Interestingly enough, this applies to most NCAA seniors and their draft hopes. Here’s a breakdown of the last few drafts in terms of Freshman versus Seniors:
2017: 15 to 2 (White, Hart)
2016: 10 to 5 (Hield, Prince, Valentine, LeVert, Johnson)
2015: 13 to 4 (Kaminsky, Grant, Wright, Nance)
2014: 9 to 5 (McDermott, Payne, Napier, Wilcox, Huestis)
2013: 6 to 3 (McCollum, Plumlee, Hill)
2012: 8 to 3 (Nicholson, Plumlee, Ezeli)
So, of those 17 seniors selected in the first round since 2012, there is one player (McCollum) who may sniff being an All Star. ONE!!!!!! That’s it. The media outlets tend to give NBA executives a hard time when they take a chance on a younger player instead of a more established player, but the numbers are on the GMs side. Take a look at that list of seniors again and tell us who will turn a franchise around?
The next article of support for the media is players like Malcolm Brogdon, who won the 2017 ROY award. Brogdon showed that he has the ability to play at the NBA level, but he was 24 during his rookie year, slightly older than most rookies.
If Joel Embiid played more than 41 games (he played in 31) then the award would’ve gone to the NBA’s favorite social media character. To add more color to this argument, Brogdon is older than the following players who earned votes for the MIP in the same season: Antetokounmpo, Jokic, Porter, Beal, Booker, Nurkic, Porzingis, Schroder, G. Harris, Turner, Capela. So all of those guys had already played a year in the NBA…okay?
Now, if we were ever in a position to select players, we would much rather stake our careers on that second group where there are multiple All Stars and players leading playoff charges than any of the seniors listed in this post.
So, since we’ve uncovered the fact that the underclassmen drafted tend to be better investments, let’s look at some other reasons why seniors don’t get selected in the first round.
If they were that good, they’d have been a first round pick before they finished their senior year.
Their stats look great senior year because they’re playing against 18-year old opponents on a nightly basis.
Scouts have seen them over 100 times, so they’ve seen every single flaw and that’s what they focus on.
Wait…that last one. That’s really interesting. After all, 4-year players play in 30+ contests per season. That means that a senior on a P5 team has probably had a scout at every game and most practices for 4 years straight. Common thinking would deem that more exposure means a better chance of being noticed. That’s how it is in most industries. Musically gifted hopefuls post content on YouTube and Sound Cloud, they wait in line for hours to get on American Idol or The Voice. If they are talented, they want as many chances in front of listeners and decision makers as possible. It’s the same reason why Nashville has live music going non-stop! All it takes is one person to like your sound and ignite your career.
In the NBA, the opposite seems to take place. Kyrie Irving played in 11 college games prior to being selected #1 overall, and that worked out. Dante Exum barely played in any games for the entire year leading up to his draft, that hasn’t worked out well yet. Andrew Wiggins, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz were all freshman and #1 picks. In the upcoming 2018 draft, we’d wager that more freshman will be selected than seniors. After all, in the NBA, the devil you don’t know is safer than the devil you know.
Grayson Allen is the perfect example of this. He is currently projected as the first senior taken, and it looks like he’s in the mid-20s! Allen has (Prior to the 2018 NCAA Tournament presented by the billions of dollars, that amateur athletes, who have never taken any improper benefits, generated for cost of attendance this season) played 3,807 minutes for Duke. We estimate that a GM considering drafting Allen has watched in the ball park of 3,000 of those minutes. That’s a lot of minutes. More than 2-days straight of non-stop Grayson!
On the other hand, DeAndre Ayton has played 1,134 minutes (prior to the aforementioned competition) this season and it’s a good guess that the lottery-bound execs have watched at least 700 of those game minutes. 700 seems like a lot, enough to be considered a legitimate sample size, but it’s nowhere near the 3,000 minute mark.
Prospects like Allen have been in the spotlight for most of their career. His breakout game in the NCAA Championship catapulted him into draft discussions at the end of his freshman year. He stayed at Duke. His 21.6 ppg and 41.7% from 3PT range his sophomore year launched him into lottery consideration. He stayed at Duke. Again. Last season, he played through multiple injuries and hindrances with gutsy performances that few college players were capable of. One of his teammates, Luke Kennard, left for the draft and was selected 12th overall. Allen, stayed. It’s a safe guess that he would have been picked in a similar range as Kennard had he declared for the draft.
It’s now gotten to the point where he has been over-scouted. Every bad pass; every tripped opponent, every missed shot has been dissected and argued over for hours on end. Every bit of evidence that shows he’s not quite good enough to be drafted has been magnified. The conversations started out positive for Allen, when he was barely known. Well, as little known as a McDonald’s All-American and Duke basketball player can be. Those talks have now turned towards the dark side of his game.
No longer is it, “I think he’ll be able to provide scoring off the bench for us.” It’s now, “I don’t know that he can guard anyone to stay on the court long enough to make an impact.” That negative statement is more powerful. It sticks longer. NBA GMs are under enough scrutiny as is, if they completely swing and miss on a draft pick they are essentially fired. And rarely does a GM get another chance after they’ve been fired. And if you don’t think negative statements carry more weight than positive, go turn on any news channel and see what the leading stories are.
Grayson could have left for the draft after he shined in the Wisconsin game. NBA teams have repeatedly shown they’ll overpay for Free Agents that have a great playoff series, it’s a similar thought process with the draft. His evaluation would have been glowingly positive, because he didn’t play enough minutes to show off his warts. He could have been a hero. Instead, he stayed. Long enough to become the villain.