After leading Wisconsin to their first Final Four appearance since 2000, the Badgers lost a heartbreaker to the eventual national runner-up Kentucky Wildcats. In the post-game press conference, both Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, the two best NBA prospects on Wisconsin's squad right now, confirmed that they would not be entering the 2014 NBA Draft.
This shouldn't surprise anyone, since neither player was seen as a sure-fire first round pick. Before the year, Sam Dekker had lottery expectations, but his stock slid as he struggled to create his own offense. Frank Kaminsky didn't sniff an NBA Draft big board until deep into the Badgers' post season run. His dominating performance against Arizona had some worried that he may ride his excellent post season into the NBA, but both chose to stay in Madison for another year. Let's look at their current strengths and weaknesses, and what they need to do next year to cement their position in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Strengths: People expected Sam Dekker to become the focal point of the Wisconsin offense in the 2013-14 season, but he's not that type of player. That's his biggest strength: the ability to jive in any offensive set without being "the guy." That's kind of a backhanded compliment, since that's justifying his inability to create his own offense, but his secondary offensive presence makes the Badgers work. Although his shooting numbers dropped this year, he has the ability to knock down open shots and cut to the basket for easy layups (I wrote in more detail about his NBA prospects here). He's cultivated an excellent sense of space, and understands where he needs to be for the Wisconsin offense to flow.
Weaknesses: He still can't really create his own shot. Luckily, the Wisconsin offense isn't predicated on lots of isolation plays for wing players, and no matter where he lands in the pros, the coaches won't be drawing up Sam Dekker isos all that often. But I would like to see him develop a few go-to offensive moves to beat his man off the dribble and knock down a contested mid-range jumper. That would make his game 10x better.
In addition, he developed a bad case of Ryan Evans' Disease this year, where a member of the Wisconsin frontcourt forgets how to shoot free throws. He was 8-8 from the line against Kentucky, which would lead me to believe that his regular season struggles were anomalies. But he's going to need to improve with that, especially if shooting is his strongest attribute at the next level.
Overall: The 2014-15 Wisconsin season will be very good to Sam Dekker. With Ben Brust leaving and Nigel Hayes (presumably) sliding into the starting lineup, Dekker can slide down to his natural spot on the wing. That means no more guarding power forwards, which takes him out of position defensively and prevents him from driving effectively on offense. As the 3 next year, he can bop around the wing looking for open shots, and hopefully will use that newfound space to create his own shot. That's where Dekker will play in the pros - he's not gonna be guarding Julius Randle on the next level. Everything seems to be in its right place for Dekker next season, but he needs to become the offensive threat that we hoped he could be this year.
Strengths: His performance against Arizona pretty accurately depicts Frank Kaminsky's strengths. He dropped 28 points and 11 rebounds on the Wildcats, and did so both inside and out. He rolled off screens to knock down threes and drove to the basket for layups through contact, drawing fouls in the process. Against Arizona, he couldn't be stopped, and next season, he has the chance to prove that his tournament performance wasn't a fluke. He's also a legit 7-footer, so he isn't undersized at the next level.
Weaknesses: His performance against Kentucky proves that he's got a long way to go offensively. Kentucky had an entire week to scout him, watch tape on him, and game-plan around him. Because of that, they were ready for anything that Kaminsky would throw at him, and shut him down. He only scored 8 points on 4-7 shooting because Kentucky made him uncomfortable the whole game. Dakari Johnson was too strong for him to back down, and whenever he put the ball on the floor, another Kentucky player would swoop down on a double-team, preventing him from driving to the hoop like he did against Arizona.
Kentucky delivered the blueprint on how to stop Frank Kaminsky. It'll be up to him to develop an offensive game that opponents can't prepare for. This happens to all the great players: if you start playing too well, people want to go out of their way to stop you. That will happen to Frank Kaminsky a lot next year, so he'll need to diversify his offensive game. In addition, he doesn't exactly have NBA-level athleticism. He uses his awkwardness well, but NBA centers are a whole new breed.
Overall: It would have been baffling for Frank Kaminsky to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. He was the flavor of the month of March, but smartly decided against entering the draft. Like Dekker, Kaminsky will also be helped by the injection of Nigel Hayes into the starting lineup for next year. Hayes is a big body, so Frank won't feel the need to be trapped under the hoop. This will give him the flexibility to hang out at the top of the key for pick-and-pops and drives to the hoop. If he can work on passing out of double-teams and improve his defensive discipline, he could be an attractive pro prospect.
Wisconsin fans are certainly overjoyed that their two best players are returning for next year, but Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky should also be overjoyed that they have another season to pad their NBA resumes. Best case scenario, both could fall in the mid-to-late first round of the 2015 NBA Draft. Dekker has a higher athletic ceiling, but Kaminsky plays at a less-dense position. It's a toss-up at this point as to who will be drafted first, and will all depend on how each player progresses.
NBA scouts will keep a close eye on both these players for all of next year. Here's hoping Wisconsin can produce two first-round talents.