31 SEC underclassmen declared for the 2020 NBA Draft. Should they go pro or return to school?
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft has passed. Now, the guys who decided to test the draft waters have until June 3 at 5 p.m. Eastern time to finalize their plans to either return to school or head to the NBA.
In the SEC, 31 underclassmen will test the draft waters. Every school from the conference except Ole Miss and Texas A&M had at least 1 underclassman declare.
The NBA Draft is only 2 rounds.
So, should these guys stay in the draft or return to school? We broke it down into 4 categories — no-brainer NBA Draft guys, guys who should make the tough decision to go pro, guys who are almost ready for the NBA but should return to school and guys who should absolutely return to college for the 2020-21 season.
Go to NBA — No-brainers
Anthony Edwards, G, Georgia
Edwards is not a consensus No. 1 pick, but he is probably the player most frequently predicted to hear his name called first in the NBA Draft. When you’re in that conversation, you can’t pass up that kind of money. Edwards has nothing left to prove at Georgia.
Isaac Okoro, F, Auburn
Okoro showed he could do it all during his 1 year at Auburn. He can score, he can rebound, he can knock down a few outside shots and he can defend. Even Bruce Pearl thinks the talented freshman should stay in the draft class. Okoro is a likely top-5 pick, which makes this an easy decision.
Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
I’d like to see Maxey knock down more of his 3s (he hit 29.2% of them last season), but when you can create your own shot off the dribble like this, you’re going to be just fine in the NBA:
— Swish Cultures (@swishcultures_) April 27, 2020
Maxey is a lock to be a top-20 pick in the draft, so this is an easy decision for him.
Aaron Nesmith, F, Vanderbilt
Even though he suffered a season-ending injury in January (the latest in a string of bad luck for Vanderbilt), Nesmith is still a borderline lottery pick. His athleticism is off the charts and he can knock down outside shots. He’s the kind of player that NBA teams are stockpiling. It’s time for the sophomore to turn pro.
Kira Lewis Jr., G, Alabama
Lewis really benefited from Nate Oats’ fast-paced offense. Across the board, Lewis’ numbers improved — field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks from his freshman season. I’m seeing him mentioned as a late 1st-round pick in most mock drafts. A second year in Oats’ system isn’t likely to give him much more of a bump. It’s time for him to go pro.
Robert Woodard II, G, Mississippi State
I was surprised to see Woodard as a 1st-round pick in a bunch of mock drafts. He’s not the focal point of the Bulldogs’ offense and, frankly, his 11.4 points per game leaves something to be desired for a guy with his projected skill set at the next level. Since he’s a 1st-round pick in more than half of the mocks I’ve seen, he would be wise to capitalize on that potential and make the jump. Best-case scenario for him is that he makes a Klay Thompson-like jump from college to the NBA.
Kahlil Whitney, F, Kentucky
Whitney announced in January he was leaving Kentucky. So, his 2 options are to transfer or enter the NBA Draft. I don’t think he’ll be drafted, but he’s a guy who should probably be playing in the G League rather than in college at this point.
Go to NBA — tough call
Isaiah Joe, G, Arkansas
Joe had his 2019-20 season hampered a bit by injury, but he has enough game tape now for NBA teams to know who he is. I’ve seen him in mock drafts as a late 1st-round or early 2nd-round pick. I’m not sure he would be able to improve that positioning by returning to school for his junior season, so he might as well go pro and make some money.
Ashton Hagans, G, Kentucky
Something weird happened at the end of the regular season with Hagans, who didn’t make the trip to Florida for the Wildcats’ finale. I’m not sure he’d benefit from returning to school at this point. He is what he is. He’s a competent point guard who can score a bit when needed and 1 of the best on-ball defenders you’ll find at the position. He’s already decided to stay in the draft class, so it seems his time in Lexington is over after 2 seasons.
