Ready for the NBA or not, University of Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere is likely due for a big payday if he makes the jump to the professional ranks this year.
Labissiere — the 6-foot-11 post player from Haiti who underwhelmed in his first season at Kentucky — is projected by DraftExpress.com as a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
Many have questioned how Labissiere, who averaged just 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds this season, can even be thinking about turning pro, but NBA teams remain intrigued by his unique skill set and DraftExpress analyst Jonathan Givony expects the gregarious 20-year-old to do well in the pre-draft process.
There’s also the matter of money.
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Givony told the Herald-Leader on Monday that he expects Labissiere to be drafted in the 8-15 range, with a current projection of No. 10 overall.
Some UK fans — and the always opinionated Charles Barkley — are adamant that he needs another season of college basketball, but Labissiere would be passing up millions of dollars to stay in school.
Not all situations in the NBA are alike. Sometimes a really polished player will come to a really good team and not have a spot. And sometimes a guy who’s 19 years old will come to a really bad team that’s desperate to develop him, so they will be able to play a lot.
Jonathan Givony, DraftExpress.com analyst
The player chosen with the No. 10 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft will receive a contract worth more than $4.3 million over the first two seasons. A team option for a third season, which Labissiere would be likely to receive, is worth another $2.33 million.
The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement also allows teams to sign rookies for up to 120 percent of the salary specified in the rookie scale, and that’s a common practice for high draft picks. That means — using the example that Labissiere goes No. 10 — he would stand to make more than $8 million over the first three years of his contract, even if he’s playing a good chunk of that time in the NBA’s developmental league.
Labissiere could return to school and try to improve his stock — the No. 5 pick in next year’s draft could make as much as $12.5 million over his first three seasons, for instance — but another lackluster year in college could see that stock plummet. And there’s always the chance of injury.
The UK freshman might not be ready for the NBA, but Givony said Monday that a start in the D-League wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Depending on which team selects him, he might even get a chance at the highest level.
“Not all situations in the NBA are alike,” Givony said. “Sometimes a really polished player will come to a really good team and not have a spot. And sometimes a guy who’s 19 years old will come to a really bad team that’s desperate to develop him, so they will be able to play a lot.”
Givony was blunt when asked about the current NBA Draft stock of UK forward Marcus Lee on Monday, saying there was nothing to talk about after Lee’s disappointing junior season.
DraftExpress.com, which projected him as a second-round pick for most of the season, no longer has him among its Top 100 prospects for the 2016 draft.
Givony said NBA teams want to see Lee develop his body more, pointing out that he gained just 4 pounds between UK’s pro day combines in 2014 and 2015.
“That’s not an indication of a guy who’s working on his body,” he said. “If he’s serious about playing in the NBA, he’s going to have to go in and show it. It doesn’t just come because you were a McDonald’s All-American. You have to actually improve.”
In an interview with the Herald-Leader last month, Givony predicted “madness” and “chaos” to coincide with the new rule that allows college players to enter the NBA Draft and return to school without penalty.
The DraftExpress.com analyst stuck to that view Monday.
“I think a lot of walk-ons are going to declare for the draft,” he said. “I really do.”
Givony pointed out that college players have “nothing to lose” by putting their names in the draft in hopes of landing meetings and/or workouts with NBA teams. Players are allowed to do just that starting this year, though they must remove their names from draft consideration by May 25 if they want to retain college eligibility.
So UK fans shouldn’t be surprised if players who aren’t even on the NBA Draft radar — such as Derek Willis, Charles Matthews and Dominique Hawkins — throw their names in the pool. Givony said he wouldn’t be surprised if there are 1,000 players on the early entry list.
“I anticipate everybody entering this year’s draft,” Givony said. “If you can get one workout from one team, you get to see what that process is like. You get a little bit of feedback from an NBA coaching staff. Why not, you know?”
The draft analyst added that NBA teams might not want to play that game. Pro teams are under no obligation to meet with early-entry candidates, and it’s unclear how this experiment will go in Year 1.
“I think some of these teams, for the most part, are going to kind of tune out until May 25 and say, ‘Hey, it’s not our job to give you guys feedback and give you guys workouts. We’re not wasting our time.’ Especially teams that are in the playoffs,” Givony said.
“I don’t know. We’ll see how this plays out.”
Looking (further) ahead
In addition to a new 2016 mock draft, DraftExpress.com updated its early mock draft for 2017 on Monday.
It predicts another flurry of one-and-done declarations to follow UK’s 2016-17 season.
Class of 2016 signees De’Aaron Fox (No. 4 overall), Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (No. 10) and Malik Monk (No. 16) are all considered NBA Draft picks after their freshman seasons at Kentucky.
Current UK freshman Isaiah Briscoe is projected as the No. 43 overall pick in next year’s draft.
DraftExpress.com predicts Duke will have the top two overall picks next year — Jayson Tatum at No. 1 and Harry Giles at No. 2. Both are currently seniors in high school. Another high school senior, Josh Jackson, is projected as the No. 3 overall pick. He’s narrowed his list to Arizona, Kansas and Michigan State.
Other potential one-and-dones in next year’s draft include North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. (No. 6), Washington’s Markelle Fultz (No. 7), Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac (No. 14) and uncommitted five-star recruit Thon Maker (No. 28).