Michigan freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis, redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews and sophomore guard Jordan Poole declared for early entry into the NBA draft last week.
It’s a decision that shouldn’t come as a surprise since underclassmen can gather feedback, get evaluations and, thanks to a rule change, hire certified agents all while keeping the door open for a possible return to school.
However, the important decision won’t come until late next month when college players have until May 29 to determine whether to stay in the draft or pull out.
By all accounts, Matthews’ departure is expected and Brazdeikis hinted he’ll be a one-and-done when he told ESPN he intends “to be drafted as high as I can be and start my journey.” Poole, on the other hand, said he’s “prepared to look at all options” as he tests the waters.
Poole (No. 51), Brazdeikis (No. 54) and Matthews (No. 56) are all projected to be late second-round picks by Sports Illustrated, while ESPN only lists Brazdeikis (No. 40) as a mid-second-round selection. None of the three are mentioned in NBADraft.net’s latest two-round mock draft.
They also ranked are among ESPN's top 100 prospects, with Brazdeikis leading the way at No. 48, followed by Poole at No. 67 and Matthews at No. 68.
Of course, plenty can change — for better or worse — over the next few weeks once interviews and workouts get underway ahead of June's NBA draft.
With the help of three draft experts — Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman — we’ll break down each Wolverine’s pro prospects heading into the pre-draft process.
Brazdeikis, who will turn 21 next January, made an immediate impact in his first season. He started all 37 games, became the first freshman to lead Michigan in scoring (14.8 points) since Trey Burke (2011-12) and earned Big Ten freshman of the year honors.
Brazdeikis ranked second on the team in 3-point shooting (39.2 percent) and made 3-pointers (56), scored in double figures 31 times, had 10 games with at least 20 points and was the team’s leading scorer in 15 contests.
“He does not need the ball in his hands to be effective,” Woo told The News. “One of the things he's very good at is finding little pockets in the defense and then he'll spot up for a shot. He'll do little, smart things on offense that's natural to him. He's a natural scorer. He can finish with both hands. It's not flashy, but it's very effective.”
Wasserman said Brazdeikis’ ability to score in a variety of ways — as a cutter, on a drive, leaking out in transition, on an offensive rebound — his toughness and his body (6-foot-7, 215 pounds) will help his offense carry over at the next level. Wasserman said the concern is Brazdeikis lacks explosion, which raises questions about whether he can create separation around the perimeter and at the rim.
Givony noted as a perimeter player who projects as more of a spot-up shooter, teams would like to see more passing ability and less tunnel vision. Brazdeikis averaged less than an assist per game and finished with 31 on the year, the fewest among Michigan’s starting five (junior center Jon Teske had 33 assists).
“If somebody closes out, can he attack with one dribble and find the open man in the corner?” Givony said. “That's going to be the missing piece for him.”
The biggest question marks, though, are on the defensive end where Brazdeikis will have to prove he can effectively guard threes and fours.
“I don't think he's going to be quick enough to defend small forwards in the NBA,” Woo said. “With his body type, he's not super long and he's not super quick. He's strong and he's tough but that only goes so far. I don't think he's going to be able to defend wings. You watch him, and you watch the games and there are times where he's getting killed by bigs, too. If he can't defend wings and he can't defend Big Ten bigs, he's not going to defend bigs in the NBA.”
Still, Woo said Brazdeikis could find a role as a bench scorer, and Wasserman said his best shot to stick is as a small-ball four who can stretch the floor and be a tough cover against heavier-footed bigs. Givony added he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Brazdeikis moving up and becoming a late first-round pick if he has solid showings in workouts and scrimmages.
Woo, who is from Chicago, has seen plenty of Matthews since his high school days at Chicago St. Rita. And the one thing that stands out has been the way Matthews has turned himself into a versatile defender who can switch and guard the one-four positions.
“I think when you're a wing and you play defense and you can keep up athletically, there's always going to be teams that are willing to take a chance on that,” Woo said. “I think primarily if he wants to stick is he’s going to have to be continuing to hang his hat defensively. I think he has enough of an offensive skill set that there's some appeal there.”
Givony said Matthews (6-6, 205) has the prototypical physique for a small forward and has a solid feel for the game, but his defense is going to be what gets him into the NBA. Matthews routinely drew the tougher defensive assignments all season and it was a perceived snub that he didn’t make the All-Big Ten defensive team.
"That’s valuable. There are players in the NBA who don't score. They just get tossed into a game for five minutes at a time, they lock up the other team's best player and they go to the bench and that's maybe all they did,” Givony said. “But it's helpful to have a guy with that type of size and length to put him on another team's star and see if he can slow him down."
Matthews, who will be 23 in November, is also mature enough and will be better prepared for the pros after going through the process last season. However, the scouting report on him hasn’t changed much from a year ago. While he can slash and get to the rim, the key still centers around his jump shot and his ability to consistently knock down spot-up 3-pointers.
Givony said Matthews must be a three-and-D guy and he’ll have to prove in workouts he projects as a better shooter long term than what he has shown. Matthews averaged 12.2 points this season, but saw his shooting numbers (43.1 percent from field, 29.9 percent on 3s) regress compared to last season (49.5 percent from field, 31.8 percent on 3s).
“If he doesn't get drafted he's going to be one of the very first guys that teams call looking to sign on a two-way contract because you can throw him in an NBA game and he's not going to look bad,” Givony said. “That's attractive for injury, and then you put him in your G-League team and see what he can do with his shot. I think he's definitely a draftable player."
Poole moved into the starting lineup in his second season and averaged 12.8 points while shooting 36.9 percent from 3-point range. As Michigan’s top perimeter threat, he made a team-high 75 3-pointers and had 12 games where he made at least three 3s.
Like Brazdeikis, Poole’s offensive skill set is enticing. He’s shown improved ball handling skills and proven he can shoot off the dribble and be a catch-and-shoot guy, which is what the NBA game is all about nowadays.
“He's very creative, full of swagger and just has a natural knack for playing basketball that you really can't teach,” Givony said. “I think he's a little bit selfish at times, which is not the worst thing in the NBA game. You need to be able to go out and get your own and having that confidence to go out and make stuff from nothing, that's what makes him a player.
“There are things he needs to work on, but there's a framework there where if you squint, you can see an NBA player.”
Wasserman said Poole has “microwave scoring potential” and could be a sixth-man type who gives instant offense, but he’s too erratic in terms of execution, consistency and decision-making. And if his shot isn’t falling, Wasserman added Poole is probably hurting the team because he has a tendency to get lost on defense and has poor technique in areas like closing out.
According to Givony, Poole’s defense could use some work because he gambles a lot in the passing lanes and he was a player other teams attacked in the half court. And since he’s “not the most athletic guy,” Givony said NBA teams would want to see Poole (6-5, 195) maximize his quickness and explosiveness.
“There's not a ton to sink your teeth into sometimes with his game beyond the shooting,” Woo said. “He's going to have to continue maturing. I would expect him to spend a lot of time in the G-League next year if he turns pro and stays pro.
“I think you can point to his age (19) and his tools and say Jordan probably has more upside than the other two guys. But he's also the furthest from being a finished product, so there's also ways that can go wrong.”
While Poole could help himself by shooting lights-out in workouts, Wasserman and Givony agreed he would benefit the most by returning to Michigan for another year.
“He can become more of a sound player because he had incredible flashes, but then he had some games where he was barely there and he had no impact,” Givony said. “I think that's what teams are going to want to see. As a 20-year-old, that's fine. Nobody is going to look down on him as a young junior in the draft next year.”