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There was news — sort of — on 5-star Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt on Thursday, as John Calipari said he’s still not practicing (the hope was he would be by now) and whether he plays this season will be Vanderbilt’s decision.
Which led Chad Masden to ask a very good question: Do you think if he doesn’t play this year he still goes pro?
That’s a tough one. After a string of impressive performances on the summer of all-star circuit — McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit — Vanderbilt’s stock was soaring.
He’s a 6-foot-9 forward who can legitimately play four positions on the floor (and Calipari says point guard, too). He’s physically mature, built more like an NFL player than NBA, and combines a 7-foot-1 wingspan with a 39 1/2-inch vertical leap.
ESPN at one point identified him as a potential top-10 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. However, Vanderbilt is now on his third injury to that left foot (twice in high school and again in September before UK even started fully practicing). He elected not to have surgery to repair it once and for all, and now it’s unclear if he’ll test that foot in college at all this season.
If he doesn’t, how will NBA teams view it? It’s hard to say for sure without looking at Vanderbilt’s medical chart and having a full understanding of what exactly the injury/issue is. But we do know this: NBA teams are typically scared off by big men with a history of problems in the lower body, especially the feet.
If scouts can’t see him play a full season — or even half a season or a third — without incident on that foot, would they roll the dice on him? And while talented and versatile, there are issues in Vanderbilt’s game. He needs to prove he can shoot it outside a little better than he did in high school.
Without putting that on film, is Vanderbilt a lottery pick this year? My gut says no, so then it becomes a question of whether he is just determined to be one-and-done (or none-and-done, really), regardless of is projected draft position.
If Vanderbilt merely needs to hear that someone will take him somewhere in the 60-pick draft, and that’ll be good enough to go, I imagine he’ll go. Because I’d be stunned if no one picked him at all. But let’s say he wants to at least be a first-round pick … it might be tougher to get that promise without showing off his game and the durability of his foot in a few games this season at Kentucky.
Curtis Burch and I posed this hypothetical on a podcast that will go live on Friday morning: Would Kentucky’s staff (and fans) take the deal right now if someone said Vanderbilt won’t play a minute this season but it means he’ll come back for sure next year?
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