With the NBA Draft deadline on the horizon, Marcus Lee remains in limbo as to whether he'll return for his senior year or turn pro.
After this past season ended, Lee put his name in the draft and made it sound like he was intent on playing in the NBA this year. However, a disastrous performance at the NBA Draft Combine may have given Lee the reality check he needed to see returning to UK may be his best option.
In the meantime, we gathered our staff to debate what Lee should do and predict what his final decision should be.
I think this is a tough call. Lee, in my view, is not ready to play professional basketball. He has few basketball skills other than freakish athleticism — he can't really shoot, dribble, or pass the basketball, so it appears his only role in the NBA would be "energy guy" or defensive stopper. In my view, he is not draftable right now, even in the second round except as a lark or a "project."
Having said that, he's been at Kentucky three years and hasn't really developed any kind of floor game. It's probably unreasonable to expect him to do so, but if he is able to develop even a little bit of a face-up game, he could wind up raising his stock.
But that will take a commitment that neither he nor Calipari, quite frankly, have shown to his game. There is nothing fundamentally broken with his shot or movements, so it seems clear to me that he hasn't committed to anything other than the athletic parts of his game.
If I were advising him, I'd urge him to come back. He is the kind of guy who might be needing that degree sooner than he might like.
And if I had to guess, I'd guess he leaves. There is some significant peer pressure for that outcome, I expect.
I concur with Glenn on Lee, for the most part. "He needs to come back to work on his game" implies that a guy hasn't exhausted his potential. It implies that he can actually improve. Do we really believe that Lee can (or will be able to) do this at this point?
I don't. To me, Lee looks like virtually the same player as he was in his high school mixtapes (though he's gained maybe ten pounds). Also, there are six (!) other legitimate frontcourt threats on the roster to his minutes. I'd say he might be in line for more minutes because of "senior leadership" (a la Amile Jefferson at Duke this year), but we also haven't seen any real evidence of leadership skills from Lee.
And we can't make the "he's an elite athlete and just needs some NBA-level skill development" argument anymore because his Combine athleticism test results were average to poor. They don't tell the whole story, to be sure, but we've seen other blue chippers reach their athletic potential late in high school and only devolve from there.
Remember Seventh Woods, who was jumping out of gyms (the next Westbrook!) during his junior year as a mid- to high-5*? Dude cooled off his senior year and is now a top 100 afterthought in UNC's '16 class.
For the foregoing reasons, as well as the old adage that "you only have one chance to make a first impression" (and Lee regrettably misspent his one shot), I think Lee might as well leave this year if his goal is to play professional basketball. Whether he's part of the '16 or '17 Draft pool, I think he would go undrafted.
Given his seemingly declining athleticism, Lee loses that singular intrigue that second round prospect "projects" usually possess. Lee is likely to begin his professional basketball career in the D-League or the Eastern hemisphere and waiting another year only means another year of unpaid basketball.
I personally think Marcus should return for his senior season. Going ahead and earning your degree certainly is a huge bonus for a young man as intelligent as him. An improved offensive game and some added muscle would certainly make Lee a perfect compliment to Bam Adebayo down low. Defense and leadership is gonna be something that this team needs next year.
All signs have indicated that Lee wants to stay in the draft despite his stock not being that high. After canceling his team workouts, there was some hope that he would return. I still think he'll be in the draft this year.
I have no idea what's motivating him, or how his relationship with Calipari was at season-end. He's clearly not NBA-ready, but also most certainly won't get the same playing time next season that he did last.
From UK's standpoint, it never hurts to have an experienced role player, especially a big man/shot blocker. And maybe it will improve his pro status for next year, though I'm doubtful.
If he just wants to make money, he should go to Europe.
As much as we as fans think Lee should come back, or want him to, it seems to me from the outside that his mind is made up.
And honestly, I'm not sure how much playing behind Bam, Gabriel, and maybe even Killeya-Jones would improve his draft stock. I wish being a really amazing person was considered when it comes to the NBA, because if that were the case he'd have it made.
If he can make it somewhere, I wish him luck.
Lee was set on leaving for much of this offseason, but that was before he got the reality check needed at the NBA Combine. Not only did he struggle mightily, but he probably heard from a number of scouts and key decision-makers that he needs to go back to school and spend this year working harder than he's ever worked if he wants to become an NBA player.
Lee has always been a good guy, but his dedication to being the best he can be is not nearly as big as his head was thinking he was ready for the NBA or even the D-League. He's going to struggle just to get good overseas deals that make it worth living overseas instead of playing at UK for one more year and enhancing his NBA stock.
But for all we know, Lee just wants to be done with school, so I can still see him keeping his name in the draft just so he can move on to life after college.
In the end, I think Lee and his family are strongly considering both options, but my guess is they now want Lee to return to college, so that's the decision I'm leaning towards going into the deadline.