The NBA Draft is 7 days away. Year after year it has the ability to sneak up on us and show up as soon as the finals conclude.
The draft is easily one of the best moments on the basketball calendar every year. It is an all positive event for every party involved. For playoff teams, it’s the opportunity to grab that next piece to potentially get you over the hump or even find a potential superstar down the road. For lottery teams, it’s the opportunity to find hope in what could be your keystone piece going forward. And for the college players and their families, it is a dream recognized and a future changed.
The Billikens haven’t had a player make the jump to the next level since Willie Reed in 2010 and haven’t had an NBA draft pick since Larry Hughes went 8thoverall in the 1998 draft. While it seems unlikely at this very moment that that will change in 2019, there is a very strong case to be made that Javon Bess will be the first Bill in the NBA since Reed.
(Edit: Maurice Jeffers was taken in the 2001 second round by the Sacramento Kings, but was never signed to an NBA contract. For this reason, he didn’t appear in my initial research, my apologies)
For the uninitiated, Javon is a 6’6 wing player who can play effectively as both a ball handler and an off-ball presence. He is an elite defender who can effectively switch onto four positions and smaller centers. He is an above average athlete who has shown the ability to keep up with the best of offensive players for long periods of time, averaging over 36 minutes a game. His improved jump shooting over the years has made him start to project more as a potential 3-and-D guy at the next level. Some have indicated a comparable for Javon may be a DeMarre Carroll or Jae Crowder type.
Javon was A10 defensive player of the year, All-Defensive and All-Conference second team this past season and lead his Billikens on an unlikely run to a Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.
The backbone and at times only redeemable star of a Billikens team that found itself underachieving through multiple points in the season. One scout said Javon’s defence is “game-changing” and noted his intangibles are “Next-level”. Billikens head coach Travis Ford has repeatedly indicated he believes Javon will have the opportunity to play at the professional level, and with the number of scouts attending every Billikens home game this season it seems likely he will get a shot somewhere. Whether that shot is in the draft, summer league, or in the G league.
What Javon provides to NBA teams right now leans heavily on his intangibles and his prospective growth.
There is a group of teams at the end of the draft whose organizational philosophies match up well with the type of player and person Javon projects to be. He could be low-risk high reward type of gamble teams like. A high-quality player, with potential to grow, combined with a low-risk personality.
Javon has been defined by his coaches and teammates as a gym rat. He is the first one into the gym and the last one to leave. Even while nursing an ankle injury late in the A10 schedule, Bess has to be barred and discouraged from coming into Chaifetz Arena at 6am to start his daily routine. Often times Coach Ford had to order his star to take breaks at practice. Javon knows what it takes to improve his game and refuses to take shortcuts.
His improvements as an offensive force are directly correlative to this work ethic and considering the injuries, he faced this season there is no reason to think there isn’t another level he can elevate his game to. In his two seasons at Michigan State before transferring to SLU, he hit two three-pointers total. In his senior season, he hit 66. Javon’s improvements as both an offensive and defensive star point to strong traits in the Columbus native.
Javon’s low-risk high-reward gamble is his elite basketball potential in tandem with his safe and consistent demeanour. Javon is not an individual you have to worry about away from the basketball court. Coach Ford often boasts about the fact he has never had to call Bess into his office for disciplinary purposes nor has ever received a phone call for him missing classes or anything negative of the sort. Javon is adored by his teammates and coaches many of whom cite his calming influence and attitude as the reason the Billikens season did not go off the rails when it hit turbulence.
Worst case scenario for teams interested in Javon is a team-oriented, gym rat, who will make their other pieces better. There are organizations who value those traits tremendously.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Javon has been busy working out for and making his case to NBA franchises. The San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, and Atlanta Hawks have all had him in for workouts ahead of the draft. The Boston Celtics are also a team of interest considering their scout’s presence at several home Billiken games.
The Hawks and Celtics are particularly interesting as they combine for 10 total picks in the draft, so they may have the desire (and the ability) to take a safer pick while swinging for the fences elsewhere. The Spurs own multiple firsts and a second making a mid-second round gamble more likely. The Raptors own their own second, the second last pick in the draft, so there is potential there. The Nuggets are the least likely of the teams mentioned in this mix as they do not own a pick in the draft.
Another team that may find great value in Javon that to my understanding has not been brought up yet is the Philadelphia 76er’s. Holding five picks in the draft, the second most in the draft to Atlanta, the opportunity to find quality pieces is aplenty. The 76er’s are in a very different situation than the Hawks as well. Being essentially only one miracle shot away from the Eastern Conference Finals, Philly is secure in their core pieces and will likely look to add strong supplemental role-players. Javon’s defensive capability in tandem with his blooming offensive upset may be something Brett Brown and company could come to value.
That being said, all of these teams may pass on Javon and still be very interested in him for Summer League or the G-League as a free agent. There is plenty of time before the draft for more interest from more teams. With this in mind, it seems apparent, Javon Bess will have the opportunity to play at the next level. It now seems that it will be sooner rather than later as to when we find out where.