Rapp Around: KBD Going 48th Isn’t All That Shocking

By Jeff Rapp, June 23rd, 2018

From the moment Ohio State forward and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop announced he would forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the 2018 NBA draft, analysts were left scrambling.

On one hand, Bates-Diop appeared to be a high basketball commodity when taking notice of his developed mid-range game, intelligence, temperament, defensive prowess and versatility on both ends of the court.

He measured bigger than many thought at the NBA combine – 6-8 and 224 pounds to go along with a 7-3 wingspan – and scouts saw his skill and shot making was no fluke. As a redshirt junior during his breakout 2017-18 season, Bates-Diop produced 19.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 48.0 percent from the field and 79.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Most mock drafts showed him going in the latter half of the first round and no lower than No. 38.

And then the actual draft came – and apparently brought with it the minor but key doubts about KBD.

On a night when freshman after freshman was plucked in the first round and the word “upside” was used more than “fit” or “polished,” Bates-Diop waited and waited and waited for his name to be called.

Among those taken ahead of him were Miami (Fla.) freshman guard Lonnie Walker, Maryland sophomore guard Kevin Huerter and Wichita State sophomore point guard Landry Shamet – and that was just in the first round.

In the second, Bates-Diop was listed atop ESPN’s “best available” list and still saw the likes of French point guard Elie Okobo, Tulane wing Melvin Frazier and German guard Isaac Bonga go before him. The Los Angeles Lakers added a second-round pick but used it to take Bonga at 39th overall. They also made a selection at pick No. 47 – and passed on Bates-Diop again.

Finally, one pick later, the Minnesota Timberwolves took the OSU combo forward at No. 48 overall, the 18th pick in the second round.

Bates-Diop is not an off-the-charts athlete and he dealt with injuries during his career at Ohio State, including a fracture that derailed his 2016-17 and more or less led to the removal of Thad Matta as coach.

Bates-Diop thrived last season and was named Big Ten POY.

Once deemed a four-star prospect as a prep standout in Normal, Ill., Bates-Diop was a role player as a freshman during the 2014-15 season while classmate D’Angelo Russell was attaining stardom. In fact, Bates-Diop averaged only 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds while playing 9.9 minutes per night off the bench in his first season in college.

Russell left and became the second pick of the draft in 2015. Meanwhile, Bates-Diop worked his way into the starting lineup and produced 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Buckeyes. The outlook was fairly bright with Bates-Diop becoming a consistent performer and blending well with classmate Jae’Sean Tate, wings Marc Loving and Kam Williams, and center Trevor Thompson.

However, the Buckeyes didn’t get the boost they hoped from a well-rated freshman class and struggled to a mark of 21-14 (11-7 in the Big Ten), missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

The following year, Bates-Diop looked ready for stardom but ended up playing in just nine games because of the stress fracture in his lower leg. He averaged 9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in just over 23 minutes per game. OSU finished 17-15 overall and 7-11 in league play.

With Chris Holtmann now in charge of the program, the former Butler coach made it clear the Buckeyes were going to need big seasons from both Bates-Diop and Tate. That’s exactly what happened, and Ohio State was one of the pleasant surprises of college basketball, finishing second in the Big Ten and finally returning to NCAA Tournament prominence.

In addition to being named Big Ten POY, Bates-Diop made several All-America lists, leading all to presume he would leave for the NBA. His game was smooth and his production was reliable.

But the NBA game, and what general managers of that league are seeking, doesn’t always reward steady play at the collegiate level.

KBD and his classmate Tate completed their academic journeys as well. (photo courtesy Ohio State communications)

Bates-Diop served four years at Ohio State, earned his college degree and was even-keeled through a tumultuous time for the program. No one could be that critical of his decision to depart.

Plus, it’s very possible the Timberwolves will find they have a steal and will produce a role in which Bates-Diop can thrive. If so, his selection at No. 48 overall will only be a footnote to illustrate the bargain he has become.

But Thursday night also was a reminder that scoring and success, even at the major college level, isn’t a guarantee of first-round status at the professional level. Bates-Diop doesn’t soar over people, doesn’t play like a “dawg” and is maybe too content to mesh in with others instead of being the alpha male on the court.

As I watched the draft unfold and all the highlights of the selected players, I don’t remember seeing any of someone defending for the entirety of the shot clock; or making a good read out of the high post; or being patient and resetting a play; or making an outstanding play via help defense; or ball-faking, driving to the mid-post and calmly dropping in a 13-foot jumper. These are all parts of the game of basketball – big parts – but they don’t pop on “SportsCenter” and they don’t seem to move the needle with GMs and analysts.

So the Bates-Diops of the world continue to be undersold and continue to have to prove their worth. Knowing this kid, though, it isn’t going to deter him one bit.