It is difficult to get much from an NBA scout, even when the player being discussed is a senior. Much like a poker player, the scout does not want to reveal too much of his hand too early, for fear of some other team stealing information or a player away. Most NBA teams prevent their scouts from talking about an underclassman at all. Until a player signs that declaration saying they will enter the draft, they are considered hands off.
With that said, upon hearing the news of Morris' decision on Tuesday morning, I checked with a couple of NBA scouts I am familiar with, and both said the same thing. If he doesn't go back to Kentucky for his sophomore season, he is making a terrible mistake. One unnamed scout said, "He really isn't ready for the punishment of the NBA season. Another year of college ball would get him closer, but even that would not keep him from sitting the bench for at least a year."
But many times, it is not about sitting or playing. It is about the money. If a player is fortunate enough to be drafted in that first round, then the money is guaranteed, and sitting at the end of that bench is a little easier. Ask Jermaine O' Neal. Ask Tayshaun Prince.
I checked with a couple of other NBA names. My next stop was with someone I can mention. Wayne Chapman was a college coach, a former NBA scout with both the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets, and the father of former Kentucky player and NBA player, Rex Chapman. The elder Chapman is highly respected among NBA circles and watched Kentucky a few times this past season. "You're right," said Chapman. "You can't be surprised anymore by anything that happens. If you look now, I think the NBA is watered down quite a bit. I'd say 75% of the players couldn't have played in the league thirteen or fourteen years ago, because of the quality of the players. But they are playing now, and you can't really rule anybody out. I've been watching the people becoming eligible and putting themselves in the draft, from high school to underclassmen. You know, if you added all those people up, they'd take up all the first two rounds of the draft, and I don't think that's going to happen."
Chapman was also glad to hear that Morris was not initially signing with an agent. "That throws out a lot of ulterior motives, such as discipline problems or grades or any of those things. That means that he's welcome back by Tubby. I am sure he'll find out a lot before the deadline for withdrawing the names for underclassmen. He should be able to make a sound decision, if he goes and works out on his own for these teams." I asked Chapman to break down the draft for me, and tell me how many times teams will draft on potential alone, a situation that fits Morris. "Early in the draft, I'd say half the first round, people are looking for the best players available that are known quantities. When you get later in the draft, teams are more likely to draft someone that will come in with potential, that will maybe sit and learn for two or three years on an established team, because those are the teams, obviously, that have done well for the previous few years."
Chapman harkens back to an old saying in the NBA, though, when describing Morris' situation. "The closer it gets to deadline for drafting, size always comes to the top. The bigger players usually go, because they have a bigger upside. Teams can make more mistakes with a bigger guy, than they can with a guy who is 6'4" or 6'5"." Chapman doesn't believe that the Moody camp or any other combine will really boost Morris' stock much more, after being scrutinized so much at UK. "The camps and combines can help a player that's lesser known, players not seen as much as [Division] 1-A schools. But the majority of the major college players, they've been pretty well scrutinized going into those camps."
Now time to get a player's opinion. I asked former Wildcat and current Houston Rocket Scott Padgett his thoughts on Morris' early entry decision. "The first thing I would tell him is," said Padgett, "to get in the best shape he can get in. Because the better shape he's in, the longer he can play at his highest level. It's a 48 minute game in the league, and it's a long season."
As far as working on any individual aspects of his game, Padgett would advise Morris to work on the inside game. "I would tell him, having watched him play, all summer long he needs to be working on his post moves. I saw him play a lot, and I thought he was a great offensive rebounder. He finished well on the break. He did a good job on catching and finishing plays. But I didn't see a lot of get the ball in the post, make a move, and score on somebody. He's going to need to do that in our league, because I don't think he's that other player, where he can step out and knock down that 18-footer all day. Keep working on getting stronger. It's a banging, physical game."
But Padgett's assessment ended very simply. "If he tests the water, he tests the water. But if he's not a top fifteen pick, he needs to come back. If he's a top fifteen pick, he's going to play on a team that is not as good. That's going to give him more opportunity to play. The only way you're getting better in this league, is if you're on the floor. If you're in that bottom fifteen [in the first round], you're going to be a team that's in the playoff hunt. And a team in the playoff hunt is not going to give a rookie very many chances. I think he's too talented not to be in the league. And I don't see it, if he's on one of those top echelon teams, which he's going to be if he's later in the first round."