TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In the end, there really wasn’t much of a decision for University of Alabama men’s basketball player Braxton Key to make.
He declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft, tested the waters as they like to say, and found them cool — so far. Like the rest of the Crimson Tide, Key will report to campus over the Memorial Day holiday weekend and start working toward the 2017-18 season.
No harm, no foul, right? One would like to think so, especially since Avery Johnson would like nothing more than to start cranking out NBA players, whether they’re one-and-done or go the full four years, five with a redshirt or transfer. While the head coach is only entering his third season with the Crimson Tide, the program hasn’t had a draft selection since forward Richard Hendrix in 2008.
Alabama’s only active player in the NBA is forward JaMychal Green of the Memphis Grizzlies, and he had to take the long way, though the D-League and France.
It’ll be interesting to hear from Key on what he learned going through this process, but one thing is clear, he had nothing to lose by doing so.
Thanks to a rule change made by the NCAA last year, Key had until 10 days after the end of the NBA Draft Combine to remove his name from consideration and maintain his collegiate eligibility (as long as he didn’t sign with an agent).
Key was eligible to be invited to the combine (he was not), and go through one team workout. It ended up being with the Boston Celtics.
Moreover, there’s no limit to how many times Key can do this. He could conditionally declare himself eligible again next year, and the year after that.
That might be exactly what happens, because while Key is a good player, all indications were that he wasn’t going to be selected.
— Alabama M Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) May 23, 2017
Consider what he was up against:
Overall, 182 players, composed of 137 from colleges and 45 from abroad, filed the necessary paperwork with the NBA for early entry.
Last year, 110 players did so, but 58 chose to return to school. In the 2016 draft, 15 players who had used up their eligibility were selected.
The recent NBA Combine in Chicago featured 67 players, not including Washington’s Markelle Fultz, who attended to meet with teams and then left early. Another 10 were invited, but declined either because they’re in the middle of a season abroad, or they’re already protected to be a top pick and really didn’t have anything to gain, like UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kentucky’s Malik Monk.
There’s only 60 picks in the NBA Draft, which will be held June 22.
While there was a secondary concern among Crimson Tide fans that Key could look for a quick payday and head to Europe, those leagues aren’t known for developing players. Pus, Key is 20 years old. It’s one thing to go from Virginia to Alabama to play college ball. It’s quite another to go across an ocean to where there’s not much of a support system in place.
So there was nearly no buzz, either locally or on the NBA level, when the versatile 6-foot-8 small forward declared himself eligible.
“Braxton is a player who didn’t have any glaring weaknesses, but he doesn’t necessarily excel in any one area,” said Jerry Meyer, Director of Basketball Scouting for 247Sports. “That’s kind of a tough spot in today’s game and making the jump to the NBA. It’s more of a niche, specialist league unless you’re a star.
“We’ve seen a lot of players who are similar to Braxton, throughout the years, who end up being great college players, which it looks like Braxton is going to be. He had a tremendous freshman year, and I expect him to get better. But sometimes with guys like him it’s tough to make that jump to the league because they don’t necessarily have that specialty.”
Last season, Key led the Crimson Tide in scoring (12.0 points) and minutes (29.8), was second in assists (2.5) and rebounds (5.7), and third in blocks (21). He was good enough to land a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team with seemingly half of the Kentucky Wildcats, only his team went 19-15, 10-8 in SEC play and bowed out of the first round of the NIT.
The real numbers that jump out about Key regarding the draft were from his shooting. His field-goal percentage was 43.3, to go with 33.0 from 3-point range. Those need to come up.
“I think the first thing is just shooting, from all levels,” said Evan Daniels, the Director of Basketball Recruiting at Scout.com and the College Basketball Insider for Fox Sports. “Obviously, in the NBA the line moves further back. You have to be able to make shots.
“The NBA is a scoring league.”
While the majority of collegiate players improve the most between their first and second seasons, Key needs to prove that he can get it done defensively against NBA-type talents, show that he can be clutch during big games, lead his team into the NCAA Tournament and, maybe most important, be more consistent with his shooting.
“I think the key area is proving that he can reliable as a 3-point shooter, and be a player who the NBA needs these days,” Meyer said. “It’s about spreading the court. Not many players are playing inside the arc.”
— braxton key (@btwice_11) May 23, 2017
There’s no magic number that Key needs to hit from beyond the arc, especially with the different distance, but the Crimson Tide should be better.
With guards Collin Sexton and John Petty topping what’s being widely called the best recruiting class in program history, and big man Daniel Giddens eligible after transferring in last year, Alabama has both talent and depth on the roster. The expectation is a preseason Top 25 ranking, and then more.
Should those things happen, Key could have a much tougher decision at some point down the road.