Two months ago, back before the 2020 NBA Draft deadline had passed, the NBA Draft Combine had been postponed and the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the draft was still June 3rd, we put together a list of the 12 most influent NBA Draft stay-or-go decisions.
Since then, much has changed.
Malachi Flynn made it official that he will be leaving San Diego State, which is probably the correct decision. Immanuel Quickley, Jay Scrubb and, it appears, Ayo Dosunmu will be following him to the NBA. On the other hand, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Wendell Moore are both heading back to school while Jalen Suggs has, for now, passed on the professional opportunities that were afforded him.
But there are still plenty of impact players that have a decision left to make.
Here are the 12 most important decisions.
2020 NBA Mock Draft: (link)
1. LUKA GARZA, Iowa
This one should be obvious. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.
But he’s also in a unique spot where he doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. How often does a player that is that unquestionably great return for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. They were both preseason National Player of the Year candidates. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster.
Depending on how the chips fall, I think that Iowa can still be in the mix as a top 25 team without Garza, and I don’t think that it would be crazy if Garza opted to take a deal overseas. He can make a lot of money in Europe.
But with him back?
I think this team is capable of getting to a Final Four and winning a national title.
2. XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State
Michigan State is going to take a hit next season because they are losing Cassius Winston, but the Spartans will still have a chance to win the Big Ten title if they bring back Xavier Tillman.
For my money, Tillman had an All-American junior season. He’s the anchor of Michigan State’s defense, a leader in the program on and off the floor and an underrated weapon offensively because of his ability to pass the ball. He’s the piece that brings everything else together for this roster.
And there are going to be some weapons there. Rocket Watts will be a year older, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham. Joey Hauser will be eligible to play, and there’s a chance that Josh Langford will be back for his final season. Aaron Henry declared for the draft, but it seems fairly likely he’ll be back for his junior season.
But without Tillman, that is all just window dressing.
I would draft Tillman in the late first round if I was an NBA team. He’s already married. He had his second child in February. The smart financial decision here would probably be to enter the draft. That said, he may be a guy that can improve his draft spot by being the focal point offensively. Will
WHAT ABOUT AARON HENRY?
Henry is clearly a valuable piece to the puzzle for the Spartans, as is Josh Langford, who may or may not be returning after a foot injury cost him the 2019-20 season. Losing Henry would be a blow, but the sense I get is that he will be back in school.
3. TYRELL TERRY, Stanford
Tyrell Terry was one of the more underrated freshmen in college basketball last season. He averaged 14.6 points, 4.5 boards and 3.2 assists while shooting just under 41 percent from three. He’s listed at just 160 pounds, but he’s certainly on the radar of NBA teams and might even be able to sneak his way into the end of the first round.
So he has a very real decision to make.
Because, as a potential breakout star as a sophomore, Terry will be playing on a team with the potential to win the Pac-12. The Cardinal bring back everyone off of last year’s team while adding Ziaire Williams, a five-star, one-and-done freshman that will slide right in at the four. With Terry, arguably the best point guard on the west coast if he returns, Stanford could have two lottery picks on their roster and we could legitimately be looking at a team that can get to the Final Four.
Without him, do they even have a point guard on the roster?
NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES
4. JARED BUTLER, Baylor
I currently have the Bears sitting as the No. 3 team in my preseason top 25, and that’s assuming that Butler is coming back to school. That, however, is not a guarantee. Butler showed enough as a scorer this past season that he could end up getting picked early in the second round of the draft, and that has been enough to make worse players opt to leave school.
The big issue with Baylor this past season is that they went through stretches where they just couldn’t score. Butler is, by far, their best scorer, the one guy that can go create a bucket out of nothing. Without him, how long will those scoring droughts last?
WHAT ABOUT MACIO TEAGUE?
Teague was Baylor’s second-leading scorer last season. I don’t think that he’s nearly the NBA prospect that Butler is, but having the two of them together are awfully important for Baylor to live up to their hype. The key for Teague: He just finished his fourth year in college. Does he want to return for his redshirt senior season?
5. COREY KISPERT, Gonzaga
For my money, of the three Gonzaga players who still have their names in the 2020 NBA Draft, Corey Kispert is the most influential. He’s a good defender and a great shooter as a 6-foot-6 wing, a role that gives him value as an NBA prospect.
It also slots him in a position where the Zags really don’t have any depth to speak of. Mark Few’s teams pound the ball into the paint, and next season is not going to be any different given the amount of talented big men on the roster. But without Kispert’s floor-spacing, the lane can get clogged up awful quick. For a team that projects in the preseason top five, that matters.
