The NBA's All 'You Should Still Be in School' Team

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterFebruary 6, 2017

The NBA's All 'You Should Still Be in School' Team

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    It's tough to fault a kid for ditching college for the NBA without first getting a degree.

    Every game played at the collegiate level wears on a player's body and takes with it another ounce of quickness and athleticism that could yield a life-changing paycheck in the pros. That's particularly pertinent to those hailing from tougher economic circumstances, with families in need of financial support.

    Learning under a top-notch coach can accelerate a prospect's development and boost his long-term earnings, but NCAA rules governing workout time for student-athletes limit that benefit. And, frankly, school isn't for everyone, especially those who have their sights set on a career in the NBA. 

    Whatever a player's reasons for leaving college early, not everyone who makes the leap is ready for the rigors of pro ball. For every one-and-done sensation like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, there are countless others who aren't prepared—physically, mentally or emotionally—for the grind of the Association, and they get pulverized as a result.

    For these 12 youngsters—each of whom went to college for at least one year and would still be eligible had he not already turned pro—staying in school may have been a better idea than taking their chances in the NBA with such little seasoning.

Starting Point Guard: Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Senior

    Getting drafted wasn't enough to ensure a spot in the NBA for Andrew Harrison. The Phoenix Suns traded the former McDonald's All-American to the Memphis Grizzlies on draft day, and he then spent what would've been his rookie season toiling in the D-League.

    To his credit, Harrison made good use of his time with the Iowa Energy, as he averaged 18.5 points, shot 36.5 percent from three, dished out 4.9 assists and notched 1.5 steals in 35.3 minutes a night. However, that production hasn't carried over since he made his NBA debut this fall, although he doesn't have a similar opportunity as Mike Conley's backup in Memphis.

    Despite his struggles on both ends, Harrison has still managed to log 23.4 minutes per game, due in part to Conley's injuries. The Kentucky product has shot just 31.7 overall and a mere 26.1 percent from three-point range while racking up 155 fouls—the most of any reserve and the ninth-most in the league overall. It's no wonder the Grizzlies recently added Toney Douglas, a veteran guard, to their bench.

    At 6'6", he has the size and skill to be a factor on both sides of the ball with a bit more polish.

    Still, with Kentucky rolling once again, it's tough not to wonder what the Wildcats would be up to with Harrison running point—and what he might've done as a pro with more time under John Calipari. 

Starting Shooting Guard: Aaron Harrison, Charlotte Hornets

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Senior

    It's fitting Andrew Harrison would share this backcourt with his twin brother, Aaron. The two starred together in high school and college before parting ways as pros.

    Unlike Andrew, Aaron wasn't drafted in 2015. The Charlotte Hornets picked him up as a free agent and brought him up to the NBA before Andrew ever made it out of the D-League.

    Aaron barely made an impact as a rookie, scoring a total of 18 points on 5-of-19 shooting (3-of-10 from three) through 93 minutes across 21 appearances. When he wasn't sitting on the bench in Charlotte, he was busy scoring 17.6 points per game with subpar shooting percentages (36.3 percent from the field, 26.5 percent from three) while bouncing between the Erie BayHawks and Oklahoma City Blue in the D-League.

    This season was even worse for him: Harrison played just 17 minutes in five games for Charlotte before the team waived him ahead of the early January deadline to guarantee his contract.

    Aaron has since latched on with Charlotte's minor league affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. On Friday, they traded him to the Delaware 87ers—a move that might not bring him any closer to the Association in the long run.

Starting Small Forward: Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Sophomore

    The eye test and the stats test paint starkly different pictures of Brandon Ingram.

    Watch him play for the Los Angeles Lakers and you'll see a wiry wing with uncanny composure, a steady hand on the ball and a smooth shooting stroke. Check the numbers, though, and you'll see a kid who can't shoot (35.9 percent from the field, 28.7 percent from three), can't run an offense effectively (1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, 104.2 offensive rating) and can't stop his marks from scoring.

