Should Jalen Wilson and Christian Braun come back to Kansas or go pro? NBA scouts weigh in

Everything is joyous in Lawrence right now, and it’s kept Kansas out of the transfer portal. With only nine days left to join the portal and be eligible to transfer without sitting out, it appears the national champion Jayhawks are going to be one of the few high-majors to not lose any players.

Kansas is, however, in a weird spot when it comes to chasing anyone in the portal. The expectation is that both Christian Braun and Jay Wilson will put their names in the NBA Draft and keep open the possibility of returning to school. If Braun and Wilson both return, Kansas is maxed out on scholarships at 13. If one or both leave, the KU coaches would look to the portal to fill those spots — but the deadline to pull out of the draft is not until June 1. Kansas has not been overly aggressive recruiting the portal so far but has reached out to a few players, most notably SMU’s Kendrick Davis and Detroit’s Antoine Davis.

Kendric Davis is making his decision Friday night, and the consensus after speaking with several coaches is that he will pick Memphis. Some players are taking their time with decisions, but if Wilson and Braun take until the June 1 deadline, the pickings could be slim. A year ago Remy Martin committed to Kansas on May 17, and he was one of the last big-name players to make a decision.

If Braun and Wilson return, then KU is set, and next year’s starting lineup is pretty easy to predict: Dajuan Harris at point guard, Braun and Wilson manning two of the wing spots with the other one being filled by either MJ Rice or Gradey Dick and then one of Zach ClemenceZuby Ejiofor or Ernest Udeh Jr. at center.

If one or both bolts, the hope will be to find at least one starter-level player out of the portal. So everything hinges on the decisions of Braun and Wilson. To get a gauge of how the NBA currently sees them, The Athletic reached out to four NBA scouts. All four had similar evaluations and opinions on what the two Jayhawks should do. This is a combination of their analysis.

Jalen Wilson’s evaluation

“I would have a hard time envisioning him getting drafted. He’s not good enough. The thing that he does the best in college right now is that he rebounds the ball. We always ask, what’s gonna get you in court? Why is Coach gonna put you in an NBA game? I don’t know why he’d get put in the game. He’s a solid defender of similar sized guys. He does a good job of switching. He just doesn’t do anything good enough.

“He needs to ideally show he can be a three man. But if he’s going to be a four man — Trey Murphy is a good example — show you can make 3s. (Murphy shot 43.3 percent from 3 at Virginia as a junior and then was picked 17th in the 2021 draft. Wilson’s 3-point percentage went from 33.3 percent as a freshman to 26.3 percent this season.) Because he’s not a great driver. He is good in transition, but how he’s going to get on the floor is be a better one-on-one defender and be 35-to-40 percent as a 3-point shooter.”

“Last year at this time, you expected him to make a jump. And whether it’s the DUI or whatever, he didn’t make a jump to me. His stats for him didn’t really change much from last year, except he was worse from 3. He’s gotten his body better and that’s helped, but he needs a good full year next year and he needs to be better.

“If he stayed in, he strikes me as someone who would get in summer league and training camp, but probably be facing a G League season where he’d have to prove himself. For him, is just getting on with your pro career more important than playing out your eligibility at Kansas? Where I imagine that might be even more lucrative in the current climate than what a G League deal would offer. An Exhibit 10 contract — one that can be assigned to a G League team — is $50k, plus a G League contract is $37,000.”

“He has to be better, and he needs to come back. And it’s OK. Look at the playoffs. Whether it’s Fred VanVleet or Jose Alvarado or Herb Jones, there are four-year guys out there getting to play and impacting games. It’s OK not to be a one-and-done or two-and-done.”

Christian Braun’s evaluation

“Christian is probably in a far more advantageous position. I think he may never have more momentum than he does now coming off of this national title run in which he played well. I think also though he’s in a position where it might still be hard for him by the next early-entry deadline for withdrawal to have an assurance that he’s a first-round pick from someone. He’s in that range where he might be a first-rounder, but he might not be. He’s probably in the 30s to 40s and closer to 40. Some have him even lower than that.”

“He did really help himself over the course of the year. He’s a vertical athlete in that he can run and jump, but laterally he’s just at best average. He’s a good college defender, but defense is always going to be a question mark. He shoots it good, albeit not great. He’s got to elevate his release point a little bit. Translating his 3-point shot to the NBA game, I still think there would be some struggles. He needs to get it off a little quicker, because I don’t think he’s getting that same shot off. And sometimes he doesn’t even look for a shot when he has open shots in college. He needs to be 40 percent from 3, and he needs to make three or four a game, and he needs to not turn down shots. He needs to be shooter first, a driver second. Let his shot from him set up his drive from him.”

“When he plays hard and when he’s aggressive and attacks, he’s freaking good. He needs to come back and be aggressive and be the man all game, not just a half, and Show I can do that.”

“His personality is the kind that tell him he shouldn’t go in the draft, he’s gonna go, right? He’s gonna explore it, and he should. But he’s got to transition from a three to a two to really have a chance. At 6-6, that’s going to be what he is in the NBA. His percentage of him was good from 3 this year (38.6 percent on 3.3 attempts per game). But to be a real valuable commodity, he needs to become great. That could happen.”

“For him, it’s weighing two pretty good things: I could ride this momentum, and I think I’m certain I’ll get picked, versus you just saw a teammate of yours go back and turn probably to a similar position that you’re in now into maybe being a lottery pick. If he comes back next year and he competes for Big 12 Player of the Year, which he should have a chance for, he could be like (ochai agbaji) and move up into the teens.”

(Photo of Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson: Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)


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