Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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2024 NBA Draft: Coleman Hawkins, Cam Christie among top players with hardest portal-or-pro decisions to make

The May 29th NBA Draft withdrawal deadline is rapidly approaching, leaving dozens of players with big decision to make about their futures over the coming days. Among them are a bevy of talented players who have positioned themselves with maximum leverage by also entering the transfer portal as they mull where they will suit up in the 2024-25 season.

In addition to getting feedback from NBA franchises about their likelihood of being drafted or signed to a two-way contract, these players are also entertaining the option of returning to college basketball for a big NIL payday. If they withdraw from the draft, that will only be the first step in finalizing their futures as they will then have college decisions to make.

Not all players exploring the draft have entered the portal. Many with an NBA decision to make are not transferring and remain committed to returning to their previous school if they withdraw from the draft pool. We covered many of those big decisions earlier this week.

Now, it’s time to shine the light on those who are also in the portal. Their draft decisions will have a domino effect on college basketball. If these players opt to remain in the draft, it will force the college programs that have been jockeying for their transfer commitments to consult contingency plans for filling out their 2024-25 rosters.

With agents, professional organizations, college coaches, NIL collectives, family and friends all typically involved to a certain degree in these decisions, players must cut through the clutter to make an informed decision. It’s easier said than done, especially under the pressure of a deadline. As that deadline approaches, here are the top 10 players in the portal weighing whether to stay in the NBA Draft or return to college.

1. JT Toppin

Big Board rank: 48 | Previous school: New Mexico

Toppin earned Mountain West Rookie of the Year while averaging 12.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for a New Mexico team that won the Mountain West Tournament. The 6-foot-9 forward hit 62.3% of his shots and demonstrated some promise as an outside shooter. He’ll command a strong NIL payday if he opts to transfer instead of staying in the draft.

2. Cam Christie

Big Board rank: 52 | Previous school: Minnesota

Christie averaged 11.3 points on 39.1% 3-point shooting as a freshman at Minnesota. Getting such substantive contributions from a freshman in the Big Ten in this era is rare, especially when it’s not someone who was a top-50 prospect. The 6-foot-6 wing will be quite a prize in the portal for someone if he returns to college basketball.

3. Coleman Hawkins

Big Board rank: 73 | Previous school: Illinois

Hawkins averaged 12.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting 36.9% from 3-point range in his senior season at Illinois. With 126 games of experience for a Big Ten program, the 6-foot-10 forward is the type of difference-making veteran that is hard to find in the portal this time of year. Though he’s in the portal, returning to Illinois would also be an option if he withdraws from the draft.

4. Jaxson Robinson

Big Board rank: 74 | Previous school: BYU

Robinson finally popped at BYU in 2023-24 during his fourth college season and second with the Cougars. The former Arkansas wing averaged 14.2 points. Kentucky, now led by former BYU coach Mark Pope, would be an obvious team to watch if Robinson withdraws from the draft.

5. Jaylen Wells

Big Board rank: N/A | Previous school: Washington State

Wells transferred up from Division II Sonoma State and hit 41.7% of his 3-pointers for Washington State last season. At 6-foot-8, that type of shooting makes him an obvious pro prospect. After participating in the NBA Draft combine, he faces a tough decision. But if he returns to college, a nice payday will surely await at the school of his choice.

6. Cedric Coward

Big Board rank: N/A | Previous school: Eastern Washington

Even diehard college basketball fans may be unfamiliar with Coward’s game. But the 6-foot-6 wing led the Big Sky champions at Eastern Washington in scoring at 15.4 points per game while shooting 38.3% from 3-point range. Even more impressive was his 69.1% mark on 2-pointers and 89.5% free-throw shooting mark. Players with splits like that don’t come along often, and Coward could be a major factor for a high-profile team if he withdraws from the draft and transfers up.

7. Wooga Poplar

Big Board rank: N/A | Previous school: Miami

Poplar started 36 games for a Miami team that reached the Final Four in 2023 and upped his contributions this past season to 13.1 points per game on 38.5% 3-point shooting. The 6-foot-5 guard has 100 games of experience for a power-conference program and has been through high-stakes March battles. He’ll be a meaningful addition wherever he lands, unless he opts to stay in the draft pool.

8. Jamir Watkins

Big Board rank: N/A | Previous school: Florida State

Watkins flew under the radar in the 2023 transfer cycle, quietly landing at Florida State following two seasons as a role player at VCU. The 6-foot-7 wing exploded at FSU, averaging 15.6 points, six rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He waited until the last minute to enter the portal and will be highly sought if he withdraws from the draft.

9. Arthur Kaluma

Big Board rank: N/A | Previous school: Kansas State

Kaluma would be a talented late addition to a college roster via the portal if he withdraws from the draft. The 6-foot-7 wing spent his first two seasons at Creighton before transferring to Kansas State and averaging 14.4 points this past season. He’s just a career 31.2% 3-point shooter but has improved from beyond the arc each season.

10. Chaz Lanier

Big Board rank: N/A | Previous school: North Florida

Considering that he’s taking college visits, Lanier seems likely to withdraw from the draft. After hitting 44% of his 3-pointers on 7.5 attempts per game at North Florida last season, Lanier has a case to be considered the best pure shooter in this year’s portal class.

Other notable portal players with draft decisions

Trevon Brazile | Previous school: Arkansas
Miles Kelly | Previous school: Georgia Tech
Ugonna Onyenso | Previous school: Kentucky
Baba Miller | Previous school: Florida State
Garwey Dual | Previous school: Providence

Non-transfers with decisions

If these players withdraw from the draft, they will be returning to their previous schools. Many of their decisions were covered here.

Mark Sears, Alabama
Caleb Love, Arizona
Jaden Bradley, Arizona
Alex Karaban, UConn
Hunter Sallis, Wake Forest
Eric Dixon, Villanova
Chase Hunter, Clemson
David Jones, Memphis
Payton Sandfort, Iowa
Johnny Furphy, Kansas
Walter Clayton Jr., Florida

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