Recent history says UM’s Matthews faces long NBA Draft odds

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Charles Matthews

Decision day is fast approaching for Michigan’s Charles Matthews.

Matthews is nearing the end of the NBA Draft process — an avenue coach John Beilein encouraged him to pursue — and has until Wednesday’s early entry withdrawal deadline to return to Ann Arbor for his junior season or forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and leave.

Matthews, whose name hasn't appeared in any major mock drafts for 2018, had at least two pre-draft workouts this week with the Denver Nuggets and reportedly the New York Knicks. He told reporters in Denver his performance in the NCAA Tournament, where he averaged 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in six games, was a factor in him declaring for the draft without an agent.

“That was huge,” Matthews said in a video posted by the Nuggets. “That’s when I felt ready to make that jump, just going through the whole tournament and making it that far. Those are technically the best teams in college basketball and they're still competing at a high level. That did spark a lot of interest in me as far as NBA.”

However, not getting an invite to the NBA Draft Combine earlier this month was a sign that teams might not think he’s ready for the next level just yet. And recent draft history says the same thing.

Since the NCAA altered the NBA Draft rules for underclassmen in 2016 — allowing players to test the draft waters and return to school as long as they didn’t hire an agent — 255 college players have declared early the past two drafts.

Of the 255, 160 didn’t receive an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine. The majority (115) who faced this situation withdrew their name from draft consideration and returned to school, while 45 opted to stay in the draft. None of those 45 players were drafted.

More: UM's 2018 hoops recruits boast lots of versatility, scoring

Even if Matthews did garner an invite to the combine, it doesn’t guarantee he would hear his name called on draft night.

Of the 57 underclassmen who went unselected the last two drafts, 12 participated in the combine: Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe, South Carolina’s P.J. Dozier, BYU’s Eric Mika, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley, Nevada’s Cameron Oliver, Florida’s Devin Robinson, Arizona’s Kobi Simmons and Maryland’s Melo Trimble in 2017, and North Carolina State’s Cat Barber, Maryland’s Robert Carter, Kansas’ Wayne Selden Jr. and Indiana’s Troy Williams in 2016.

Only six of those 12 players — Dozier, Motley, Robinson, Simmons, Selden and Williams — have appeared in an NBA game.

But not receiving an invite doesn’t mean Matthews would toil in the NBA G League or overseas, either. Six early entrants who went undrafted in 2016 and 2017 have made it to the NBA, highlighted by UNLV’s Derrick Jones Jr., who played in the 32 games with the Phoenix Suns as a rookie and 20 games this past season with the Suns and Miami Heat.

There are also several examples of underclassmen who missed out on a combine invite, returned to school and improved their draft stock — like Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Valparaiso’s Alec Peters — and others who didn’t — like Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. and Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, who both went undrafted.

Brooks and Peters both tested the waters without an agent in 2016. After returning to school for another year, they earned a combine invite in 2017 and landed an NBA roster spot as second-round picks.

Regardless, Matthews will soon have to weigh the odds and decide which road he wants to take after weeks of being evaluated and gathering feedback from NBA teams.

“Really, they just see that I’m an NBA athlete,” said Matthews, who is projected to be a late first-round pick in 2019 by ESPN. “They see I’m a guy that can come in and guard, a guy that can defend all three perimeter positions and still create my own shot as well. Basically, they think that translates well to the NBA.

“(The process) has been really good, especially if I do come back to school, I'll be more experienced and know what this process is like. If I choose to stay in (the draft), I feel confident in giving it my all.”

Target sets decision date

Jalen Wilson, a four-star forward from Denton, Texas, announced on Twitter Saturday he will make his commitment on Wednesday.

Michigan is one of Wilson's six finalists, along with Baylor, Marquette, Kansas, Oklahoma State and UCLA. He was extended an offer by the Wolverines during a visit to Ann Arbor two weekends ago.

Wilson is rated the No. 34 prospect in the nation and No. 8 small forward for the 2019 class in the 247Sports Composite rankings.