The Arizona Wildcats’ season came to a close last Thursday, as they disappointingly lost to the Xavier Musketeers in the Sweet 16.
So, what’s next in Tucson?
First up is figuring out which Wildcats will be back next season, and which players will depart for the NBA Draft.
Arizona has four players — Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, and Rawle Alkins — who are considered to be prime candidates to go pro this summer.
But which ones are going to stay? Here’s my prediction (which is only a prediction):
Lauri Markkanen — will declare and stay in NBA Draft
Despite Lauri Markkanen’s dad saying the Markkanen family had a “two-year plan” for Lauri heading into his collegiate career, it would be stunning if the 7-footer were to stay at Arizona for another season.
Currently, Markkanen is projected to be the No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft by DraftExpress.com, and you’d be hard-pressed to find him projected outside the top 10 in any publication.
Whether Markkanen is “NBA-ready” or not — he is a pretty ideal fit for the modern NBA — it makes sense for him to declare from a financial standpoint first and foremost.
If Markkanen is drafted eighth as DraftExpress projects, his first-year salary would be approximately $2.9 million, plus he would have a second guaranteed year on his contract worth roughly $3.4 million.
Additionally, Markkanen would have two club options tacked on to that, which are almost always exercised by teams. Both of those options are worth north of $4 million a piece.
Add it all up and Markkanen’s rookie contract would guarantee him about $15 million, assuming he doesn’t get cut in year three or four (again, that rarely happens).
You try turning that down.
Kobi Simmons — will declare and stay in the NBA Draft
It was a disappointing finish to the season for Kobi Simmons, who faded down the stretch.
The freshman played six minutes or fewer in six of Arizona’s last seven games as he struggled on both ends of the floor.
Still, Simmons’ game has NBA qualities and he put that on display early in the season when he was starting and getting regular playing time. He’s 6-foot-5, he has a fairly good shooting stroke, he’s quick, and, oh yeah, he has a 45-inch vertical.
DraftExpress.com has Simmons projected as a late second-round pick, and even though he is pretty far skill-wise from being NBA-ready, his attributes and perceived upside would be enough to get him drafted.
The most sensible thing Simmons could do, in my opinion, is declare for the draft and go through the NBA Combine before making his decision to return or not (a rule change before last year’s draft allows prospects to do that now).
That would allow him to make an informed decision after getting a realistic sense of his value from NBA front office personnel.
Either way, I expect him to move on from Arizona. There’s a pretty widespread belief that that will be the case.
Allonzo Trier — it’s 50-50
Allonzo Trier was close to declaring for the NBA Draft last year, but opted to stick around for his sophomore season.
Surprisingly, he didn’t even go through the pre-draft process, saying he wanted to be “all in” at Arizona instead.
Even though Trier was suspended by the NCAA for 19 games this season (which may factor into his decision to leave), he demonstrated improvement in nearly every facet of the game.
His assist numbers were better, his rebounding numbers were significantly better, and he shot better from 3. His defense wasn’t great, but it was still a noticeable upgrade from his freshman season.
Taking all that into account, it’s easy to see why Trier may think he’s ready to make the jump to professional basketball. Also, one CBS mock draft projects him to be the No. 10 pick, but I think that’s being overzealous.
Realistically, he projects as a late first-round pick or a second-round pick.
For what it’s worth, DraftExpress.com has Trier projected to be picked 36th in the 2018 NBA Draft, meaning they don’t expect him to go pro this year.
I wouldn’t be surprised either way, but if I had to pick one side, I would guess that he will head to the NBA.
Rawle Alkins — will return, but could go through pre-draft process
Like Simmons, Rawle Alkins’ best option would be to go through the NBA Combine, in my opinion.
DraftExpress.com projects Alkins as an early second-rounder in the 2018 NBA Draft, so he’s a legitimate NBA prospect and probably would be selected in the 2017 NBA Draft if he decides to pursue that route.
As a freshman, Alkins averaged 10.9 points per game, plus did a number of other things for the Wildcats, like rebound and play-make, but he could be a player whose production explodes in his sophomore season. Especially if Trier does decide to bolt for the NBA.
If that happens, Alkins could climb into the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, making his decision to stay for a second year a smart one.
You could make the same argument for Simmons, but Alkins will surely have a major role next season if he returns, as his minutes hardly fluctuated this past season. The same can’t be said for Simmons.
In the end, I think Alkins returns to school and becomes Arizona’s best player in the 2017-18 season.
What about the others?
Dusan Ristic and Chance Comanche could also be early entrants (technically even Parker Jackson-Cartwright, too), but it seems highly unlikely that either would decide to stay in the draft.
Ristic has some glaring weaknesses (strength, foot speed, length, athleticism, etc.) that would be even more pronounced in the NBA, so forgoing his senior season doesn’t seem wise.
Comanche is listed as the No. 10 prospect in the Pac-12 by DraftExpress.com, so he may have an NBA future, but he’s similar to Alkins in that his draft stock could greatly benefit from him returning for a junior season.
Usually, the longer a player stay in college the lower his perceived upside is, but Comanche is young for a sophomore since his birthday is in mid-April.
Comanche has continually progressed throughout his college career and his junior year could be the year when he takes on a featured role and beats out Ristic for the starting center job.
Still, given Comanche’s mobility and length — he has a 7-foot-2 wingspan — he could draw attention from scouts at the NBA Combine, so it wouldn’t be a total eye-opener if he decides to declare and go through the pre-draft process before ultimately deciding to return to Arizona.
Important dates to know
April 23: Last day for early entrants to enter name in NBA Draft
May 9-14: NBA Combine
June 12: Last day early entrants can withdraw from NBA Draft (assuming no agent has been hired)
June 22: 2017 NBA Draft
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire