While Nigel Hayes garnered most of the preseason attention regarding a future basketball career in the NBA, Bronson Koenig quietly asserted himself as a viable option at the NBA level.
That is, at least, according to those who had a front-row view of what he could do on the basketball court every day, like the member of the University of Wisconsin coaching staff. That’s not to say Hayes isn’t anymore — in fact, he still has a much higher chance of being drafted than Koenig. The pair each struggled at various points in the season, but strong showings during the NCAA tournament boosted their stock at the right time.
Come draft night, though, it’s no guarantee either will hear his name called.
Hayes has already been through the pre-draft combine, as he declared for the draft but did not sign with an agent, allowing him to return for his senior season. Scouts and league officials informed the 6-foot-7 forward on what he needed to improve (presumably his outside shooting) and graded him in the second round.
Unfortunately for Hayes, though one could argue he improved his all-around grade, he did not improve his draft stock. In most mock drafts he is projected to go in the second round, and that’s if he is even selected at all. DraftExpress has Hayes hearing his name called at No. 54 (out of 60) by the Utah Jazz. ESPN NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford has Hayes listed as the No. 90 prospect in his top-100 rankings, and considers him a late second round pick or an undrafted free agent. According to Ford, Hayes’ strengths include his high basketball IQ and court vision, as well as his strength and athleticism that make him an above-average scorer around the rim. What hurts Hayes, in Ford’s notes, is his “tweener” size between a small forward and power forward and his jump shooting inconsistencies.
Who doesn’t show up on any of these rankings with fancy speculations on why he may or may not become the next second-round gem like a Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonhard? Bronson Koenig. What Koenig lacks in pre-draft exposure, at least currently, he makes up for in support from his former coaches, who have absolute faith he can be a contributor in the NBA.
Former UW associate head coach Lamont Paris, who recently accepted the head coaching position at Chatanooga, told The Badger Herald during the season that, in his mind, Koenig could eventually make an impact at the NBA level.
“That’s hard for me to say because they pay guys to know a lot more about that than me,” Paris said at the time. “But if you look at his skill set, certainly. He can shoot the ball at a very, very high level, even for that, he’s got good range at that level. Do I believe it? Sure.”
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Paris added Koenig’s character and make-up will also be pluses for him during the pre-draft process. And as a caveat, Paris admitted his bias toward Koenig over other prospects, since he inherently has confidence in all players he coaches.
“It’s just such a crapshoot at that level,” Paris said. “Certain teams like certain things. Teams may need certain things.”
The impetus for teams to offer Koenig a contract will come down to his shooting prowess. UW assistant coach Howard Moore told The Badger Herald that scouts often inquired about Koenig and were definitely paying attention to his game this season.
“The one thing he has in his back pocket is he’s a shooter,” Moore said. “And NBA is always looking for shooters.”
No prospect’s game is perfect, and that holds true for Koenig. At the collegiate level, he was never much of a rebounder and his defense was sub-par at times. Still, he possesses intangibles like confidence and clutch (see: Xavier buzzer-beater).
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The reality is there’s a significant chance neither Hayes nor Koenig will be drafted. It is almost guaranteed, though, they will sign somewhere as free agents. This may seem like a demotion, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Each will be able to sign with the team of his preference and will be able to factor in where they best fit and future playing time into their decision-making progress, at least for training camp and Summer League.
Koenig and Hayes will most likely spend their rookie seasons in the D-League, where they will have a chance to hone their game at the next level.
Then again, this is all just speculation … right?