2014 NBA Mock Draft Projections: Former Pitt player Khem Birch will leave UNLV early for pros

USA TODAY Sports

When former Pitt player Khem Birch left the program during his freshman year for UNLV, he was a pretty raw offensive player with some potential. Despite that still being the case two years later, Birch is determined to leave for the pros and declared for the NBA Draft this year.

Birch averaged career-highs in points (11.5) and rebounds (10.2) this year, so he's definitely made some progress. Still, at best, this seems like a somewhat risky move.

The big man isn't projected as much of a pick. In fact, there's even a reasonable chance he doesn't get selected at all. One scout says he's destined for the D League:

"He is a second-round possibility at best," one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. "He can block a shot but is a raw offensive player who needs D-League experience to start his professional career no matter who drafts him."

Birch is projected as a late second round pick by DraftExpress. Ditto for NBADraft.net. ESPN.com has Birch as the No. 59 prospect ... again, the equivalent of being near the bottom of the second round.

The move reeks of being one that's rushed. He's improved steadily the past couple of years and with another season, he could play his way into being an early second round pick where he would be more likely to make a team.

The flipside is that because he's projected as a low second-rounder, he might not be able to play himself into the first round (where there's guaranteed money) by this time next year, anyway. So sticking around might not guarantee a payday, either. He also could be worth more this year if he doesn't improve. As it stands now, he still has a decent amount of potential since he's only a junior, and sometimes the longer a player toils in college and the older he gets, the harder it is to believe he'll get much better.

It's also not as if Birch is completely unprepared for the next level. His offensive game is what comes into question the most, but he's a good rebounder and also the two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Mountain West.

I never begrudge those guys for wanting to start their careers and being able to earn a living, but sometimes it's better to stay in school to develop a little bit more. All in all, I can't bring myself to believe that this is the right move.

But then again, Birch, who fought his way out of Pitt after about a half a season, is kind of known for making questionable decisions.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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