Sixteen Division I freshmen left school early last year to declare for the 2016 NBA draft. Ivan Rabb wasn’t one of them despite having flashed traditional one-and-done talent. Instead, he’ll take another season at California to continue building up his value—like a rebellious blackjack player risking a strong hand for a potential better one.
Rabb ignored the unwritten rules that advise projected lottery prospects to cash in. He’s now in position to prove the book wrong and benefit—both developmentally and financially—from more college basketball.
Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Kris Dunn just successfully pulled the same stunt. A perceived first-round lock in 2015, Dunn passed on the draft and returned to bolster his stock even further at Providence, soaring to No. 5 overall last June.
Rabb will be looking to mirror Dunn’s rise, and though he’s expected to have a more competitive field to battle through in 2017, he’s the type of prospect who could have afforded to gamble.
The chance of injury represents obvious risk, but it’s the only one worth worrying about. Physical tools (6’9 ¾“, 215 lbs, 7’2” wingspan), athleticism, feel for the game and motor help anchor Rabb‘s stock inside first-round territory.
His floor is high.
Even if scouts see the same player they saw a year ago, teams should still covet Rabb‘s finishing ability (80.2 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com), rebounding presence (11.9 boards per 40 minutes, per Sports-Reference.com) and competitiveness, which aren’t going anywhere and seem likely to carry over.
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In June, Rabb told Sports illustrated‘s Brian Hamilton that he wanted to be the best player he could before he turned pro: “If I’m the guy I’m supposed to be, I should be there next year as well. I should be even better, even more comfortable on the floor, have a better mentality.
“There are some improvements on the floor I want to make, and why not make them in college before I get to the next level? I want to have fewer weaknesses, so when I get there, I can just continue to get better.”
What Scouts Are Saying
“I just think he’s a year smarter, a year more experienced and a year stronger,” one NBA scout told Bleacher Report. “That’s so rare among guys who would’ve likely been a lottery pick had they left after one year. He doesn’t have the same talent around him as last year and will be the focal point of defensive game plans, so he really has an opportunity ahead of him. I think he should remain in talks of being a lottery pick due to his talent and upside.”
Upside would have earned Rabb first-round money in 2016, but it’s not going to disappear.
He averaged just 7.7 field-goal attempts and registered a small 20 percent usage rate, per Sports-Reference.com. He’s now expected to emerge as the Golden Bears’ No. 1 option with the team losing its top three scorers. It’s an ideal role for a prospect looking to strengthen both his stock and NBA readiness.
Meanwhile, the long-term upside is still there, thanks to an unteachable mix of size, length, bounce, instincts and energy.
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Scouts will be hoping to witness the evolution of a raw, talented big man into a dominant one who California can lean on. A few are already counting on it. Two nominated him as a potential top-three overall option and the No. 1 big-man prospect in a recent poll.
“I’m basing this off watching him from his freshman year in high school, just watching his growth and development,” one scout said. “Because he was so thin, people thought he’s going to have trouble because he’s going to get pushed around. But he’s a fighter.
“He can really defend ball screens,” the same scout continued. “He can defend in the post. He’s a prolific rebounder. He has a motor. The one area he can continue to improve on is that 15-17-foot jump shot. Once he gets that down, he has the chance to be like a LaMarcus Aldridge.”
Already equipped with back-to-the-basket moves and face-up acumen (38 percent of his offense came off post-ups, per DraftExpress‘ Mike Schmitz, via The Vertical), Rabb demonstrates sharp footwork (Warning: The following video includes NSFW language):
And the ability to create and convert specialty shots like fadeaways or hooks (Warning: The following video includes NSFW language):
Adding a dependable mid-range jumper (only 7-of-23 on jumpers as a freshman) would take his game higher.
Featured reps—which he wouldn’t have received as an NBA rookie—should be a big help. With a need to expand his repertoire and experience leadership, he couldn’t have asked for a better situation.
Going back to school isn’t the best option for every underclassman. The guaranteed paycheck may be too important to some, while others might be better off developing slower with NBA coaching and pro teammates.
Based on the circumstances, Rabb‘s decision to return will pay off. Sharpie him into your lottery predictions, but clear a path up the board for a potential Dunn-like rise.
Either way, Rabb enters the league with a guaranteed contract and more to offer than he would have had he bolted last season.