Friedlander: Will he stay or will he go? Filipowski's decision is Duke's last remaining domino
The deadline is rapidly approaching.
No, not that one. Although if you’re like me, April 15 is looming quite large on the horizon.
This one comes about a week later, just 1 tick before the stroke of midnight on Sunday, April 23.
It’s the time by which players must decide whether to enter the NBA Draft or return to school and we begin to get a feel for what college basketball might look like in 2023-24.
Many of the most important dominoes have already fallen, including 4 of the 5 members of Duke’s talented freshman class. The only 1 that’s left, however, is the biggest of the bunch.
And most difficult to predict.
It was a foregone conclusion that Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively II, 2 of the highest-rated prospects in last year’s recruiting class, would be 1-and-done and head right to the draft. It was also a relatively safe bet that versatile forward Mark Mitchell would return for his sophomore season while rapidly improving point guard Tyrese Proctor’s decision to join him in running it back was something of a surprise.
That leaves ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Filipowski as the last to announce his intention.
Considering the breakout season he just put together, punctuated by a Most Outstanding Player performance in leading the Blue Devils to the ACC Tournament championship, it would figure to be a no-brainer that he’d cash in his chips and turn pro.
But there’s considerable buzz going around that there’s still a 50-50 chance the 7-foot forward will wait another year to make the move.
Before we go any further in discussing the pros and cons of Filipowski’s options, let’s get one thing straight. The decision to enter the draft or not isn’t a matter of what a player should do. It hasn’t been for a long time.
It comes down to a personal choice. And money is often the determining factor.
Ready or not.
So should Filipowski go?
He has the size and skills the NBA loves. He showed he can both score and rebound by leading Duke in both categories at 15.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. And because he’s still just a teenager, his “upside” makes him an even more attractive draft commodity.
As long as Kyle Filipowski is on the floor for Duke, I like our chances. pic.twitter.com/7dWskvzoz6
— Duke Opinions (@DukeOpinions) March 12, 2023
If somebody is willing to pay you millions of dollars to do something you love, why wouldn’t you want to sign on the dotted line?
In Filipowski’s case, there are a couple of valid reasons.
For one thing, there’s his 28% accuracy from beyond the 3-point line this season. His range and consistency from the perimeter are areas in which he’ll have to improve in order to be an effective stretch-4 in the pro game, where the 3-point line is a step-and-a-half farther from the basket than it is in college — and an even bigger part of most offenses.
Then there’s the physical side of the game.
At 230 pounds, Filipowski might be stout enough to hold his own on the low post, the glass and defensively against players his own size in college.
Not so much against the grown men he’d be facing in the NBA.
He got a preview of what to expect in Duke’s season-ending NCAA Tournament loss to Tennessee.
Filipowski got thrown around like a ragdoll by the Volunteers’ 7-1, 265-pound Uros Plavsic. He was sent crashing to the floor by Plavsic twice in the opening few minutes, then suffered a cut below his left eye after taking a wayward elbow while battling for a rebound with 6-11, 245-pound Jonas Aidoo.
How is this physical play legal basketball play??? Now it’s a legal basketball play to put your shoulder into an opponent knocking them out of the lane with NO foul call as Filipowski was hit??? Tennessee is throwing more elbows than a WWE Main Event! pic.twitter.com/EEdpMCmoEQ
— . (@Mr_Char1955) March 18, 2023
While he still managed to finish with 13 points and 8 rebounds, the rough afternoon was a clear indication that the Duke star needs to improve his upper body strength to be able to hold his own and withstand the grind of an 82-game NBA season.
That’s something he can do at the end of someone’s bench or in the G League, or as the centerpiece of a Duke team that would enter next season with a legitimate shot of winning a national championship.
A consensus of mock drafts has Filipowski going late in the 1st round. But the actual draft doesn’t always go accordingly, so there’s a legitimate chance of slipping down to the 2nd round where contracts aren’t always guaranteed.
Now that college players are allowed to be compensated for their name, image and likeness, it might be a safer bet for Filipowski to work out a few NIL deals, return to Duke and work on playing his way into a lottery pick in 2024.
Unlike his now-former college teammates Whitehead and Lively, who came to the Blue Devils with the intention of being 1-and-done players, Filipowski was viewed as more of a multi-year project.
Although he was rated as a 5-star prospect, he was still raw and had a lot to learn. Both he and coach Jon Scheyer have often joked about how lost he looked at times during the early days of preseason practice.
But Filipowski picked up on things quickly and was called upon to play a bigger role than expected because of an early injury that set Lively back. And he burst to stardom by earning the ACC’s 1st 4 Rookie of the Week awards.
That growth and the relationship he’s built with Scheyer could end up being the factors that lead him back to Duke for a 2nd season rather than a rookie year in the NBA.
At this point, he could go either way. But he’ll have to come to a decision soon.
The clock is ticking.