Joel Berry II, Tony Bradley, and Theo Pinson are going into the NBA Draft, all of which are doing so without signing an agent. The announcement came roughly 10 hours after the April 23rd 11:59 pm deadline. This is still a very new process to adapt to, because while this announcement sounds like it immediately impacts UNC in terms of the 2017-18 basketball season, it has no immediate impact as it did in years past. Arguably, depending on who if any of the trio comes back to Chapel Hill, it may just be a great thing.
To understand why this process may benefit UNC going forward, we must first discuss how the process works. Last January, the NBA made rule changes to the draft process that allows players to go into the combine and participate in one team tryout per year.
Following this process, players receive an evaluation, and the players have 10 days to decide whether or not to stay in the draft or if they would like to withdraw their names and go back to school for another year. Focusing on the “one team tryout per year” part, this does mean that hypothetically someone could go through this process every year of college eligibility if they were to choose to do so.
The great thing about this new change to the process is players can receive valuable feedback in terms of what they could do better to improve their draft stock. This of course also means that if they hear good enough things, they may choose to stay in the draft and they proceed to move forward with the process.
So far, UNC only has two students that previously went through this process and returned to school. Both Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks went through workouts and made their returns to Chapel Hill. Justin Jackson was told by multiple NBA executives that he would be projected to be picked anywhere between 40 and 60.
He was also one of the players last year to get selected to go through the NBA draft combine, as that aspect of the draft is still exclusive to those who receive invites. Kennedy Meeks went through workouts as well, but did not receive an invite to the combine. Meeks was projected to be outside of the top 100 of last year’s draft class.
So does this process actually help players? Taking a look at the numbers, a very strong case can be made that it does. Looking at Justin Jackson’s sophomore year, he averaged 12.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game shooting .292% from 3-point range. His junior year, Jackson averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and shot .370% from 3-point range.
One thing that NBA personnel did tell Jackson to work on was shooting more consistently, and it is very evident in the numbers that he did just that. Even more noticeable this year for Jackson was just the way he played in general. When he was on the floor he was more aggressive, he was never afraid to shoot the ball, he even seemed to show more emotion when he was on the court.
Kennedy Meeks averaged 9.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1 assist per game his junior year. During his senior campaign, Meeks averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1 assist per game. The one thing about Meeks that cannot be ignored is Meeks shot the ball a lot more his senior year than junior year. It’s fair to argue that because of Brice Johnson’s huge season during Meeks’s junior campaign, Meeks didn’t have to score as much and couldn’t get to a lot of rebounds because Johnson was right there.
Regardless, Meeks looked more determined on the boards, was better defensively, and seemed to better take advantage of his size/strength more than years past. There is no denying that there were visible improvements to his game.
There’s an obvious downside to the new draft process, which is that there are a lot more unknowns that come into play for coaches and fans alike. Players entering the draft without an agent now mean that coaches have to develop contingency plans in the event that certain players decide to leave and scholarships open up.
For example: earlier Monday it was announced that graduate transfer PF Jack Whitman from William & Mary has been in touch with UNC and will be making a visit to campus this Wednesday and Thursday. Should Tony Bradley decide that he is staying in the draft, there is a very strong possibility that Whitman would be offered a scholarship at that time.
For fans, there’s a whole extra month of waiting. It comes with a lot of anxiety for some, and a lot of imaging different scenarios and lineups and how good or bad they can be. It is a very fresh process, and it is one that’s definitely taking some getting used to. However, the benefits to this new process is invaluable to players who decide to take advantage of the new process.
The worst thing that can happen is that players return to school for one more year. The best thing that can happen is they get glowing evaluations and we see these players play on some of the biggest stages in the country, if not the world.
It will be interesting to see what happens with these three gentleman going forward. I think all three of them absolutely made the right decision to take advantage of the new system and to see where they stand with NBA executives. Each of them will take this information, talk to their families, talk to coaches, and decide what is best for their futures. We here at THB wish them all the best of luck in the world, and whatever jersey they end up wearing next year we will be rooting for them as hard as ever.