Immanuel Quickley, G, Kentucky
Quickley seems like the kind of scoring guard NBA teams love to scoop up in Round 2 of the draft. Based on these skills he showed all year (check out his highlights below from the regular-season finale at Florida), he’s the sort of guy you can put on your second unit and have him carry the offense while the starters rest:
Immanuel Quickley vs Florida (2020) pic.twitter.com/zeZMpdXxu9
— KY Clips (@KY__Clips) April 22, 2020
Even if he returned to school for his junior season, I’m not sure he could work his way into lottery consideration, so he should capitalize on being the SEC Player of the Year and go to the NBA now.
Nick Richards, F, Kentucky
The jump Richards made this past season was nothing short of incredible. Through the first half of the SEC season, he was the front-runner for the SEC Player of the Year award. Though that trophy ultimately went to his teammate, Immanuel Quickley, Richards would be wise to capitalize on his outstanding junior season. He’ll likely be a Round 2 pick this year and I don’t think that improves much if he returns for his senior year at Kentucky.
Reggie Perry, F, Mississippi State
This is a tough call because I honestly don’t know why Perry isn’t showing up as a 1st-round pick in any mock drafts. He averaged a double-double this past season and has decent ball-handling skills. I think he’s going to have a long, productive NBA career. Apparently, NBA teams would rather not use a 1st-round pick on him, though. If I were running a team, I’d want Perry on it. He tested the NBA waters after his freshman year but returned to school. If this year hasn’t improved his stock, I’m not sure anything will. He should go pro and prove his doubters wrong.
Return to school — tough call
John Petty Jr., G, Alabama
Petty is a lights-out 3-point shooter, and I know I just made the case for Isaiah Joe to go pro in the previous section, but I think Petty could really showcase his skills with 1 more year in Nate Oats’ system. That run-and-gun style was made for a guy like Petty, and if Kira Lewis stays in the draft, Petty will be the focal point of the Crimson Tide offense in 2020-21. That will only help his stock.
Mason Jones, G, Arkansas
Even after winning co-SEC Player of the Year honors this past season, I haven’t seen Jones appearing in many mock drafts. His chances have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, as I truly believe teams would fall in love with him if they were able to bring him in for workouts alongside other draft prospects. Jones has the “it” factor that teams will love, but he can’t exactly show it off for them right now. Eventually, though, someone will take a chance on a guy who can do this:
MASON JONES CALLED GAME‼️ pic.twitter.com/jDE9DPgldK
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 26, 2019
If he returns to Arkansas and wins the SEC Player of the Year award outright in 2020-21, he should be a late 1st-round pick.
Andrew Nembhard, G, Florida
Nembhard is going to be in the NBA someday, but I don’t think he should stay in the 2020 draft. He is a talented point guard and can run an offense really well. He can also hit some clutch shots and isn’t afraid of big moments. However, if I were running an NBA team, I’d want to see him be a little bit more consistent both at the free-throw line and from 3-point range. Gone are the days when you can be a pass-first point guard with limited shooting ability (unless you’re 6-11 like Ben Simmons).
Rayshaun Hammonds, F, Georgia
Hammonds has continued to improve each of his 2 seasons at Georgia, but at 6-9, he’s a bit of an undersized forward at the next level. He also needs 1 more season with the Bulldogs to show he can be a more consistent player. He has a tendency to disappear at times, but when he’s hot, he can carry a team. I’d also like to see him improve his free-throw percentage. He shot 80.6% from the line in 2018-19 and saw that drop to 65.2% in 2019-20. That’s the kind of thing he can work on at the college level before going pro.
Javonte Smart, G, LSU
I had higher expectations for Smart this past season after a strong freshman year. However, playing alongside Skylar Mays in the backcourt, Smart only made marginal gains in 2019-20. He’s still a heck of a player, but if he comes back in 2020-21 and serves as the Tigers’ primary ball-handler, I think NBA teams will be much higher on him.
Trendon Watford, F, LSU
All signs at the moment point toward Watford remaining in the draft, but I think that would be a mistake. Watford got better as his freshman season went along, but I’ve yet to see him mentioned as a 1st-round pick in any mock drafts. If he comes back to LSU for his sophomore season and continues to develop, I think he goes in Round 1 in 2021.
