The three biggest stars in the NBA Finals took three distinct paths to the NBA. LeBron James jumped straight to the professional ranks after high school, while Lakers teammate Anthony Davis played one season of college basketball at Kentucky. Both were No. 1 picks in their respective drafts after taking the quickest path available to the NBA (rules had changed to keep high school prospects from entering the draft by the time Davis came along).
But Miami Heat leader Jimmy Butler’s journey to the game’s highest level looked much different than the paths James and Davis took. He played at a junior college in Texas before transferring to Marquette, where he exhausted his collegiate eligibility before the Bulls selected him 30th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Several other NBA Finals contributors also exhausted their collegiate eligibility, including Jae Crowder, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn of the Heat. Same for Danny Green and Alex Caruso of the Lakers. Of the group, Butler was the only one taken in the first round in the NBA Draft.
But he and the other former four-year college players prove that you can still find your way to the NBA spotlight even without one-and-done hype. With that in mind, our writers responded to the following prompt for this week’s dribble handoff: Which four-year college player in the 2020 NBA Draft class will have the best pro career? If you think it’s an easy question, go look at the 2020 prospect rankings. There are some intriguing choices but no obvious answer.
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
My favorite thing about this Heat team is how it’s made up of such an unlikely cast of characters while the Lakers’ starting lineup features the No 1. pick of the 2003 NBA Draft (LeBron James), the No. 1 pick of the 2004 NBA Draft (Dwight Howard) and the No. 1 pick of the 2012 NBA Draft (Anthony Davis) — all of whom combined to spend a total of one year in college. It’s quite the contrast. So I dig this question. And I suppose my pick to be the best four-year player from this draft class is former Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston.
Will he be a star?
But I have him going 28th to the Lakers in my latest mock draft. He’d be great in that spot considering Los Angeles could use another natural point guard on the roster — especially one who would serve as another high-level shooter next to The King. Winston made 43.0% of the 603 3-pointers he attempted in four years at Michigan State. So even if he’s not the best athlete, the quickest or the biggest, he should be able to provide quality minutes off the bench, right from the jump, and bury open jumpers whenever they’re presented, which is often for anybody lucky enough to play with LeBron James. — Gary Parrish
Itching for more college hoops analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where