The reason DeVon Hardin made the right decision to come back to Cal isn’t because he didn’t feel like he could be guaranteed a first-round pick. It’s because it’s the best thing for the long-term prognosis of his professional career.
The truth is, there is a good chance Hardin would have been a first-round pick, and earn the guaranteed money that comes along with it. But he is far from making a meaningful contribution to an NBA team. Teams are in love with his combination of strength and athleticism, but chances are he would have been viewed as a project and languished on the bench or sent to the developmental league early on.
How many times have we seen players in that position never make anything of their NBA career? Yes, Jamal Sampson has been able to hang around the league and probably is living a nice life even if he’s making the minimum salary, but the guess here is he would have made much more of an impact in the NBA had he stayed at Cal a little longer.
During the first two years of his Cal career, Hardin’s strengths were always his physical gifts. As a sophomore, he had to defer to Leon Powe so we didn’t get to see what he could truly do, especially on the offensive end. Last season was supposed to be the year we really saw what Hardin was capable of, but a foot injury limited him to just 11 games.
Truth be told, even in those 11 games, Hardin didn’t demonstrate the skill level required to make an impact in the NBA right away. He had his moments, just like he did earlier in his career, but never showed that he could consistently be productive. Despite that, he may have been a top-20 pick in this year’s draft.
Now imagine if Hardin is able to produce this season. He’ll be teamed up with a deep corps of big men, including returning leading scorer and rebounder Ryan Anderson, 7-foot center Jordan Wilkes and Duke transfer Jamal Boykin. If Hardin can demonstrate he’s NBA-ready, who knows how high he may go in the 2008 draft? Just moving into the lottery might be an understatement.