The end of the 2020 NBA Draft early entry decisions period is bearing down.
Underclassmen that opted to declare for the draft saw the deadline to remove their name and retain their collegiate eligibility bumped back to August 3rd due to the coronavirus pandemic. To be frank, the extra two months has not done much more than allow these players to try and get a better feel for what the basketball landscape will look like during the 2020-21 season.
But truth be told, so much is still up in the air. No one knows what college basketball is going to look like next season, not with college campuses likely to develop into mini-COVID outbreaks if students return to campus. No one can say for certain if the G League is going to happen next year, or if foreign leagues are going to allow Americans to enter their country based on the way that the United States has handled the pandemic.
Throw in the fact face-to-face meetings haven’t been made and NBA teams are currently more concerned about finding ways to keep their players that are in the bubble in the bubble, the kids making the most important decision of their lives are put in a terrible spot.
I don’t envy anyone having to make these choices right now.
But choices are going to have to be made.
And these are the 15 most influential stay-or-go decisions remaining.
2020 NBA DRAFT DECISIONS
1. LUKA GARZA, Iowa
UPDATE: Garza’s back!
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 favorites, which is precisely what Garza will be. 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. And if I had to guess, I would guess Garza is more likely to be wearing Iowa colors than not next season.
2. XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State
UPDATE: Tillman is gone, off to the NBA.
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. I think he’s the best two-way big man available in this year’s draft and a player that can impact an NBA game today. He’s already married. He had his second child in February. He’s mature and carries himself as a professional as it is. 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. He’s also said that he will not be leaving campus without a guaranteed contract, and for some reasons, there are questions about whether or not he can get one. The way that Michigan State has set him and his family up on campus is wonderful, and he has a really good thing going while sitting a year away from a college degree.
At this point, I think Tillman is a legitimate 50-50 decision.
WHAT ABOUT AARON HENRY AND JOSH LANGFORD?
UPDATE: Henry will be returning to school.
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. Langford is a bigger question mark, and there’s an argument to be made that his absence last season was the biggest reason that the Spartans struggled early.
3. 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. There’s a real chance that he can get picked in the late 30s or early 40s this year. That might be enough to get him to leave school.
Kispert’s skill-set 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 JOEL AYAYI?
UPDATE: Joel Ayayi announced that he will be returning to school.
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.
4. TYRELL TERRY, Stanford
UPDATE: Terry announced on Friday that he will be staying in the 2020 NBA Draft.
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?
5. JARED BUTLER, Baylor
UPDATE: Butler is returning to 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 creator in isolation and ball-screens 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?
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 program that was once considered a borderline top ten team heading into the 2020-21 season.
One thing that is worth noting here: Smith, a junior, is three months younger than Precious Achiuwa and Cassius Stanley, both one-and-done freshmen 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 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. AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
UPDATE: Dosunmu announced on Friday night that he’ll be returning to school. That’s enough to bump the Illini into the top ten of the preseason top 25. Cockburn announced on Saturday that he will be returning as well.
Dosunmu had a really, really good sophomore season for the Illini, averaging 16.6 points and 3.3 assists. The problem, however, is that while he hit a number of big shots over the course of the season, he didn’t really do much to prove to NBA teams that he can actually be a consistent perimeter shooter. He’s not expected to be a first round pick and there’s a chance he could drop out of the top 45. Sometimes guys that are great college players don’t project well to the NBA. Dosunmu is that guy.
That said, the safe bet seems to be that Dosunmu will keep his name in the draft, and with some backcourt talent coming into the program, Brad Underwood should be able to survive the hit. But if he does come back, Illinois will have an outside shot at winning the Big Ten title.
WHAT ABOUT KOFI COCKBURN?
Despite a terrific freshman season, Cockburn is not expected to be drafted if he keeps his name in the draft. He’s a slow-footed, 280-pound center that is more likely to tear a rim off the backboard than he is to make a three. If this was 1990 and not 2020, he’d be a top ten pick. But as it stands, he has one of the easier 2020 NBA Draft stay-or-go decisions.
9. REMY MARTIN, Arizona State
UPDATE: Martin announced that he will be returning to school.
In addition to having the best name in college basketball, Remy Martin is coming off of a season where he averaged 19.1 points and 4.1 assists for a team that would have made the NCAA tournament had it been held. He’s a potential preseason All-American on a team that will add five-star freshman Josh Christopher and likely will return Alonzo Verge. With Martin in the fold, Arizona State will be in the same conversation as UCLA, Stanford and Oregon when it comes to predicting the Pac-12 champion. They may even be the favorite.
10. JAY HUFF, Virginia
UPDATE: Huff will be heading back to Virginia for his senior season.
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.
11. TRENDON WATFORD, LSU
The Tigers are already losing Skylar Mays to graduation and Emmitt Williams to the professional ranks. But with five-star Cam Thomas headlining a solid crop of newcomers, Will Wade should have a pretty solid roster. Watford, who averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 boards last season, is a bucket-getting combo-forward that should be their best player if he opts to return to school.
WHAT ABOUT JAVONTE SMART?
Smart is coming off of a season where he averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists as a sophomore, and with Mays gone, the Tigers are going to need someone to anchor their backcourt. Neither Watford nor Smart are projected as first round picks, and if they follow Williams out the door, the Tigers would be one of the biggest losers of the early entry period.
12. ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas
UPDATE: Joe is returning to school for his sophomore season.
Arkansas already lost 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. They remade their roster is typical Eric Musselman fashion. 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.
13. MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado
UPDATE: Wright is returning to school.
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.
14. SANDRO MAMUKELASHVILI, Seton Hall
UPDATE: Mamu is heading back to school, he announced on Saturday.
Mamu is coming off of a season where he averaged 11.9 points and 6.0 boards as one of the more underrated big men in college basketball. Someone on the Pirate roster is going to have to fill the void left by Myles Powell, Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill, and Mamu would be that guys if he opts to return to school.
15. MARCUS CARR, Minnesota
UPDATE: Carr announce that he will be returning to school.
The Golden Gophers have quite a bit left up in the air at the moment — their two most impactful transfers are both awaiting word on whether or not they will be sitting out for the upcoming season — but Carr may be their most important decision. I’m not sure that he has an NBA future, but he may have an all-Big Ten future if he returns to school. Carr averaged 15.4 points, 6.7 assists and 5.3 boards last season.