A few of the intriguing story lines in the June 26 NBA draft are the varying opinions and projections about C.J. Wilcox, Zach LaVine and Spencer Dinwiddie.
A few draft observers believe the former Pac-12 stars could significantly impact the decisions of draft prospects in the future.
For example, consider the curious case of Wilcox. The former Washington star is arguably the best perimeter shooter in the draft. At the draft combine, he debunked the theory that he’s non-athletic with a 37 1/2 inch vertical jump. He also displayed quickness and a surprising 6-10 wingspan. The biggest knock on Wilcox is his age. He’s a 23-year-old fifth-year senior – he turns 24 in December – which is uncommon in today’s draft that favors youth and potential over age and experience.
Many believe Wilcox should have entered the draft last year and truth be told, it’s a strong argument. Wilcox would have been the best shooter in last year’s draft. The 6-5 shooting guard is essentially the same player today that he was 12 months ago. He had an impressive senior season at UW that included moving to the No. 2 spot on the school’s all-time scoring list. But inexplicably, Pac-12 coaches left Wilcox off the 10-man first-team all-conference squad. Even more damaging, Washington didn’t play in the postseason and it’s negatively impacted Wilcox’s draft status.
You could argue it was wise for Wilcox to return to school because he was recovering from a hip injury, but that leads us to Dinwiddie.
During the 2013-14 season, the Colorado junior guard was widely considered a late first-round draft prospect. He tore his ACL in January during at game at Washington and is unable to participate in pre-draft workouts. He’s expected to return in the fall just before the start of NBA training camps.
NBA teams have drafted injured players before. The Cleveland Cavaliers made Kyrie Irving the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 despite playing just 11 games as a freshman at Duke because of a toe injury. And last year the Philadelphia 76ers took Nerlens Noel with the No. 6 overall pick knowing he was likely to miss the 2013-14 season with a knee injury.
However, Irving and Noel are considered can’t-miss prospects and franchise cornerstones. Irving is a two-time NBA All-Star and Noel led Kentucky to a NCAA title.
Meanwhile, Dinwiddie, a 6-6 point guard, projects to be a solid role player in the NBA. He could be make an immediate impact for a bad team or would be a nice complement for a title contender. At the time of his injury, Dinwiddie was averaging 14.7 points and 3.8 assists, shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from the 3-point line.
The fact that he won’t workout for teams makes him even more intriguing. NBA evaluators will have to rely on 2 1/2 seasons at Colorado and their imagination when determining his draft stock. If Dinwiddie lands in the first round, then in many ways it would devalue the importance of the NBA combine and pre-draft workouts.
And finally, there’s LaVine.
I talked to a Pac-12 player last week who is absolutely flabbergasted the UCLA freshman is projected as a lottery pick.
“He wasn’t the second best player on his team (last season),” the player said. “I’m not knocking him or his game, but when we played them the scout was all about Kyle (Anderson) and (Jordan Adams). Personally, I think Bryce Alford had a better year than Zach.”
However, LaVine is a uniquely gifted athlete who makes NBA scouts salivate. He jumps higher than anyone in the draft. He has off-the-charts athleticism. He was a former point guard at Bothell High, which makes him a better than average ball handler even though the 6-5 phenom projects as a shooting guard in the NBA. And teams love the fact he’s 19, believing he has several years of skill growth ahead of him.
Some say LaVine is the next Russell Westbrook, another former UCLA role player who became a NBA star.
Whatever the case, the future looks bright for LaVine despite a pedestrian freshman season with the Bruins. He was fourth on the team with a 9.4 scoring average, 66 assists and 24.4 average minutes. LaVine played in all 37 games and started once.
Also keep your eye on Arizona’s Nick Johnson and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson.
Johnson, the Pac-12 player of the year, left the Wildcats with a year of eligibility remaining. It’s generally believed there was no way he could improve his draft status if he stayed for his senior year. Meanwhile, Carson’s situation is similar to former Washington star Isaiah Thomas. Carson is a dynamic, high-scoring point guard, but he’s 5-11 and NBA teams have traditionally downgraded players shorter than 6 feet.
It will be difficult for college coaches to convince players to return to school if LaVine is taken in the lottery and Dinwiddie, Johnson and Carson are first-round picks while Wilcox falls to the second round.
To the dismay of fans and college coaches, the NCAA has become a place where good basketball players reside for a year or two. Maybe they’ll stick around for three years. But the days of fifth-year seniors like Wilcox are coming to an end.
Keep this in mind after the 2014-15 season when Washington standout Nigel Williams-Goss considers his options. He flirted with the NBA this year and it’s fair to speculate the sophomore-to-be point guard will bolt for the pros next year if he has a season that compares favorably to his freshman campaign.