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Roundtable: Should Nico Mannion have stayed at Arizona?

Arizona v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Nico Mannion joined the Arizona Wildcats as a projected lottery pick but finished as a second-round selection, leading many to wonder if he made the right decision to leave for the NBA after his one and only season in Tucson.

Should he have stayed another year? Our staff discussed it.

Ryan Kelapire: If this were a normal year, you could make a compelling argument for it. Mannion could have rebuilt his stock just by shooting better, and I think he would have done that in his second season at Arizona. He would have been more comfortable in the college game (and possibly healthier) and had more playmakers around him, allowing him to get some easier looks.

However, this decision is not as simple as that. One could also argue that if Mannion returned to Arizona and didn’t improve much, he wouldn’t even be an NBA prospect anymore. He’d no longer have the benefit of the doubt that freshmen often get from evaluators. COVID certainly complicates the situation, too. With so many uncertainties, you can’t blame someone for going pro when they know they are going to get drafted, whether that be in the first or second round. That’s a lot of money to turn down. And the early-entry deadline was in August, when it wasn’t even clear if there would be a college basketball season. At that point the NBA was already playing again.

Of course, Mannion landed in a pretty great spot in Golden State too, so I doubt he’s having any second thoughts right now. It’s very possible he’ll develop more with the Warriors than he ever would have at Arizona. He’ll have more time to train and better resources in the pros. What matters now is that he works hard to improve his game and actually gets a chance to play. It’s not the first contract that matters; it’s the second one.

Ezra Amacher: Though Mannion’s game is far from where it needs to be, remaining in the draft was the right decision in the long run. Just think about the competition he’ll be facing in practice now versus if he has stayed at Arizona. Mannion benefited his freshman season by playing with Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji, two guys who elevated his game and took some of the pressure off his shoulders. If Mannion had returned for this season, he’d have been asked to do more with less. With Golden State, Mannion gets to face off against the best guard of his generation while learning from Steve Kerr. Many second round picks fall through the cracks, but Mannion is likely to receive great organizational support because of his shared UA ties with Kerr. As long as the Warriors are patient, Mannion should develop into a better talent than he would have by in Tucson another year.

Ronnie Stoffle: This was a legitimate question before seeing the draft results. Now that we know he slipped to pick 48, it’s really a great question. In retrospect, the answer has to be yes. The reason being, could he have really slipped much more?

As the first round neared the end, my hope was Nico would land with Boston at pick 26 or 30. It would have still provided a guaranteed contract and he would be in a situation where he’s not being asked to play and produce immediately. Plus, Brad Stevens is an awesome coach.

With pick 26, Boston went with a well-known point guard from the Pac-12 but it wasn’t Nico. They selected Payton Pritchard. It made me realize that Pritchard’s path to the NBA was probably the route Nico should have taken. Obviously they had much different expectations coming out of high school but the fact is everyone recognized that those expectations were not achieved in the his lone season with Arizona.

I’m not suggesting that Nico should have stayed for four years but another season could not have depreciated his NBA market value (barring injury). It’s hard to imagine he wasn’t disappointed with draft position but Steve Kerr really saved the day and he will likely get Nico a guaranteed deal. We saw something similar with Nick Johnson when he was drafted by the Rockets and Kevin McHale did his good buddy’s (Dennis Johnson) nephew a solid.

Kerr will always take care of his Wildcats family and he was probably thrilled to have him at that spot. Beyond the fact of playing for Kerr, this is still a great landing spot for Nico as he will play behind Steph Curry for the foreseeable future.

Brian J. Pedersen: This is a moot question because Mannion, like Josh Green, had decided before ever signing with Arizona that he was only going to be in college for one year. Only Zeke Nnaji, who was ‘underrated’ compared to his fellow freshmen teammates, might not have already decided to be a one-and-done.

There was a lot about Mannion’s game, as we saw in 2019-20, that still needs work, but there are no guarantees he’ll be able to improve on those things in a college setting. It’s just as likely he could have regressed, which would have further hurt his draft stock. The best option was for him to put in his minimum time in college, get with the right NBA franchise and develop into the player he’s projected to one day become.

Adam Green: Though he fell to the second round, Nico Mannion absolutely made the right call in turning pro after his freshman season.

Mannion’s lone season in Tucson was more solid than great, which is fine for most freshmen but not for one with Mannion’s pedigree and reputation. Had he played better he likely would have found himself taken in the first round of the draft, and maybe even the lottery.

But that doesn’t matter. In truth, going in the second round could be the best thing to happen to Nico. Not only did he land with a great team and organization, but for the first time in many years there will not be any kind of pressure for him to star right out of the gate. He can take his time to develop and improve, all while getting paid to do so.

The beauty of professional sports is that it really doesn’t matter where in the draft you are picked, if you are even picked at all. The only thing that matters is getting a shot, which Mannion — even as a second-round pick — most definitely will. What he does with it, and where his career goes from here, is entirely up to him.

Christian Mortensen: To answer this question simply, absolutely not.

There’s no doubt that Nico’s game fits the NBA better than it fits Sean Miller’s offensive style, and while he may have improved his position in the draft by coming back to Tucson for another year, he just as easily could have hurt his stock even more if he “underperformed” once again.

Shoot, he even could have suffered a serious injury and ruined everything had he come back to school.

Plus, there is no doubting that he fell into the perfect situation with the Warriors, as being around Curry and Kerr every day will be the ideal opportunity for him to learn the nuances and grind of the professional game.