NCAA Basketball: Eight most impactful NBA Draft decisions

These eight NBA Draft decisions will have the biggest impact on the upcoming NCAA basketball season.

The second wave of the NBA Draft process tips off on Monday with the start of both the NBA Combine and G League Elite Camp, setting the stage for the crucial inflection point for several NCAA basketball programs.

Since the early entry deadline on April 24, players who entered the 2022 draft pool have been receiving feedback from teams. Most college basketball teams have a strong indication of who is returning to school for another year and who is staying in the draft, but that feedback can sway a handful of decisions.

Michigan’s Caleb Houstan and Iowa’s Kris Murray both turned down combine invitations, though reportedly for different reasons. It’s rumored that Murray is set to head back to Iowa, though he is working out for teams for the rest of the month.

Houstan’s decision to buck the combine, meanwhile, has fueled speculation that he might have already received a draft promise from a team.

Both players are thought to be in the borderline late first round/early second round range when it comes to their draft stock, which is typically where the toughest draft decisions are made. First round picks have fully guaranteed contracts; second round picks do not.

Of course, new money entering college basketball from the NIL space complicates these decisions even more.

These decisions will obviously have a major impact on the upcoming NCAA basketball season, too, if some of the sport’s top talent chooses to return. Assuming Houstan and Murray have made their respective rumored decisions, here are the eight most impactful decisions remaining:

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Drew Timme, Gonzaga

Speaking of NIL money, let’s start with one of the first kings of the NIL era in Timme.

The star Gonzaga big man has been dominant in his two full seasons as a starter in Spokane, being named a consensus All-American while leading Gonzaga to the NCAA Tournament’s top seed both times. He has won WCC titles and played for a national championship — winning a title is the only thing left on his college resume.

Typically, players without much to prove like him would clearly move on to a professional career in the NBA. But here’s where Timme’s conundrum comes into play because he’s not a borderline first round pick.

In fact, there’s a solid chance he goes undrafted. He’ll likely be a mid-second round pick at best.

That’s not a knock on Timme as a player, either. The 6-10, 235-pounder is simply a true post player in an era where the NBA strongly devalues that skillset. It’s one reason why we’ve seen the likes of Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and UNC’s Armando Bacot return to school after stellar campaigns.

The other reason, of course, is the NIL money they can now earn playing college basketball. Timme is already doing well in this space having partnered with several brands in the Spokane area and national brands like Dollar Shave Club and Boost Mobile. It’s not a surprise given that he is one of the sport’s most recognizable stars, and that money would only increase.

Is that enough to entice him to return to Gonzaga for his senior season? Or is he simply ready for the next step in his life?

A return likely makes the Bulldogs a preseason top 10 team and keeps them in the national championship conversation. If he leaves, Mark Few’s squad will be in for a re-loading year.

David Roddy, Colorado State

Roddy is the borderline first rounder whose decision is the most interesting to me.

If the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year returns, Colorado State will be a preseason top 25 team looking to build on a successful 2021-22 campaign that earned the Rams a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A Heat Check CBB All-American last year, Roddy would likely be a consensus preseason selection.

NBA teams like him for the same reasons he dominates the college game: Roddy is a versatile offensive option who can shoot the three (43.8 percent), be a playmaker (2.9 assists per game) and dominate down low (7.5 rebounds per game). He did it all efficiently, too, ranking among the nation’s best in PER (30.3) and offensive box plus/minus (8.7).

Defensively, his combination of strength and quickness at 6-5 and 252 pounds allows him to guard all five positions.

That unique ability is his biggest selling point at the professional level. However, it’s also his biggest detriment simply because there isn’t an accurate player comp for him in the NBA.

Some NBA personnel I’ve talked to are convinced he could go in the first round. Others think it’s more likely he’ll end up being taken in the second round and given a partially guaranteed deal.

Roddy was planning to return to school when he entered the draft but it’s now a 50/50 proposition. His decision will determine if Colorado State will be a good team or a potentially special one in 2022-23.

Dalen Terry, Arizona

Arizona was perhaps the biggest surprise of last season given its success under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd, and that success has naturally led to the departure of the team’s most important players in Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko. Both are staying in the NBA Draft, which makes Terry’s draft decision even more crucial.

His statistics don’t pop out (8.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.9 apg), but Terry’s tape and athleticism catch the eye. He looks like a prototypical NBA player as an athletic 6-7 combo guard and was the only Arizona player aside from those mentioned above that who flashed the ability to be a go-to guy.

Terry scored at least 12 points in four of Arizona’s final five games, including a stellar 15-point, 7-rebound, 7-assist showing in the Pac-12 Tournament title game against UCLA in which he showcased the versatility NBA teams adore.

Terry oozes potential right now and NBA teams know it. However, he’s still projected to be a borderline prospect.

Does he leave now and try developing in the NBA, or does he return to Arizona and try to improve his stock as the unquestioned go-to guy for the Wildcats?

Arizona is hoping for the latter, as that will have Lloyd’s squad thinking Final Four again.

Patrick Baldwin Jr., Uncommitted

Looking for the wild card in both the NBA Draft and in the transfer portal? Baldwin is your guy.

The 6-9, 220-pound forward was a top-10 prospect in the 2021 recruiting class and committed to Milwaukee over Duke, choosing to play for his father, Pat. His freshman season did not go as anyone intended, however.

Baldwin played in just 11 games due to an ankle injury and wasn’t productive when he was on the court, averaging 12.1 points per game on just 34.4 percent shooting — including 26.6 percent shooting from three. He did have flashes of dominance early, posting back-to-back double-doubles to start the season and a 26-point showing against Robert Morris, before the injury really started hampering him.

Milwaukee went 10-22 on the year and fired Pat Baldwin as head coach, so Patrick made himself available to both the NBA and other college teams.

His draft stock took a definite hit — he’s now one of those borderline prospects — but some NBA teams I’ve talked to that have watched him since high school view him as one of the biggest steals in the draft.

Do enough teams feel that way? Early indications are that he will keep his name in the draft, but Baldwin’s testing numbers and play at the Combine will help answer that question. He undoubtedly stays in the pool with a good showing in Chicago.

If the doesn’t receive positive feedback, however, he will return to school as one of the very best players in the portal. UNC has been heavily linked to him.

Justin Lewis, Marquette

Lewis had a breakout campaign under new Marquette head coach Shaka Smart, averaging 16.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He scored at least 15 points in each of the season’s first seven games, then emerged as perhaps the best player in the Big East from the middle of January to the middle of February.

The Golden Eagles went 7-1 from Jan. 4 through Feb. 2 and beat both Providence and Villanova twice during that stretch. Lewis was the driving force behind that run, hitting the game-winner to beat Villanova on the road and scoring a career-high 33 points against Seton Hall.

Both Lewis and Marquette fell off after that stretch, though. The 6-7, 235-pounder saw his efficiency dip as the Golden Eagles went 3-6 to close out the season. A 2-for-15 shooting performance against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament ultimately capped his All-Big East year.

Lewis showed NBA teams a lot of potential. He has tremendous size and strength for a wing player, showed he can defend inside and out, and has a quality 3-point shot with a high release.

Consistency is the only thing escaping him right now and is his biggest question mark as a prospect. He’s looking at an early second-round grade right now because of his inconsistent production.

Should he come back and try to improve his stock, Lewis would likely be preseason Big East Player of the Year and contend for an All-American spot. If he leaves, Marquette might be looking at the kind of rebuilding year we thought the program was in for last season.

Max Christie, Michigan State

Christie is another one of these guys where, just looking at the stat sheet (9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 apg), he wouldn’t appear to be an obvious NBA prospect. But that’s where a quality high school career (top 20 prospect in the 2021 class) and solid measurables (6-6 combo guard) have Christie projected right now.

He does check a lot of the boxes from a skill standpoint. Christie has shown the ability to be a quality shooter who can create for himself off the dribble, is quick and athletic enough to be effective attacking the rim, can play with or without the ball and has the length to defend anywhere on the perimeter. He showed flashes of all of those things during his freshman season in East Lansing.

Those flashes, coupled with his physical tools, have NBA teams looking at him as a borderline first round prospect. The problem, though, is he only showed flashes — he was never able to really put it all together.

Michigan State is certainly hoping he comes back to school and tries to put it together as their go-to guy. If he does, Sparty is a tournament team that can challenge in the Big Ten. Without him, I don’t know if Michigan State sniffs the top 25 next season.

Jaylin Williams, Arkansas

Williams is not going to be a first round pick in all likelihood, but his inclusion on this list is warranted because of what he means to Arkansas defensively.

The 6-10, 245-pounder famously led the SEC in charges taken this past season and was an all-conference selection because of his impact on that end. He also had 16 double-doubles, all of which came in the team’s final 23 games of the season. Williams clearly emerged as their second-best player behind JD Notae, who has said he’s staying in the NBA Draft.

So, if he’s not going to be a first round pick, why is there a chance Williams stays in the draft? Well, he does a lot of things that NBA teams love.

Along with his defensive prowess, Williams is a very good passer (2.6 assists per game) and is a quality athlete, making him a threat as a lob catcher in pick-and-roll situations. He’s not a great shooter, but everything else he does all but ensures he would be selected in June’s draft and have a chance to stick on a roster.

Arkansas seems to be preparing in case he does leave, with head coach Eric Musselman bringing in multiple frontcourt transfers, but there’s no doubt Williams would take the Razorbacks to another level. His playstyle compliments that of Arkansas’ star-studded incoming recruiting class, too, so if this team is going to meet their lofty preseason expectations, Williams’ return would give the Razorbacks the best chance to do that.

Trevor Keels, Duke

Like Arkansas, Duke is going to be fine if Keels opts to stay in the draft as a borderline first round pick. New head coach Jon Scheyer has the nation’s top incoming recruiting class and a few quality returners headlined by Jeremy Roach.

Depth and experience remain issues, though, both of which would improve greatly with Keels’ return. He’d also bring back his elite perimeter defense and have a chance to be one of the nation’s best players on that end.

Offensively, Keels is a bit of a mixed bag. He isn’t a great shooter (31.2 percent from three) but routinely hit big shots in clutch moments for the Blue Devils. The 6-4, 221-pounder also showed he can dominate when he’s on — he scored 25 points against Kentucky, 27 against Pitt, and had 25 points with 11 rebounds against Clemson — but was inconsistent.

Just like with Lewis and Christie, part of the reason Keels would come back would be to show that consistency and improve his draft stock in the process.

Duke will be ranked highly with or without Keels. With him, though, Scheyer would have a much better chance to lead the Blue Devils back to the Final Four.