ST. LOUIS — The days when the NBA Draft was about taking the best college players are long gone. That the No. 1 pick could be Andrew Wiggins is the latest example. The NBA can overlook the fact he barely showed up for the biggest game of his career at Kansas because of his All-Star upside.
I mention this to bring some perspective to the breakdown you’re about to read regarding the pro chances of some of Missouri and Saint Louis University’s top players. After covering about a dozen games for both teams this season, I thought five players could at least dream about being one of the 60 players selected in the upcoming draft: Mizzou’s Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, and SLU’s Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett and Rob Loe.
Consulting with three NBA scouts who cover colleges more or less confirmed my thinking. For Evans, however, a dream apparently is about as close as he’ll come to being drafted. Even after he scored 15 points to lead his team at the coaches’ all-star game at the Final Four, one scout said, "He did nothing to impress me. A good college player, but he would be a ‘tweener at the next level. I don’t consider him draftable." The hopes for the other two Billikens do not appear that much better, either.
I was told by all three scouts that the two Tigers can expect to be drafted. The question is where. While first-round picks are guaranteed millions, second-round picks are guaranteed nothing. They typically have to make their team to earn a contract. From what these scouts say, neither Clarkson nor Brown is certain to go in the first 30 picks.
"Clarkson is borderline first-round," said one scout, whose team will pick in the lottery. "The difference between him and Brown is that he can play point guard. At his size, being able to play the point makes him an attractive player. He would benefit from staying in school another year because he needs to get stronger and tougher defensively, but he’ll be drafted."
There is athleticism, and there is NBA athleticism.
About Brown, all three scouts offered similar assessments. They were impressed with the improvement he showed between his first and second seasons at Missouri, but they also believe he would be helped by another year at Missouri. He has a game that can translate to the NBA — that is, he can shoot 3-pointers and drive to the basket. His ball-handling, however, is not a strength and, said one scout, "He doesn’t have the off-the-charts athleticism."
You might doubt such a statement if you saw some of Brown’s dunks this season but, remember, this is the NBA. There is athleticism, and there is NBA athleticism.
For the difference, think back to the UCLA-Missouri game. Brown and Clarkson topped 20 points and led the Tigers to an impressive second-half comeback. (In hindsight, it might have been the team’s best game of the season.) Neither was considered the best pro prospect in the game. Nor was UCLA’s 6-9 point forward, Kyle Anderson. The player most likely to be taken earliest from that game was a 6-5 freshman backup for UCLA, Zach LaVine. He showed why, too, with one monster dunk that oozed with athleticism.
A lack of NBA athleticism is expected to keep Loe from being drafted, according to these scouts. I thought Loe stood the best chance at the NBA because of his length and his skill set. Not many 6-11 centers have as pretty a shot. Loe, however, didn’t make enough 3’s (30.6 percent) from 19 feet, 9 inches, to convince NBA types that he can be a threat from the NBA 3-point line, which is three feet farther.
I actually was trying to sell Loe’s game to one of the scouts — "Excellent passer, a really smart player, agile for his size" — but could tell from the awkward silence on the phone that he wasn’t buying.
One factor against Loe, like most college seniors, is age. At 22, he’s old. If he were still 20, the NBA would view his potential differently. But after four years of college, they don’t see much more upside. While Loe proved a capable defender in college, especially with helping teammates, pro scouts see him as someone who could have trouble defending the post one-on-one.
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Loe should have no problem finding employment on the next level. Because he holds a British passport, he can sign internationally without counting against the quota most leagues have to limit U.S. players. Loe is expected to head for his New Zealand homeland this summer to play for the national team and could end up playing in Australia. He might be able to land a more lucrative offer, however, from one of the European leagues.
Jett was the player I was most interested in hearing about from the pro scouts after a breakout season when he went from SLU sixth man to Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. His strength, defense, ability to drive to the basket and the cool he showed in late-game situations would seem to appeal to the pros. I thought if Phil Pressey can make the NBA, so can Jett. Neither, after all, is ideally sized for the league, and neither is much of a long-distance shooter.
While Pressey was a flashier passer, I thought Jett was better at it. But, I was reminded, that might have been because of the rapport he developed passing to the same teammates for four seasons. In the NBA’s eyes, Pressey’s quickness offsets Jett’s strengths, the No. 1 of which scouts said is his strength.
Jett has a chance to show the scouts something this week at the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, a showcase for college seniors. Actually, it’s a showcase for second-tier prospects since anyone considered a lock for the first round has nothing to gain by playing.
If Jett doesn’t turn heads in Virginia, perhaps he should turn his attention to the NFL Draft. He was not joking when he said during the season that he had thought about a return to football.
Even though he hasn’t played since high school, his skills might translate better in the NFL than the NBA. His chances of being drafted look to be no better in basketball than football. The NBA Draft is that tough to crack, no matter how well you play in college.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.