The 2021 NBA Draft is later this year, and the Big 12 has plenty of early-entry prospects — and not just Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham.
Below I assess who is definitely going to go, who has a hard decision to make, and who should stay in school for one more year as we get closer to decision time.
100 PERCENT GONE
Like the header says, the players listed here, in my opinion, are a lead-pipe lock to leave early after this season.
G CADE CUNNINGHAM, OKLAHOMA STATE: We all know the freshmen is headed for the NBA after this season. When you’re the No. 1 prospect in the draft, you can’t blame the guy. He will pop up on several postseason teams — and not just All-Big 12. His impact on the Cowboys’ younger players will remain for the next couple of years. They’re better for playing just one year with Cunningham.
VERY NEARLY GONE
These players have many good reasons to leave early. If they came back, it would be for their own reasons, not because of how the draft is expected to fall.
G JARED BUTLER, BAYLOR: He’s a late first-rounder right now, and he’s mature enough to handle the pro game now, so he’s most likely headed to the NBA. He’s had three great years at Baylor and he’ll cap it with All-America honors and, potentially, a national championship. To me, the only motivation to return is if the Bears fall short of a national title and he wants to take another run.
G DAVION MITCHELL, BAYLOR: I’m a bit less certain of Mitchell, but the improvement in his game is clear. In February, he turned it on, showing that his newfound shooting ability pairs well with his defensive prowess. Like Butler, he’s a late first-rounder. He may fluctuate back into the second round. But, like Butler, I think he’s a solid check in the early entry column.
F GREG BROWN, TEXAS: We don’t talk as much about Brown as we do about Cunningham, but he was a Top 10 recruit nationally in Cunningham’s class. He hasn’t played quite at Cunningham’s level this season, but it’s about Brown’s 6-foot-9 frame, ball handling, rebounding and his ability to play both forward positions. Right now he fluctuates between an NBA lottery pick (the first 14 selections) and the middle of the first round. He will most likely declare.
F KAI JONES, TEXAS: Texas coach Shaka Smart would love it if Jones stayed, but it’s looking more and more like he’s one of the fast risers in this draft class. Jones was barely on NBA lists in January. In February he became a borderline lottery pick. Why? Here’s a possible reason.
Along with the shooting, Jones can dribble drive, post up and rim protect at 6-foot-11. It’s the exact kind of athleticism NBA teams are looking for. If he holds steady near the lottery, I think he declares, even if he’s not a finished product.
These players have been listed in NBA mock drafts, but I have questions about whether making the leap after this season is the right move.
G OCHAI AGBAJI, KANSAS: He’s had a solid season for Kansas, and if there’s any one Jayhawk that will seriously consider leaving early, it’s him. His 3-point shooting has improved, and the athleticism that made him a freshman sensation is still there. There’s a case to be made that he could benefit from staying in college one more year, especially since as of February he’s considered a second-round pick.
G ANDREW JONES, TEXAS: We forget just HOW LONG Jones has been at Texas as he missed two seasons fighting leukemia. But he’s finally back to being the player that he was before treatment. The real question is whether or not he wants to move on to the NBA, or spend another year in school?
G/F TERRENCE SHANNON JR., TEXAS TECH: He has shot up draft boards much the way that Zhaire Smith did two years ago. Smith left as a true freshman and was a first-round pick. Where is he now? The G League. Not a bad place to be, but certainly not what he was hoping for. Shannon is popping up in mocks in the first round, but he should be wary of leaving early and finding himself on the end of a bench.
STAY ANOTHER YEAR
These are the players in the most dangerous group. NBA riches will tempt them. But if they declare, they should do so with the intention of getting their scouting report card and returning next season.
G RASIR BOLTON, IOWA STATE: The temptation for Bolton is to ‘bolt’ because the Cyclones don’t look to be headed anywhere right now. But there’s no momentum for Bolton to leave and he shouldn’t be teased into believing that he’ll be drafted. I think Lindell Wigginton was teased into leaving and where is he now? Playing in Israel.
G JALEN WILSON, KANSAS: The Kansas redshirt freshmen had a solid start to Big 12 play, and even ended up in a few NBA mock drafts. But his play leveled off by February and it’s clear he doesn’t need to flirt seriously with the pros this summer.
F DAVID MCCORMACK, KANSAS: McCormack’s game has come a long way since his freshman season. He may have a place in the NBA one day, but it’s not after this season. Former Kansas center Udoka Azubuike was a better prospect, was a first-round pick, and is barely playing in Utah.
G DE’VION HARMON, OKLAHOMA: His improvement from his freshman to his sophomore year creates temptation to leave early. Another year in Norman playing for Lon Kruger, who used to coach in the NBA and knows what they’re looking for, will do Harmon MUCH more good than rolling the dice.
G ISAAC LIKEKELE, OKLAHOMA STATE: He dipped his toe in the water last year and got his report card. But this is an incredibly deep draft when it comes to college talent, and Likekele stands to get lost in that shuffle.
G COURTNEY RAMEY, TEXAS: He has a place in the NBA because of his scoring ability and defense. But he won’t be selected in this draft. Another year in Austin, depending upon what happens with the other early entries, gives him a chance to really shine.
G MAC MCCLUNG, TEXAS TECH: He has emerged as one of the best scorers in the Big 12, and there will be a lot of temptation for him to go ahead and try and make the jump to the NBA. I would advise him against it. He’s a talented scorer, but he needs to improve his 3-point shooting and defense. One more year in Lubbock potentially gets him there.
F DEREK CULVER, WEST VIRGINIA: He is probably the best forward in the Big 12. But he’s not popping up in mock drafts. Head coach Bob Huggins pointed out Culver needs to get better on defense. Something tells me the NBA would return the same report card, if Culver asked.
G MILES MCBRIDE, WEST VIRGINIA: McBride showed great improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year. He’s better in every category right now. But this deep draft would push him off the board. He’ll do better to come back and improve his draft stock for 2022.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard. Send him a tweet with your question to be included in this week’s Big 12 Basketball Mailbag, which appears each Friday during the conference season.
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