LEXINGTON, Ky. — Four Kentucky underclassmen declared for the 2017 NBA Draft this week, but only one left the door open for a return to the Wildcats next season. Freshman forward Bam Adebayo has not hired an agent, and unless he does, the 6-foot-10 star can still pull out of the draft until May 24.
But as a projected first-round pick, is there any reason to believe Adebayo will change his mind? Maybe a few million reasons, as it turns out.
“If he were back in school, I think he would be a projected top-10 pick for next season,” ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford said. Another year of college ball would allow Adebayo to prove he can be a consistent rebounder and improve his offensive skills, “and look, if he really shines that way, there’s no reason he couldn’t be a top-five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.”
Right now, Ford figures Adebayo’s range would be somewhere between the 17th and 25th overall pick in this year’s draft. The 25th pick in 2016 got $2.6 million guaranteed on a five-year, $10.1 million contract, while the No. 5 pick got $7.9 million guaranteed on a $24.6 million contract.
“It just depends on what he wants,” Ford said. “If he’s comfortable with (possibly going late first round), that’s a lot of money, and it’s a great opportunity to go play in the NBA. But next year’s draft is not as strong — once you get to picks six, seven, it starts to drop off — and Bam could be right there. He would have the ability to show two things: one, that consistent rebounding all year, and two, we’d like to see a little bit more of his face-the-basket and perimeter game.
“So what does he want? How anxious is he to get the money? How risk-averse is he? Because as you know, it can go the other way — a player can get hurt, come back and not have a good season — but I certainly see a strong reason why Bam returning for his sophomore year could really help his draft stock.”
Two months ago, Ford was even more adamant that Adebayo should come back to college. Back then, despite being a freakish athlete with a Dwight Howard-like body, he was averaging just 6.9 rebounds through 25 games at Kentucky. Ford wondered if he might slide out of the first round altogether.
That changed, though, when Adebayo averaged a double-double — 13.2 points, 10.1 rebounds — over his final 13 games.
“It sounds like the NBA talk did get to him a little bit, some of the feedback did get to him,” Ford said. “He wants to be an NBA player, wants to take care of his mom, so he picked up. I will tell you for NBA teams, that’s not the world’s greatest motivation to start playing hard. Because players are guaranteed contracts, and once they get those, what’s the motivation then?
“Teams want it to be love of the game, to be the best player possible, to help my team win games, and not because I want to buy my mom a nice house.”
That said, Kentucky coach John Calipari repeatedly referred to Adebayo as the hardest worker on the team this season — even before his game took flight. The Cats’ staff (and Adebayo) attributed his late-season surge to improved diet and conditioning and a better understanding of how to play without fouling (or around foul trouble).
Now Calipari and Co. wait to see if Adebayo hears what he wants from NBA teams or if he heeds Ford’s prediction that an even bigger payday awaits him a year from now. Should he stay in Lexington to lead the best incoming class of freshmen in the country, Kentucky might begin next season ranked No. 1.
Other topics of note discussed with ESPN’s Chad Ford on our latest Wildcats podcast:
- How much did De’Aaron Fox improve his draft stock with a dominant finish to his freshman season at Kentucky, especially that 39-point outburst against Lonzo Ball and UCLA?
- Did Malik Monk hurt his draft stock at all with an underwhelming (by his very high standards) final few games? Is he the best shooting guard available in 2017?
- What was Isaiah Briscoe thinking? How much hope (if any) does he have of being drafted? What NBA skill does he possess?
- Looking to the future, if Kentucky lands 5-star big man Mohamed Bamba, a projected top-5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, just how good a player are the Cats getting?