When I glanced at the front page of my Twitter account the morning after the NBA draft and saw that the phrase “epic leadership failure” was trending, I immediately assumed everyone was talking about the people Chris Livingston’s decision to remain on the “early entry” list was biased.
Instead, it was a political hoax, but that doesn’t mean my assumption was completely wrong.
That Livingston emerged from his first season in Kentucky as a potential first-round talent but obviously wasn’t a first-round pick yet should have been clear to anyone, particularly those advising him on his future. Klutch Sports signed him after making his draft entry permanent, and founder Rich Paul told reporters at an event in the Cleveland suburbs earlier this month, “I think ultimately the future is looking bright for Chris.”
MORE: 2023 NBA draft grades: All 30 teams ranked from best (Spurs) to worst (Clippers)
And then came the draft. The immediate future certainly doesn’t look rosy now and he will fight against history to make a difference in the league. However, he would still have shown promise if he had been persuaded to return to college and try again in a year.
It’s no longer appropriate to look at such an outcome and say, “At least he’ll make money.” Because Livingston and those who made similar decisions — UCLA’s Amari Bailey, Arkansas’ Jordan Walsh — already have. In NCAA basketball’s name/image/likeness era, far fewer first-round talents are likely to squander their only chance to advance to the league in style. However, they keep coming.
Last year, six one-time players were selected in the second round of the draft: Michigan’s Caleb Houston and Moussa Diabate, Michigan State’s Max Christie, Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler, Duke’s Trevor Keels, and Baylor’s Kendall Brown.
Perhaps the fact that there were five this year – including South Carolina’s GG Jackson and Tennessee’s Julian Phillips – is a step up. However, not much.
That’s not to say that making a great career as a second-round pick is impossible. It’s a bit rare though. Look at the 2017 draft: 18 of the 30 first-round picks have played at least 5,000 NBA minutes, or 60 percent. It’s two of 30 in the second round. UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu did the very best this year and was picked 47th overall by the Indiana Pacers. He played 36 minutes in the NBA.
That was not an unusual year. For 2016, it’s exactly the same for first round players – 18 out of 30 – and second round players gain another 5,000 minute player. In 2018, it’s 19 out of 30 for the first round, up to eight for the second round.
MORE: Bronny James and Matas Buzelis are top 2024 NBA draft candidates to watch for
However, here’s something that might surprise: Of all the second-round college picks from those three drafts who had a reasonable amount of NBA playing time, only four were players who went all out. The others – including Malcolm Brogdon, Georges Niang, Jalen Brunson and Dillon Brooks – averaged 3.4 years of NCAA experience.
If you look at the 2022 draft and bring the number down to 1,000 minutes, there were 17 first-round picks that played that many times and only one second-rounder (four-year-old college player Andrew Nembhard).
Why are these standards important?
Because if you don’t play, you don’t pay.
We observed a decrease in the number of college undergraduates who remained on the enrollment list and were not selected. This year there were only 10, and none was an isolated case. Livingston almost changed that by shortening a draft’s final pick because several teams had to forego picks.
The history of the 58th pick in the NBA Draft is relatively short but utterly miserable. The first player recorded under this number was Don Reid in 1995 from Georgetown. He played eight seasons and had 1,454 career points. At 58, he is the only player who has even reached 1,000 career points. Remember, this is what Jayson Tatum achieves in less than half a season. Only one other player has even made it to five seasons. Thirteen were recorded at the same spot Livingston never played a single NBA game.
Those who follow the NFL Draft have a running gag that the last player selected was “Mr. Irrelevant”. But that’s the reality for the player at this point in the NBA.
Livingston came to Kentucky as the consensus No. 15 candidate in the high school class of 2022. It was not unprecedented that coach John Calipari and his staff instantly turned such a player into a desirable NBA draft nominee; All-NBA first-team Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was selected No. 33 in 2017 and drafted No. 11 a year later, and Eric Bledsoe famously dropped from No. 55 in 2009 and was twice selected with the 18th pick form the all-defensive team.
However, their experience with the Wildcats was nothing like Livingston’s. Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 assists and pushed his way into the starting XI as a point guard over the better-known Quade Green.
Bledsoe averaged 11.3 points and shot percentage of 46.2 percent on shooting from the field and 38.2 percent on 3-point shots for a team that went 35-3, won two SEC championships and the spent the entire season in the Associated Press Top 5.
With his high energy and hard work, Livingston made himself an instant starter, but difficulties building an offensive game saw him briefly slip out of the line-up. Ultimately, he proved that the side were better with him as a defender and role-playing player than without, and seven of the 18 three-pointers he scored have come in the side’s last ten games. He improved.
But he finished the race with an average of 6.2 points and a 3-point shooting rate of 30.5 percent. He displayed a team focus, a devotion to defense, and a level of momentum that would ultimately make him a potential (or likely) first-round pick, but in Spring 2023 he wasn’t there yet.
That wasn’t hard to see. How often does the NBA pick a winger in the NBA draft who averaged a single-digit point as a college player? You are free to investigate this. I’m pretty sure the answer to that is zero.
Chris Livingston wouldn’t change that. In a year it could have been very different.