Are these freshmen making the jump too early?

The NBA draft is still a couple of months off but the buzz surrounding the biggest basketball event of the summer has already begun. With the NCAA deadline to declare for the draft just four days away, the draft class has all but taken form. The seniors obviously had no choice but there were several underclassmen who decided to make the jump early despite having plenty of eligibility and potential championships left at their universities. For some, leaving school for the NBA will seem like a no-brainer. For others, the decision was maybe a little rushed. Out of the dozens of underclassmen to declare, there are a couple that stick out that should have stayed in school.

Tyus Jones, Freshman
Point Guard, Duke
He has yet to actually declare and I sincerely hope he does not. Jones is a very talented player and based on his performance in Duke’s national championship run, his value is probably as high as it will ever be. However, he is not truly pro-ready. The comparisons I have frequently heard have been to former Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis. Not that their style of play is all that similar but they face (faced) similar situations. Ennis had a stellar freshman year for the Orange and the talent around him was at a high point. He was not pro-ready either but because his value was so high, and Syracuse’s outlook for the following season was not as strong, Ennis declared and has since bounced around the NBA D-league. Jones is in the same position. Duke will almost definitely drop next year as Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow will both be playing in the NBA.

He also struggled a bit to find his shot at times this year, finishing with a 41.7 percent conversion rate. Jones never really managed to find a way to truly blend scoring and assisting. The stretch of games Jones played in the tournament underlines his streaky play. Jones only registered ten plus points and five plus assists in two games. And one of those was against #16 seed Robert Morris. Jones exploded in the finals for 23 points but was limited to only one dime. He also shot below 40 percent in four of those six games. Simply stated, Jones is a project with a lot of upside. He benefitted from the talent around him and will need some time before he turns into a viable NBA prospect.

Chris McCullough, Freshman
Power Forward, Syracuse
McCullough was a one-and-done candidate entering the season, but that changed quickly when he tore his ACL back in December. Now, with McCullough not set to be cleared until December of next season, he will not be of much use to teams in the short term. He will need to finish rehabbing and likely would need some time to learn the new system for whatever team he lands with. McCullough is likely trying to bolt from the uncertain situation in Syracuse right now with NCAA sanctions leveled against the basketball program and Jim Boeheim set for suspension from ACC games. Other news points to McCullough making the leap based on having a child due in May.

Either way, McCullough is far from a finished product. He showed plenty of promise as a rebounder and shot blocker. He racked up about seven boards per game and over two blocks per contest. He even tallied 1.7 steals a night as well. On offense though, McCullough definitely needs some work. He only shot 48 percent from the field, on the lower end for a big man. He almost relapsed when it came to scoring as well. After notching at least ten points per game through his first eight matchups, McCullough went cold and failed to hit ten again for his next eight appearances. With his offensive and injury concerns, McCullough will definitely be sliding into the second round. Had he returned, he would have had the chance to significantly boost his draft stock in another year for the Orange.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Freshman
Power Forward, Kentucky
Towns was one of the best players in college basketball this season. Don’t get me wrong, I think he will be an excellent player at the professional level. I just think that another year in the collegiate ranks would be very beneficial to Towns. He played on one of the most talented teams potentially ever assembled in college basketball history, which limited his ability to showcase and develop his talents. He occasionally flashed the ability to take over games, but failed to do it regularly.

There are also a couple of concerns that I have about Towns that I have voiced before. First, he didn’t play very many minutes, (Towns registered over 30 minutes once) which makes me wonder how quickly he will adjust to the professional level. Then there is the issue of his inconsistency on offense. He shoots the ball at a high percentage, but in eight different games this year, Towns failed to score even five points. That includes the Sweet 16 game against West Virginia when he went 0-3 from the field and only registered a single point. I think that another year under Coach Calipari in Kentucky would really serve Towns well. He could become the complete package and make a real splash at the focus of what will be almost definitely another talented Wildcat squad.


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