The deadline for early-entry candidates to declare for the NBA Draft has come and gone. On the surface, the Pac-12 landscape looks scorched.
All the elite freshmen declared, every last one of them, as did the vast majority of top sophomores and juniors.
In total, 16 early entries are in the draft, either for good or to evaluate their options.
The list includes the obvious (Arizona’s Nico Mannion, Washington’s Isaiah Stewart, USC’s Onyeka Okongwu) and the not-so-obvious (ASU’s Romello Wright, Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson and Utah’s Both Gach).
Perhaps more meaningful:
Nine of the 10 players named first-team all-conference in 2019-20 are currently in the draft.
Here’s the list:
freshman guard Josh Green, freshman guard Nico Mannion, freshman forward Zeke Nnaji
junior guard Remy Martinjunior forward Romello White
junior forward Tyler Beyjunior guard McKinley Wright
junior guard Ethan Thompson
freshman guard Tyrell Terry
junior guard Chris Smith, sophomore forward Jalen Hill
freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu
sophomore guard Both Gach
freshman forward Isaiah Stewart, freshman forward Jaden McDaniels
sophomore forward CJ Elleby
How many stay in?
Will any of the high-impact players pull out by the June 3 withdrawal deadline?
At this point, six of the 14 are viewed as likely/guaranteed first-round picks: Mannion, Green, Nnaji, Okongwu, Stewart and McDaniels.
Don’t assume the prospects pegged for the second round (or worse) will return.
That happens more often than not, but coronavirus adds a layer of uncertainty — not only to the process itself (i.e., no workouts) but to the personal calculation made by each player and his family.
From here, it seems the Pac-12’s chances for success next season are heavily dependent on the fate of three early entries: Martin, Smith and Terry.
They are the keys to 2021.
If all three come back, the Pac-12 would be positioned to thrive.
If all three remain in the draft, the conference’s outlook dims.
Smith’s return to Westwood would solidify the Bruins as the conference frontrunner. All the other key pieces are back from a team that sizzled down the stretch and projects as a near lock for the NCAAs in 2021. The missing element, as of now, is a No. 1 option. Smith would provide that.
ASU was hit hard by attrition but has been quickly rebuilt by Bobby Hurley and — if undergraduate transfers are deemed immediately eligible by the NCAA (as expected) — would possess the parts necessary to contend. Add Martin, and the Sun Devils take on the look of a Sweet 16 candidate.
Stanford’s situation is similar. The core pieces are expected back, including all-conference forward Oscar da Silva. Terry was the missing element for the Cardinal last season — the piece that made everything whole. If he returns, Stanford jumps to the top tier of contenders.
Every team would benefit from the return of its early-entry candidate(s). Elleby would lift Washington State. Same with Gach at Utah and, of course, Bey and Wright at Colorado.
But where solid returning rosters and likely second-round picks intersect, we see Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA.
Martin, Terry and Smith would make good teams better — they would strengthen the top, not the middle, of the conference.
That’s the missing piece, after all.
The Pac-12’s uptick last season was fueled by a stronger bottom and wider middle: Nobody stunk, and there were a plethora of bubble teams.
But the top remained light.
That’s the next step in the recovery.
Based on the shape of the rosters at this point in the offseason cycle, UCLA, Arizona State and Stanford are central players in the attempt to elevate the top tier.
That makes Smith, Martin and Terry the highest of priorities over the next six weeks.
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