We are still a little less than two months away from the NBA Draft. Senior forward Lamar Patterson has a chance to hear his name called at the end of the second round. Fellow senior Talib Zanna is probably a long shot to get drafted, but he may receive an invite to play for an NBA team during summer league play, both in Orlando and in Las Vegas. However, there is another former Pittsburgh Panther that has a chance to realize his dream in late June, Khem Birch.
The former Runnin' Rebel is currently ranked 56th overall on Chad Ford's latest Big Board (ESPN Insider only), which slots him as the fifth-to-last selection in the draft. I don't know how UNLV fans feel about Birch's decision, but I think most Pitt fans are scratching their heads, which is pretty much what they did during his time in Oakland.
Stranger still, Patterson is ranked 58th on Ford's Big Board and most scouts and trainers I've talked to believe his preparation has been geared towards going overseas. I happen to think that Patterson will be a more productive player than Birch in the NBA, however, it's pretty easy to see why teams might give Birch a second, third, and even fourth look: athleticism and shot blocking.
For those that don't follow the NBA, particularly the draft process, frontcourt players that are athletic are always going to attract a lot of attention. Whereas a guy like Patterson, who doesn't have a defined position in the NBA perhaps, isn't going to garner the same type of attention.
To his credit, Birch played very well for the Runnin' Rebels this past season. He averaged 11.5 points per game, 10.2 rebounds per game, and 3.8 blocks per game. He led the Mountain West Conference in total blocks the last two seasons, and was second in the nation, behind Arizona State's Jordan Bachynski, in total blocks and blocks per game this season.
He went for 12 and 10 at Arizona back in early December, and an impressive 15 points and 22 rebounds at Nevada in early March. Birch swatted nine shots at Utah State, and in the early part of the season he blocked eight shots in back-to-back games in mid-November. Based on the numbers, it's easy to see why teams might consider Birch at the end of the second round. Especially, since the contracts aren't guaranteed.
I can see Birch becoming the next Hassan Whiteside, albeit I can't see Khem being drafted with the 33rd overall selection. That wasn't a compliment either, Whiteside slid from being a first-round pick on the back of comparing himself to Kevin Durant and other perimeter players during interviews leading up to the draft.
We'll just have to wait and see if Birch and/or Patterson hear their names called on June 26th. It would certainly help the Panthers program if Patterson can make the NBA. Conversely, it's at least a mild negative if Birch were to be selected. However, that is an issue for another time perhaps.