LEXINGTON, Ky. — Some might say Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt has an easy NBA draft decision. Some would be wrong.
“He’s in a little bit of a different situation, because you’ve got to think he’s had these injuries and nobody really knows when the next one is going to be,” ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony told SEC Country. “So do you try to cash in on whatever you can cash in on now as opposed to what if [you return to school and] disaster strikes? It’s a very difficult position that he’s in, and it’s hard for someone like me to comment on what he should do, because it’s not my foot, you know?
“That’s such a unique situation, and I could see it going either way, honestly.”
Vanderbilt, a 6-foot-9 former McDonald’s All-American who was one of the most dominant rebounders in the country while healthy last season, hasn’t been healthy very often the last few years. Since high school, he has significantly injured his left foot three times and has been sidelined after rolling both ankles. He missed 23 of 37 games with the Wildcats because of two of those injuries.
So his body of work is small, his medical history a red flag and his shooting ability very much in question after he shot just 42.6 percent from the field — mostly at point-blank range — and 63.2 percent at the free-throw line during a truncated college debut. Givony’s latest two-round NBA mock draft does not have him being selected at all; ESPN ranks Vanderbilt the 63rd-best prospect in a 60-player draft.
He has been invited to the NBA combine this week in Chicago, but it’s unclear whether he’s healthy enough to participate in any of the physical testing or 5-on-5 scrimmaging to improve his standing in the eyes of scouts and general managers. Vanderbilt’s father, who previously said he would prefer to see a first-round grade for his son to leave Kentucky, did not return phone calls or text messages Tuesday.
“It’s all about the physical for him,” Givony said, which could be one reason why sources tell SEC Country that Vanderbilt might actually skip the combine altogether.
And still, this isn’t necessarily a simple decision for him — even if he suspects he won’t be drafted. Before last season, NBA rosters expanded from 15 to 17 players, with the addition of two spots for players with two-way contracts. Those players spend most of the season in the NBA G League and 45 days or less with the actual NBA team, with the potential to earn around $275,000 for the year.
Several undrafted players, including former LSU star Antonio Blakeney, have signed two-way deals. Vanderbilt, who averaged 5.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in just 17.0 minutes per game at Kentucky (he snagged a staggering 18.5 boards per 40 minutes) would almost certainly get one of those.
“There’s not a lot of difference between those guys and guys who were picked in the 50s last year and got two-way contracts,” Givony said. “What does it matter if you’re the 61st pick [the odd man out in a 60-player draft] and you got a two-way deal or you’re the 55th pick and got a two-way deal? At least if you’re undrafted, you get to negotiate with all 30 teams. So there really isn’t this cut-off that there used to be that, ‘You gotta get picked here or you go back to school.’
“So all these guys just need to prioritize what they prioritize and it’s not really my position to tell anybody what to do.”
That said, Givony has Vanderbilt going 33rd overall — mighty close to the end of the first round — if he sticks around another year and enters the 2019 NBA Draft. Either way, we’ll know his decision soon enough, as players only have until May 30 to decide whether they’re staying in or pulling out of the draft.
ESPN’S 2019 NBA Mock Draft, Kentucky players
12. Keldon Johnson (incoming freshman)
18. P.J. Washington (freshman testing 2018 waters)
33. Jarred Vanderbilt (freshman testing 2018 waters)