How can Kofi Cockburn find a role in the NBA? Draft expert weighs in

Kofi Cockburn wasn’t ranked as highly on NBA Draft boards as oscar tshiebweKentucky’s national player of the year, but the Illinois two-time All-American center decided last week to enter the draft while Tshiebwe decided to return to Kentucky for another season — reportedly with as much as $2 million in name, image and likeness payments guaranteed.

Cockburn, who likely would have earned significant NIL revenue as well, is not expected to get drafted by most experts. ranks Cockburn the No. 100 prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft. ESPN ranks him the No. 85 overall prospect in a 60-pick draft. CBS Sports draft expert Kyle Boone didn’t slate Cockburn in his top-60 prospects but said Cockburn will be in his top-100 draft prospects, likely in the 80s.

But with little left to accomplish in college individually after twice earning All-America honors and leading Illinois two to Big Ten banners, the 22-year-old Cockburn decided he wanted to bet on himself and take the professional leap.

The Illini Inquirer caught up with Boone to discuss Cockburn’s decision, his draft stock and his best path to an NBA career.

What did you think of Kofi Cockburn’s decision?

Kyle Boones: “I can’t say I’m surprised. The thing with Kofi is it’s not like he has much to prove at the college level. You’ve been there for three years now. You’ve been an All-American. You’ve been consistently one of the best players and most dominant players in college basketball, so on that level, what more do you have to prove in coming back?

“On the other hand, what are you really gaining at the pro level is what really makes that decision particularly so interesting. Could you make more going pro now than you could as one of the stars of college basketball, the face of a really big brand at Illinois? That to me makes it a real decision. Obviously, I’ve decided he’s going to go pro, and I think that’s probably the right move. But to me, with what we’ve seen already with oscar tshiebwe coming back to Kentucky or Hunter Dickinson coming back to Michigan, if you’re a really good dominant college basketball player, there’s obviously a market there for you even if you’re not a definitive, no-doubt-about-it first-round pick.”

Many say Kofi is not a great fit for the NBA because he’s this old-school, back-to-the-basket big. Can he find a role in the NBA and what is that role?

Kyle Boones: “The more I think about it, the more I think it’s very possible that he could end up finding a role in the NBA. I was not very high on Kofi, at least not last year. I thought just his defensive limitations on him, not being able to defend in space, is more problematic than the fact that he’s more of a back-to-the-basket, can’t-space-the-floor, not a really good shooter type of player. To me, that’s not so much of a concern compared to what his limitations are defensively. But even now in the NBA, we see players that kind of fit this mold that are still being able to carve out roles, at least in some way. Enes Kanter You have played for a long time in the NBA. He’s not a star right now, but we’re talking about a guy who’s carved out a really nice career in the NBA for himself. Kofi being the fact that he’s 7-foot, nearly 300 pounds, it’s very possible even considering the weaknesses he has that he could still go on and have a good pro career and maybe even a good NBA career too.”

Will trimming down help him with the defensive issues or does that take away from his power game too much, which is clearly his strength?

Kyle Boones: “Yeah, I feel like that is kind of a trade-off for him. The fact that he is so big and so physical is definitely a strength for him for his rebounding and just ability to dominate in the post. I think if he was able to trim down possibly he can improve defensively just in terms of his lateral quickness from him. To me though, you kind of are what you are. If you’re 7-foot tall and you can lose 20 pounds … I don’t necessarily know that you’re going to gain a ton of foot speed even if you’re trimming down from where he’s at right now. He can always probably get in a bit better physical shape, but he’s probably at this point in his career kind of is what he is.”

What do you think is the best case for him going through this process and the draft?

Kyle Boones: “To me, I think the best case is to go undrafted and sign with a team that sets out a goal for him in what he sees himself as a pro. If the Golden State Warriors were to sign him as an undrafted free agent and say, ‘Look, you’re going to spend two years in the G League, you’re going to develop as a young professional, and then if you’re able to provide yourself at that level, then maybe we call you up and that’s our three- or five-year plan for you, developing you and grooming you into the player you see yourself as an NBA player.’ If he’s getting drafted where I think he would end up getting drafted — in the 50s or potentially in the late 40s — you don’t really get the chance to pick your spot. You’re at the mercy of whoever drafts you and that’s the organization you go to. So for him, I think specifically because he wouldn’t be a draft pick, I would kind of hope for him that he finds someone during this process that takes a chance on him in free agency and they say, ‘Here’s how we kind of see you over the next three or five years.’”

Who are the NBA guys you would tell him to model his game after?

Kyle Boones: “Someone who is very big and their asset is their size. Drummond’s 6-foot-11, almost 300 pounds, doesn’t really shoot the three. He’s really good at what he does and he kind of knows his role. Same with Kofi with Andrew Drummond in that they’re not elite athletes. They’re not guys that are jumping out of the gym. They’re really good at throwing their weight around, being able to rebound, being able to shoot it efficiently around the paint. If Cockburn is able to stick, that’s how I think his role would be in the NBA.

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