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Jarred Vanderbilt NBA Decision: 4 reasons why he’ll stay and 3 reasons why he’ll leave

Vanderbilt has a tough decision ahead: Here’s why it could go either way.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

As Jarred Vanderbilt’s decision to leave for the NBA Draft or return to Kentucky for a sophomore season looms, there’s plenty of speculation as to what he’ll do.

The 6-9 wing had injury issues that allowed him to play in only 14 games in his freshman year. In that time, he showed NBA scouts an exceptional amount of defensive versatility, averaging 7.9 rebounds per game and guarding multiple positions.

But he also showed a lack of consistent scoring ability on offense. He was inconsistent from point-blank range and he only averaged 5.9 points per game.

The mixed bag of performances with Vanderbilt and the injury issues are going to make this a tough decision. Here’s why Vanderbilt would leave, and why he would stay.

Why He’ll Stay

The 2019 draft class is weak

To me, this is the biggest factor for Vanderbilt’s potential return. Even if his game didn’t improve, if Vanderbilt could simply stay healthy and show his defensive impact next year, his stock would skyrocket in the 2019 draft. NBADraft.net currently has Vanderbilt going 31st in the 2019 draft. A healthy season would greatly improve that.

And if he can improve his offensive game to show some consistency, there’s really no telling how high Vanderbilt could go. Obviously the RJ Barretts and the Zion Williamsons are the class are there, but even within the top 10 of current big boards, the class gets pretty weak.

Waiting another year to enter the draft could allow Vanderbilt to make a lot of extra money due to a higher draft position.

Becoming a leader

It’s not often in today’s college game that we see guys really worry about what they could do if they stayed at the college level for another year, but Vanderbilt has a great chance to take a leadership position if he stays for another year.

As a sophomore with experience, he’d undoubtedly be the best defender on the team, and he’d be a veteran voice (or as veteran as one can be on a John Calipari team). This could help prepare him for the NBA in an intangible sense, as he could get experience being a go-to guy in the locker room, and an anchor on the defensive end.

The more experience, the better

Above all else, Vanderbilt could use more experience. He didn’t play enough last year, and Kentucky has a really good schedule (as usual) coming up in 2018-19 that he could get a lot of good experience against if he can stay healthy.

The Wildcats could use him, but he could also use them. The more playing time he gets before he goes to the league, the better.

Healthy

Vanderbilt hasn’t been healthy for a full offseason and regular season in over two years. A foot injury cost him most of the AAU season in 2016 going into his senior season of high school. Then another lower-leg injury in an all-star game kept him sidelined for most of the offseason going into his college freshman season.

Then he had two significant injuries that cost him most of his freshman season at Kentucky. Needless to say, he needs to find a way to have a full offseason and regular season before jumping into a league with an 82-game regular season.

Why He’ll Leave

Reaching his dreams

While he may not have reached his full potential at the college level yet, it’s still undeniable that Vanderbilt can play pro basketball now, and when that’s the case, it’s hard to pass up on. Regardless of whether he could make himself more money down the road or not, when the league comes calling and that first paycheck is within reach, it’s hard to turn it down. At the end of the day, Vanderbilt may just decide that he doesn’t want to wait another year to reach the pinnacle of basketball.

Another year could also hurt his stock

The guys who return for another year don’t always improve their stock (*cough* Hamidou Diallo *cough*). Vanderbilt could return to Kentucky, stay healthy, average 10 rebounds a game and get drafted in the top 20 in 2019. He could also get hurt again, miss half the season, be seen as a liability and fall even farther down the draft board. Leaving for the league now is a gamble, but so is staying in school another year. Sometimes leaving now is better than staying and risking injury.

And a player’s game can only improve so much in one year. If Vanderbilt doesn’t see that potential improvement as enough to pass up on a year of professional basketball (and the benefits of professional basketball), he won’t stick around for another year.

His game fits the NBA the way it is

Sometimes the best way to prepare for something is by just doing it, and Vanderbilt won’t have much of a learning curve. Today’s NBA is all about versatility, and Vanderbilt has a ton of it. The best thing for his game could be to simply play NBA basketball, rather than preparing to play NBA basketball.

His draft stock ranges anywhere from 40th to undrafted, but one way or another he’ll get signed, and his ability to play positionless basketball will only help him succeed in his efforts to make an NBA roster.

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The Kentucky forward could really go either way. There’s a lot of potential upside to him returning another year, but he’s also within striking distance of his NBA dream.