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Analysis: Will Jodie Meeks Return, or Leave for the NBA?

We have all talked at some length about Jodie Meeks and his NBA future, especially this year after Jodie put up huge numbers against several teams, including an amazing 54 points against the Tennessee Volunteers earlier this year in Thompson-Bowling Arena.  With Jodie's selection as an All-American, it was just the cherry on top of a great year for the young man from Norcross, Georgia.

I think most Kentucky fans and pundits currently believe that Jodie Meeks' return is nearly, but not quite, a foregone conclusion.  But after doing a bit of thinking on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that Jodie is actually making a concerted effort to raise his NBA stock into or near the first round, and tentatively plans on making the jump this year.

What's that I see out there (via my magic Internet reader-cam-thingy) -- shock, surprise, what the ...?  No reason to be surprised or shocked, and before you disagree, read on -- then disagree if you want.

Getting on to my reasoning, here is why Jodie Meeks should stay at Kentucky for his senior year:

  • A chance to play for a team that could go deep in the NCAA tournament -- No matter what, Kentucky will be much better next year than this year due to an influx of high-quality freshman talent and a number of seniors.  The fact is, Jodie Meeks got to play in the NCAA tournament with a Kentucky jersey on his back for exactly two games -- one win and one loss, both in his freshman year.  No doubt he would like to better that record.
  • Some holes in his game -- Jodie needs to improve defensively, needs to improve his handle (particularly in traffic) and learn to finish better at the rim to get into the first round of the NBA draft.
  • A chance to play an offensive style that would address all the above issues, and allow him to showcase his great shooting skills.  Jodie would be a big fish in a tiny little fishbowl next year.  If there was a buzz when Gillispie came to Kentucky, there is out-and-out excitement among the national and local media about Calipari coming here.  With the new ESPN-SEC deal starting up next year, UK and Meeks' exposure would be immense.
  • A chance to graduate from college, and play as a senior on a talented team.  While this may seem a bit trivial in the big scheme of things, I believe every player's dream while in college is to be a superstar their senior year, and march triumphantly into the NBA with a degree in hand and tons of hardware on the shelves.

Those are all really good reasons to return, some are better than others.  But there are arguments against returning as well:

  • Xavier Henry -- If Henry decides to come to Kentucky, I am confident that Jodie will not return.  Both players play the same position, and Henry is the more talented player.  Jodie would rightly believe that he could suffer by comparison.  In addition, I think Meeks' return significantly reduces the chances that Henry will come to UK, which might also weigh on Jodie's mind.
  • Playing for a third coach in four years.  It has got to be frustrating having to learn three different styles in only four years, and Jodie may just be fed up with the coaching carousel here at Kentucky.
  • His stock may never be higher than it is right now -- No matter what happens with Henry, UK will add more strength at Jodie's position.  Combined with a new offensive scheme which will take time to learn, it may set Jodie back a bit, and I think his odds of eye-popping performances go down significantly with all the talent that UK is trying to stockpile.  Bottom line -- it is likely that the buzz and visibility surrounding him will never be higher than it is at this point in time.
  • This year's draft at his position is weaker than next year's -- Next year, there will be a lot of really good off guards available in the NBA draft that are closer to "prototypical" than Meeks is.  The NBA draft has always been more about potential than current development, and that will hurt Jodie's chances to go high.
  • The new offensive scheme might expose more weaknesses, or exacerbate the appearance of those weaknesses.  That's not really a problem if you are putting up thirty points consistently, but can he do that playing with Henry and/or Wall?
  • The possibility of injury.  Jodie knows injury, and he knows what another one might do to his NBA dream.

I don't know about you, but when I place these two analyses on the scales, it tips slightly toward leaving for the NBA, even as a tenuous first-round pick.  Based on what I currently see, it will be somewhat difficult (although by no means impossible) for Jodie to play his way into a first-round pick next year.  On the other hand, if he does well in camp and improves his stock even close to the first round, I think his odds of being a surprise first-round pick are very strong this year.  When a player drops 54 points on  any NCAA tournament team with the kind of efficiency Jodie displayed against the Volunteers, it tends to stick in your mind.  

Jodie is also a remarkable athlete in his own right with considerable potential at both guard positions.  If he improves his handle he can become very attractive to NBA scouts because of his amazing foot speed.  He can arguably improve quicker in the right system at the next level, and NBA scouts will be closely looking at how well he picks up on this at the camps.  Remember that Meeks is highly coachable, eager and intelligent.

In sum, this is a much closer call, I think, than most pundits believe.  I would not be surprised to see Jodie come back, or stay in the draft.  I think the odds right now are a tiny bit better towards him going, and if he plays well in camp, I think those odds continue to increase in favor of staying in the 2009 draft.  We won't know for a few weeks, but keep a close eye on the comments coming out of pre-draft camps.