Every ACC player of the year — the league has chosen one since 1954 — has been drafted by an NBA team. The 2021 ACC player of the year might not be.
Not much about Moses Wright’s career has been predictable. He didn’t start playing basketball — he played tennis and was a swimmer — until late in his high school days. He was, to invoke Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner’s famous description, a zero-star recruit. He did little as a Tech freshman. His breakout came in the final game of his sophomore season. He scored 25 points against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament, a performance that led this correspondent to tell Pastner: “Kudos for turning Moses Wright into Moses Malone.”
That was meant as hyperbole, though it turned out less hyperbolic than I’d imagined. Wright had a nice junior season, not that many noticed. Entering his senior season, he wasn’t named to the preseason all-ACC first or second team, though there’s nothing so worthless as a preseason all-conference team. As a senior, he was the best player in the nation’s most prestigious league. He was named ACC player of the year on a Monday. Then Saturday, he helped the Yellow Jackets win their first ACC title since 1993.
As Tech readied to depart Greensboro for Indianapolis and the NCAA Tournament, Wright’s daily COVID-19 test was flagged. The diagnosis was confirmed in Indy. Without its leading scorer and rebounder, Tech lost to Loyola Chicago in Round 1. Only a handful of players tested positive during the tournament. Wright, the former no-name, was the biggest name by far.
He then announced he’d make himself available for the NBA draft, an announcement no senior would have to make coming off a normal season. When you’re a senior, you’re usually out of eligibility. Not after this season. The NCAA decreed that everyone playing a winter sport would, owing to COVID, be granted an extra season. Ergo, Wright has a choice. He could return to Tech for a fifth season if he isn’t drafted, and — back to our beginning — there’s a chance he won’t be.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Which sounds nuts. The best player in the ACC is by a definition one heck of a ballplayer. But NBAdraft.net doesn’t list him among its full 60-man mock draft. ESPN ranks him 87th among its top 100 players. (Tech’s Jose Alvarado, also a senior, is 92nd.) It isn’t that scouts have missed Wright: He played four seasons in the highest-profile conference. They’ve seen him; they just haven’t been impressed. That he’s 22 is part of the reason. NBA folks tend to believe that if you’re not in the league by the time you’re 20, there’s something wrong with you.
Pastner believes Wright will get drafted. He said several teams have expressed interest. He believes Wright will fare well in pre-draft convocations. Pastner cites the case of Josh Okogie, who wasn’t high on any board when he declared for the 2018 draft after his sophomore season. He went 20th overall to Minnesota.
I’m not a scout, but I’ve talked to enough of them over these many years that I have some idea what they like. The issue with Wright is that he’s a tweener. At 6-foot-9, he could play small forward, but an NBA wing must make 3-pointers — Wright made 26 over 111 collegiate games — and guard other wings. Pro teams want their power forwards to be able to play on the perimeter and stretch the floor. Wright is at his best when working as an old-fashioned back-to-the-basket center, and he’s not big enough to qualify as an NBA 5.
This isn’t to say Wright can’t play in the NBA. Udonis Haslem, who’s of similar size, went undrafted out of Florida. After a season in France, he landed with the Miami Heat and spent 17 seasons there, helping win three NBA titles. The overseas option is available to Wright. So is the G League. Very soon, somebody will be paying him to play basketball – unless he decides to return to Tech for another season.
Seniors Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham already have opted to stay. Junior Michael Devoe has made himself draft-available but is keeping his options open. Alvarado is a senior, but he’s also no lock to be drafted. If Tech somehow manages to return an ACC championship team intact, it will be among the nation’s top five come November.
That’s not apt to happen. Returning to Tech means returning to college, which means taking college classes. Wright has spent four years doing that; he’ll graduate in May. He wants to play pro ball, and there’s nothing he can prove to scouts as a fifth-year man they haven’t already seen. (He’d be 23 when the 2022 draft arrives, and that’s ancient.)
Oh, and there’s this: This also being the year of the free transfer, Wright could — at least in theory — return to college without returning to Tech. He’d be the most accomplished player in the brief history of the portal. Again, though: not apt to happen.
Before Tech folks work themselves into a high dudgeon over their players never getting any credit, be advised that this isn’t some anti-Jacket conspiracy. Luka Garza of Iowa was a two-time Big Ten player of the year and the 2021 national player of the year. NBAdraft.net doesn’t include him in its latest mock, either.
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