Should they stay or should they go (now): NCAA’s April 16 withdrawal deadline adds confusion to NBA draft process

Let me put down this hardware before I sign your forehead. (Photo by Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)
Let me put down this hardware before I sign your forehead. (Photo by Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)

By Joe Manganiello

The deadline to enter the NBA draft is April 28. That is the only date that actually matters in this process – just ask Jeff Goodman.

So what happened Tuesday: April 16 is the NCAA’s deadline for players to retain their eligibility if they entered the draft but refrained from hiring an agent. This deadline is completely independent from the NBA’s deadline on April 28. Every single D1 basketball player essentially could wait until April 28 to announce if they are entering the draft or not, and that has nothing to do with the NCAA’s deadline.

Real Life Examples:

Michael Carter-Williams declared for the NBA Draft on April 10, but did not sign an agent. He could have retained his eligibility and returned to Syracuse no questions asked through Tuesday. Now that he is still in the draft past the NCAA’s deadline, he no longer can withdraw.

Russ Smith chose not to enter the NBA draft before Tuesday. His patience has eliminated the option to withdraw from the draft. If he enters his name in the draft anytime before April 28, he might as well sign an agent (and a sneaker contract, and some checks, and a baby’s forehead… what else do people sign? Tweet jokes @joemags32) because he is locked into the draft.

This is stupid.

For Smith, who realized that he has until April 28 to decide and can use as much of that time as he wants, it’s a win-win. He can either enter the draft before April 28 or return to Louisville. He is unaffected by the NCAA’s rule.

And yet, MCW, who gave Syracuse 18 days prior notice of his intention to go pro, gets penalized by being locked into the draft two months before it will actually take place. That’s an eternity. What if he never signs an agent, breaks his leg and goes undrafted? He still wouldn’t be allowed to play basketball at Syracuse.

While I’m sure the NCAA’s intention is to hogtie their best athletes into making a premature, life-altering decision (sarcasm… I think), everyone knows that the real issue at hand is the NBA and NCAA are not in conjunction. I love the NBA, but I’ll be the first to admit how badly they pimp out D1 basketball for its services. Forget the NBDL; the NCAA is pro basketball’s AAA-league. For one year, the NBA gets to watch otherwise unproven players test their games out on a national stage, and within this low-risk, high-reward system, NBA teams get to pluck out the player’s that float for free.

Meanwhile, D1 programs are constantly battling annual roster overhaul. Any collegiate basketball team that is consistently in the market for 5-star players knows that, in all likelihood, the player will jump ship after one year: whether the team wins a championship (Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 2012); makes a final four run (Brandon Knight, Kentucky, 2011); or loses in the first round of the NIT (Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, 2013).

I’m not saying that the April 16 rule is completely pointless. The NCAA uses the deadline as a defense mechanism so that college coaches can learn which players will be returning to their program and which won’t sooner. There just has to be a way that the NBA and NCAA can come together to make one deadline which 1) gives the players enough time to make a life changing decision 2) protects college basketball team’s so they can fill out their rosters before the recruiting season is over and 3) allow the players to test the system and receive accurate information about where they might get drafted before they are locked into the draft.

(Joe removes soap box.)

Without further ado, let’s break down the early entry list through Wednesday.

They should go:

Nerlens Noel (FM, C)

While his freshman year at Kentucky did not go as planned (tearing his ACL in February put Kentucky on a slide that led to the aforementioned NIT appearance), Noel remains a Top 5 lock and could go as high as No. 1. For Noel to still be in the discussion for the top overall pick despite averaging just 10.5 ppg and making a much smaller impact on his team’s season than anticipated made his decision a very easy one.

Ben McLemore (FM, SG)

If Noel had the easiest decision in the draft, McLemore wasn’t far behind. Wing players projected to go in the Top 5 (and he will probably go in the Top 3) should jump at the chance. With a great shooting season (2012-13 shooting splits: .495/.420/.870) and an incredible 121.4 ORtg, McLemore is the best shooting guard in the draft. Making this a slam dunk decision for McLemore is the possibility of top-ranked high school talent Andrew Wiggins deciding on Kansas. It’s very difficult to imagine both those players coexisting on the perimeter in Lawrence.

