Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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2024 NBA Draft: Players who should withdraw and return for another season of college basketball

Let it be known I’m not in the business of advising anyone – players, agents, coaches – on what to do or not to do. I am a media member and analyst first, foremost and only. Not a pocket-watcher. It is not my place to tell or decide for anyone what is best for themself. They are free to do and say and choose whatever they please.

As an analyst, though, my job involves a lot of reading tea leaves and projecting. So in the interest of breaking down the 2024 NBA Draft Combine last week in Chicago, my tea leaves have been read. I’ve updated my Big Board and will have a new mock draft later this week – but first I come bearing a timely update on all the prospects who I think should come back to school or face a tough stay-or-go decision.

Again: I am not an adviser. And each player has their own circumstances to consider when making these (often very tough) decisions based on scholarship availability, NIL situation, potential draft slot, guaranteed money and developmental plan. No decision is made in a vacuum.

But we’re hopping into a vacuum and making some decisions after their combine performances. I’ve landed on five players who should return to school and four whose decisions are too tough to call from the decision desk at this hour.

Let’s go.

Players who should return to school

Hunter Sallis | SG | Wake Forest: Sallis curiously ducked out of participating in the scrimmages at the combine after doing just OK in the shooting drills. He’s down in a range of the draft where he may or may not be in line to earn a guaranteed contract in the early to middle of the second round. Returning to school where he could likely cash in big as a potential All-American might be best, and another stellar year could further boost his stock to a place closer to the first round.

Bronny James | SG | USC:  Two things are true of Bronny: he had a great combine and he probably would benefit from coming back to school. He’s reportedly set on staying in the draft so perhaps this is moot – and I’d wager if he does indeed stay in he would get drafted somewhere between No. 30 and 50 – but one more season in college could dramatically boost his stock if he shows improvement from his freshman year and grows into the prospect many expected he’d be at USC. 

Nique Clifford | SF | Colorado State: I’m buying big on Clifford long term but he had a mixed week at the combine with some good and some bad that mostly kept his stock idle. The frame and shooting project neatly for him at the NBA level so I’d understand if he stayed in. Returning to school and building off a breakout season last year at Colorado State might do him well, though.

Jaxson Robinson | SG | BYURobinson had a career year at BYU last season averaging a career-high 14.2 points per game while shooting 35.4% from 3-point range in Mark Pope’s run-and-gun offense. He’s since been linked to Kentucky with Pope now coaching the Wildcats. That might be a viable path for him after he showed off his smooth shooting stroke but by and large blended into the crowd elsewhere during the week in Chicago. Legitimately tough decision to return to school and challenge to be an All-Conference player or hope to scoot into the second round and secure some guaranteed deal. 

Payton Sandfort | SG | Iowa – The combine was rough for Sandfort after generating potential first-round buzz leading into the week. He struggled shooting the ball, a worrying trend for a prospect labeled primarily as a shooter, and never got comfortable playing against his peers in the scrimmages. That’s just one piece of the puzzle to consider during the process, of course, and playing great or miserably won’t make or break any one player’s specific stock, but a return to school seems like his best option.

Players on the fence with tough decisions

Justin Edwards | SF | Kentucky: Edwards ranked No. 1 on the CBS Sports Big Board entering the season after a stellar summer at Kentucky but failed to live up to lofty expectations. There’s still plenty who believe in the talent and find him interesting as a developmental prospect, and he had just enough Whoa, Justin Edwards! Nice! type moments throughout the week to make his decision tough. 

Alex Karaban | SF | UConn: Throwing my hands up on Karaban. One of the few whose stay-or-go choice stumps everyone. He could return to UConn and get a bag while entrenching himself as one of the best to ever play for the Huskies. But he could have done enough – both the last two seasons and at the Combine – to sneak into the first round. He’s No. 31 on the Big Board and played very well all week while showing off his length and shooting.

JT Toppin | PF | New Mexico: One thing was very clear in Chicago last week: a lot of schools missed on Toppin, somehow. He had a stellar freshman season at New Mexico and looked like a future first-rounder during scrimmages. A very, very good player who might not have the buzz to be a top-30 pick now but has the tools to be one in the future. Another year in college could launch him into household-name status.

Coleman Hawkins | PF | Illinois: I’ve seen dozens of Hawkins’ games over the years but none were as impactful as his final-day scrimmage. He was everywhere on both ends – active on defense, aggressive on offense. Still, it’s hard to overlook the years of evidence to suggest he may be something of a record-scratching ball-stopper on offense who over-dribbles and may be more fit-dependent than some. I don’t have a great feel for his stock but late second or UDFA feels about right. That’s in the range where returning to school and getting a giant NIL bag might be more appealing to him.

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