KU outcomes in this year’s draft were hard to predict; next year’s could be even harder

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas transfer AJ Storr dunks the ball during a scrimmage at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena in Lawrence on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

As much as the outcome of the 2024 NBA Draft was a surprise given recent expert projections — basically none of which had foreseen Johnny Furphy falling to the second round — it was even less similar to what outlets were predicting a year ago.

The first batch of 2024 mock drafts, constructed shortly before or after Gradey Dick went to the Toronto Raptors and Jalen Wilson to the Brooklyn Nets in last year’s draft, was extremely bullish on Elmarko Jackson.

At that point Jackson, as a high-upside McDonald’s All-American, seemed poised for a one-and-done type of season, at least in the minds of the people at NBADraft.net, OddsChecker, SB Nation and the Washington Examiner who projected him in the first round, the former two in the late lottery.

None of the 11 mock drafts I surveyed at this time last year projected any other KU player to get drafted.

Even at the time, that clashed with the public perception that Kevin McCullar Jr. could have been a second-round pick if he stayed in the 2023 draft, before he decided to come back for one final year with newfound confidence. Over the course of the 2023-24 season, McCullar initially went on an offensive tear that could have allowed him to easily exceed that second-round projection, but due to injuries and diminished effectiveness late in the year, he ended up as a second-round pick anyway (he was selected by the New York Knicks at No. 56 overall on Thursday).

And Johnny Furphy was totally unaccounted for in mock drafts, of course, because he was a complete unknown to most of the college basketball public until high-major coaches saw him at the NBA Academy Games in Atlanta in July.

But despite the inherent futility of trying to predict the draft when it is a year away, many will try to do so regardless. Here’s what some of those predictors think about Kansas players.

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas transfer Rylan Griffen drives to the basket during a scrimmage at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena in Lawrence on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas transfer Zeke Mayo talks to the crowd during a scrimmage at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena in Lawrence on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

photo by: AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox

West center Flory Bidunga (40) dunks past East forward Cooper Flagg (32) during the first quarter of the McDonald’s All-American boys basketball game Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Houston.

The predictions

In short, they are all over the place. And for good reason, because no one really knows at this juncture how offensive responsibility will be shared among KU’s various high-impact transfers Zeke Mayo, AJ Storr and Rylan Griffen.

Mayo, out of South Dakota State, and Storr, out of Wisconsin, both briefly entered the 2024 NBA Draft, then withdrew after making their respective decisions to transfer to KU. Mayo, the reigning Summit League player of the year, told the Journal-World the night he committed that he was fully aware he wasn’t projected as a high draft pick for 2024. Storr, meanwhile, said this month that he was “pretty close” to going to the draft (after averaging 16.8 points per game for the Badgers) and that he went to KU wanting to be a “winning player.”

KU coach Bill Self, meanwhile, has said of Storr that he plays best when the ball is in his hands and “he needs to get where he defends and rebounds as prolifically, as proficient as he does as a scorer.”

That may be the ultimate task for Storr to prove himself worthy of NBA Draft consideration. While he was a primary option at Wisconsin, he will inevitably have the ball in his hands a lot less, given how much of a focal point center Hunter Dickinson will undoubtedly remain in the KU offense, not to mention the other transfers.

At this juncture, Storr is a second-round pick in mock drafts on NBA Draft Room and NBADraft.net, and the No. 54 prospect on ESPN’s draft board released Friday morning. Yahoo Sports is highest on him with its No. 26 ranking.

At such an early stage, it’s not clear if that would be enough to even sway him to the pros — particularly with several key players graduating at the end of the year, paving the way for him to potentially become even more of a central figure the following season — though it’s worth noting that Storr is already rather infamous for never staying at any given school for more than a year.

As for Mayo, he’s not featured in any of the early mock drafts I gathered, but he won’t be faced with a choice like Storr could be at the end of the season, given that it’s Mayo’s final year of eligibility regardless. His adaptation to a substantially higher level of competition in the Big 12 Conference, as well as how much playing time he is able to eke out (potentially as the secondary ball handler to Dajuan Harris Jr.), will determine whether he plays himself into serious professional consideration.

Griffen, for his part, is ranked all the way down at No. 124 on NBA Draft Room’s board — below Flory Bidunga (36), Storr (57), Dickinson (84) and KJ Adams (101) and a little ahead of Harris (148) — but some sites have already slotted in the incoming junior as a first-round talent. He certainly has the 3-and-D skill set and the length on the wing that NBA teams have valued in the 2024 draft, and he was a starter for a Final Four team at Alabama last season.

More so than any of the transfers, though, Bidunga seems, at least at first glance, like the most common-sense option for the 2025 draft. (And indeed, SB Nation and Sports Illustrated had him as a late-first-round option in mock drafts released Friday; ESPN did too earlier in the year but has since removed him.) Much like Jackson last summer, he’s young with sky-high potential and comes in bearing numerous accolades. Some rankings have had Bidunga, the Congolese center who played high school ball in Kokomo, Indiana, as the top player at his position in the 2024 class.

His position, though, is one of the factors that may end up holding him back in the eyes of pro scouts. Bidunga measured 6-foot-7 at the Nike Hoop Summit in April, a measurement that Self also provided to media while saying, “He’s really not tall.” Indeed, there are not a lot of wing-sized centers in the pros, even if Self has made them work at the college level. Bidunga has said that he is working on his perimeter game, and Self has said the staff has to figure out if there is any way he can play alongside Dickinson.

If he doesn’t, that may not necessarily demonstrate his versatility to pro scouts. Even if he does, his playing time will be limited by the amount of veteran talent on this year’s team. It’s not necessarily the easiest path to a one-and-done campaign.

It does merit mentioning that earlier this year, ESPN had Adams, who will also expend his eligibility following this season, slipping in as one of its final draft picks of 2025. On the one hand, Adams has a similarly awkward positional fit to Bidunga’s, and he certainly hasn’t shown either a consistent outside shot or the rebounding ability one would expect from such a hyperathletic player in his three years in college. On the other, what he has shown is the capacity to improve by leaps and bounds from one year to the next; he was the Big 12 Conference’s most improved player in 2022-23 and probably had a case for the award again last season. Don’t count him out by any means.


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