    The Lakers shouldn't be shocked by this cognitive split. Even general manager Mitch Kupchak isn't sure what to make of his latest No. 2 pick.

    "I think it's going to be a challenge to figure out where he’s most productive," Kupchak told NBA.com's David Aldridge, "whether it's bringing the ball up the floor and facilitating, or is it catching the ball on the wing and making a play? We don't know yet."

    L.A. likely won't know how best to deploy Ingram until he packs more weight onto his spindly 6'9" frame. Until then, the Lakers will have to foot the bill for the physical development the 19-year-old could've gotten had he stayed at Duke.

Starting Power Forward: Noah Vonleh, Portland Trail Blazers

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Senior

    Noah Vonleh might've been the toolsiest prospect of a 2014 draft class chock-full of talent and potential. Between his height (6'9.5" in shoes), pterodactyl wingspan (7'4.25"), hops (37" vertical leap), age (18 on draft day) and ability to shoot (16-of-33 from beyond the arc at Indiana), he had scouts salivating over his potential as the second coming of Serge Ibaka.

    Spending the No. 9 pick on Vonleh looked like a worthwhile gamble for the Charlotte Hornets. The Portland Trail Blazers seemed to have the right idea when they snagged him as part of the package in exchange for Nicolas Batum the following summer.

    In some respects, Vonleh has worked out well for the Blazers. He started 56 times for a squad that made it to the second round of the playoffs during 2016, and in the seven games since head coach Terry Stotts plugged him back into Portland's top five, the team has won four times and lost the other three by a total of seven points.

    To the former point, though, Vonleh lost his starting gig prior to the postseason and racked up five Did-Not-Play designations in 11 games. To the latter, he might not have gotten the recent promotion if not for injuries to Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis, not to mention Portland's season-long malaise.

    Vonleh has been more of a token starter for the Blazers than a bona fide solution at power forward, anyway. He's averaged 4.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in 16.8 minutes across his 67 pro starts.

    There's no debating he's had his opportunities to stick out. Whether he was ready to seize them after spending just a single season in college is the more pressing question.

Starting Center: Skal Labissiere, Sacramento Kings

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Sophomore

    It's easy to see why Skal Labissiere left Kentucky after one year. Aside from frustrations over dueling demands between books, basketball and NCAA-imposed limits on individual instruction, he had his family back home in Haiti on his mind. He and they had been devastated by a massive earthquake in 2010, as For the Win's Chris Korman recounted:

    Six years ago, Labissiere waited about three hours in the rubble of his own home, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for someone to come save him. His mother and younger brother were pinned down nearby. He was in a crouching position, the wall having collapsed onto his back during the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed 100,000 people. After a while — there was nothing to keep time by, save for his mother’s repeated prayers — he lost feeling in his legs.

    For Labissiere, the opportunity to be a first-round pick was too good to pass up, though his time in Lexington had dragged him down from a potential top-three prospect to the No. 28 selection in 2016. His going even that high after averaging a mere 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.8 minutes for the Wildcats shows the regard some still had for his talent.

    "I don't think he's tough or physical, and I don't know if he knows how to play," an anonymous scout told Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis. "If you watch him work out one-on-nothing, he can blow you away. The problem is when the game starts."

    Apparently, the Sacramento Kings didn't care. They traded for Labissiere on draft night, despite acquiring another 7-footer (George Papagiannis) in the same deal and already sporting a gaggle of bigs—none bigger than All-Star DeMarcus Cosins—on their roster.

    Lo and behold, Labissiere has only played a total of 42 minutes in six games with the Kings. Meanwhile, he's averaged 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in 31.0 minutes across 17 appearances with the D-League's Reno Bighorns.

Bench: Wade Baldwin IV, Point Guard, Memphis Grizzlies

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Junior

    Wade Baldwin IV has spent his rookie season on a yo-yo between the Memphis Grizzlies and the D-League's Iowa Energy. He's made decent use of those stints in the minors, contributing 13.3 points and 5.7 assists in 26.5 minutes per game across 13 outings.

