ATHENS – NBA draft analyst Sam Vecencie has watched Yante Maten a lot, and has become one of the Georgia forward’s biggest proponents. He loves the Georgia star’s “old-school game,” which has vaulted him from three-star recruit to first-team All-SEC.
“I’m on record in saying that I think he was one of the most underrated players in college basketball this year. I think he’s awesome,” said Vecencie, whose work appears in The Sporting News. “It’s kind of disappointing that more people didn’t know who he was.”
So when Maten declared for the NBA draft on Thursday – without hiring an agent, thus leaving the door open to return to college – Vecencie understood why. There’s no real downside to exploring your options.
Even then, however, it’s not clear-cut. As high as Vecencie is on Maten, he still only “tentatively” has the Georgia star in the 60s or 70s on his overall draft board right now. The NBA draft lasts 60 picks.
“I think it would be possible for him to be drafted, absolutely,” Vecencie said.
Maten, at 6-foot-8, doesn’t project as a center in the NBA, and would be undersized against most power forwards. So he would need to show the ability to either play small forward, or to be an athletic advantage at power forward.
What that means: Maten needs to become a better outside shooter. (Vecencie has watched Maten enough to say that he needs to improve his catch-and-shoot numbers, which aren’t consistent enough.) Maten also needs to show he can defend quicker NBA players. And at his height, he needs to be a pick-and-pop big man who can hit a shot from the corner, flash out to the 18-to-22 feet range, and set picks.
“I do think that there is some room for growth in his game by returning to Georgia this year,” Vecencie said. “You look at the way his jump shot has developed in his career at Georgia. It’s really shown that there is room for growth there.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Maten won’t be able to use the next few weeks to improve his stock to the point where he seriously thinks about staying in the draft.
The key may be whether Maten is invited to the NBA combine, which is May 9-14 in Chicago. Invites go out the last week of April or the first week of May. If Maten isn’t invited, that’s a sign that his stock isn’t very high. If he is invited, he will get a chance to get feedback from NBA teams, and find out what he has to gain by returning for another year.
The feedback right now is mixed: The web site Draftexpress.com doesn’t have Maten ranked in its latest two-round, 60-pick mock draft. But ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford in early March pegged Maten among five players to watch outside the top 30. (That was before the NCAA tournament, when Maten didn’t have a chance to show off for scouts, while other players did.)
Is there any chance he could sneak into late first round?
“He would need to have a very strong pre-draft process,” Vecencie said. “It’s difficult to speculate on him right now. But I do think it’s worthwhile for him to go through the pre-draft process now.”