James Blackmon Jr. declared for the NBA draft yesterday, but did not hire an agent. Not hiring official representation leaves the possibility of a return to Indiana University next season, but declaring gives him a chance to work out for pro scouts. Without losing eligibility, he can hear his strengths and weaknesses directly from those evaluating NBA prospects.
Blackmon had a highly productive freshman season, but missed most of last year, his sophomore season, with a partially torn ACL. (Blackmon actually finished the non-conference schedule, but did not appear in any 2015-16 Big Ten games.)
As a freshman, he averaged 15.7 PPG, and was right on pace as sophomore at 15.8 PPG. He dramatically improved his outside shooting as sophomore (shooting 46 percent from three his second season versus 38 percent as a freshman).
Blackmon needs to show scouts he's overcome the injury; however, even without the injury, the draft might be a longer shot, at this point. (A couple weeks ago, we did a draft preview on his skillset.) More than likely, Blackmon's only testing the waters, trying to get pro feedback on his game, and where he needs to improve as a junior.
This new NCAA rule, which allows underclassmen to declare for the draft, go to the pro combine and take 10 days afterward to decide whether to stay in the draft, is a great win for the student-athlete. Previously, the NCAA required a decision in April.
Now, a player, like Blackmon for instance, can declare and go to the NBA combine, which happens to be on May 15th this year. If he doesn't hire an agent, he will get feedback from pro scouts, and has until May 25th to pull his name from the draft.
Blackmon's a great shooter, but his question marks include health (partial ACL tear last season), his defense (what position will he defend in the NBA) and his dynamic off the dribble game. His shooting talent is not up for debate, and he could be an attractive off the bench point or two-guard.
More than likely, Blackmon returns to Indiana for his junior season. As a junior, he'll show scouts that his health is no longer a concern, and he'll build on his already improved offensive game.
With Yogi Ferrell's graduation, this also opens up an opportunity at point guard. Blackmon could take over more of the regular ballhandling duties, and in the NBA, he might be slightly small for the two, but could be a nice point guard, particularly with his shooting ability.
If he can show scouts that he can handle the ball and orchestrate the offense, Blackmon becomes even more valuable because as an offensive player, he could, potentially, slot at either guard position.
His midseason injury is a bummer for a variety of reasons, mostly just on personal health and Indiana team levels. But, it also set back his NBA draft plans. Blackmon's smart though; declaring for the draft, collecting intel and getting back into Indiana's gym/weight room is the right play. (Scouts have also asked him to get stronger.)
But, and Indiana fans won't like to hear this, if he gets good feedback, he can hire an agent and move forward with his plans at the next level.