age. Ojeleye will turn 23 at the start of his senior season, should he elect to return.
If the Mustangs lose Ojeleye, they’ll be without last season’s American Athletic Conference player of the year, and that’s a major hit no matter what. SMU finished No. 11 in the final AP Top 25 poll, marking its best season in more than 50 years. It’s graduating plenty of talent this spring, and retaining Ojeleye would go a long way in terms of preserving some continuity and experience.
UCLA: Aaron Holiday, G; Thomas Welsh, C
The Bruins are obviously losing one early entrant to the draft, Lonzo Ball. You know this because his father has made sure of it. But they’re also waving goodbye to two more freshmen, Ike Anigbogu and T.J. Leaf, which means that retaining Holiday and Welsh would go a long way to maintaining some consistency and continuity. In fact, should they go, UCLA will bring back exactly one player who figured at all in its 2016-17 rotation: forward Gyorgy Goloman, who averaged 3.7 points in 11.5 minutes.
A lot is riding on Holiday and Welsh’s decisions, and only Welsh was invited to the draft combine. A junior last year, he averaged 10.8 points on 58.5% shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Holiday was good for 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Going into the combine and individual team workouts, neither player is widely projected to be drafted, so UCLA should feel at least somewhat confident in retaining them. Holiday especially seems as if he’d be best served by returning after he lost minutes to Ball as a sophomore last season. His numbers still improved from his freshman year, but should he play another season in college, he’d be slated for an increased role and a better opportunity to spotlight his development.
The upside for UCLA fans is the Bruins’ recruiting class is one of the best in college basketball. They’ll bring in two five-star players, forward Kris Wilkes and point guard Jaylen Hands, as well as two four-star power forwards, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.
USC: Shaqquan Aaron, G
A week ago, USC thought it could lose both Aaron and forward Bennie Boatwright, but the school got good news Thursday when it learned Boatwright would return. Aaron, though, remains undecided despite coming off a season in which he lost his starting job. On the year, Aaron averaged 7.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists, and his 20.8 minutes per game were sixth-most on the team. Once ranked by ESPN as the No. 33 player in the high school class of 2014, Aaron has yet to find consistency in his college career. First, he transferred from Louisville and sat out the 2015-16 season. Now, after one season on the court at USC, he’s considering another move but would be better served returning to a team that’s bringing back significant talent. Should Aaron leave, USC will compensate. But if he returns, he has a chance to more consistently display the talent he showed against UCLA in January, when he scored 23 points off the bench.
Wichita State: Markis McDuffie, F; Shaquille Morris, C
Neither player earned an invite to the combine, and both are considered unlikely to be drafted in June. Morris averaged 9.6 points and 5.1 rebounds last year in 18 minutes per game. McDuffie was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game and is a marginally better NBA prospect at this point. Losing either would be a blow to a team that’s jumping from an obscure conference to a major one and could use as much continuity as possible from a 31-5 season last year. Should McDuffie leave, the Shockers will lean even more on Rashard Kelly and Darral Willis Jr., both of whom have the experience for the job but not McDuffie’s ceiling. And if Morris decides to put college behind, there’s junior Rauno Nurger, who hardly made the most of a chance to start at center last year for five games (he went 2-of-11 and scored five points) but was better on the year, averaging 5 points per game on 52.5% shooting.