Non-Freshmen Most Likely to Leave School Early After the 2017-18 CBB Season
Everyone thought Michigan State's Miles Bridges would leave for the NBA after one season, but now he tops our list of non-freshmen most likely to declare for the 2018 draft.
It's a shame we have a nickname for freshmen who declare for the draft, but no good moniker for their slightly elder brethren. Rhyming is apparently important, as evidenced by the popularity of "one-and-done." So, how about two-and-through and three-and-flee? Sophomore and out the door? There's got to be something catchy we could use.
Regardless of the TBD nickname, these are the guys who have played at least one season of college basketball—or two-thirds of one season in the cases of Austin Wiley and Omer Yurtseven—and are probably going to leave voluntarily after the upcoming season.
Generally speaking, these assumptions are based on mock drafts, as guys who are projected as first-round picks are inherently more likely to declare than guys no one is expecting to get drafted.
In total, there were 25 sophomores and juniors in last year's draft pool. Here are 10 you should expect to see leaving next offseason. Eight of the top nine guys on last year's edition of this list did declare for the 2017 draft—and who could have seen Grayson Allen's disastrous year coming?
Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Most mock drafts have Bridges as the third, fourth or fifth sophomore/junior selected, generally projected late in the lottery (first 14 picks) to late first-round range. But I have a hard time believing that one of Jay Wright's guys is going to leave a year early, given how rarely that happens at Villanova. If anything, Jalen Brunson would seem to be the more likely Wildcat to declare after this year, but he's not showing up in any mock drafts just yet.
Shake Milton, SMU
Milton was overshadowed by the likes of Semi Ojeleye, Sterling Brown and Ben Moore, but he had one heck of a sophomore season running the show for one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Milton averaged 13.0 points, 4.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds and shot 42.3 percent from downtown. If he's anywhere close to that effective as the No. 1 option for the Mustangs, NBA scouts will be begging him to declare.
Tacko Fall, UCF
All basketball careers have an expiration date, but they tend to come earlier for guys who are 7'6". Sim Bhullar left New Mexico State after his sophomore year. Mamadou Ndiaye left UC Irvine after his junior year. Look for Fall to do the same, as one more season isn't going to change whether an NBA team wants to use a flier on him. If anything, he'd probably be hurting his chances at a pro career by returning for a senior year.
Andrew Jones, Texas
Jones probably could have declared alongside Jarrett Allen this past May, but look for him and Mohamed Bamba to jump to the NBA together after the upcoming season. The one major uncertainty, though, is whether Jones will be able to establish himself as either a lead guard or a shooting guard at the pro level. He was more of a tweener as a freshman, and that's no way to get drafted.
De'Anthony Melton, USC
Melton had a solid freshman season, particularly as a defender. But he'll desperately need to improve as a three-point shooter (28.4 percent) in order to fill the three-and-D role that has become all the rage in recent years.
Braxton Key, Alabama
Key is hardly a hot commodity in mock drafts, but he did average 12 points per game as a freshman who was playing a bit out of position. The addition of Collin Sexton at point guard should make everyone on this Crimson Tide team look even better—a la Lonzo Ball at UCLA last year. Whether that's enough for Key to bolt for the draft remains to be seen, but it's more than enough to get him on the radar.
10. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga
2016-17 Stats: 2.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG
NBA draft junkies have been sky-high on Rui Hachimura for a while. He's 6'8" with a 7'2" wingspan, which is a darn fine starting point to get the attention of scouts. The Japanese import was sensational in the 2014 FIBA U17 tournament, and he was once again a star in the FIBA U19 World Cup this past July.
From the limited time we were able to see him at Gonzaga last season, he was rawer than sushi, but he played with fire, averaging 22.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per 40 minutes—albeit primarily in garbage time against lackluster opponents. Per KenPom.com, Gonzaga faced 13 Tier A opponents last season, and Hachimura played a grand total of seven minutes in those games.
Oftentimes, there is a steep learning curve for international players. (We'll also see that with Omer Yurtseven shortly.)
It's one thing to try to learn a new language on the fly or to try to adjust to a completely different style of basketball, but doing both simultaneously rarely translates to a great debut year. Considering how well he played at the U19s this summer, though, Hachimura clearly has the skill to be special. We're just waiting for that to cultivate on U.S. soil.
The Zags lost Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski, which opens up a lot of playing time. They do still have Johnathan Williams III at the 4 and Killian Tillie at the 5, but Hachimura will probably start at the 3, once again giving Gonzaga one of the most dominant frontcourts in the nation.
But it's tough to say whether he'll actually leave for the NBA after two years in Spokane.
Svi Mykhailiuk was a projected lottery pick before he ever arrived at Kansas, yet, he's coming back for a senior year. So even though most draft prognosticators see Hachimura as a late first-round pick, that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to take the money and run. After all, he could have just stayed in Japan and declared for the draft without ever playing college basketball. He might be committed to at least one additional season with Mark Few.
9. Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State
2016-17 Stats: 5.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.2 APG
With Dennis Smith Jr. already on board for a one-and-done season, signing Omer Yurtseven was supposed to be what pushed North Carolina State over the top for a Final Four run. Instead, Big Yurt struggled to adjust to the college game, spending a lot of time in foul trouble for a team that finished below .500.
To be fair, though, he was thrown into a near-impossible situation. The NCAA arbitrarily ruled him ineligible for the first nine games of the season, giving Yurtseven just four games against Appalachian State, Fairfield, McNeese State and Rider to get up to speed before going through the rigors of ACC play.
He looked solid against those not-good opponents, but his conference play was a disaster. Per Sports Reference, his win shares per 40 minutes mark against the ACC was 0.009. Granted, it's hard to rack up win shares on a team that went 4-14, but none of his ACC numbers were stellar. And it wasn't even a slow start that gradually got better. In fact, he was worse in late February and March than he was in his first 15 games.
But we know the Turkish center is better than that. After all, he had 91 points and 28 rebounds in a single game last summer, and he was regarded as a top-notch college basketball recruit long before that eye-popping box score. He just needs to show he can dominate in college basketball every once in a while.
Like Hachimura on the previous slide, we're expecting much more from Yurtseven as a sophomore, but there's no guarantee he'll go pro even if he averages a double-double. He was already getting paid to play in Turkey, and he gave that up to learn the American game and develop into a college basketball star, which, in turn, would better prepare him for the NBA. Whether that development can be completed in two seasons is anyone's guess.
8. Deng Adel, Louisville
2016-17 Stats: 12.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 34.6% 3PT
Given how well Deng Adel played over the final few weeks of the 2016-17 season, it's a little surprising he opted for another season. [Insert your own joke about Louisville and Adidas paying better than the NBA here.] Adel averaged 14.4 points in the final 10 games of his sophomore season. On multiple occasions, he carried the team through stretches in which Donovan Mitchell couldn't buy a bucket.
But despite finishing out the year better than Mitchell did, there was little to no chance of Adel being drafted in the lottery like Mitchell was. Depending on who you asked, Adel was either a fringe second-rounder or someone who would go undrafted—even though he's a 6'7" versatile wing who would seem to be a perfect fit in the current NBA mold.
The big question for Adel to address this season is the consistency of his perimeter jumper. Though he was a starter in the first game of his career, an early knee injury derailed his freshman season. Adel didn't even make a three-pointer until the end of January and only attempted 20 on the year. But he took 127 this past season with a good-not-great success rate of 34.6 percent.
As a shooting guard/small forward tweener who can rebound and defend but doesn't do much of either, Adel might need to explode as a three-point shooter in order to be taken seriously by the NBA—similar to what Justin Jackson did this past season at North Carolina. Now that he ought to be the alpha dog in this offense, the opportunity will at least be there for him to become a scoring machine.
7. Justin Jackson, Maryland
2016-17 Stats: 10.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 43.8% 3PT
Truth be told, until Justin Jackson was one of the last players to withdraw from the draft pool in late May, I had no idea that folks in NBA draft circles were so enamored with him. Sure, he had a solid freshman season, but he wasn't a 5-star recruit, 90 percent of draft talk for Maryland players revolved around Melo Trimble, and at least 99 percent of draft talk for people named Justin Jackson was in reference to the Tar Heel, not the Terrapin.
But it's not hard to see why he's a projected first-round pick in 2018.
Freshmen who shoot better than 43 percent from three-point range and average six rebounds per game don't exactly grow on trees. In fact, here's the full list of players in the past nine years who have reached both of those marks while making at least 40 triples: Paul George, Gordon Hayward and Jackson.
Decent company, no? Both Hayward and George dropped off significantly as three-point shooters the following season, but they became better overall players before being respectively taken with the ninth and 10th picks of the 2010 NBA draft.
Perhaps a similar fortune awaits Jackson, but he'll need to be more consistent as a sophomore to maximize his draft standing. There was a seven-game stretch in January in which he was named the KenPom MVP four times. In the other three, though, he was just OK against Indiana and he was completely shut down by Illinois and Rutgers—arguably the two worst teams in the Big Ten last year.
