Ohio State Basketball: Keita Bates-Diop’s NBA chances

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 20: Keita Bates-Diop
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 20: Keita Bates-Diop /

Former Ohio State basketball star Keita Bates-Diop fell out of the first round of the NBA draft all the way to the middle of the second. Is that such a bad thing?

The Minnesota Timberwolves may have landed the steal of the draft. Projected by many as a first round talent, former Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop fell to the Wolves at pick number 48. The Big Ten Player of the Year brings exceptional length, proven scoring and rebounding, and capable defense to Minnesota. But will he be a success?

Coach Tom Thibodeau thinks he’s got a shot.

"“We liked him a lot…Did a great job when he came in with his workout, his interview, of course the season he had last year at Ohio State. When you look at what Ohio State accomplished this year, I don’t think anyone was expecting that from them and they had a great season and I thought he had a lot to do with that.”"

Thibodeau said he was surprised to see Bates-Diop still available for the Wolves’ second pick in the draft. They had considered taking him at number 20. Their decision could cost Bates-Diop millions on his rookie deal but could pan out for him in the long run.

#48 vs #20

An analysis of draft classes going back to 1990 shows just as many NBA success stories at pick number 48 as pick number 20.

Granted, history shows few breakout stars at either spot. But the 48th pick has produced players like Marc Gasol, a project the Lakers plucked out of Spain in 2007, and Cedric Ceballos, a high flyer from Cal State Fullerton who played a role on some excellent Phoenix squads in the 1990’s.

Coincidentally, a skinny, shot-blocking phenom named Ken Johnson entered the league out of OSU as the 48th pick in 2001.

The best 20th pick of the last 30 years, meanwhile, was St. Joseph’s PG Jameer Nelson in 2004. Nelson had a nice career with Orlando, among other teams. But the lack of talent at the 20th spot proves that merely being a late first round selection is no guarantee of success.

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The Contract

If Bates-Diop plays like the first rounder many thought he would be, he may be better off dropping to round 2.

First round picks are bound to contracts that follow the rookie wage scale. Not so for second rounders. Teams often offer second rounders one year deals at the minimum salary. But for players who exceed expectations, the potential for a second contract without the rookie restrictions can be extremely lucrative.

Even better, second rounders can negotiate shorter deals than their first round counterparts. That means they can earn money on the free agent market before players picked far above them.

Since first round contracts are guaranteed, Bates-Diop faces significantly more risk than if he’d gone at number 20. But there is also the potential for a significant reward.

The Bottom Line

Bates-Diop’s fall in the draft can be explained by any number of factors. Some teams questioned his effort and athleticism. Some who value upside believed him to be a finished product, with a low floor but a similarly low ceiling.

But with his wingspan and versatility on defense, Bates-Diop projects well in today’s “positionless” NBA. He can guard multiple positions, and rebounds and blocks shots at an above average rate for his size.

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Bates-Diop has the tools for success, and joins a young playoff team on the rise. He should find an immediate role bringing instant scoring and defense off the bench as a stretch 4. If he thrives, Bates-Diop could be laughing about his draft day slide all the way to the bank.