Arkansas junior Mason Jones was named 2020 Associated Press All-America honorable mention / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
It’s a bit audacious to offer an opinion on whether Razorback basketball players Mason Jones or Isaiah Joe should return to the program next season.
I mean it’s their lives after all. All I know of them really is what they’ve done on the basketball court and what they’ve said to the media. Who am I to say what either should or shouldn’t do?
But like any other fan, I have my opinions, and here’s what I think.
If things were normal — and we all know they aren’t because nothing is normal in the throes of the whirlwind that is this COVID-19 virus — the prudent thing would be for both to enter their names in the draft and garner feedback before making a final decision.
Though Jones wrote on Twitter Sunday that an announcement would be coming soon before deleting the post, they both have time to make an ultimate decision.
Remember, if things were normal, all college hoops fans would be concentrating on the the forthcoming Sweet 16 today, not really thinking much about the NBA Draft.
Players have until April 26 to declare for the draft, more than a month away, and they are allowed to withdraw their names up until June 3. With the NBA season on hold, those dates could be pushed back as could the draft itself, which is scheduled for June 25 in Brooklyn.
If either or both elect to submit their name into the draft, an NCAA rule change last season would allow them to hire an agent without forfeiting their eligibility. The agent could pay for travel and meals for their client that are related to the draft process.
If they are among the players invited to participate in the NBA Draft Combine, the NCAA would allow them to return to school if they go undrafted as long as they inform Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek of their intentions to return by 5 p.m. the Monday after the draft.
Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones were voted to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District VII team / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
So, most of the penalties that were in place for a college basketball player to explore their options with the NBA Draft have been removed. So, there’s no doubt that Jones, at least, ought to go through this process. As a rising junior, Joe might want to wait until next year to go down that road.
Now, neither Joe nor Jones are expected to be drafted by most experts as things stand now. However, both could improve their stock, if they are invited to the combine.
If one or the other aren’t invited to the combine, I’d take that as a clear message to return to school for another season. Last year 175 college players and 233 overall submitted their name in the draft pool. The NBA Drafts consists of just two rounds with 60 selections. That means more than three times as many players in that pool went undrafted (173) than were drafted.
If neither are invited to the combine, my thought is that both should return to the Razorbacks, but then again I don’t know their family obligations or other situations.
The good thing for both and frankly every Razorback basketball player is that first-year Arkansas coach Eric Musselman has contacts and connections with the league that few other college coaches can match thanks to his experience coaching at all levels of the NBA. He probably can get more candid assessments on players than most other coaches could.
Musselman believes both players can improve their game by playing another year with the Razorbacks. Judging how much both improved from last season to this one, I’ve got to believe Musselman isn’t just blowing smoke. However, there is a difference in a player improving and a player improving his draft stock.
What might be hard for either to do though with another years at Arkansas is improve their stats. Arkansas’ lack of depth and talent forced both to play heavy minutes. Jones averaged 33.7 minutes a game and Joe 36.0. Those minutes allowed Jones to average an SEC leading 22 ppg. and Joe 16.9 ppg.
We don’t know exactly how next season’s Razorback team will develop, but with a very talented recruiting class coming in to help, it seems very likely their playing time will be reduced which could cut into their stats.
One would think NBA teams would scout Jones and Joe well enough to recognize that next season, but a player’s draft-ability deals in perception and reality.
If Jones, for example, averaged 16 points as a senior rather than 22 as he did as a junior, it would bring up questions. It’s really hard for me to believe that Jones’ averages could possibly be better next season than this. He led the Razorbacks in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.
Would that even matter to NBA squads?
Analysts question Jones’ overall athletic ability more than his skills. Is he athletic enough to drive to the basket against NBA defenders and is he athletic enough to guard NBA shooting guards? Skill-wise, though, his handle and his defense are in question.
As for Joe, his quickness, speed, and handle are question marks on the NBA level, but his accuracy and distance on his jump shot mitigates some of that.
There is no doubt both player’s ultimate goal is to play in the NBA, but do they have goals they want to accomplish at Arkansas, and how much does that mean to them?
Could another year in college secure them a college degree? Is that even important to them?
What about the possibility of playing in the NCAA Tournament next year, and experiencing that with their teammates? Is that an experience that’s important for them to have before moving on in life?
Another question both must consider is what does the landscape of professional basketball look like outside the NBA. If they are not drafted, what are their options overseas?
The United State’s economy isn’t the only one that’s taking a hit from the global pandemic. Economies are crashing in Europe and the Middle East, too? How sound of footing are those leagues on during this time of uncertainty?
Thing may be totally back to normal by the fall or next winter, but then again it might not be. Is this the time when you would really want to be seeking employment outside the U.S.?
Those are only questions Jones and Joe can answer for themselves, and the good thing is that for the short term is that time is on their side at least until June 3 and possibly beyond.
Since neither are considered to be first-round picks, it’s not like returning for another year would cost them a great deal of money or leverage.
Of course, Musselman would like to know so he will know how to proceed with finishing his roster for next season.
But, right now, just like with everything else, there are no quick or sure answers for anything.