Impending NBA Lockout's Effect on 2011, 2012 NBA Draft's

Sun, 04/24/2011 - 9:00pm

There is going to be an NBA lockout in 2011.

It’s not a question of if at this point, just a matter of how long it will last. As you may have learned in the past few months as you’ve been berated by an endless drudge of NFL lockout coverage when trying to catch a few hoops highlights, this doesn’t necessarily mean that games will be canceled. But there is no doubt the NBA lockout will directly affect some aspects of the NBA.

Most notably, it’s already had an impact on the 2011 Draft.

Jared SullingerJared SullingerIt’s not exactly an enticing prospect for draft hopefuls to potentially have to sit out at least a good chunk of a year while labor squabbles persist. It becomes a gamble – leave and take advantage of a weak 2011 crop of talent, but risk not playing and not getting paid, or return to school to develop more skills, be treated like a hero around campus, and actually be guaranteed games.

Three big names have apparently chosen the latter of those two options, making the initial returns on the early entry list are not promising for lottery teams. Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, and Perry Jones III all have decided to return to campus for their sophomore campaigns, diluting the 2011 Draft’s available talent. The common wisdom is that the decisions of the three were partially (if not greatly) affected by the threat of a lockout and a lost year of basketball

For a handful of players it’s clear that a lockout had no impact on their decision, as is the case with the draft’s top two prospects – Derrick Williams and Kyrie Irving. Other players, like Kansas guard Josh Selby, seem to have made their mind up that college isn’t the place for them long before factoring in a lockout. Selby exhibited almost no signs of being NBA ready in his abbreviated stay at Kansas and saw his stock plummet from projected lottery to possible 2nd rounder, yet he’ll likely be among this year’s draftees.

The threat of the lockout isn’t scaring everyone away, if fact it could actually be enticing to some players. As some sure-fire picks return for another year, a weak class gets weaker. This could also help to explain some rather puzzling early entries, like Washington’s Isaiah Thomas. Thomas would have no business leaving early in a normal year considering his 2nd round to undrafted projection. However this year’s increasing shallow talent pool might be perfect for Thomas because his biggest weakness, size (5’10”), isn’t going to change with another year of school.

Conversely, the 2012 Draft now looks increasingly loaded with top heavy talent. In addition to the three marquee names coming back (Sullinger, Barnes, and Jones), a couple of talented Lambs that play SG, UConn’s Jermey and Kentucky’s Doron (no relation), decided to return for another year of college hoops and look like potential lottery picks come 2012. These five add to an already potent crop of incoming freshman who may be one-and-dones. This group includes some strong basketball bloodlines with North Carolina forward James McAdoo (Bob’s nephew), Duke guard Austin Rivers (Doc’s son), and Kentucky PG Marquis Teague (Jeff’s brother).

But did Sullinger, Barnes, and Jones make the right decisions in terms of how returning impact their 2012 Draft stocks? Let’s break it down…

Jared Sullinger

Sullinger doesn’t have much to gain by returning to Ohio St. for his sophomore year, which makes it seem clear that the lockout was a factor in his decision. Being an undersized big man, it might have been a smarter move to strike while his stock is hot. Considering the uninspiring list of top prospects in 2010, Sullinger was a virtual lock to go top 5 after being a force during his freshman campaign. Even if he were to slightly improve his output next year in Columbus, it’s probable that he could get drafted lower simply because the other 2012 class has more talent at the top.

That’s not to say that it won’t help his basketball career, more collegate experience can help big men like Sullinger develop and hone post moves in-game that they might not be able to get away with as an NBA rookie. There’s also something to be said for proving you can win, and there’s no doubt Sullinger would like to get the bitter taste of 2010’s NCAA Tournament disappointment out of his mouth by bringing a title to Columbus. But in terms of an NBA Draft stock, the decision looks questionable unless he’s a big believer that the lockout will drag on into a good chunk of the 2011-12 NBA season.

Harrison Barnes

For the first half of last season Barnes looked like a disappointment. Saddled with the burden of being the first ever freshman to be a pre-season All-American, he struggled with his shot (including going 0-12 in a loss to Minnesota and 2-9 in a loss to Illinois) as North Carolina tried to find an identity. For a guy projected to be the #1 pick, he sure wasn’t playing like it. But then something clicked.

When Kendall Marshall took over the starting PG spot after Larry Drew II left UNC mid-season, Barnes started showing what all the hype was about. He seemed unstoppable at times down the stretch run of ACC play including a 40-point explosion against Clemson in the ACC Tournament semifinals to lead his team back from a 19-point deficit. He also showed that he’s not afraid of the big moment hitting game winning shots like his late 3-pointer to sink Florida St.

While he would’ve been a high pick this year, avoiding the draft due to a potential lockout may not be a bad move for Barnes. His shot consistency could still improve and if he is able to build on his late season play and churn out performances like that on a nightly basis, it would be hard to imagine his name not being the first called in the 2012 Draft.

Perry Jones

Out of the lottery locks that decided to stay another year, Jones has the most to gain from another year collegiate experience. While he has the size and skill set that make scouts drool, his game is incredibly unpolished. There’s a reason that his stock (which at one point had him as a #1 pick contender) took a dip as Baylor’s season progressed. He failed to consistently show a killer instinct and at times seemed lackadaisical, and despite his 6’11” frame he rarely displayed any desire to get into the paint. Part of the problem was due to Baylor not developing a team identity and Jones getting lost in the talent mix, as senior LaceDarius Dunn (the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer) was the team’s go-to guy. If Jones is able to assert himself and show dominance on a consistent basis, there’s no doubt his name will be called early in the 2012 Draft.

By coming back for another season, Jones no longer has to contend with Dunn taking touches, but he will have to deal with Quincy Miller’s arrival in Waco. Both Jones and Miller are projected Top 5 picks in 2012 and it may again be a disjointed logjam of talent that stiphles everyone involved (draft hopeful Quincy Acy is also returning next season).

Another obvious downside for Jones returning is that he’ll have to sit out the first five games due to an NCAA suspension (his mother accepted three short-term loans from his AAU coach). However, going back to school in spite of this trouble might be taken as a positive by NBA teams if they choose to view it as Jones refusing to back down from adversity.

The looming lockout may have sucked even more life out of an already bleak 2011 Draft, but you know what they say…

There’s always next year.

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