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Can Returning to School Really Hurt a Player’s Draft Stock?

Never gets old. (from

Never gets old. (from

Never gets old. (from

An argument often made in defense of highly-projected players who decide to go “one-and-done” is that they run the risk of decreasing their draft stocks by returning to college. Injuries, fluctuating talent, and a larger sample size to critique one’s game are all concerns that a player must consider when deciding to forego the draft. What follows is a list of all of the projected lottery picks (that I could find) who chose to return to school in the past five years. I compared their projections* with where they were actually drafted (or projected to be drafted this season) in an attempt to determine how often these players’ draft stocks are hurt when they decide to come back to college.

Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)

2013 Draft Projection: Lottery – Mid First Round
2014 Draft Projection: Lottery – Mid First Round

Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)

2013 Draft Projection: Lottery
2014 Draft Projection: Lottery

Isaiah Austin (Baylor)

2013 Draft Projection: Lottery – Mid First
2014 Draft Projection: Mid-First Round

Cody Zeller (Indiana)

2012 Draft Projection: Lottery
2013 Draft: 4th Pick, 1st Round

Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)

2011 Projection: Top Five
2012 Draft: 21st Pick, 1st Round

Perry Jones (Baylor)

2011 Projection: Top Five – Lottery
2012 Draft: 28th Pick, 1st Round

Terrence Jones (Kentucky)

2011 Projection: Lottery
2012 Draft: 18th Pick, 1st Round

Harrison Barnes (North Carolina)

2011 Projection: Lottery
2012 Draft: 7th Pick, 1st Round

John Henson (North Carolina)

2011 Projection: Lottery – Mid First
2012 Draft: 14th Pick, 1st Round

Greg Monroe (Georgetown)

2009 Projection: Top Five
2010 Draft: 7th Pick, 1st Round

Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest)

2009 Projection: Lottery
2010 Draft: 8th Pick, 1st Round

Cole Aldrich (Kansas)

2009 Projection: Lottery
2010 Draft: 11th Pick, 1st round

Patrick Patterson (Kentucky)

2009 Projection: Lottery – Mid-First
2010 Draft: 14th Pick, 1st Round

Players whose stocks were HURT: Isaiah Austin, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, Terrence Jones, Greg Monroe
Players whose stocks were HELPED: Cody Zeller
Players who weren’t really affected: Cauley-Stein, Marcus Smart, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Cole Aldrich, Patrick Patterson

What did we learn? Most of the projected lottery picks who came back didn’t see much of a change in their draft stocks. Even three of the players who were “hurt” (Terrence Jones, Isaiah Austin, and Greg Monroe) didn’t fall significantly; they could have gone in the same spot had they chosen to enter early due to random decisions by the teams. The only player who worked his way up from the lottery to the top five is Cody Zeller, but that was partly due to the Bobcats being the Bobcats.

On the other hand, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger were hurt significantly by their decisions to forego the draft. Injuries played a role in both of these player’s falls, but they almost certainly would have been drafted higher had they entered a year earlier. In the end, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from five year’s worth of data. And obviously, projections aren’t a surefire indicator of where a player will go in the draft. But the falls of Jones and Sullinger (along with the relative lack of change among the other prospects) provides at least a little ammo for those who are pro early-entry.

*I used Bleacher Report’s mock drafts from March of each year to get a projection. Instead of listing the exact pick from Bleacher Report, I used a range to get a more general idea of each player’s draft stock. Follow the links for the mock drafts.

Article written by Caleb Epley

Vanderbilt student, Kentucky fan. Skilled at using big words and telling bad jokes. Twitter: @CalebEpleyKSR

31 Comments for Can Returning to School Really Hurt a Player’s Draft Stock?

  1. Homeslice
    9:05 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    Aminu went to Wake Forest.

    • Caleb Epley
      9:14 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

      Crap. Good catch.

  2. rainman
    9:05 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    One could argue, Sullinger was very over rated to begin with, and I’m not
    as familiar with Jones to make that statement, but I would suspect it of him as well!

    Each case is different! IMO!

  3. Jay
    9:08 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    The obvious problem with your research- you started with only those players who were projected lottery or better after their first year. Those players have pretty much nowhere to go but down. If you’d included players who were projected late first round or second round and then came back, I bet your conclusions would look quite different.

    • Megan
      1:14 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      Indeed. Good point. The considerations are not the same for those who are lottery-type players and those who are projected to go later, if at all, in the first round.

      And Bleacher Report? Really?

  4. Naw Son
    9:16 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    The problem with this analysis is you are comparing actual vs. projection. Some of these guys may have projected to go higher the year before, but that doesn’t mean that’s actually what would have happened. Every year there are guys who are thought of a locks to go at a certain position who fall significantly on draft day.

  5. Jake
    9:30 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    What about Kyle Singler at Duke? How far did he drop?

  6. BoomKentucky
    9:45 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    The projections are also before they get to the combine and see how they measure up to others.

