They did what?!

For five potential first-round locks, sophomore year may not be a bad call

Originally Published: October 30, 2013
By Jordan Brenner | ESPN The Magazine

Elijah JohnsonDenny Medley/USA TODAY SportsLast season, Baylor's Isaiah Austin left execs wanting more, but doubts linger after he had shoulder surgery.

WHAT WAS HE THINKING? When Marcus Smart, All-American and surefire top-five NBA draft pick, announced he was passing on the pros to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore year, his decision was met with skepticism, if not outright bewilderment.

It wasn't just that Smart was giving up the money. With the 2014 draft projected to be stacked with guys like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker, Smart would be hard-pressed to maintain his lofty stock. And he wasn't alone. Four other freshmen -- Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Gary Harris and Isaiah Austin -- gave up likely spots in the first round, and possibly the lottery, to return to school. Sure, they'll improve in the extra year, but all could see their draft spots slip purely due to the deeper field.

That might not be a bad thing. The key contract in the NBA isn't the first, which is controlled by a tight salary scale; it's the second, when players have a shot at big money on the open market. Of course, to earn that payday, a player has to be on the court. So rather than be developmental picks, they risk going later in hopes of being ready to contribute. They leave a year's worth of money on the table but can more than make up for it when it's free agency time.

To gauge what these players have at stake, we spoke to four NBA execs (anonymously), then asked NBA Insider Chad Ford to show us how the sophs are already moving up and down his board.

Jordan Brenner | email

ESPN The Magazine contributing writer
Brenner writes for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider. He covers the NBA and college basketball.