Whether to put his name in the NBA draft (the deadline is April 29th) or return to UCLA for his senior year.
Contrary to reports, from what we hear, Afflalo's decision to turn pro is by no means a done deal. In fact, some people close to the situation are putting the odds at about 50-50 right now.
Like most young basketball players, Afflalo's dream is to play in the NBA, and after having an All-American season as a junior, many might think going pro after his junior year might be the natural progression.
There are many factors, however, that should play into Afflalo's decision. We're not saying that these factors will be considered when Afflalo makes his decision, but they should be.
Afflalo is generally projected anywhere from a late first-round pick, to a second-round pick, to some forecasts having him not even drafted. All forecasts of the draft, because of its nature, are highly speculative, and there are only a very few people in the business who have the NBA connections to do it accurately (Scout.com's Frank Burlison being one). So, trying to project Afflalo in the draft is a tough thing to do, as it is with most non-lottery pick-level players. Burlison has told us that most of his NBA sources believe Afflalo would be a second-round pick, with the outside possibility that a random team could take him late in the first round.
Afflalo put his name in the draft last year and took it out before the deadline to do so. Since he didn't hire an agent he could return to college. As a college player, the NBA allows you to put your name in the draft and rescind it just once, so Afflalo doesn't have that luxury this year. When you do so, you get to work out with NBA teams and they provide you a scouting report and draft projection. Since Afflalo used his one-time option for this last year, he won't be able to work out for NBA teams again and NBA scouts will generally use their evaluation of him last year as a primary reference, which doesn't benefit Afflalo, since last year most NBA scouts thought Afflalo wouldn't be drafted. NBA teams will, of course, enhance their scouting reports in a case like this, but they will rely on their evaluation from last year.
Most sources close to the situation believe that Afflalo could vastly help himself in his draft status if he returned for his senior year. Coming back for another year he could improve the aspects of his game that would enhance his status – his outside shot, his ability to put the ball on the floor, etc. Afflalo is not a great athlete, and the athletic aspects of his game generally can't be improved. But Afflalo could improve his skill level to a degree that his athletic limitations are diminished. The most immediate example of an athletically-limited player improving his draft stock by returning for his senior year is J.J. Redick, who went from being considered a late first-round pick/second-round pick to the 11th pick in the 2006 NBA draft. This isn't to say that Afflalo could become a lottery pick (one of the top 14 picks in the draft). Redick was the best shooter in college basketball during the 2005-2006 season. But Redick improved his draft stock generally by improving on his skill set from his junior to his senior year. He went from a great shooter to one of the best in the last decade; he was far more able to put the ball on the floor and create space to get off his shot; and was much improved in taking the ball to the basket. Afflalo could possibly make a comparable leap, perhaps cementing a place in the first round in the 2008 NBA draft by showing improvement on various skills in his senior year. Afflalo did show improvement in his junior year, which has improved his NBA projection from not being drafted in 2006 to probably a second-round pick in 2007. It's not hard to project his draft status improving again, especially if Afflalo were to be probably the leading candidate for National Player of the Year in 2008.
From what we know, Afflalo is definitely torn. His intention, after pulling his name out of the 2006 draft, was to play his junior year and put his name in the draft this spring. That was Afflalo's goal. We know that he, like many in his position, he's done research into an agent, but he hasn't signed with one. His family is very supportive and pretty sensible; his father, who is Afflalo's support system, while like any parent would like to see his son in the NBA, isn't pushing him to the NBA for financial reasons like many other parents do.
Afflalo has made many comments, during the season and those from the locker room at the Georgia Dome after losing to Florida, that indicate Afflalo is seriously considering returning. From what we've heard, those are legitimate considerations and just not lip service. Afflalo, a kid with great character, isn't one to try to say the right things at the time with the intention of not following through on them. Of course, if Afflalo did get a conclusive indication from an NBA team that they'd take him in the first round, that would, understandably, change Afflalo's opinion. But from what we know, Afflalo's comments about wanting to return to UCLA to go down in UCLA history as one of its best players, to try to win a national championship, etc. are genuine.
And those considerations for Afflalo, from what we've heard, mean a great deal to him. While being an NBA player is his dream, bringing UCLA a national championship and being considered one of its legendary names is something he also holds dear. It's not lost on him that, if he returns for his senior year and UCLA competes seriously again for a national championship, he will be considered even more the player that returned UCLA to prominence. At UCLA, they don't retire jersey numbers unless you win the national player of the year award, and Afflalo, if he returned next season, could be the leading candidate for the honor. And besides the individual accolades, we've learned that Afflalo very much wants to attempt to win a national championship with his teammates. He also understands the impact that incoming post player Kevin Love will make on the team. Love will give UCLA the inside presence it hasn't had mostly in the last two years, the element that most agree on has been the missing piece to the championship puzzle. Love being on the team will only make Afflalo's job that much easier, giving UCLA's offense more dimension and not allowing opposing defenses to key so much on Afflalo.
If Afflalo does return, and the other players around college basketball go pro that are generally projected to go pro, UCLA will more than likely be the pre-season #1 team in the country for the 2007-2008 season. This is also not lost on Afflalo, from what we hear.
In the next month, before Afflalo has to make a decision, much will depend on where he's projected in the draft, and at this point, that's difficult to ascertain. It's believed that if Afflalo can get a first-round guarantee from an NBA team, he'll put his name in the draft. But with all of the contributing factors, those close to Afflalo believe that if he doesn't get that first-round guarantee and is projected as a second-round pick, he could very likely return.