Myck Kabongo came back to school this year in order to shore up a few weaknesses in his game and move up in the first round. Things ... didn't exactly go according to plan. After a 23-game NCAA suspension and the implosion of the Texas basketball program around him, he's back in the NBA draft.
A lost season won't doom his chances of playing at the next level, but it's taken away much of his margin for error. Instead of getting a long-term commitment from a team in the form of a guaranteed first-round contract, he'll likely be a second-round pick who has to claw his way onto a roster.
What are his chances? In answering that question about any NBA prospect, I like to break down their game into five distinct categories.
1) Can they create their own shot?
Physical ability is the biggest thing Kabongo has going for him. He has NBA size (6'3 180 with a 6'6 wingspan) and NBA speed. When he has the ball in his hands, especially in the open court, it's very hard to stay in front of him. Kabongo will be able to get into the lane at the next level, which is a huge plus.
The question will be whether he can finish consistently when he does. He averaged 15 points a game on 42% shooting this season, which is hardly ideal. His ability to draw fouls (7.0 attempts a game) is nice, but the key will be developing a floater, ala Tony Parker.
2) Can they shoot?
That was the big question about Kabongo last year, when he had shooting percentages of 39/31/68. This season, he was at 42/30/79. An improvement, but not nearly as much as he would have liked. This, however, is a category where the stats may not tell the whole story.
The improvement on the free-throw line, as well as the eyeball test, suggests his jumper got better this year. That may be hidden by the number of difficult shots he had to take as the only real threat on the Texas roster. If he was getting a diet of open looks, his percentages might be higher.
3) Can they make plays for others?
Kabongo has the passing ability and floor vision of an NBA PG. The drive-and-kick is probably the strength of his game. The big question, right now, is his overall decision-making. He had the tendency to get sped up and make unforced errors, which NBA coaches won't accept from their PG.
His assist (5.5) to turnover (3.2) ratio didn't improve at all from his freshman season, which is a huge red flag. However, once again, the situation at Texas might have obscured any improvement. There weren't many guys he could set up and there wasn't much structure to the offense.
4) What positions can they defend?
Where I differ from many is that I don't really worry about the type of defense guys play in college. I just assume they'll be terrible at it at the next level, at least initially. That's where your coaching staff comes in. What coaches can't teach is physical ability.
In that respect, Kabongo has the physical tools to be a pretty high-level defensive PG. Good size, speed and a long reach (6'6), which is absolutely crucial. He averaged 2 steals a game this season, so at the very least, he should be able to ball-hawk coming off the bench.
5) Can they rebound?
For the most part, this is a category where the stats rarely lie. Clearing the glass translates to any level of basketball. Kabongo grabbed 5 rebounds a game this season, which is great for a PG. It's always nice when a ball-handler can start the break himself, especially when they are as deadly in transition as Kabongo.
Add it all up and you've got a PG with potential in all five aspects of the game, but with serious questions about his shooting, scoring and decision-making. Those were the questions Kabongo was supposed to be answering this year.
Here's the $64,000 question though. How would he have fared in a more stable situation? I'm looking mainly at Marquis Teague at Kentucky and Kendall Marshall at UNC, who went in the first-round last year after college careers where they were surrounded by four other first-round picks.
One of the best ways to find value in the draft is to target players from underachieving teams, because they're often blamed for more systemic failures. Kabongo was a talented freshman who had his ups and downs. As a sophomore, very few PG's could have thrived given his circumstances.
I have him as the No. 8 PG this year, behind Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, Dennis Schroeder, Erick Green, CJ McCollum, Shane Larkin and Lorenzo Brown. That says more about the strength of the PG crop this year, though. In terms of physical tools, you can put Kabongo up there with any of them.
Right behind him, though, there's Pierre Jackson, Phil Pressey, Ray McCallum Jr. and Nate Wolters. I think all those guys can play in the NBA. At the very least, they're all better than Mike James. The margin for error to make the league is really small as a PG. They aren't C's; people won't give them a bunch of chances.
Kabongo reminds me a lot of Schroeder, a 19-year old from Germany who rose after a dominant performance at the Hoop Summit this year. In all likelihood, if Kabongo had been able to declare for the draft as a 19-year old coming out of Canada, he would have gone in the same 10-20 range where Schroeder is projected.
After missing so much playing time this season, Kabongo would benefit from playing 30-35+ minutes a night in the D-League next year. For a team in the late first-round/early second range with a NBDL franchise, he would be the perfect gamble.
I'd suggest the Spurs, but they're already performing a reclamation project on Cory Joseph, the last Canadian PG who left Texas way too early. Personally, I was more impressed by Kabongo than Joseph in college, but I really wasn't big on Joseph, so I'm curious how everyone else sees that comparison.
Here's where Kabongo's career in Austin has to leave a sour taste. Even if he does succeed in the NBA, it will be in spite of his time with the Longhorns. Hardly the kind of thing you can trumpet in recruiting.