Following a 2015 NBA Draft where Wisconsin fans saw two former players drafted, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, the Badgers didn’t have any 2016 draft picks. So when will they make a return? Well, their return will likely be as soon as the 2017 NBA Draft.
Nigel Hayes seems far and away the Badgers’ best prospect. A player who almost entered the draft this season after his junior year, he decided to return to school after the early evaluation process. Although he very possibly may have been drafted, the feedback he got from scouts presumably lead him to belief he could stand to gain from returning for his senior campaign in Madison.
Last year he averaged 15.7 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. His three point shooting regressed a bit as he made one fewer shot on 32 more attempts. His scoring within the arc even took a dip as he made four fewer shots on 72 more attempts. Defensively, he maintained his efficiency and showed serious NBA potential in that area.
One of the key reasons for Hayes junior year struggles was the fact that he was no longer a mystery and was the top priority for opposing defenses to key in on him. He was no longer able to play with talented offensive scorers like Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Hopefully he learned a lot last season and can become more capable of leading the team and being "the guy" for Wisconsin. I anticipate his experiences at the combine and throughout the pre-draft process will help him greatly leading into next year.
Considering which other Wisconsin players could wind up in future NBA Drafts leads me to both Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ. As a rising senior, Koenig only has one more season to make his way onto team’s NBA Draft boards. He was able to play large amounts of minutes at the point guard spot, leading the offense to a successful Big Ten season. If Koenig can come back this year and be a top scoring option and team leader for Wisconsin and show some improvements to his overall game, he could be on the NBA radar.
Ethan Happ is still a relatively unproven player, but he is coming off of a phenomenal first season. He was able to grab a team high 7.9 rebounds per game and added 12.4 points. His build is that of an NBA forward, and he could develop into the quality stretch four that the NBA covets, but his shot will need to come a long way for that to happen. If he can continue to learn and grow as a sophomore with leaders like Hayes and Koenig on the team, then he will need to be ready to become the primary scoring option as a junior. Ideally after a fourth year in Madison, Happ will have his game developed enough that he can get drafted by a NBA franchise.
How many future draftees the current Badgers’ roster has remains unclear, but it is a fairly safe bet to believe Hayes will be selected in 2017. Whether Koenig and Happ will someday follow is not quite as clear.