Tonight, Baylor fans will be able to tune in to the NBA draft and see a familiar face for the fourth draft in the last seven. Taurean Prince is projected by most major outlets as a first round pick somewhere between 15-24, just outside the lottery. If that projection manifests, Prince will be the 3rd Baylor player selected in the first round since 2010, joining Ekpe Udoh (2010, 6th overall) and Perry Jones III (2012, 28th overall). He will also be the 7th Bear drafted into the NBA (8th if you include the honorary drafting of Isaiah Austin) since Scott Drew first reached the Elite Eight.
Some minor outlets project Prince to go to the Warriors at 30, where he would act as an interesting bit of Harrison Barnes insurance should Golden State decide the former Tar Heel’s next contract is a bit too rich for their blood. Notably, ESPN still has Prince outside the first round, which seems unfathomable given Prince’s physical makeup, skill set, and mentality.
To begin with, Prince has prototypical size to play on the wing as a 3-and-D role player, plus the capability to slide over to the stretch 4 position. Standing at 6’6.5” without shoes with a 6’11.5” wingspan, Prince checks off an important box in NBA scouting: his arms are 5” longer than his frame. That difference is an indication of above average length and proportionality, which will especially come in handy when trying to clog passing lanes for steals, blocking shots, and contesting jumpers on the perimeter. With the added height of his shoes and a sturdy weigh-in of 220.2 lbs at the combine, Prince has the length, quickness, height, and strength (his body fat measurement was only 6.45%, indicating a lot of that weight is muscle) to defend most wings, hang with smaller guards on the perimeter if he gets caught on a switch, or to hold up in the post if asked to defend 4’s in a small ball lineup.
Positional versatility is king in the NBA, and Prince will likely be a beneficiary of that trend both on draft night and on into his professional career.
Initially, Prince will be asked to do two things: stretch the floor as a threat from three and defend the opposing wing. During his junior season, Prince shot 39.5% from deep, mostly on spot-up attempts with his feet set. That is an encouraging percentage, and although that efficiency dropped to 36.1% the next season, there are a couple of mitigating factors. Firstly, Kenny Chery was the main ball handler and creator during Prince’s junior year, and so Prince was better able to pick his spots and take open shots. He was asked to shoulder much more of the offensive load last season, and without consistent creativity from Lester Medford, Prince was forced - or at least, felt compelled - to shoot many more contested perimeter shots, many even off the dribble. At the next level, Prince won’t be asked to be a playmaker. His responsibility will be to take the open looks others create for him, with only occasional opportunities to act as a secondary ball handler attacking rotating defenses.
Another reason not to fret over that percentage drop is Prince’s free throw shooting, which increased from 64.4% on 101 attempts to 77.4% on 146 attempts. Free throw percentage is frequently identified as a better indicator of future outside shooting ability than even college three point percentage. An increase of that magnitude indicates Prince’s ability to improve his shot with practice, and so whichever team drafts him can feel reasonably confident that with an NBA shooting coach and thousands of repetitions in practice and in games Prince will become a consistent outside shot.
While Prince’s size would suggest him to be a good defender, some teams will find it hard to trust because of the amount of time he spent in a zone defense. It is difficult to project how a player will adjust from zone defense against college competition to man defense against some of the greatest athletes in the world. In Prince’s defense, he demonstrated a lot of tenacity and ability to defend when he participated in the practices from the Pan-American Games in the summer of 2015. Prince’s general awareness also improved this past season, and, when given the opportunity to defend one-on-one, he showed the ability to square up, move his feet, and lock in. Prince does suffer occasional lapses of judgement through excessive emotions or desire to make something happen, but those are habits that can be corrected.
Prince has also demonstrated himself to be a hard worker, capable of improving his body and his skills. In high school, Prince played most of his minutes at power forward and center, seeing little time on the perimeter with the ball in his hands. His improvement and adaptation to a more perimeter oriented game should be encouraging for teams looking for a player that can work hard to fill a role. Every once in a while, Prince loses his mind on the court and does something stupid with the ball. But his overall mentality of hard work and team should be enticing tonight once the lottery selections have been made.
Prince is likely not a player with a tremendously high ceiling, but the success of players like DeMarre Carroll and Jae Crowder, two players who entered the draft as seniors and so were pegged as having nearly reached their full potential, should be an inspiration and hope for Taurean and those who are rooting for him. The best comparison for Prince and his potential path in the NBA, however much we might want to focus on the dreads, is probably Solomon Hill. Their builds and college stats are similar, and it seems likely that, at least for his rookie contract, that Prince will have to spend some time carving out a consistent role in the way that Hill has with the Pacers.
Predicting the NBA draft is a preposterously difficult endeavor, but here is how I envision things shaking out for our fellow Bear. I would be surprised if he fell any farther the Clippers at 25, who are still looking for a solid wing defender to fill out their closing lineup. His likeliest range is from 15-22, and I would peg the Pacers as a team eager to get a chance to draft Prince. My favorite comp for Prince, Solomon Hill, will be an unrestricted free agent after Indiana declined to pick up the fourth year of his contract, and it won’t be surprising if Larry Bird, anticipating the large amount of money a player even of Hill’s caliber will command this summer with such a preposterous increase in the NBA’s salary cap, looks to replace Hill with a similar player on a much more team friendly contract.
Have your own thoughts on where Prince will go and how he will fare at the next level? Have a team you really, really hope he falls to? Head to the comments!