5 LSU Tigers have declared for the NBA Draft - Why it matters, and why it doesn't

Seth Dunlap
April 11, 2019 - 7:35 pm

Add two more names to the list of LSU Tigers who have declared for the NBA Draft.

Freshmen Javonte Smart and Emmitt Williams announced their declarations on Thursday, joining freshman Naz Reid, sophomore Tremont Waters, and junior Skylar Mays as Tigers' underclassmen to throw their name in a rapidly expanding pool of NBA draft prospects.  That's a whopping five players who have decided it's in their best interests to test their draft prospects.  

Before LSU fans sound the alarms and head to social media or the message boards to vent their inner freak-out, know that declaring for the NBA Draft and hiring an agent no longer means a player's college career is a wrap.  

An NCAA rule change, implemented for the first time this year, allows players to hire and agent without losing college eligibility.  Players can now declare for the draft, go through the NBA combine, and then decide to return to school so long as they participate in the NBA Draft Combine.  Previously, if players had hired an agent they would have forfeited any ability to return to school.  Thankfully, we now have a rule that allows players to gauge their draft stock, and level of interest from NBA teams, without the disastrous possibility of not being able to play in the NBA or college the following season.

The optimistic view is that most of these players are doing just that, testing the waters, before they'll eventually decide to return to play for LSU next season.  While most analysts believe Naz Reid is gone for good -- his draft stock is high enough at this point that it'd be a bit of a shocker if he un-declares -- there is hope the other four could return.  Let's analyze those odds for each player:

  • Tremont Waters - After Reid, the player least-likely to return is Waters.  He was a Cousy Award finalist this season for the best point guard in the country, was the team's leading scorer during his two years on campus, and is the most highly regarded LSU player by NBA scouts outside of Reid.  He's not ready to play in the NBA, a common theme in this list, but with further development could eventually crack an NBA roster.  His size, or lack thereof, (5'11") is a big negative, as is his penchant for turnovers in crucial moments.  He averaged 5.8 assists and 3.5 turnovers per game this season, a ratio that would make any talent evaluator cringe.  Waters must know he would almost certainly go undrafted if he stays declared, but the allure of an actual paycheck in the G-League or overseas may be too tempting for him to turn down. 
  • Skylar Mays - Mays is a really interesting prospect.  He has freakish athleticism, has shown the ability to score from the perimeter and off the dribble, and has the size (6'4") that wouldn't scare away NBA teams who might see them playing in their (or their G-League team's) backcourt.  Mays is in no way ready to play in the NBA, but could eventually carve out a little niche' as an athletic, defensive guard.  Mays will also be 22 years old in the fall, and the clock is ticking on his ability to make money playing professionally.  
  • Javonte Smart - This one is a bit of a head scratcher, until remembering that Smart was at the center of the Will Wade/Christian Dawkins transcripts and the firestorm that ensued.  He and his family were investigated by LSU, and that alone might have been enough to completely sour Smart on the college experience.  Smart wouldn't even sniff a serious look on draft day, and he might have a hard time even making a G-League team.  Still, there's plenty of professional basketball roster spots across the world and he certainly can find a job somewhere.  If Will Wade is reinstated, expect Smart back.  If not, then he'll remain a wildcard.  
  • Emmitt Williams - There's little doubt that Williams eventually would get a serious look from the NBA.  Eventually.  Right now he is a raw, athletic, undersized forward who is a bit of a basketball "tweener."  At 6'6", he can't be expected to effectively play the power forward or center positions in the NBA, even as the league trends towards smaller lineups.  He also has no semblance of an outside game, shooting just 16.7% from three-point range in his one season at LSU.  There's also the complicating factor that Williams is an "old" freshman who will turn 21 before his sophomore season.  Exceptional defenders and rebounders who can play both the small forward and power forward spots in the NBA are a prized commodity.  Think of Williams as a poor man's Draymond Green at this point.  Green spent 4 years at Michigan State before being drafted in the second round and carving out his unique role with the Warriors.  Green was never a star at Michigan State, and most thought he'd be an NBA bust.  However, I liked Green coming out of college.  I also like Williams as a flyer prospect for NBA teams.  I'd like him a lot more if he had two more seasons of development on a college campus, but it's easy to see why scouts could be enamored by William's potential.  

Playing the odds, the most likely scenario for LSU is that Reid, Waters, and Smart have played their last games for LSU while Smart and Williams will return.  The complicating factor, of course, remains the shadow of the Will Wade suspension and investigation that hangs over the program.  

That's why, despite the constant reminders we see now on social media (and in my column above) that draft declarations are no longer college-career enders, this string of surprising decisions from LSU players is a bit alarming.  As of Thursday afternoon, there were 80 underclassmen, give or take a couple, across college basketball who had declared for the NBA Draft.  That works out to about one declaration per Power-5-plus-Big-East program.  That doesn't count any mid or small major schools.  LSU's five declarations isn't normal, no matter how people are trying to spin it.

A lot of people buried their head in the sand when Wade was caught on federal wiretaps discussing a "strong-ass offer" to Smart.  The extent of the fallout from Wade's actions isn't known, and there's an increasing possibility that he could be reinstated as head coach, but are we really supposed to believe that these potential defections would all have still happened if Wade wasn't caught with his hand in the pay-for-play cookie jar?

Even if Wade is reinstated, the recruiting pipeline has quickly run dry for Tiger hoops.  Last year's hallmark class that included Reid, Williams, Smart, and Darius Days was ranked in the top-five nationally.  LSU's current 2019 class includes just two commits, three-star guard James Bishop and two-star shooting guard Charles Manning.  There's interest from five-star forward Trendon Watford from Alabama and four-star guard Lester Quinones from Florida, but the dark cloud of the Wade investigation makes landing those players much less likely.

While the handful of draft declarations for LSU isn't cause for serious panic considering the new rules implemented this year by the NCAA, that doesn't mean there isn't cause for concern.  LSU basketball fans should remain on high-alert until the May 29 deadline to withdraw from the draft.  The Tigers should also know by then if Will Wade will indeed remain as their head coach.  



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