There's no denying Jackson's potential to be great. If he wants to be a lottery pick, though, he'll need to show he can string together several weeks of quality play, rather than balling out one game and disappearing the next.
6. Austin Wiley, Auburn
2016-17 Stats: 8.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG
No matter how highly rated, freshmen who join a program in the middle of the season tend to struggle. We mentioned Omer Yurtseven earlier. There was also Chris Walker failing to deliver for Florida. And though injuries were a factor, neither Harry Giles nor Marques Bolden came anywhere close to his potential last year at Duke.
Austin Wiley was the exception to the rule.
Wiley graduated high school early and enrolled at Auburn for the second semester, just six weeks after signing with the Tigers. He was quickly cleared by the NCAA and was playing games before the end of December.
He only averaged 18 minutes per game, but it also only took one game for him to be established as the starting center. The 6'11", 260-pounder put up 19.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes, sparking a conversation about his potential to go pro after just one semester. Ultimately, both he and Mustapha Heron opted to return for another season to hopefully lead Auburn to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003.
There's a lot for Wiley to work on. In particular, shooting 49.1 percent from the free-throw line is a major red flag, as the NBA has mastered the art of neutralizing big men who cannot convert from the charity stripe. If he doesn't at least shoot 60 percent this season, there might not be a team willing to spend a draft pick on him.
Wiley also averaged 4.0 turnovers and 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes, though some of that can be attributed to the fact that he didn't have the first nine games—let alone a preseason—to properly adapt to the college game. Those numbers should go down this year, but it would be a problem if they don't.
Take out those peripherals, though, and Wiley is a rim protector who rebounds relatively well and who can score almost at will when you get him the ball in the paint. With a little bit of polish, he could be a lottery pick.
5. Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, Arizona
2016-17 Stats (Trier): 17.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 39.1% 3PT
2016-17 Stats (Alkins): 10.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 37.0% 3PT
This one feels like a package deal, and it's one that is quite likely to go pro.
Were it not for a suspension for the first half of the 2016-17 season, Allonzo Trier would almost certainly already be gone. Honestly, it's a little surprising he came back for a second year in the first place, considering he averaged 14.8 points per game as a freshman. But he missed a month of that season due to a broken hand, and then he had the aforementioned sophomore-year suspension. As a result, Trier has only actually played 45 games in two seasons.
Maybe he just wants to prove that he can make it through a full season so that doesn't become the primary red flag on his draft profile?
Rawle Alkins tested the draft waters after his freshman campaign, but he ultimately decided he had unfinished business in college, too. Save for a slight abundance of turnovers, Alkins had rock-solid numbers across the board. However, there's room for improvement in all of them, particularly the three-point stroke if he wants to be a shooting guard at the next level.
As far as the package-deal assumption is concerned, Arizona is going to lose Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic and Keanu Pinder as seniors, and there's about a 110 percent chance DeAndre Ayton goes pro after one year. Factor in Trier and Alkins and that might be Arizona's primary six-man rotation this season. Hard to imagine that one of those double-digit scorers would hang back for one more year if his running mate skedaddles.
The one huge X-factor in play is the health of Alkins.
He broke his foot in late September and is expected to be out until at least late November, possibly until the start of Pac-12 play. If Trier puts up 20 points per game and it takes Alkins awhile to get back up to full speed, then, sure, Trier will leave and Alkins will come back to be the star in 2018-19. But that might be the only way we see either of these slashing guards still playing college ball beyond the upcoming season.
4. Chimezie Metu, USC
2016-17 Stats: 14.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 1.4 APG
The biggest difference between my way-too-early top 25 and my current one is USC jumping from unranked into the top 10. But that initial projection came under the assumption that either Chimezie Metu or Bennie Boatwright would bolt for the NBA, leaving the Trojans depleted in the frontcourt. With both of those big men (and virtually everyone else from last year's roster) back, USC is a legitimate threat to win it all.
But why did Metu decide to come back?
The three big red flags from his freshman season were free-throw shooting, foul trouble and rebounding numbers that were good but not great. But he demonstrated remarkable improvement at the line, going from 51.3 percent to 74.1. He reduced his rate of fouls per 40 minutes from 5.4 to 3.2 and he significantly improved his total rebounding rate from 10.3 to 14.0—a 36 percent increase.
He wasn't a lock for the first round and maybe wouldn't have been drafted at all, but that is an incredible amount of growth in one offseason. He seems like the exact type of guy who would have wowed everyone with his athleticism and potential at the NBA Draft Combine, but he didn't even bother to test the draft waters.