AJ Lawson, G, South Carolina
Lawson has been remarkably consistent in his 2 years with the Gamecocks. Each season, he has averaged exactly 13.4 points per game. However, this past season, he saw his rebounds per game drop from 4.3 to 3.7 and his assists per game drop from 2.9 to 1.9. I’d like to see him take a step forward in 2020-21 before making the jump to the pros.
Yves Pons, G/F, Tennessee
This was perhaps the toughest call of them all. Pons has been rising in mock drafts lately. Scouts love his crazy athleticism and his ability to defend every position on a basketball court. However, I’d love to see him come back to school and have another big year for the Vols. He’s currently being projected to go late in Round 2 of some mock drafts, but I think he could be a late-Round 1 pick in 2021 if he returns to school.
Saben Lee, G, Vanderbilt
This was another really tough call. Lee got better as the year went on, dominating SEC foes. However, when your team goes 3-15 in conference play, it’s a little less impressive that you averaged 18.6 points per game. If Lee returns to school and plays more consistently next season alongside Scotty Pippen Jr., he should be a much better NBA prospect in 2021.
Return to school — easy call
Xavier Pinson, G, Mizzou
Mitchell Smith, F, Mizzou
Jeremiah Tilmon, F, Mizzou
I’ll never fault players for getting feedback from the NBA. That option is there, so you might as well take it. But I would be shocked to see any of these guys stay in the draft. Mizzou built some positive momentum toward the end of the regular season last year. The Tigers should be a team on the rise in 2020-21 and these guys should all return and be a part of that.
Tre Mann, G, Florida
Mann averaged 5.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game this past season. He only made 4 starts and averaged 17.8 minutes per contest. Yeah, he needs to come back. Again, I never fault a player for getting NBA Draft feedback, but I want to see him have a bigger role this coming season.
EJ Montgomery, F, Kentucky
Since I mentioned Nick Richards should turn pro earlier, there will be plenty of post minutes for Montgomery in 2020-21. Plus, Montgomery only needs to look at Richards to see what sort of jump a Kentucky post player can make between his sophomore and junior years. If Montgomery was taking notes on what Richards was doing last year, he could make a huge jump and become a legitimate draft prospect in 2021. That’s probably what the NBA Draft committee will tell him, too.
Herbert Jones, F, Alabama
Like Pons above, I think Jones needs to work on his overall offensive game a bit before he heads to the NBA. I loved his heart last year, playing a good portion of the season with only 1 functional hand. He also is 1 of the best wing defenders in the conference. If he can develop a consistent mid-range jumper and at least be a threat on corner 3s, he’ll find a spot in the NBA in the future.
Darius Days, F, LSU
Days took a huge step forward this past season and doesn’t get the love he deserves for how important he has been to LSU’s success. If he can earn more than 23.5 minutes per game this next season, I think returning to LSU is an easy call.
Emmitt Williams, F, LSU
Williams showed he’s more than just a guy who can jump out of the gym in 2019-20, but he still has a bit more to prove at the college level. When you’re only 6-6 and play forward, you need to average more than 6.6 rebounds per game. A more consistent mid-range jumper would be nice to see, too.
Abdul Ado, F, Mississippi State
Nick Weatherspoon, G, Mississippi State
If both Perry and Woodard go pro like I suggest, then Weatherspoon and Ado will be bigger parts of the Bulldogs’ plans in 2020-21. That bodes well for both of them. Weatherspoon needs to prove he can cut down on his turnovers a bit. The fact that the start of his 2019-20 season was delayed by 10 games due to a suspension also doesn’t help his case. For Ado, the case is simple — averaging fewer than 2 blocks and 7 rebounds per game as a big man isn’t going to cut it in the NBA, especially if you average only 5.7 points per contest and make only 60.9% of your free throws. Get back in the gym and play another year in Starkville, you guys.