Nojel Eastern spent his freshman season playing as Purdue’s back-up point guard, averaging 2.9 points and 2.5 boards with fewer assists than turnovers as it took him a couple of months to crack the rotation of a team that had as much veteran presence on the roster as any in the country.
On Monday morning, Eastern declared for the NBA draft without signing with an agent.
And he spent the rest of the morning getting roasted for making the decision that every underclassmen with the goal of, and the talent to, one day playing in the NBA should be making. Trust me when I tell that just about every player currently on scholarship at the Division I level counts themselves in that group, whether they believe they’re the next C.J. McCollum or that they just need a few more shots a night to prove that they are the real talent on the roster.
As of today, well over 100 college players have declared for the NBA draft. By the time the April 22nd deadline comes around, that number could surpass 150. That is before you factor in the seniors that are going to get drafted and the international prospects that are going to get selected. Hell, there are a handful of American players that have declared for the draft without setting foot on a college court.
You don’t need to be Will Hunting to figure out that not all of those players are going to be among the 60 kids selected in June’s NBA draft.
But roughly a quarter of those players that have declared have actually signed with an agent, foregoing their remaining eligibility, and even a handful of those players are turning professional despite the fact that they are unlikely to get drafted. Some, like Harry Froling of Marquette, are looking to play professionally overseas. Others, like Max Montana of San Diego State, have already completed their degree and would rather pursue a professional career than pretend to care about graduate classes.
All of that, however, is beside the point.
Two years ago, the NCAA changed the way that the early entry process works, allowing college basketball players to declare for the draft, workout for NBA teams and attend the NBA combine while returning to school so long as they don’t sign with an agent and pull their name out of the draft a week-and-a-half after the combine; this year, that deadline is May 30th.
The point is simple: To allow the players to truly gauge what their chances are of playing at the next level, and to get feedback directly from the mouths of NBA personnel on where they might be picked and what they would need to improve upon to better their draft standing.
Sometimes, that advice can change the trajectory of a player’s career; when Buddy Hield was told that he needed to become a better shooter if he wanted to last in the NBA, he spent a summer doing four-a-days to improve his stroke, became the 2016 co-National Player of the Year, reached a Final Four and got picked fifth in the 2016 draft. He was projected as a second round pick the year before.
And sometimes, the player declaring is barely going to hear from NBA people.
That will likely be the case with Eastern. A 6-foot-7 point guard with the kind of length and athleticism that NBA teams are going to look for out of a perimeter player, Eastern is still learning how to play the point at this level and, to date, is a non-shooter. He attempted just nine threes as a freshman, and that is not going to fly for a point guard unless you’re Ben Simmons or Rajon Rondo. Eastern is neither of them.
So what will happen?
He’ll probably struggle to find workouts, maybe getting invites to workout against other guards when teams within driving distance of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus — the Pacers, the Bulls, the Cavs, etc. — need a body to go up against the players they’re keen on evaluating. He’ll hear about how much work he needs on his jump shot and how he needs to develop as a lead guard. He’ll get that information straight from the horse’s mouth, and then return to Purdue next season with a chance to prove what he can do as a starter.
This is precisely why the rule was changed.
Because this is what’s best for the kids, even if there are players — like Eastern — who we all know are a ways away from being draftable.