WHAT ABOUT FILIP PETRUSEV AND JOEL AYAYI?
Losing Ayayi would certainly hurt, because his value as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker that can also space the floor is immense. The best teams in college basketball this decade all played with two point guards. Ayayi would qualify as point guard No. 2 on a team with Jalen Suggs. I think, however, he needs another season of seasoning in college.
Petrusev, however, is a totally different conversation. I’m not sure how he fits in the modern NBA. But I’m also not sure if he’s going to be able to improve all that much on the year he just had, not with Drew Timme on the verge of being Gonzaga’s next great center and Oumar Ballo ready to have a huge redshirt freshman season. Petrusev projects as a pro in Europe, and he can probably get paid pretty well next season somewhere other than the NBA.
6. CHRIS SMITH, UCLA
Smith is a really interesting prospect in this year’s draft class. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing that averaged 13.1 points and shot 34 percent from three and 84 percent from the line for the Bruins, who turned into one of the 25 best teams in college basketball by the end of the season.
UCLA brings back the majority of last year’s roster, but they already suffered one major blow this offseason when five-star point guard Daishen Nix opted to accept a contract from the G League instead of heading to Westwood. Losing Smith would be another significant blow to a team that was once considered a borderline top ten team.
One thing that is worth noting here: Smith, a junior, is three months younger than Precious Achiuwa and Cassius Stanley, both one-and-done freshman that are expected to be drafted this year.
7. YVES PONS, Tennessee
Pons is definitely not a guy that is going to make any preseason All-American lists if he opts to return to school, but he may just be the best defensive player in all of college basketball. At 6-foot-6 and easily the best athlete in the sport, Pons can quite literally guard anyone from a point guard to a center, and he can make a step-in three. His presence will allow the Vols to play all kinds of small-ball lineups, which is exactly what they need to do with the number of talented guards on next year’s roster.
He is a borderline first round pick in my mind, although I would expect him to go in the second round if he decides to keep his name in the draft. With Pons back, Tennessee is my pick to win the SEC next season.
8. JAY HUFF, Virginia
I think that Jay Huff has quite a bit of potential as an NBA player. He’s 7-foot-1 with three-point range and the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and he’s also a rim protector that has spent four years playing for Tony Bennett. To me, he makes perfect sense as an off-the-bench big in the league.
That said, his production has not quite lived up to his potential. Even playing in a system that stifles scoring numbers, Huff’s 8.5 points and 6.2 boards as a junior was a disappointment. So I think he should come back to school, where he would anchor a lineup that should be much improved for the Wahoos.
9. ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas
Arkansas is already expected to lose Mason Jones, who was last year’s leading scorer, to the draft. Joe entered the season with some NBA Draft hype due to the fact that he is a 6-foot-7 wing that shot a lot of threes as a freshman and made quite a few of them. His sophomore season was not quite as efficient, and also featured a knee injury in the middle of the year that slowed things down.
The Hogs have some talented transfers in the fold and four four-star prospects enrolling this summer. Keeping a veteran scorer around could be the difference between fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament and seeing themselves ranked in the top 25.
10. TRENDON WATFORD, LSU
The Tigers are already losing Skylar Mays to graduation, and it would not be surprising to see Javonte Smart and Emmitt Williams at the very least test the waters, but with five-star Cam Thomas headlining a solid crop of newcomers, Will Wade should have a pretty solid team. Watford, a bucket-getting combo-forward, could end up being their best player if he comes back to school.
11. MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado
Colorado is already losing Tyler Bey, so the Buffaloes are taking a hit with early entries in this year’s draft. Wright matters, however, because he could be a preseason All-American. He’s coming off of a season where he averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 boards and 5.0 assists. He’s the kind of player that can put together a senior season where he throws a team on his back and carries them to a postseason run. Colorado is relevant with Wright in the fold. They are not without him.
12. SADDIQ BEY, Villanova
My expectation is that Bey is gone. I think that he is the most underrated player in this year’s NBA Draft class, I would not think that it is out of the question for Bey to hear his name called in the lottery. Even without Bey, I have Villanova as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Even without Bey, they return Collin Gillispie, Jermaine Samuels and the underrated Justin Moore while replacing Bey with a healthy Bryan Antoine and Tulane transfer Caleb Daniels.
But if Bey, a potential National Player of the Year, does surprise everyone and opt to return to school, the Wildcats will be absolutely loaded, the consensus favorite to win the national title and thrust into the conversation for the best Villanova team of all-time.