BOZICH | Who made the better call: Kentucky's Labissiere or Indiana's Bryant?
Skal Labissiere of Kentucky and Thomas Bryant of Indiana both finished their freshmen seasons. Labissiere is leaving for the NBA. Bryant is returning to IU. Who made the wiser call?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – One season of averaging less than 7 points and 4 rebounds at the University of Kentucky convinced Skal Labissiere that he should play his next basketball in the NBA.
The world cheered. Experts chirped that leaving was the right decision.
One season of averaging nearly 12 points and 6 rebounds at Indiana University convinced Thomas Bryant that he should play his next basketball in Assembly Hall.
The world cheered. Experts chirped that staying was the right decision.
Two players. Two paths. One similarity. Each made the right decision because Labissiere and Bryant own the formidable task of establishing their basketball careers.
Again, each guy made the right call for himself and his family. Make no mistake about that.
But I will say this: By staying, Bryant improved his chances to enjoy a longer, more successful and lucrative career. By leaving, Labissiere can be seen as filing a vote of no confidence in himself.
Let’s play with the numbers. DraftExpress.com still lists Labissiere as the 10th best prospect for 2016 in a mock draft the site updated Friday.
That list was posted after Labissiere showed that he could not score over Collin Hartman, Indiana’s 6-foot-7 forward, who was defending him with a broken right wrist in the NCAA Tournament. Labissiere, remember, has four inches and hops on Hartman.
If Labissiere is a Top 10 pick, then Fab Melo is the next Bill Russell. And Daniel Orton is the next Wilt Chamberlain.
You watched him play. I watched him play. You watched John Calipari cut his minutes. I watched John Calipari cut his minutes. You know he’s not a Top 10 pick. I know he’s not a Top 10 pick.
Top 20 pick?
Not if I’m drafting.
Top 30 pick?
Not if I’m drafting.
I’m not convinced he was one of the Top 30 players in the Southeastern Conference. Six of his UK teammates averaged more minutes. Labissiere made 51.6 percent of his shots. Bryant made 68.3 percent of his.
Remember Labissiere averaged 6.6 points for a Kentucky team that was starving for inside production. I checked the last four NBA Drafts. I could not find one player drafted in round one who averaged as little as 6.6 points in his final college season.
But Chad Ford of ESPN ranks him as the 15th best prospect in this draft. Sports Illustrated posted the least outrageous mock draft last week, putting Labissiere at 18.
That’s still too high for several NBA scouts I called – and for me. But I’ll indulge the Labissiere Fan Club.
According to the latest collective bargaining agreement between the league and players, initial contracts are guaranteed for two seasons followed with team options in years three and four.
The 18th pick last June was Sam Dekker of Wisconsin. He signed a deal guaranteed for $3.36 million (total) for years one and two. (Dekker, coincidentally, is finishing an empty rookie season. Stopped by a back injury, he has played in three games for the Rockets without scoring a point.)
That’s a best-case situation for Labissiere.
You’re assuming there will be a year three. Fab Melo (Syracuse) didn’t get a year three. Neither did Marquis Teague of Kentucky. Those two were taken in the second half of the 2012 draft. So was Perry Jones of Baylor. He never made it to year four. The first contract is a contract given on potential. The second contract is an earned contract.
I’ll concede some NBA team will give Labissiere his $3.36 million – and cross their fingers. Sooner or later, Labissiere will have to show he can do more than make an open 12-foot jump shot.
Bryant decided to wait, even though he outplayed Labissiere from November through March. If Labissiere will be picked 18th in June, Bryant would have gone at least 17th.
Milwaukee took guard Rashad Vaughn with the 17th pick last June. He earned about $1.7 million this season. That’s money Bryant will have to recover.
And he should.
DraftExpress projects Bryant as the eighth pick in the 2017 Draft. The eighth pick in 2015 was Detroit forward Stanley Johnson. His rookie contract was valued at $2.58 for his first season and another $3.23 million his second season.
By going 8th next season instead of 17th this season, Bryant can make $5.81 million for two years instead of $4.8 million for three seasons.
He can also get major minutes at Indiana instead of hugging an NBA bench or riding a bus in the Developmental League. He can improve his left-hand, post moves, floor game, defensive footwork and shot-blocking. He can build his name recognition on a Top 10 team.
Bryant can enjoy mature and enjoy another season of college life before learning that in the NBA the only player who will worry that Thomas Bryant or Skal Labissiere succeed will be Thomas Bryant and Skal Labissiere. He can position himself to ensure his third- and fourth-year options are exercised, guaranteeing a four-year package worth $12.85 million.
Is there an injury risk? Always.
Is there a chance Bryant’s stock slides? Sure, but unlikely considering how much he improved while working with Tom Crean, his assistants and the IU conditioning staff this season. Cody Zeller followed a similar blueprint four years ago. Worked pretty well. Jumped from a late first-round pick in 2012 to the fourth guy selected in 2013.
By staying at Indiana, Bryant is betting he can play his way into a richer contract and longer career. By leaving Kentucky, Labissiere is betting that he better take all the money that he can now because another season in college basketball will expose the considerable holes in his game.
Labissiere made the right decision. He'll get paid now. Bryant made the right decision. He'll get paid more later.
But Thomas Bryant made a wiser call.
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