With the NBA Draft concluding just over three weeks ago, it is now an appropriate time to discuss the question all Badger fans have been asking: Why did neither Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig hear their names called on draft night?
With no disrespect to either Hayes or Koenig, whose contributions to the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program — along with their many accomplishments during their tenure — cannot be appreciated enough, it was no surprise that neither were selected on the night of June 22. Regardless of their superb talents, it is important to acknowledge the utter difficulty of getting drafted into the NBA.
Out of the four major sports in America — baseball, basketball, hockey and football — the NBA yields the lowest percentage of college athletes. Consisting of 30 teams, all whom are granted two selections, the NBA provides the chance for only 60 individuals to be chosen to continue their careers at the next level each year.
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Of these 60 slots, on average, only 44 of them are filled by NCAA players. By taking the 44 NCAA players projected to be drafted, and dividing that figure by the number of approximate NCAA players who are draft eligible — 4,152 in 2017 — and you are left with a 1.1 percent yield — the lowest out of all major American sports.
Unlikelihood aside, the 2017 NBA draft class was a generational group of players, drawing comparisons to both the 1986 and 2003 draft classes, which consisted of Michael Jordan and LeBron James, respectively. Hayes and Koenig, as skilled and talented as they were, just could not be put into the same discussion.
Aligning with the common trend of drafting freshman over the past decade or so, this year’s draft did not variate. In fact, it set the record for the most freshmen drafted in the first round with 16, as well as the record for the fewest seniors drafted in the first round with two. These two extremes left little room four our Badger stars to thrive.
Looking at the two more individually, both exhibited fatal flaws which resulted in their NBA draft dreams being shattered. First, let’s discuss Nigel Hayes who of the two was seen as the most likely to be drafted.
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Hayes tested the draft waters after his junior year, but ultimately decided to return to school to bolster his stock. In retrospect, this may have hurt Hayes’ draft value. Although gifted by outstanding athleticism and physical tools, the 6-foot-8 wing was plagued with a poor shooting from both the free throw line and behind the three-point arc, immediately drawing red flags from scouts who salivate at the new prototypical “3 and D” wing.
With an unreliable shot, it would be difficult for Hayes to play in crunch time where opposing teams would gladly send him to the free throw line after he makes one of his patented post game spin moves or pivots.
While it is undeniable Koenig excels at shooting, his numbers are not quite “best shooter in the draft” material. Like Hayes, Koenig’s weaknesses were just far too great to overcome his strengths in the eyes of NBA GM’s.
Although a good size for the prototypical NBA point guard, even at 6-foot-3, Koenig’s lack of pure athleticism would hinder his ability to sustain productivity at the next level. Without his ability to drive to the rim as a result of his lack of physicality, at the next level, he would be relinquished to purely a catch-and-shoot player. This, tied in with his sub-par rebounding and play-making ability, is just a combination not many teams are willing to take a risk on.
While these two Badger greats were not selected in the draft, that does not mean their NBA dreams are gone. Shortly after the draft both players were signed to NBA summer league teams, Hayes the New York Knicks and Koenig the Milwaukee Bucks, where they will be provided the chance to prove they belong with the best.