The big question is: Will year No. 3 result in even more development, or will it unearth more holes in his game?
If Metu improved that much as a free-throw shooter, could we see him evolve into a Chris Boucher-type of shot-blocking three-point weapon? With drivers like Jordan McLaughlin, De'Anthony Melton and Derryck Thornton on the roster, it would be nothing short of huge for the Trojans if he helps them stretch the floor. And a perimeter jumper might be the only thing holding Metu back from becoming a lottery pick.
3. Bruce Brown, Miami
2016-17 Stats: 11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG
It's hardly uncommon for one school to produce two lottery picks in the same year. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2001 to find the last time there wasn't at least one school to fit that description. (Michigan State did have the Nos. 1 and 12 college players drafted that year, but Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph went Nos. 5 and 19, respectively, because seven of the top 12 picks were either high school or international players.)
The Hurricanes haven't had two players taken in the same draft since 1970—when there were 19 rounds and 239 total players drafted. They have only produced one top-14 pick in school history, and it has been 52 years since Rick Barry became that lone wolf in 1965.
Both of those droughts should be coming to an end in June, as both incoming freshman Lonnie Walker and sophomore Bruce Brown are legitimate lottery candidates. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has Walker at No. 10 and Brown at No. 13 in his most recent mock draft.
As far as Brown goes, I'm all-in on that projection. He was No. 3 on my September list of dark-horse candidates for National Player of the Year. As noted in that piece, he put up stats as a freshman that put him on an exclusive list with Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, D'Angelo Russell, Lonzo Ball, Marcus Smart and Dejounte Murray.
Despite averaging 22.8 points in Miami's four games against Duke and North Carolina, Brown was somehow woefully underappreciated at a national level. That's going to get corrected this season, as he and Walker pave their path to the 2018 lottery by leading the Hurricanes to one of their best years in program history.
2. Robert Williams, Texas A&M
2016-17 Stats: 11.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 1.4 APG
It seems like there's one freshman every November who comes out of nowhere to take the college basketball world by storm. In 2013-14, it was Marcus Foster. The following year was Jakob Poeltl. It wasn't a freshman in 2015-16, but Ben Bentil sure did shock people with his incredible play as a sophomore. And last year's surprise phenom was Robert Williams.
That isn't to say no one saw Williams coming. Scout had him ranked No. 49 in last year's class.
But how often do fringe top-50 guys immediately become stars? No. 49 the previous year was Chance Comanche, and he barely even saw the floor as a freshman at Arizona. Before that, it was Goodluck Okonoboh, Anton Gill and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Combine those three guys and Comanche together and they scored 268 points as freshmen—101 fewer than Williams scored last year.
If anything, being ranked No. 49 by Scout was a curse that Williams had to break.
In addition to the curse, what he broke was the will of the opposition to even try to score in the paint against Texas A&M.
Williams blocked five shots in the first game of his career and proceeded to record at least one rejection in all 31 games. The 6'9", 237-pounder was a menace on the boards, particularly when it came to cleaning up Aggies' shots, as he had at least five offensive rebounds on eight separate occasions. He finished the year with 11 double-doubles, nine of them in SEC play as he just grew more dominant as the season progressed. There was a seven-game stretch in February in which he averaged 16.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
Why is this guy still playing college basketball again?
1. Miles Bridges, Michigan State
2016-17 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2. APG, 1.5 BPG, 38.9% 3PT
It took less than one week for college basketball fans to accept that we were only going to get one year of Miles Bridges. He had 21 points and a few highlight-reel plays in his collegiate debut against Arizona, and he had a few more spectacular plays four days later in the Champions Classic against Kentucky. By game No. 3, he was reliably making three-pointers and consistently putting up big numbers.
But an ankle injury sidelined him for the entire month of December, and Michigan State struggled to win games even after he returned. Bridges would have been a lottery pick had he declared for the draft, but evidently he didn't want to be remembered as a guy who used Tom Izzo and one lackluster Spartans season as a stepping stone to the NBA.
Thus, he's back, and he's going to be the preseason National Player of the Year in the eyes of most national analysts. Moreover, he's the leader of one of the favorites to win the national championship.
Barring a tripping controversy in the middle of an injury-riddled season, it's hard to imagine someone with those accolades wasting another year in college before becoming a multimillionaire.
Like Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, Ivan Rabb and several others who surprised us by returning for a sophomore season, this will be the last year of Bridges' college career.
Be sure to enjoy it while you can.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.