We enter the college basketball season pretty much assuming this would be the last season of college basketball for Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, two Georgia juniors who’d been projected as NBA lottery picks. But there’s a chance neither will wind up in the lottery, which could mean one or both might decide to stick around.
Check the 2011 mock draft on the excellent site NBAdraft.net and you’ll note that Thompkins is projected to go 16th overall, or one spot out of the lottery. Keep checking and you’ll find Leslie …
Well, that’s the point. You won’t find Leslie on this year’s mock. You’ll find him on next year’s — as the second pick in Round 2. Which makes you go, “Whoa.”
For comparative purposes: Chad Ford of ESPN Insider has Thompkins rated the 30th-best prospect (link requires registration) and projects him in the mid to late first round; Ford ranks Leslie the 34th-best prospect and projects him in the late first to early second round.
I spoke recently with an NBA scout who prefers Leslie to Thompkins, which frankly surprised me. I’ve regarded Thompkins as the better NBA bet because he has a true position — power forward — and some nicely developed skills. (For a big man, he can really shoot.) Leslie is, in my view, a hugely gifted wing who will be asked to play shooting guard as a pro, and the thing Leslie does least well is shoot. (Although he has, under Mark Fox, progressed as both a shooter and ballhandler.)
Thompkins thought seriously about leaving for the NBA after his sophomore season but decided against it. It’s not often a guy who has decided to come back for another year chooses to return for yet another. (Gani Lawal removed his name from draft consideration in 2009 to remain at Georgia Tech but left in 2010 after his junior season even though he wasn’t a Round 1 lock. Indeed, he wound up going in Round 2.)
My guess is that Thompkins, who hasn’t had quite the season we all expected, will leave this time. Leslie could go either way. If he stays, he’s next year’s Bulldog star. (Unless Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the incoming McDonald’s All-American from Greenville High, is even better than advertised.) If he leaves, there’s a chance he might not be taken in Round 1. But it only takes one team to fall in love with him — and Leslie is a major talent — to make him a lottery pick.
As for Iman Shumpert, the splendid Tech junior guard: The scout with whom I spoke believes he can play in the NBA. (I do, too.) But Ford has him ranked 71st among this year’s prospects, and only 60 players get drafted. NBAdraft.net has Shumpert being taken with the 15th pick of Round 2 in the 2012 draft, which would seem to mean: He can only help himself by staying. I’m guessing he will.
By Mark Bradley