Taking a Closer Look at Juwan Morgan’s NBA Prospects

Romeo, Romeo, Romeo.  It is all anyone wants to talk about, and we are as guilty as anyone else.  But truth be told, even with one-and-done Romeo Langford, the 2018-19 Indiana Hoosiers probably won’t be an elite team without one-more-and-done Juwan Morgan.

Morgan, who earned 2nd team All-Big Ten honors, is the only proven commodity at the forward position slated to be on next year’s team.  Sure, De’Ron Davis should be back from injury, but although the roster says he is a forward, he plays the game like a center.  Justin Smith is clearly an emerging star, but he isn’t there yet.  Like Morgan was after his own freshman year — Smith is a work in progress on his way to big things.

Even without Morgan, the Hoosiers should have plenty of length and depth on their 2018-19 roster.  But you don’t just replace 2nd team All-Big Ten talent with freshmen and sophomores.  Indiana hasn’t recruited at a level recently where it is reasonable to expect the young guys to have an instant impact.

Darron Cummings / AP

If Morgan does choose to forego his senior year to pursue professional opportunities, well then, candidly, the Archie Miller rebuild timeline just got longer.  For the same reason that Hoosiers struggled to fill the void left by Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon, Jr., the Hoosiers would struggle next year to replace Morgan’s production.

But will Morgan go?  Should he go?  Those are the questions that we examine today and will continue to monitor over the next couple months.

MORGAN’S YEAR OVER YEAR IMPROVEMENT

It is exactly the kind of year over year improvement you want to see from a non 5-star recruit.  Juwan Morgan’s progression is not dissimilar to Victor Oladipo’s, as both went from freshmen role players to junior stars.  Morgan’s freshman year was injury riddled, and his sophomore year was spent in the shadows of Bryant and Anunoby.

Along the way, the 6-8 forward from Waynesville, Missouri put in the work.  With no injuries or shadows to contend with, the fruits of that labor were quite apparent in year three.

Does he have another incremental jump in his development in a senior year if he chooses to use it?  There is no reason to expect otherwise.  Players like Morgan and Oladipo that aren’t afraid to put in the work keep progressing.  They are perfectionists, always finding a way to get better.

Morgan effectively said as much after the season ending loss against Rutgers when he was asked what he would be working on in the offseason.

“Everything really, because nothing’s perfect,” he said.

With a mentality like that, it seems clear that Juwan Morgan is going to continue to improve.  The only question is where will that improvement take place?

THE NBA DRAFT TIMELINE

There will several key dates to watch as we await Morgan’s decision.

April 22 is the first date to watch.  This is the NBA early entry eligibility deadline.  Morgan has until this date to put his name into the draft, with or without an agent.  If he goes with an agent, his college career is officially over.  If he goes without an agent, he can test the waters before deciding whether to return to IU for his senior year.

May 16-20 is the NBA combine.  Like the better known NFL combine, this is where the players get evaluated, tested and questioned.  Perhaps more important, this is a place where they can get valuable feedback from NBA executives, scouts and coaches.  For a player like Morgan, it is a great opportunity to hear first-hand opinions on whether he is ready and what needs to improve.

The combine is on an invite-only basis, and there is no guarantee that Morgan would have this opportunity.  Even if he doesn’t, there would be other opportunities to get feedback if he declares early without an agent.

May 30th is the early entry withdrawal deadline.  While the NBA withdrawal deadline is June 11th, the NCAA requires players to decide by May 30th.  Basically, Morgan would have until this date to decide whether to officially declare for the NBA draft and forego his senior year at IU.

June 21 is the actual NBA draft.  If Morgan declares for the draft but isn’t selected, at this point he would become a free agent and could sign on with a team to pursue the NBA G-League or go overseas.

EARLY NBA DRAFT PROJECTIONS

With so much that needs to happen between now and the draft in June, reliable two round NBA draft projections are somewhat difficult to find right now.  This mock draft, which tends to be pretty accurate, goes through 2 rounds and Morgan is not included.  Interestingly, for those that care about such things, this mock has no one from Purdue on it either.

Morgan also doesn’t appear on ESPN’s top 100 (Premium ESPN Insider link) ranking of the 2018 NBA draft prospects.  That is really quite amazing when you consider how productive he was for the Hoosiers this past season.  Clearly there is a lot of competition this year.  That ESPN list was just updated today.  This recent ESPN 2-round mock draft (Premium ESPN Insider link) doesn’t have Morgan getting drafted either.

Bobby Goddin|IDS

When NBA scouts have been asked about Morgan they’ve said things like he isn’t big enough to play with his back to the basket, and he needs to develop a better perimeter game.  We haven’t heard anyone say that he just lacks the natural gifts.  What he has just needs to be repackaged and re-purposed to be more NBA-ready.  We saw Oladipo do just that at IU, as he became a reliable perimeter shooter and catapulted his name into the lottery.

OTHER ALTERNATIVES

If you are still reading this and starting to take comfort that Morgan will be back next year — shame on you.  Need we remind you of Blackmon and Troy Williams?  We’ve come a long way from someone like Patrick Ewing playing four years at Georgetown.  Even when a player isn’t expected to be drafted, that is no guarantee that they’ll be back.

There are many options to continue to develop including the NBA G-League and a whole host of overseas options.  And as Indiana fans have learned first hand recently, players are willing to give up their college eligibility to take those paths.

It all comes down to what a player is comfortable with, financial need, and other intangibles.  Given his jump in production from his sophomore to junior year, you have to believe that Morgan is comfortable with how he fits into Archie Miller’s system.

We would never claim to know about Morgan’s financial aspirations or his family’s financial situation, but given what we’ve learned about them, the situation from the outside doesn’t look dire like we’ve seen in other cases.  We all want to make money, but perhaps financial considerations won’t be a deciding factor here.

SHOULD HE STAY OR SHOULD HE GO

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Morgan thrived in year one under Miller’s system.  If he can find ways to improve his game even more during a senior year as a Hoosier, he just might be able to play his way into the draft.

He’s already shown the beginnings of the improvement that is needed.  Morgan actually shot a quiet 37.8% from 3-point distance in Big Ten play this year.  That was a big jump over his pre-conference 2 for 17 performance.  With an entire offseason to improve, perhaps he can shoot over 40% next year.  That would certainly attract NBA attention.

Brian Spurlock; USA Today Sports

Morgan shot 63% this past season on 2-point shots, and he did it while being the focus of opposing defenses.  With a reformulated roster next year, he might be able to operate more freely with less attention focused on him.

With Davis back in the paint, it will only be natural for Morgan to move his game more outside.  Irrespective of what you might think of the wisdom of the decision, we know Morgan has played some point guard at IU.  While we certainly aren’t advocating for that, it does demonstrate that he is fully capable of spending more time on the perimeter and getting to the rim off the dribble.

Of course he could do all of this in the G-League as well.  But we’ll go back to the original point — Archie Miller’s system is working for Juwan Morgan.  Another year at IU is no guarantee of anything, but Morgan appears to be on the right path.

Sometimes we selfishly want a player to come back even when we know it isn’t in their best interests.  Here it actually does appear to be in Morgan’s best interest.  As a great college basketball player and a great ambassador for the program, one thing is for sure — his return is clearly in Indiana’s best interest.

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Main photo credit – Joe Ullrich

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