  7. lonnieb
    9:46 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    Its really simple
    Lottery or better= no thought process. Go pro
    No lottery pick actually helped himself by coming back…also things happen. Marcus smart really made a bad decision. He will lose probably at least 3-5 spots in draft witch probably equals about a mil on 1st contract. He also gave everyone time to realize he may be an idiot.
    The type players its critical for is the twins…Andrew specifically.
    He can legitimately add 15 spots to his status coming back. The players projected late first round early can improve themselves.

    • Megan
      1:16 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      After Marcus makes more money than you can ever dream of, tell him again what a bad decision he made. Do you hear how silly you sound?

  8. JackB
    9:46 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    Smart was going to be the first or second pick. He dropped. Macadoo of UNC has also dropped every year until this year. His not coming out as one and done hurt his stock. It doesn’t always hurt but it has often enough to make it dumb to come back if your lottery or close to lottery.

  9. lonnieb
    9:52 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    Plus as stupid as this sounds…..a crazy run by a player in the ncaa tourney weighs heavily. It makes no sense but it happens almost every year. I was on a forum the other day and some dummy said he would take shabazz napier over wiggins. For some reasons even in GM/owners mind an electric run for a player in tourney can really help.
    Even the twins for example. If we lose to witchita state we are not even having conversations about the twins coming back…..or I least I dont think. Hell what do i know

    • Megan
      1:18 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      Okay, I’m beginning to think you’re new at this. It is widely acknowledged that the “tournament bump” is a short-lived phenomena that becomes a non-factor by draft day.

  10. Beezer
    10:02 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    The 2013 mock draft was a joke. Those projections were terrible and not reflective of the majority of mocks at that time. Someone needs to start screen shorting the mocks for drFt express and to see the actual stock of some of these guys and where they actually go.

  11. hal
    10:38 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    joakim noah was top 3-5 maybe overall 1 and then stayed to win another title & dropped to 9th. who was projecting harrison barnes outside of top 3-5 out of high school & even into his FR yr???

    • hal
      10:44 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

      and ed davis was considered top 5 pick after FR yr at UNC & then came back, broke his wrist & picked 13th.

    • Megan
      1:19 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      Not because of his broken wrist, hal. Be real.

    • hal
      1:50 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      be real about what???? i remember thinking his stock dropped & saw he broke his wrist on wikipedia.& mentioned it bc it sounded like i should when talking about davis’ draft stock. maybe take a day off from the posting & try not being so combative???

  12. Corey
    10:45 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    Just wanted to say I love this picture of Jorts cramming Jared Sullinger….good times..

    • Megan
      1:21 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      Was that the same game he threw the ball really hard into Jared’s chest to save possession on the baseline? Good times indeed.

    • Corey
      6:12 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      Yes, that was the same game Megan….

  13. Boone
    11:25 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    Love your songs on YouTube

  14. dr uk
    11:36 pm April 19, 2014 Permalink

    The issue is what they ended up doing in their first year in the league. One could argue that the extra year helped them bulk up and be more physical. Thus, more playing time and increased bonus money.

    • Megan
      1:38 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      The issue might be whether staying one more year to develop physically and emotionally increased their chances of landing that second contract. You know, the big one. The goal isn’t simply to get drafted, though a few million isn’t something to sneeze at. The goal is to have an NBA career, and the mind-numbing riches that come with it.

      The players we’re talking about here should be thinking long term. And being as good as they are, they actually have the freedom to return to school if they want. The money will still be there for them, even if an argument can be made it’s not quite the money they might have had in the short term.

  15. I like you, but....
    12:40 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

    Saying Smart’s draft stock and Barnes’ draft stock weren’t really affected is just incorrect. Both would have been top 2 picks. Came back and cost themselves several million each.

    • Megan
      1:24 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      Yeah, we’re all crying over their financial futures. Poor kids. If you end up making $80 million in your career, not including endorsements, are you going to look back and shake your head because you could have earned a few million more? God, I hope not.

  16. Fred
    12:54 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

    “could have went” ????? good grief, Vandy grads the world over are shaking their heads in disbelief.

    • Caleb Epley
      1:17 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

      I try to keep them on their toes.

  17. gazza90
    10:36 am April 20, 2014 Permalink

    There is alot of research on whether college helps prepare for NBA. The evidence is pretty clear for the highest rated players out of HS, the fewer years in college, the longer and more productive the career. You have to keep in mind also that a player who stays in college gets hit twice financially. 1st, one less year in career making max contract and 2nd being older and less valuable when they get the contract. Given that Marcus Smart would have been a top 5 pick he probably cost himself 10 million minimum in lifetime earnings. If a player wants to pay 5 to 20 million for another year in college its their call, but we shouldnt be telling them myths about how college prepares one to play in NBA better than NBA does.

  18. JayJigga
    11:56 pm April 20, 2014 Permalink

    What about returning to school and the impact on rookie contracts? Most rookies won’t sign their second contract. Are the odds better or worse for players that return for an extra year? I believe this is more important than being drafted in the lottery or 20th overall.

  19. LP
    9:05 am April 21, 2014 Permalink

    Comparing the ’13 draft projections to the ’14 projections is “apples and oranges”.

    The overall talent of these two draft classes arent even close. A player could have truly improved their value with NBA scouts since last year and still not see tangible proof via their draft position this year due to the wealth of talent in this years class.