By Michael Bennett
Kansas’s Frank Mason III won college basketball’s player of the year honors last year. Josh Hart was a finalist, a season after leading Villanova to a national championship.
For their accomplishments, their reward at tomorrow night’s NBA draft will likely be the second round.
In the days leading up to the draft, the Celtics traded the No. 1 pick to the 76ers. More shuffling could ensue with a bevy of stars potentially on the move in exchange for one or more of the top selections.
But don’t expect Mason and Hart to be a big part of the draft-night conversation. They are afflicted with professional basketball’s equivalent of a scarlet letter: They’re both entering the draft after their senior years in college. And they’re part of a class that may get completely ignored during the entire first round.
This year, just one, Colorado guard Derrick White projects to land in the first round, according to DraftExpress.com.
“There’s maybe a little bit of a misconception that the older you are the less value you have,” said Tad Boyle, White’s coach at Colorado. “There are outliers there. There are undervalued assets.”
Instead, DraftExpress projects every one of the top-10 picks being used on freshmen, which if that actually happens would be the first time ever. The appeal to these younger players is simple. Their bodies can develop even more. Teams see more potential. With the older guys, by contrast, the perception is that what you see is what you get and that their ceilings are therefore lower.
What makes this so confounding is that it ignores one of the biggest lessons from recent drafts. In past seasons, seniors have routinely made general managers who ignored them earlier in the draft feel stupid for just doing that.
There is a Malcolm Brogdon in almost every draft. Jimmy Butler lasted until pick No. 30 in 2011, with Draymond Green waiting five picks longer than that in 2012. Others such as Jeremy Lin or Robert Covington went completely undrafted and turned out better than most players in their classes.
“Each year, we see examples,” Seth Greenberg, an ESPN analyst and former college coach, explained to the Wall Street Journal. “You’d think the more examples we see, people would say, ‘Wait a second.’ But we don’t see it a lot because people get so caught up in potential.”