Tony Bradley has until May 24 to decide whether he's coming back to North Carolina for his sophomore year or leaving his name in the NBA draft, and while his choice will have a massive impact on the Tar Heels, Bradley himself can't really make a bad decision.
He's almost certain to be a late first-round pick if he goes, and a key player on a national-title contender with a chance to play his way into the lottery if he stays. There are no bad options for Bradley here, even if one is dramatically better for North Carolina.
The same was true of Frank Jackson, the Duke guard who may have surprised fans by his decision to turn pro given his moderate role in Duke's offense as a freshman. He was in position to have a huge sophomore season for Duke, but NBA scouts always loved his game and he shined at the combine, so will make the leap instead. His decision was bad news for Duke, but there was no way Jackson could go wrong.
So the Blue Devils will reboot, again, with Grayson Allen and a new grab bag of one-and-done freshmen – three in a six-player incoming class, with point guard Trevon Duval the final piece of that puzzle – hoping for something more like 2015 and less like 2014 and 2017 after losing eight players off their roster.
For a non-lottery pick, this decision is never merely as cut and dried as draft position and the potential to improve it. Some players are just ready to be done with college, and for many elite recruits in this generation, college basketball is seen as merely a stopping point on the way to the NBA, not an goal in itself. That makes seniors like Allen and Joel Berry increasingly the exception, although neither was going to hurt or help their draft stock with another year in college. Both, it should also be noted, have national-title rings.
How Bradley feels about playing college basketball will have a lot to say about what he decides to do, because he's an interesting case if he’s told he’ll be a late-first round pick, as expected.
He's a raw, athletic big man who projects as an elite NBA defender in the immediate future but has work to do on his offensive game. His length and mobility will be a huge asset defending NBA pick-and-rolls, but at the other end of the court he needs to develop a better array of post moves and work on his jump shot.
That's something he could do at North Carolina this season, in fact would be expected to do, and if he did would be a lottery pick next year, if not a top-five pick. But any first-round pick is guaranteed lots of money, and from presumably better teams picking late in the draft, and at that point it’s entirely a question of personal preference for Bradley whether he wants to come back or not, whether he wants to be a dominant ACC big man next season. (If he’s given second-round guidance, his decision becomes clearer.)
Either way, with Berry and Pinson back, the Tar Heels are in good shape, the only known quantity among the three teams. Bradley would make them the favorites to retain their title. He's in a good spot where he can't make a bad decision, but North Carolina has a lot more on the line.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock