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NBA draft crowded with underclassmen

Without guarantee of first-round pick in NBA draft, college stars would be better off staying put

Rick Bonnell
Rick Bonnell covers the Charlotte Bobcats and the NBA for the Charlotte Observer. You can reach him by email.

Kids leave college basketball early for the NBA all the time. The incentive is obvious: If you’re good at this, why not go ahead and make a bunch of money doing it?

Except not all these kids turning pro will make a bunch of money. Some will sacrifice college eligibility to end up in the development league or play overseas with very uncertain futures.

Dozens of underclassmen have made themselves available for the 2013 draft. Some, like Kansas’ Ben McLemore or Georgetown’s Otto Porter, know they’ll be drafted early and guaranteed millions. Others – several with Carolinas ties – don’t come close to knowing they will be first-round picks, yet they chose to irretrievably give up remaining college eligibility.

The difference between being a first- and second-round pick is a big deal financially. Under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, every first-rounder is guaranteed two years of salary. It’s a sliding scale, based on when a player is chosen, but even the 30th pick makes a lot of money.

There is no such prescribed guarantee for second-rounders. Teams can choose to guarantee some money if they want, but are under no obligation to do so.

That makes decisions by N.C. State’s Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie and North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock a little dubious. None of those three can say with confidence he’ll be a first-round pick. And yet each left school with remaining eligibility.

NBAdraft.net, a solid source of draft information, projects Brown as the 27th pick, Leslie as the 40th and Bullock as 55th.

Even in a relatively weak 2013 draft, each of these guys has noticeable holes in his game.

Scouts like point guard Brown’s 6-foot-5 height and his ability to find scorers in transition. But he’s not a great athlete by NBA standards. The way the NBA game is called – you can’t hand-check the ballhandler like you can in college – point guards have to be highly athletic.

Leslie is 6-foot-9 and a skinny 200 pounds. That build suggests he needs to be a small forward in the NBA, but he doesn’t have the perimeter skills – particularly jump-shooting – to excel there.

Bullock is a proven jump-shooter (38.6 percent from 3-point range over three college seasons) but there isn’t much else about his game that will excite NBA teams.

So each has taken a risk, trading away remaining college eligibility on the hope he can convince an NBA team he’s worth their money. That’s a common practice these days, but not necessarily a wise one.

Five passing thoughts on the NBA and the Bobcats:

• Several Bobcats fans told me Wednesday they were rooting for the team to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers to assure the Bobcats would have the most chances in the draft lottery. No harm in thinking that way, but the difference between the worst team’s lottery chances and the second-worst team’s is so negligible it’s not worth getting worked up over.

• Ankle surgery means Duke guard (and Charlottean) Seth Curry won’t be able to work out for NBA teams leading up to the draft. But father Dell told me Seth’s surgery went so well the surgeon is hopeful he’ll be fully recovered inside the three-month projection.

• Ben Gordon said there’s no reason for him to consider the opt-out clause in his contract this summer. Makes sense, since Gordon is guaranteed $13.2 million next season under the existing deal.

• Some fans keep asking me why the NBA would need 18 months to rebrand the Bobcats, as incoming commissioner Adam Silver said last week. I spoke to a couple of branding experts and they said they find 18 months an incredibly tight schedule to do all the things involved in such a project.

• Lawrence Frank, fired by the Detroit Pistons, is an excellent coach. He won’t be unemployed long and figures to end up back with Doc Rivers in Boston.

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