At the end of the day, John Calipari’s stance on pushing guys towards the NBA Draft is entirely based around money. The idea that money is never guaranteed and coming back to college when guaranteed million are in front of you is a mistake. Now, we have heard reports that when it comes to Kevin Knox, Calipari might be attempting to get a guy to come back who could potentially be a lottery pick. It’s a refreshing change for fans of the University of Kentucky. But overall, Calipari’s stance is understandable. Guys who flamed out of the NBA like James Young and Doron Lamb might never see the NBA floor again but they still made millions. If they had returned to UK for additional years, their games might have been more exposed and they don’t make those millions. Or, worst case scenario, they get injured.
So if Kevin Knox does choose to come back to UK today, what is his financial risk?
Currently on NBADraft.net, Knox is projected as the 11th pick in the draft. Here is what that rookie contract would look like for Knox using the 2017-18 NBA Rookie Pay Scale:
2018-19: $2,904,480 (guaranteed)
2019-20: $3,447,480 (guaranteed)
2020-21: $4,028,400 (team option)
2021-22: $5,345,687 (team option)
Essentially, Knox would be guaranteed $6.3 million over his first 2 seasons in the NBA with potential team options for an additional $9.3 million for the next 2 seasons if he was drafted 11th this year. So over the 4 years, assuming the team picks up the options, that rookie contract at the 11th draft slot is worth $15.6 million.
Now, if Knox comes back, he is missing out on the $2.9 million for the 2018-19 season. So my question is how much higher would he have to be drafted to make up that money by the Knox’s 3rd season in the NBA. So basically how high would Knox have to be drafted in 2019 to make $15.6 million in his first 3 years in the NBA. Here is the contracts (using the 2017 pay scale) for each slot in the lottery for that player’s first THREE years:
1st pick: $25.1 million
2nd pick: $22.5 million
3rd pick: $20.1 million
4th pick: $18.1 million
5th pick: $16.4 million
6th pick: $15.0 million
So here is my point. As the rookie pay scale stands now, if Knox comes back, he would have to be a Top 5 draft pick in 2019 to make up the lost income for this season if he was drafted 11th. That is what we are talking about from a financial standpoint.
Now, here are a couple additional things to consider:
- The pay scale changes from year to year.
- NBA players don’t make their “real” money until the 2nd contract. So the argument for Kevin coming back is that his skills develop to a point where even if he isn’t a Top 5 pick next year, his 2nd contract would be bigger and he would make more money long term than if he goes into the draft this year.
It’s a very interesting decision. It is rare to see a lottery pick choose to come back to school in today’s climate. Of course, Knox is fringe lottery and I think all of us who watched him this season will admit he is far from a finished product. It’s hard seeing him make much of impact immediately in the NBA when he wasn’t making a consistent impact in the college game. But the talent is clearly there. He has the mid-range game and a fairly dependable jump shot. Athleticism is definitely there too. But a subpar defender and doesn’t really create his own shot off the dribble.
Knox’s decision is really a discussion of old school vs. new school. Old school people who say you come back, develop your game, leave when ready to make an NBA impact. New school people would argue that is risky and take the money when you can. My stance has always been that I don’t blame guys for going when they do. But I am not a fan of the NBA, so I selfishly hope Kevin Knox chooses to come back today and make the team I support that much better.