Wisconsin isn't a program that churns out NBA-level talent on a yearly basis. That's why when the Badgers have a player who's seen by scouts as a future first-round draft pick, it's a big deal. For this year's team, Sam Dekker is that guy. He arrived in Madison as a 5-star recruit with huge upside, and is now seen as a first-round talent. DraftExpress has him as the 17th best prospect in the 2014 Draft. Let's take a closer look at what he could offer to an NBA team, and how this season has affected where he'll go in the draft.
The most appealing parts of Dekker's game come on the offensive end. But interestingly, his shooting percentages have either stagnated or decreased from last year. That's to be expected, since he's thrust into a bigger role on offense, but his outside shooting has me worried. Last season, he shot 39% from behind the arc. This season, he's shooting 31%. As much as that concerns me, I don't think that will negatively effect his draft stock too much. Scouts know that he has the ability to shoot from the outside, and I think it's likely he fixes his jump shooting issues as the year goes by.
The best thing about his offense is his ability to fit into a 5 man offensive set. At Wisconsin, he's not being asked to take the ball on isolations and create his own shot each possession. Sometimes, when the offense falters, he has to do that, but that's not where he scores his points. He's most successful when the offense doesn't revolve solely around him. He can move without the ball, make sharp cuts, and finish around the rim. Here's a perfect example of that, as you can see Dekker sneak behind the Marquette defense and send it in from a backdoor cut.
Here he is again, against Eastern Kentucky, seeing the defense sag off, and attacking.
That is what NBA teams will love about Dekker. Because he obviously won't be the #1 scoring option on whatever team drafts him, he'll need to stay in constant motion offensively and fight to get open. Dekker can do that.
His ability to finish through contact and in transition is another major plus to Dekker's game. He's at his best when he's driving to the lane, because he can use his length and quickness to put the ball in the hoop. First, you'll see his ability to finish in the half-court and then his awareness and athleticism on the fast break.
But for those skills to translate properly to the NBA, he'll need to get stronger. That's certainly not a groundbreaking critique of Dekker's game, but it's still true. Since he's not an automatic shooter, he will need some muscle mass so he's not getting pushed around down low in the pros.
That's one of multiple critiques about Dekker's pro abilities, but the most glaring one is his defense. This season especially, he's demonstrated a lack of awareness when guards drive into the thick of the Wisconsin defense. That couldn't have been more evident during the Indiana debacle. While the team as a whole struggled defensively, if you watch the highlights, you can see Dekker often standing flat-footed as Ferrell and company drove to the basket at will.
For scouts to have faith in Dekker's defense, the entire team will need to step up around him. The Badgers defense rarely highlights individual excellence; they are most successful when all 5 guys on the floor are making consistent stops. Because of that, he's never going to have gaudy stats with steals or blocks. But if the team as a whole can improve defensively, that will make Dekker look much better as a pro prospect.
It's interesting to compare Sam Dekker's NBA prospects with Michigan's Nik Stauskas. While Dekker has been on draft boards all season, Stauskas is only recently getting some first round looks. In fact, DraftExpress has Stauskas as the 16th best player for the 2014 Draft. They are clearly very similar, but today, I like Stauskas' pro potential over Dekker's.
For starters, Stauskas has a set position. At Michigan, he plays shooting guard. In the pros, he'll play shooting guard. On the other hand, Dekker plays the 4 at Wisconsin. As of right now, he'll play somewhere on the wing in the pros. Something that surprised me is that Stauskas stands at 6'6" and 205lb, while Dekker stands at 6'7" and 200lb. Those numbers fluctuate slightly depending on your source, but the point is that Stauskas has great height and strength for his projected position, while Dekker would be a very small and a very weak small forward. Maybe Dekker could see some opportunities at the 2 guard spot, but there's no debating that Stauskas is a better pure shooter and a better shooting guard prospect than Dekker. And Stauskas has demonstrated that he's not just a jump shooter this season. He's shown lots of improvement in his ability to get to the hoop and create his own shot.
Unless Dekker turns this season around with his shooting and becomes a household name through his performance in the NCAA Tournament, he shouldn't enter the 2014 Draft. On the surface, he may seem like a safe pick, but there are some deep problems about how his game will translate to the pros. If he does return for his junior year, that's great news for Wisconsin fans. If Dekker stays, they will only lose Ben Brust and Zach Bohannon. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes will both be back, and have the potential to vastly improve in their sophomore year. With Dekker, the 2015 Wisconsin Badgers could be veeery dangerous.
I wouldn't blame Dekker if he wants to go pro, especially if scouts are telling him he's a first-round talent. But if the Sheboygan-born, NBA-ready prospect stays at school for another year, that will only build his legacy in Wisconsin basketball history.