Vanderbilt’s Surprising NBA Prospect

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 20th, 2016

There will be no perfunctory press conference several days after Vanderbilt‘s season ends. The beat writers won’t need to trudge to campus to hear Kevin Stallings and Damian Jones announce something that was inevitable. Jones put the faux suspense to rest before the season had even started: he was turning pro after his junior year. “This is my last go-round. But all that means is that I want to give it all I’ve got. I want to push this team and get to that next step while I’m here,” he told the Tennessean in October.

Up to this point, a talented Commodores team has not taken that “next step.” They sit at 10-7 after a frustrating non-conference season that featured missed opportunities for statement wins against Kansas, Dayton, Purdue, and Baylor. On a personal level, Jones hasn’t exactly taken that next step either. He didn’t make the cut for our mid-season SEC Player of the Year watch list and his statistical output is generally the same across the board as compared with last year. He has struggled with foul trouble, particularly in conference play, and had rough outings against Baylor’s and Purdue’s talented front courts.

Luke Kornet has become a blocking machine this year (

Luke Kornet has become a blocking machine this year (

This isn’t to say Jones isn’t still a good NBA prospect with a long career ahead of him. The way he moves with his 7’0” foot frame and 7’2” wingspan isn’t any less appealing to NBA scouts, and he’s generally done a great job passing out of double teams this year. He’s an athletic big who could develop into a Taj Gibson-like reliable NBA forward and to his credit hasn’t tried persuade the world that he’s a three-point shooter. But when scouts come out to Vanderbilt games this year, Jones isn’t the only Commodore that they’re looking at. Junior center Luke Kornet has developed into a legitimate NBA prospect in his own right, and while he lacks lottery (or even first round) buzz at this point, he’s a highly intriguing player.

Kornet came to Nashville as a three-star recruit, probably known best for being the son of former Vanderbilt basketball player Frank Kornet. During his first two years he was a rotation big that could step out and shoot from distance. Coming into this year, he projected as a solid, but maybe not spectacular, piece of a good team. Instead, he’s turned into a well-rounded offensive player who can control the paint. At 7’1” that skill set has the attention of any professional scout with a pulse.

Kornet chart


As the chart above shows, Kornet has been going to work offensively on the block much more than his first two years. He has struggled from deep this season, but last year’s production shows that he has it in him to be effective stretching the floor. His rebounding and block numbers are also up, suggesting that he can be a two-way player. When Alabama’s Shannon Hale exploded in the first half against Vanderbilt, it was Kornet that Stallings turned to. “Our key change was putting Luke on Hale, ” he said after the Commodores’ win. “He killed everyone in front of him in the first half, so we put Luke on him in the second half. That worked well for us.” And then there are the blocks. Kornet put up only the second triple-double in school history against Auburn on the strength of 10 blocks, along with 11 points and 11 rebound. In the clip below, he rejects Auburn’s Tyler Harris on a post up and South Carolina’s P.J. Dozier and Duane Notice as they attack the basket.

Kornet isn’t registering on‘s top 100 big board, 2016 mock draft or 2017 mock draft. DraftExpress, however, has him as its 57th best prospect and going 39th in the 2017 draft. This is an incredible leap for a guy that wasn’t on the NBA radar just a few months ago. He isn’t the prospect that Jones or teammate Wade Baldwin are but he’s much more than just a seven-foot novelty that can knock down three-pointers. He’s a name to watch as his game continues to develop and the Commodores attempt to salvage their season.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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