A few Bruins are trying to make the leap to the NBA too soon.
Three UCLA men’s basketball underclassmen, sophomore forward Kris Wilkes, sophomore guard Jaylen Hands and freshman center Moses Brown, have declared for the NBA Draft set to take place June 20.
All three prospects were left off Sports Illustrated’s latest mock draft, while ESPN ranked Wilkes and Hands at No. 74 and No. 93, respectively, on its 100 Best Available List.
Especially after unspectacular showings at the NBA Draft Combine, all three should reconsider their decisions to go pro.
Wilkes is built in the mold of a prototypical wing. The 6-foot-7-inch and 209-pound wing fits the modern NBA as a shooter and slasher, but his skills aren’t at an NBA level yet.
Wilkes’ ability to score in transition is his biggest draw, something that bodes well for his potential to become a scorer at the next level. Combine that with his high motor and deceptive athletic ability, and he looks like Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton.
However, Wilkes shot 33.7% from beyond the arc this past year. While that mark is higher than projected first-rounders Romeo Langford out of Indiana and Nassir Little of North Carolina, Wilkes’ inability to leap those players on the draft boards highlights his issues with consistency.
Langford and Little are inferior to Wilkes from long range, but they don’t rely on outside shooting. Wilkes shot 205 3s this past season, while Langford and Little attempted just 125 and 52, respectively.
Meanwhile, his percentages fail to match elite shooters like Dylan Windler of Belmont, who connected on 42.9 % of his long-range attempts.
Defense is another concern.
His 0.8 defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus of -1.0 are both tags of an average defender at best. Considering those numbers came against a slate ranked 57th by KenPom in opponent’s adjusted offensive efficiency, teams have the right to be cautious.
Wilkes’ ability to be an offensive centerpiece was challenged by coaches Steve Alford and Murray Bartow. Although he was UCLA’s first offensive option throughout much of his two seasons with the Bruins, his assist percentage was below 11%, leaving much to be desired in his ability to create on offense.
Where, or if, Wilkes will be picked in the upcoming draft is uncertain, but another year at UCLA to develop his playmaking, shooting consistency and defense would give him first round status next year.
Hands is explosive.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 180-pound point guard can get up with the best, posting top-five finishes among guards in standing vertical and max vertical at the NBA Combine.
Hands is a solid shooter off the dribble – a must as a small guard in today’s NBA. He has natural defensive instincts and constantly gets deflections. His upside is John Wall, an attacking score-first combo guard with A-grade athleticism.
Hands assumed the point guard role this year after Aaron Holiday graduated and showed, well, mixed results.
Hands’ assist percentage rose from 18.7% to 36.5%, but his turnover percentage also rose, from an already high 16.4% to 19.5%. That’s one turnover every five plays.
Beyond turnovers, Hands would regularly settle for contested shots early in the shot clock and had a tendency to hold the ball deep into the shot clock before setting up UCLA’s offense.
The Bruins were 17th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo rankings this year. Despite his strength attacking the basket and the pace at which UCLA played, Hands averaged just 3.3 free throw attempts per game, outside of the top 600 in the NCAA.
Hands has NBA-star potential, but flaws in his decision-making skills and attention to detail are going to be hard for NBA teams to glance over when deciding whether to draft the point guard.
At 7-feet-2.5-inches, Brown would be tied for the tallest player in the draft if it weren’t for UCF’s Tacko Fall, but his 237-pound frame slots him outside of the top-10 largest players in the draft.
His agile footwork and ability to run the floor – combined with good defensive timing and solid post offense – yielded a freshman year stat line of 9.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
UCLA’s top 2018 recruit contributed right away but his main limitation is his size. Brown was bullied by stronger opponents this year, like Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson and Arizona State’s Zylan Cheatham. Wesson outplayed Brown to the tune of a 15-12 double-double, holding Brown to only nine points and two rebounds.
Cheatham ran amok on the boards, finishing with 20 rebounds compared to Brown’s four. Brown’s 18.4% rebounding percentage for the season is above average, but not the dominance NBA teams want from a player over 7-foot-2.
Shooting is another mark against Brown. His dismal 35.2% clip from the free throw line makes him virtually unplayable late in games, and severely limits his offensive ceiling when teams can resort to “Hack-a-Shaq” to stop him.
Brown was also disciplined twice for off-the-court conduct: once for being late to a team shootaround at home versus Utah and again at Utah for violating student-athlete policies.
Brown needs to put on muscle and fix his shooting before many NBA teams are going to take a flyer on him. But returning to college for a year or more could afford Brown time to mold his game into Hassan Whiteside rather than Hasheem Thabeet.
Even though Hands and Wilkes have hired agents, with the new NBA rules regarding the draft, they can still return to play at UCLA. All three Bruins have until May 29 to withdraw their name from draft consideration and retain college-eligible status.
Brown, Hands and Wilkes all have the talent to be noteworthy NBA players in the future, but each need to improve their body of work in college for teams to consider them worth a draft pick.