To reach the point where you're invited to the NBA draft, an honor that will be bestowed upon likely lottery picks D'Angelo Russell, Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, and 16 players from other NCAA conferences and around the world, it takes much more than luck. To become one of the best available prospects in your age group it takes not only prodigious talent but time and effort to develop skills based on these talents. Dekker, Russell, and Kaminsky are in a comparatively good place among Big Ten prospects. They know they'll be drafted and they know they'll be drafted in the first round.
For the rest of the Big Ten, the picture is murkier. Among the Big Ten's remaining prospects, at least 17 of whom have been invited in for a workout with at least one NBA team, none look to be a surefire first round draft pick and many of these players would be lucky to be an undrafted free agent.
We will of course cover the Big Ten's three first-round locks - D'Angelo Russell, Frank Kaminsky, and Sam Dekker - but a chunk of time will also be devoted to the most likely landing spots for some of the long shot prospects in the league.
D'Angelo Russell - The Big Ten's Next All-Star Prospect?
At this point, it would be almost shocking if D'Angelo wasn't drafted in the first three picks. Russell was dominant last year for the Ohio State Buckeyes, posting nearly 20 points a game on strong shooting percentages while chipping in 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and being heavily involved in handling the ball as a true freshman. D'Angelo has only worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers. If the Lakers go with the presumptive available big man - it'll be Okafor if reports are to be believed - then Philadelphia will most likely select the Ohio State standout with the third overall pick. Unless Victor Oladipo develops a more consistent shot behind the arc D'Angelo Russell may be the next Big Ten player to make the NBA's All-Star game.
Frank Kaminsky - Big in B1G Country?
Kaminsky isn't quite a lock to be selected before Sam Dekker, but consensus seems to generally place Wisconsin's versatile big man a few selections ahead of his talented teammate. Kaminsky is an extremely versatile offensive player who has the ability to maneuver in the post, shoot from 15 feet of the basket and beyond, and put the ball on the floor and get to the rim off the bounce. In the recent past, this may have hurt Frank's prospects, oddly enough, but the success of less-than-orthodox post players like Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, or even Al Horford. It's not that Frank is particularly similar to any of these players, but their success in the NBA has opened GMs up to the possibility that a post player can be something other than a Shaquille O'Neal-type bruiser and still be successful. Kaminsky could certainly end up on the west coast, the Suns and the Jazz have selections in the 10-15 range that most expect Kaminsky to land in and each team brough Kaminsky in for workouts, but reportedly the Pistons and the Pacers are each also considering the Illinois native. The Pacers are supposedly looking to increase their pace of play which would make them a great fit for Frank.
Sam Dekker - B1G Gamble?
Sam Dekker showed off some of his incredible upside during the NCAA tournament. Against North Carolina, Arizona, and the then-undefeated Kentucky Wildcats, Dekker averaged a scintillating 22 points per game on an eye-popping 68.5% from the floor. This would be incredible even if Sam played primarily inside the arc and nearer to the basket like Kaminsky, but Dekker is a wing player and also took 14 three point attempts during these three games. Dekker hasn't been the sharpshooter he was billed as coming into Wisconsin - he shot fewer than 35% from the perimeter on 408 attempts over three seasons - but if he can at least be proficient he has the speed, athleticism, and bounce to thrive in the increasingly fast-paced free-flowing style of basketball that is evolving at the NBA level. Harrison Barnes might be a good analogue for Dekker. Like Dekker, Harrison's athleticism didn't jump off the screen during his collegiate career but his combine results were shocking. Barnes is still rounding into form as an NBA player, but has a high ceiling. Similarly, I would not be surprised if, after a few developments, Dekker is a better player than many drafted ahead of him.
The Best of the Rest - B1G Opportunities
Beyond the three players listed above, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that the Big Ten does not have another player selected in the first and second rounds of this year's NBA Draft. Four players in this group were invited to participate in the NBA Draft Combine - Aaron White, Terran Petteway, Dez Wells, and Branden Dawson. If the Big Ten does land any players in the second round, it will probably come from this pool of players. For what it's worth, Petteway, White, Wells, and Dawson have all been invited to workout for 6 or more teams since the Draft Combine, which is a good sign that these players will at least be signed if they aren't drafted.
The Rest of the Rest - B1G Questions
Most of these players are beyond longshots to hear their name called Thursday night - guys like Duke Dukan, Kadeem Jack, Myles Mack, and Jon Octeus should all be counted as prospects and all of them have been invited to work out for at least one NBA team, and it only takes one team to get drafted, but the lack of interest from most of the league is probably telling. Still some of these guys should end up on Summer League teams with a chance to play their way onto a roster - though probably as undrafted free agents. After all, Shannon Scott worked out for 7 teams, Trice was brought in by 8 clubs, Maurice Walker and Rayvonte Rice each auditioned 5 teams, Newbill showcased himself in front of 12 squads.
In one sense, this draft will certainly pale in comparison to the Big Ten's output last year. The Big Ten has almost no chance to land 5 players in the first round and is likely to see fewer than 7 players drafted overall as well. But D'Angelo Russell may be the most talented player to emerge from the Big Ten since Victor Oladipo and appears to be an even more well-rounded prospect coming out of college even though Oladipo spent three seasons at Indiana compared to Russell's single season at Ohio State. Certainly, no one remembers the 2004 draft for whoever was selected 52nd or 45th or 39th. If D'Angelo Russell is as special as some think - so special that the Lakers may take him over Jahlil Okafor at #2 - no one will care if no one from the Big Ten is called in the 2nd round.