Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Every year brings its share of puzzling NBA Draft decisions, and most of the frustration is typically captured by one underlying theme: he left too early. This year’s draft enigma was confusing for an entirely different reason. It was confusing because Marcus Smart, a consensus top-five pick in next month’s draft, elected to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. The commentary on Smart’s decision has been a disconcerting mix of perplexity, misunderstood motives and an unexpected dose of condescending admonishment, with almost no reactive excitement – the best freshman in college basketball, and one of the best players overall, is returning next season, and no one has anything positive to say about it?! Isn’t this the exact development we spend countless words and digital ink groaning about each and every summer?!
The early draft decision headlines have served as collective petri dish dissection of Smart’s purportedly misguided decision. But guess what? Other players are making very important decisions about their professional futures, too, and not all of them are as procedural and predictable and academic as Smart’s relative draft-media monopoly might lead you to believe. I’ll offer you two recent decisions (or non-decisions) that, while nothing close to Smart-level Big 12 rippling waves, will change the ways their respective teams are evaluated entering next season.
First up is James Michael McAdoo, who announced Tuesday he plans to return to North Carolina for his junior season. It’s difficult to fathom now, but McAdoo was once considered among the very best players in the country last summer. He was supposed to help bridge the gap between the Kendall Marshall-Tyler Zeller super team and a new and customarily talented re-tooled Tar Heels group. You probably didn’t hear much about McAdoo last season, for reasons good and not, but as UNC picked up steam in February and into March, and the true latent potential of Marcus Paige and P.J. Hairston began to turn a mediocre transition season into a legitimately scary Third Round proposition, North Carolina offered an entertaining preview of the high-win outfit it can and should rightfully become next season. McAdoo was a major collaborator in coach Williams’ midseason small-ball transformation – wherein UNC eschewed a traditional two-big lineup in favor of using McAdoo at the five and Hairston as a “power forward” – and UNC can rekindle that dynamic next season with a highly touted recruiting class, more experience and a better collective comprehension of the system. The upshot for McAdoo is more wins, a bigger national spotlight and another chance to round out his game for NBA scouts. Good deal.