As we continue to near the April 23rd early-entry deadline for the 2017 NBA Draft, let’s continue to look at the prospects who have declared for the draft without signing an agent. This draft has quietly become dominated with big men in the late-first round, and we’ve already spent time projecting whether Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Baylor’s Johnathan Motley will stay in the draft. Today, we look at the case of Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo and the decision he will have to make over the next few weeks.
WHY HE DECLARED
Adebayo is a physical specimen in the frontcourt standing 6’10” and 250 pounds with a near-7’2” wingspan paired with great athleticism and quickness. He averaged 13.0 points, a team-best 8.0 rebounds while also leading Kentucky in blocks per game (1.5). Adebayo was at his best during the final stretch of the season, notching five double-doubles in the Kentucky’s last 11 games, totaling a team-high eight double-doubles this season.
He was named a member of the All-SEC Second Team, while also being named to the All-SEC Tournament Team. His physical dominance in the paint led to 101 dunks and a 60.1 field goal percentage, one of the best in the country. Adebayo has a high defensive upside and potential to dominate the paint as a rebounder and enforcer, and that’s what makes him a likely late-first round pick in 2017.
WHY HE SHOULD RETURN TO KENTUCKY
Adebayo is far from a ready product offensively and could stand to continue to develop on that end of the floor while working on extending his range (31.1 percent on two-point jump shots per hoop-math.com) and his touch around the basket. He shows potential with a decent free throw percentage of 65.3 percent but must work on his offensive repertoire to have two-way upside.
Kentucky could use some veteran leadership after most of the roster will be heading to the league for next year, and that could allow Adebayo to have a much bigger role offensively to develop next season. His versatility would allow him to play next to incoming center Nick Richards, as well as the lone big man if Calipari wants to play small. Showing he can effectively play both frontcourt positions will prove that versatility.
With an offseason of development offensively, there is a chance of Bam being more of a focal point offensively for Kentucky. If he can work on his post moves, maybe he can be a second option and a more veteran presence on another young Kentucky team in need of some mentoring. There is a chance he can improve his draft status for next year’s draft.
WHY HE SHOULD STAY IN THE DRAFT
Adebayo is a surefire first round pick, and usually prospects projected in the first 30 picks leave to get the guaranteed money. He’s already proven himself plenty at the college level despite only playing a year and being the third or fourth option on the floor the majority of the season. Adebayo showed rapid growth throughout the season and played a main role down the stretch while playing both ends of the floor at a high level.
In my opinion, there’s too much to lose for Adebayo to return to college. There’s a very strong chance that Calipari continues to add more big man talent next season (Re: Mohamed Bamba), and with another big man with a perceived higher upside in the fold, would Adebayo get overlooked?
Most importantly, the risk of injury is always there for every prospect that returns to school, which is always a serious consideration for any freshman testing the draft waters. Adebayo is already an NBA-ready prospect in a lot of ways and still has the chance to up his stock in the combine’s athletic and measurement testing — who knows where his stock might land come June.
I think Adebayo should stay in the draft given his stock is pretty cemented in the first round. He’s got a high ceiling defensively with explosive athleticism, great footwork in the pick and roll and rim-running potential on both ends of the floor. He’s got good enough touch to develop a mid-range jump shot (65.3 percent from the free throw line) which could really up his ceiling offensively with some work.
At the very least, Adebayo will be a tremendous defensive-minded center who dominates the paint and offers a strong rebounding presence. He’s got a low floor and a decent upside if he can figure things out offensively. The fact that he’s projected between 17-25 should be the dealbreaker for Adebayo, and if he impresses in workouts, could creep toward the late-lottery. I expect him to end up staying in the draft.
Reminder: College players have until 10 days after the draft combine (May 9-14) to head back to school.