    More importantly, Baldwin used his assignments to break down his game and build it back up, as NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper detailed:

    He welcomed the chance to have a defined role with Iowa, something not possible as in Memphis playing behind starting point guard and veteran Mike Conley and fellow rookie Andrew Harrison as the No. 1 backup.

    Baldwin was certain he wasn’t just grinding through his Energy stint. He was seeing the positives in regular minutes, more opportunities to break down his play on film and finding ways to improve, especially when it came to decisions with the ball and defense.

    However, Baldwin could've been doing that kind of work while getting serious playing time as a junior on a Vanderbilt team that wouldn't mind having a player of his caliber around. Instead, he'll draw a seven-figure salary while playing sparingly for a pro squad elsewhere in Tennessee. 

Bench: Henry Ellenson, Power Forward, Detroit Pistons

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Sophomore

    To hear Detroit Pistons head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy talk about Henry Ellenson, you'd think the Marquette product was lighting up the NBA and competing for Rookie of the Year honors.

    "If you go from the time we got him, he's become a markedly better shooter. Look at his college three-point shooting numbers at a line that's closer and watch him now," Van Gundy said, per the Detroit News' Rod Beard. "He's improved a great deal as a shooter. He's gotten stronger and he's learning the NBA game and he's a very attentive guy, so he's getting better physically and mentally."

    In reality, Ellenson has done the vast majority of that improvement either behind closed doors in Pistons practice or down in the D-League. The 6'11" Wisconsin native has tallied just 56 minutes across 14 appearances with Detroit in 2016-17, scoring 21 points and pulling in 12 rebounds during that limited run.

    In seven outings with the Grand Rapids Drive, though, he's put up 19.9 points and 9.7 rebounds in nearly 35 minutes per night while knocking down 39.1 percent of his threes.

    Ellenson might have to get used to playing in the minors for a while. With Andre Drummond, Jon Leuer, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Boban Marjanovic all under contract through at least the 2018-19 season, the Pistons will be hard-pressed to find playing time for Ellenson without making major changes to their roster.

Bench: Tyler Ennis, Point Guard, Houston Rockets

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Senior

    The Houston Rockets acquired Tyler Ennis from the Milwaukee Bucks in September, only to decline the fourth-year option on his rookie contract by October.

    Not that the Rockets were off-base trading for him in the first place. They needed another point guard to cover for Patrick Beverley's early-season absence and only had to give up Michael Beasley to fill that gap.

    Ennis contributed 3.3 points on 42.1 percent shooting (30.0 percent from three) and 1.7 assists in 9.9 minutes per game while Beverley was out. Since then, he's logged just 4.2 minutes a night with more DNPs (24) than appearances (18).

    Chances are, the 22-year-old will move on this summer to his fifth pro team—if you include his nine-game stint with the D-League's Bakersfield Jam in 2014-15—since leaving Syracuse as a first-round pick of the Phoenix Suns. Whether his next contract comes in the NBA is far less certain.

Bench: Diamond Stone, Power Forward, Los Angeles Clippers

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Sophomore

    Diamond Stone is learning firsthand the same lesson that Reggie Bullock and C.J. Wilcox confronted before they came and went from the Los Angeles Clippers: You better be ready to ride the pine if you're young and Doc Rivers is your coach—and you're not his son.

    The second-round pick out of Maryland has seen garbage time in just five games for the Clippers so far this season. He's done most of his pro damage in the D-League, where he's averaged 15.1 points on 45.6 percent shooting (28.6 percent from three) with 8.3 rebounds while playing for the Salt Lake City Stars and Santa Cruz Warriors.

    Those numbers are on par with what Stone likely would've put up as a sophomore in college had he stayed, as he tallied 12.5 points and 5.4 boards as a freshman for the Terps.  

    What few contributions Stone has made in L.A. thus far would have been even fewer if not for the Clippers' injuries up front. Had Blake Griffin's knee held up and/or Brice Johnson's back not gone out before the 2016-17 season, Stone might still be awaiting his first NBA minutes.