Anthony Bennett (FM, SF)

Bennett is not a household name yet, but after a fantastic freshman campaign at UNLV leading the Mountain West Conference in field goals, he is just about guaranteed a spot in the Top 5. There was no way Bennett was going to pass up an opportunity to get selected high in 2013 and risk falling in 2014. Easy decision.

Victor Oladipo (JR, SG)

Oladipo is the first player on the list that actually had to think about it, and even still, Oladipo totally made the right call. The 2013 draft figures to be as tame as ever, with little to no star potential. For a player like Oladipo,  coming out now puts him in the conversation to be a Top 5 pick. That means money, readily available playing time and a commitment from the team that selects him. As a senior in the promising 2014 draft, Oladipo wouldn’t have gone in the Top 5, maybe not even the Top 10.

Instead, Oladipo is heralded in this diluted, 2013 draft class as a “defensive specialist” (NBA Draft express) and a much improved shooter (2012-13 shooting splits: .599/.441/.746). Oladipo was tops in the Big Ten in DRtg and second in ORtg. While he isn’t D-Wade good, Oladipo is a very well-rounded shooting guard prospect with promise.

Trey Burke (SO, PG)

I love the move for Burke to come out now. Read my thoughts from last week.

Michael Carter-Williams (SO, PG)

NBA scouts may or may not prefer him over Burke, as MCW has a huge height advantage (6-foot-5) and is the more accomplished passer (2012-13: 7.3 assists per game, 40.1 AST%). This move looks even better without Marcus Smart in the draft. Look for Williams’ stock to rise through June.

Shabazz Muhammad (FM, SF)

Obviously Nerlens Noel takes the cake in the “My Freshman Year Didn’t Go According To Plan” category, but Shabazz isn’t that far off. Expectations for Shabazz in his freshman season could not have been much higher, as he was aiming to A) help bring UCLA back to the forefront of NCAA hoops B) save Ben Howland‘s job and C) live up to the hype that his high school basketball success and sexy first name suggested.

UCLA lost at least 10 games for the fourth consecutive season, never learned how to play defense and was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Bruins did win five of their final six regular season games to win the regular season Pac-12 title and took the first two rounds of the conference tournament, but the mediocre state of the conference negates much of the impact of their “late season success.”

Shabazz scored an impressive 17.9 ppg (scored 20 points or more in 14/30 games) and was a surprisingly effective rebounder (87 offensive rebounds, 4th in conference). There is no doubt he can ball and score points. But NBA teams should be weary of his high volume, low percentage shooting season (2012-13: 14.3 FGA, .443 FG%), as well his absent defensive game.

But Shabazz couldn’t have gone back to UCLA. What for? To adjust to a brand new coaching staff on a team that is just as unlikely to compete in the NCAA tournament? To battle for ball-handling duties with incoming 5-star SG Zach LaVine? To take his “college” game to a whole new level?

To quote the incredibly witty Steve Nash spoof: “No, thanks.

Shabazz is going to get drafted somewhere in the Top 10, play 20-25 minutes a night and begin the process of figuring out how to play in the league. He is certainly talented enough, which we sometimes forget is the hardest part. A second year on an average UCLA basketball team would not make him a better basketball player.

Alex Len (SO, C)

I want to quote Mike Wise, who wrote about Len on Tuesday:

“… Has Len developed the necessary back-to-the-basket skills to be a competent center in a game that barely employs any true big men anymore? No. Is he rugged enough to withstand a forearm in the throat from Metta World Peace and still come up with a loose ball? No. Can he put a couple of shots in Row D and make enough jump hooks and 10-footers to tantalize his new general manager into believing he can become the NBA’s next premier pick-and-pop guy? Definitely.”

That’s the bottom line. He is a 7-footer who will become a millionaire in June. Period. Once you can guarantee lottery status as a big man, you have to go, because one injury can take it all away. Guards and wings come back from gruesome injuries, but it’s a different beast with big men and lower body/back/shoulder injuries. Len might not be half the player he could be with another year of college under his belt, but that won’t matter when he hears his name called in the first two hours on draft day.

Continue on to Page 2.

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