Kentucky’s NCAA championship hopes just got a bit stronger on Wednesday.
Isaiah Briscoe has decided to return to the Wildcats for the 2016-17 season instead of entering the NBA Draft, he announced in a tweet on Wednesday. He followed that up with a statement released through the university.
“I really grew from this experience and I appreciate the opportunity to be evaluated by these NBA teams,” Briscoe said. “I also want to thank the coaching staff and the fans for their support during this time. The NBA is my ultimate goal, so I’m returning to build on last year. There’s no better place to grow as a player or to win a championship, and I want to do both.”
Previously, Briscoe had been testing the waters under the new NCAA rule that allows players to go through the NBA Draft process and return to school if they do not like the feedback they get from NBA teams. It’s clear from this result that the feedback Briscoe got wasn’t good enough to play in the NBA next season, which makes sense. Briscoe had one of the toughest decisions of the pre-draft process.
After a year of playing out of position at Kentucky, the former top point guard in the 2015 recruiting class saw his stock fall from the level of a potential late first round pick to likely going undrafted in 2016. He averaged only 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists for the Wildcats, throwing up a disastrous true-shooting percentage of 45.3. Typically, that would be a recipe for an easy choice to return, but Kentucky then brought in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, a pair of lead/combo guards that will likely handle the ball over him again in 2016-17. Particularly, it’s hard to see how Fox doesn’t get the lion’s share of the ball as the Wildcats make an assault toward another national championship.
That directly and adversely affects Briscoe’s draft stock going forward. The 6-foot-3 point guard is at his best with the ball in his hands, pure and simple. Briscoe is a bowling ball with the rock in his hands, a pick-and-roll maestro who knows exactly how to attack defenses with the ball and how to both score around the bucket and find open teammates. Plus, he’s a superb on-ball defender due to his strength and length, and he may be a threat to win the SEC’s defensive player of the year award next year. Genuinely, Briscoe would probably start at point guard for 335 out of 351 teams (at minimum) in college basketball. The problem is he’s at Kentucky, who has recruited a revolving door of hyper-elite guard prospects around him, pushing him off-ball.
And without the ball in his hands is where Briscoe struggles on offense. He only shot 13.5 percent from 3 last season, ranking in the sixth percentile of all players in college basketball last season in catch-and-shoot attempts. He’s a smart player when cutting without the basketball, but last season teams legitimately didn’t have to guard him at the 3-point line, and that killed the Wildcats’ spacing on offense. He’s about as good a secondary ball-handler as you can ask for, but the complete lack of jump shot makes his overall effect on the offensive end a break-even commodity at best when he’s away from the ball because it neutralizes his ability to handle the ball as opponents don’t have to close out on him hard.
In a lot of ways, this might lead you to believe that a transfer would be his smartest bet for his stock. I don’t believe that to be the case though. Briscoe is already 20 years old, and would be a 22 year old sophomore by the time he would enter the 2018 NBA Draft if he was to transfer, find the right place, and succeed. That’s an awfully risky proposition, meaning it’s probably best for him to continue to develop at Kentucky. It’s also worth noting that the lack of opportunity on ball could lead to a chance for some important skill development in his game.
If Briscoe can take this summer to develop a credible jump shot and become a positive off-ball player, it would really help him moving forward and Kentucky in 2016-17. Sure, he’s not going to be playing his best position in college regularly next season, meaning NBA teams will always have questions. But if he can develop his jumper, that would open up the rest of his game and really make him a valuable two-way player.
Briscoe was between a rock and a hard place with his NBA Draft decision in 2016. But with some luck and some hard work, 2017 may treat him a bit better.