    Stone's decision to skip his last three years in College Park did come with some benefits, beyond the upgrades in money and lifestyle. The 19-year-old has worked closely with Paul Pierce from the get-go and can now count another former Boston Celtics legend (Kevin Garnett) as a consultant.

Bench: Justise Winslow, Small Forward, Miami Heat

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Junior

    Justise Winslow was supposedly the steal of the 2015 draft. He had all the makings of a top-five talent—the size (6'7", 225 pounds), the skill (48.6 percent shooting, 41.8 percent from three in college), the defensive tenacity and the all-around motor—after shining during Duke's run to the national title.

    According to ESPN's Chris Forsberg, the Boston Celtics were so smitten with Winslow that they nearly handed a grab bag of draft picks to the Charlotte Hornets to move up seven spots: 

    According to sources, the Celtics' final offer to the Hornets was a package featuring as many as six draft picks, including four potential first-round selections (a combination of picks from this draft and in the future). But the Hornets could not be swayed and turned down multiple offers to select Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky.

    By and large, Winslow's heart and hustle translated seamlessly to the NBA. He was a defensive stopper off Miami's bench last season and became their de facto attack dog in 2016-17 after Luol Deng left town over the summer.

    But Winslow may have left his shot behind in Durham when he decided to make the leap. His splits went from bad as a rookie (.422/.276/.684) to worse as a sophomore (.354/.200/.617) before he recently underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

    The Heat lost six of their first seven games after Winslow went on the shelf, but they have since rebounded to win 10 straight.

Bench: Jakob Poeltl, Center, Toronto Raptors

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Junior

    Jakob Poeltl didn't have much left to prove at the University of Utah. He finished his sophomore season as the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a consensus second-team All-American after averaging 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds for the Utes.

    What more could a ground-bound big man expect, especially in today's NBA, than to be a top-10 pick? How about getting snapped up by a winning team with a dire need for size and physicality up front?

    Poeltl got the best of all possible worlds when the Toronto Raptors took him ninth overall. They would soon lose Bismack Biyombo to free agency and replace him only with an injured Jared Sullinger.

    But rather than barge his way into big minuteseither as Jonas Valanciunas' starting partner or his understudyPoeltl has struggled to break into Dwane Casey's rotation. He hasn't played more than 20 minutes in a game over the last month, with eight DNPs during that span.

    It's not as though he's getting a bunch of burn in the D-League, either. Poeltl has suited up once for Raptors 905, though he was plenty productive (21 points, 15 rebounds, two steals, one block in 34.6 minutes) during that lone appearance. 

Bench: James Young, Shooting Guard, Boston Celtics

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    If He Were Still in School, He'd Be a: Senior

    It feels like forever ago that Bill Simmons was pumped about James Young joining the Boston Celtics. Back then, Simmons was still the biggest basketball personality at the Worldwide Leader, and Young was fresh off a star-making performance as a freshman with Kentucky at the Final Four.

    Since then, both have largely receded from the NBA, with Young all but bound to be out of the league by the end of this season. He barely beat out fellow first-round flame-out R.J. Hunter for Boston's final roster spot in the preseason, only to see the C's decline the fourth-year option on his rookie deal.

    According to MassLive.com's Jay King, Young might've been gone had Boston been able to attract something—anything—for him in a trade: "According to a rival front office source, Boston offered teams their choice of Young or R.J Hunter for a second-round pick. The source believed it was the first time he had seen a team offer a choice of players like that; the Celtics ended up waiving Hunter when nobody bit."

    Another NBA team may take a chance on whatever upside the 21-year-old Young has left. At 6'6" and 215 pounds, with a 7-foot wingspan and a 35.5" vertical, he may yet develop into a rotation player elsewhere.

    But with a glut of young players and valuable draft picks on a team already contending for a top spot in the East, the Celtics have little use for a prospect who has yet to sniff 40 percent shooting from the field.

                                   

    All stats and salary information via NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

    Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook, and listen to his Hollywood Hoops podcast with B/R Lakers lead writer Eric Pincus.