Padding the Stats: Big Ten Players and the 2019 NBA Draft
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: Big Ten Players and the 2019 NBA Draft

May 24, 2019

By my count, 16 underclassmen from the Big Ten declared for the NBA Draft. We’re now less than a week out from the deadline for those players to withdraw and maintain their eligibility, and there are still a handful of players facing a tough decision.

Iowa standout freshman Joe Wieskamp has already made that call, withdrawing from the draft this week. That’s a much-needed bit of good news for the Hawkeyes as they’ve already lost a starting guard in Isaiah Moss via graduate transfer (to Arkansas) and a starting forward in Tyler Cook, who has entered the draft without plans of returning to Iowa City. This week, news broke that point guard Jordan Bohannon is in danger of missing the whole season after undergoing hip surgery. 

Cook is one of several players who have chosen to forgo their remaining eligibility in order to pursue a professional career. Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, Indiana’s Carsen Edwards, Indiana’s Romeo Langford and Michigan State’s Nick Ward are the others who won’t be returning to college.

Michigan didn’t just lose its top three scorer, it lost its head coach too as John Beilein left to take the Cleveland Cavaliers job. Jon Teske, Zavier Simpson and Isaiah Livers is a heck of a defensive trio to build around for new coach Juwan Howard.

Fernando is a big loss for the Terps, but they’ll get former 5-star recruit Jalen Smith back in the frontcourt after a solid freshman season. More on them later. Edwards isn’t the only loss for Purdue as his backcourt mate Ryan Kline was a senior this season. That means the Boilermakers won’t have a double-digit scorer returning next season, though most of the rest of the rotation will be back.

Romeo Langford’s one season in Indiana was disappointing as the Hoosiers finished 19-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament. Now he’s off to the NBA, but he might not be alone (more on this later too). Finally, Ward had a very good three-year career in East Lansing, but Xavier Tillman is a better defender and played more than Ward this season anyway. With Cassius Winston not even testing the draft waters, the Spartans will likely be a top-five team heading into next season.

There are still eight players who haven’t announced their decision one way or the other, Isaiah Roby included.

Three other Hoosiers — Justin Smith, Devonte Green and Aljami Durham — entered the draft along with Langford and none of them have announced anything since. None of them are really even on draft radars and there doesn’t seem to be much of a decision to make.

Penn State forward Lamar Stevens was second in the league in scoring this year at nearly 20 points per game, yet the Nittany Lions finished 14-18. I don’t know that Stevens is going to get drafted, but I also don’t see much upside if he were to return to Penn State.

Minnesota’s Amir Coffey is in an interesting spot. Husker fans might remember him from the 32 points he dropped on the Huskers last December. The 6-foot-8 wing led the Golden Gophers to the NCAA Tournament last season while playing point guard for a team without a true floor general. He certainly has some intriguing traits with his size and athleticism, but his jump shot (he’s a career 32.8-percent shooter from deep) limits his potential. I don’t know that one more year of college would dramatically change anything for him, but I also don’t know that he would get drafted. The Gophers are losing two starters in double-double machine Jordan Murphy and shooting guard Dupree McBrayer, but they had an impressive pair of freshmen in Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur coming back to build around. With Coffey, Minnesota could be in the mix for a postseason berth once again. Without him, I don’t see it.

Anthony Cowan Jr. is the other Terrapin who entered the draft. The diminutive point guard led the Terps in points, assists and steals. He isn’t the most efficient player, shooting under 40 percent from the field overall, and his six (6-foot, 170 pounds) will hold him back at the next level. He doesn’t seem draftable, but perhaps he’s ready to start his professional career regardless of where that takes him. Maryland had the top-ranked recruiting class in the conference last season and it lived up to the hype with Smith, Eric Ayala and Andrew Wiggins all playing well as freshmen. Add Cowan back to that mix and the Terps look to be a tournament team once again. If he doesn’t return, however, Ayala is going to have to take on a much larger role as a sophomore.

The last player with a decision to make is Ohio State big man Kaleb Wesson. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-9, 270-pound sophomore led the Buckeyes with nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game. He’s a talented post scorer with the ability to step out to the perimeter and knock down the occasional 3-pointer, but his lack of mobility hurts him as a potential draft prospect. Wesson doesn’t seem like a guy who would get drafted this year, but if he were to return to Columbus the Buckeyes could rise toward the top of the conference. Chris Holtmann has the top-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten for 2019 including three top-50 recruits and only loses two seniors from last year’s team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. His older brother Andre Wesson is heading into his senior year as well, so there are plenty of reasons for the younger Wesson to return for at least one more year of college.

That leads us to Roby, who is much more of a draft prospect than any of the other Big Ten players who haven’t publicly made their decision yet. Most outlets have him as a second-rounder at least with a few projecting him to sneak into the first round. The coach that recruited him is gone and almost all of his teammates are too. When Roby first announced that he was entering the draft, I was torn. I went in circles making the case both for him to stay and for him to return to play one year for Fred Hoiberg.

However, the further we get into this process, the more I’ve come to feel like staying in the draft is the best path for Roby. He might be able to raise his stock with a good year in Fred Hoiberg’s system, but he’d also be one year older heading into the 2020 draft and the older prospects are, the less room for development NBA teams tend to see.

Based on the feedback Roby said he’s gotten, it seems like the NBA is high enough on him to give him a legitimate look. He’s either interviewed with or worked out for a third of the league at this point. Roby sees himself as an NBA player and seems ready to make that step.

Is he ready to make an impact in the NBA right now? No. He’s a bit older than the typical developmental prospect as well, but there’s still enough there for a team to take a chance on. Roby compared himself to guys like Draymond Green and Pascal Siakam, versatile forwards who are playing big roles in the NBA Playoffs right now. I’ve got a more conservative comparison, whoever: DJ Wilson.

Wilson declared for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, a year in which he averaged 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Wilson is a little bigger than Roby — he measured in at 6-foot-10.5 and 234 pounds at the 2017 NBA Combine — but he fits the same mold as a mobile, athletic big man who can defend on the perimeter and who has potential as a 4-point shooter.

The Milwaukee Bucks drafted Wilson with the 17th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He played a total of 71 minutes in 22 games with the Bucks during his rookie year. He also spent some time in the G League, averaging 32.5 minutes in 11 games.

This season, Wilson appeared in 48 games for the Bucks and played a legitimate role in those games, averaging 18.4 minutes per game. He shot 36.2 percent from 3 and showed some potential defensively. He also spent six more games with the G League club.

I don’t think Roby will go as high as Wilson did in the draft — the late first round seems to be his ceiling with the early-to-mid second round a more likely range — and I’d expect him to spend a bit more time in the G League than Wilson did, but that kind of career trajectory seems more than plausible for Roby assuming his decision goes the way I expect it to.

We will all know one way or another within the next five days.

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