Isaiah Austin has a very complicated decision ahead of him. He came to Baylor as a Top-5 national recruit, a McDonald's All-American, and a presumed one-and-done recruit. His freshman season went the way most recruits first year in college does. It had its up and downs. Austin was a tremendous rebounder for the first part of the year, highlighted by a 12 rebound effort against Oklahoma State on February 17th. The rest of the year though, he would not grab more than 7 rebounds.
Austin also had two stretches of awful shooting, 7-22 shots during a 4-game run in late February which was bookended by two of his better scoring games. He also had a 4-15 shooting performance over a 3-game stretch in January. His overall numbers were solid, but most were still left disappointed due to the lofty expectations. He scored 13 points per game, grabbed 8.3 rebounds, with 1.7 blocks and 1.1 assists. He shot the ball well for the most part, making 33.3% of his 3-point shots, and 49.7% of his 2-point shots. His overall effective field goal rate was a solid 49.7%.
With the Bears season ending in an NIT championship, most figured that Austin would bolt to the NBA where he was projected to be a mid-to-late first round choice in a weak draft class. However, a shoulder injury that had plagued him during the year forced him to undergo surgery and thus, miss out on the chance to work out for teams. With the surgery, Austin decided to come back for his sophomore year in hopes of improving his draft stock and the Bears play.
While Austin's raw numbers were down in terms of scoring and rebounding (13 ppg down to 11.2 ppg and 8.3 rpg down to 5.5 rpg), he improved in several key aspects. Austin became one of the best shot blockers in college basketball, averaging 3.1 blocks per game, and increasing his block rate from 5.4% to 12%, which ranked 16th in the country. His assist rate also increased, from 7.5% to 10.3% causing his assists per game to increase from 1.1 to 1.4.
His decision making on his shots also improved, taking 25 fewer three-pointers in 3 more games. He shot the ball closer to the basket, though he did struggle to finish through contact, and his shooting %s did drop a bit (45.9% down to 44.9%).
So with all of that being said, what should Austin do? Should he stay at Baylor at least 1 more year with a full offseason to get better, or should be go to the NBA where he can start his career now?
Isaiah Austin Should Go Pro
A large factor that most people don't think of in terms of the decision to go to the NBA is the second contract. The sooner you get to the League, the sooner you can get your second contract, which is where you make the bulk of your money. The rookie contract players sign, if they are drafted in the first round, is slotted and guaranteed. They are given pretty much a four-year contract, plus the ability of the team to offer a qualifying offer for a 5th year. The contracts are guaranteed for 3 years, and the 4th year is a team option. So, if a player is successful, his salary is pretty much set by his draft position for 5 years.
The second round choices are a bit different. The contracts are not as rigid, and they are also not guaranteed. That is a good and bad thing. First, no guarantee is no guarantee. With a salary that can be waived with no punishment, they are easy to void and get away from. However, it is also possible to sign shorter length contracts that will allow the player to get to his 2nd deal quicker.
Currently, Austin is projected as a 2nd round pick. The 2014 NBA draft is very deep, but one would think that Austin with his size and skill will impress during workouts and their combine like event. Austin is a true 7-foot-1 and has the ability to be a threat on the pick and roll from day 1. He has a very good jump shot, and one that should only get better with more repetition. Those are NBA ready skills that NBA teams covet quite a bit. Add his ability to be a difference maker in terms of his ability to block shots (as a help defender right away, though he will have to get much stronger down low).
While a spot in the Developmental League is a strong possibility, especially if he goes to a better team, starting your career, getting paid and treated like a professional, and starting the clock on that coveted 2nd contract are very good reasons to go to the NBA.
Isaiah Austin Should Stay at Baylor
The one thing that is keeping Austin from being a much higher draft choice is his lack of strength and toughness. One is actual, in that Austin has a very slight frame and does not have a very strong lower-body. The other is much more of a perception due to his frame and perimeter oriented game. With the news of his blindness in one eye, the toughness factor seems to be overdone quite a bit. However, what proves his toughness is also another mark against him. Will teams want to draft a prospect with a major disadvantage?
There is nothing Austin can do about this eyesight now, but there is something he can do about his overall strength. His offseason shoulder surgery robbed him of the crucial summer between his freshman and sophomore campaigns. He could not lift weight or work on his game very much, and that is developmental time he cannot get back. But another season at Baylor, including a summer training and getting stronger could do wonders for his game. His improvement on the defensive end of the court shows that Austin has untapped potential. His rebounding positioning and ability to finish through contact are areas that need major improvement.
With a return to Baylor, he would also be eligible for the draft in a much weaker draft. While the top of the 2014 NBA draft has come into question recently, its depth and array of prospects is no argument at all. This is a tremendous draft to have a late 1st or early 2nd round pick. With such depth, Austin could be pushed well past where he would go in a normal draft, like the next two years are projected to be.
So, is the added benefit of a hopefully higher draft position, combined with a larger payout on that first contract enough for him to push off this choice for another season?
There is no way that anyone truly knows what Austin is going to do at this point. You will read reports swearing up and down that he is gone, and some just as confident that he is staying. In fact, I doubt that Austin himself knows what he is going to do. This is a complicated decision (as Baylor fans remember from Quincy Miller, who both chose to stay and leave in the same offseason). Whatever Austin chooses though, there will be positives and negatives. All Baylor fans can do is root for him either way.