As you all know by now, man-crush Mario Chalmers has joined Brandon and Darrell in the 2008 NBA Draft pool. This comes as no shock since the recent rule change allows for NBA teams to pay for player's workouts and as a junior; he truly has a free look to see where he stands. My inclination is that he will ultimately pull his name out with the knowledge that a variety of factors could greatly enhance his stock by waiting until next year.
It's still extremely early in the process and he's yet to workout for a team, but where Mario differs from Brandon and Darrell is that he is a game player as opposed to one that will dazzle in workouts. That being the case, I really don't see any situation outside of a team assuring him that they will take him (no matter who is on the board) if he is still there that can make him feel totally comfortable he'll be a first round pick. And since teams rarely will do anything like this, I get the feeling he'll go through the workouts, figure out who is ahead of him, who he is ahead of, & what he needs to work on, but ultimately return to a hero's welcome in Lawrence. (Note: I get goosebumps just thinking about the first game next year.)
Darrell is in a similar, yet different situation. He's projected anywhere from late lottery through the mid-20s and there's almost no way he'll drop. Not to discount Darrell's game ability, but whereas Mario proves his worth by doing a little bit of everything, Darrell has the kind of game and athletic prowess that will likely make some scouts forget about his inconsistency and move him up the board. It's for this reason that I think he'll ultimately hear the word lottery enough that he'll find himself an agent. But it certainly can be argued that he would be much better off returning to a much lighter draft and to be even more of a focal point in the offense.
I'm sure many of you will disagree with my next point, but I've come to the realization lately that the Jayhawks need at least one, if not both of these players to return. Yet it has nothing to do with next year. I've said since the beginning of the '06-'07 season that if they were to win a national championship they were all free to declare for the draft if they wished to do so. And from an on court performance standpoint next year, I stand behind that comment. But in looking at this year's recruiting class compared to the one the following year, we need to hope that Mario and possibly Darrell return.
Consider what happens if they do not…
- Two scholarships open up for this year and in a best case scenario, Bill signs J'Mison Morgan (away from LSU) and possibly Tyshawn Taylor. They're both top-100 players and likely pretty solid.
- More significantly, they will severely limit their ability to recruit a much more talented 2009 class. I say this because the only senior on the roster will be Matt Kleinmann and the only undergraduate that will likely be leaving will be Sherron. One look at the prospects for that year and more importantly, the ones interested in Kansas and you'll understand why this is important.
- The counter argument to that, of course, is that the players coming in this year are likely to stay longer than the ones in next year's class. But, unfortunate as it is, that's not what wins in today's college basketball landscape. And word on the street is that Stern and Brand are working on a two-year minimum anyway.
- And last, but not least, clearly next year's team will be much worse off without either one of these guys, let alone both of them. Assuming no one from UNC ends up declaring, they're the obvious favorite for next year, but if the Hawks somehow return both of these guys and can trot out DA and Cole up front, with Mario and Sherron in the backcourt, they're not a team to take lightly. Contrarily, if Sherron is the only returning player that averaged 10+ minutes a game this year and Cole is asked to carry the entire load inside, no matter how good these incoming freshmen are, they're going to experience some growing pains.
If I haven't lost you yet with my incoherent rambling, let me just finish up those thoughts by saying that I have very little doubt Bill has considered these scenarios and he will have a logical plan for whatever ends up panning out. But despite feeling that way, I can't help but hope for the best because no matter how much he's thought about it, he still gets put in a very awkward position in trying to decide whether or not to sign players that could definitely help in the short-term, but may not give the team the best opportunity to succeed over the next few years. It's a tough spot to be in and it could be entirely avoided if one, or preferably both, returned to contend for another championship. However unlikely that may seem.
I want to circle back to my earlier discussion of each player's draft stock compared to next year. Basically, I want to actually validate my points with some information. First off, for reference, here is Chad Ford's Top 100. Let me also say that Ford is by no means the authority, but he's just about as enthralled with potential as your typical NBA scout, so we'll use his as a benchmark.
First, the case for Darrell…
- Here's a list of the big men that have declared and are projected to go ahead of him right now:
Now, forget for a moment that he's clearly better than at least half of those guys (i.e. Randolph, Jordan, etc.) and take a moment to think about where that puts him in the pecking order.
- Now take a look at the list of big men from that list that haven't declared:
And that's it. Perhaps you could throw in a few from this year's incoming freshman class, but from what I've heard it's not exactly oozing with talent. Now, conceivably, Darrell could easily play himself ahead of a few of those guys on this year's list and move up a little. But you should also know that Chad Ford has him higher (#17) than most boards. Now consider the alternative if he were to wait. He goes into the year as a top 5, or top 10 at the worst with Blake Griffin as the only big man currently ahead of him. Furthermore, he is given a year to grow, work on his game and be a much bigger part of a team that now has the national spotlight of a national champion. Not only does that improve his stock for this draft, but it makes him more able to contribute soon and thus, improve his leverage for the much more important second contract.
Now, for man-crush Mario…
- Like with DA, here's a list of the guards in this draft currently projected ahead of him:
Darren Collison (has yet to declare, but is supposedly leaning)
Again, you may think he's better than some of those guys, but if you consider that from this point forward all they will have is workouts to evaluate, he's not all that likely to play himself up that list too far, especially considering that Foster and Ellington are the only two in between Mario (#57) and Lee (# 33).
- Now compare that to next year's list:
(It should be noted that I would think Ellington and maybe even Lawson will return and declare next year as well.)
First, remember that each of those guys will be underclassmen after next year so they won't even necessarily declare. Next, consider that you'll probably have to throw in a guard or two from the incoming class (i.e. Jennings and Evans) and that Ford has him lower than most other boards. But aside from the current high school seniors, is there a guard on that list that Mario can't outplay? I'd say no. Harden & Calathes have him on size. Jennings and Evans will have the same advantage assuming they pan out as projected and will declare. But clearly, he goes from being a borderline first round selection possibly into the top 20. And like Darrell would, he'll clearly benefit from the added national publicity as well as being even more of an offensive focal point. Lest we forget that none of these Jayhawks were even on the All Big 12 team this year. Somehow I don't see that being the case next year if they are to return.
Before I go, let me be the first to state that I realize how spoiled and delusional I sound in thinking that both of these guys could return and that Kansas somehow needs them to. I know those are strong and probably irrational feelings. But you can't deny the obvious arguments to both and that's all I'm trying to display. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, the Kansas Jayhawks are the 2008 National Champions and all is well. Rock Chalk!
P.S. It's almost getting to be embarassing for the other "experts" with how much more intelligent and logical Jay Bilas is than all of them.