It’s been almost 24 hours since Stephen Zimmerman committed to UNLV, so most Rebels fans are probably coming back down to earth right about… now.
The scarlet and gray faithful certainly earned the right to celebrate Zimmerman’s announcement. They followed the ups and downs of his recruiting process for four long years, so once UNLV secured his commitment, a little celebration was definitely in order. But when it comes to building a college basketball roster, nothing happens in a vacuum—Zimmerman’s decision is going to have a very real effect on the rest of the 2015-16 Rebels, and it starts with Chris Wood.
Wood’s impact was massive last season, as he posted 15.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in his breakthrough sophomore campaign. He also never left the court, as his 32.7 minutes per game led the team. That big-time performance has led to Wood being projected as a possible first-round pick in the NBA draft, and he is now considering a jump to the pros.
Will Zimmerman’s arrival have an effect on Wood’s decision one way or the other? It’s impossible to know for sure without direct knowledge of Wood’s thought process. What we can do, is draw up a list of pros and cons that assesses whether Wood should stay at UNLV or leave for the NBA:
Reason to stay: Improve draft stock
Another year in college would give Wood an opportunity to work on his game, which in turn could make him a higher pick in next year’s draft. A higher draft slot means more guaranteed money, so there is a quantifiable reason to care about draft position. And there is plenty of stuff for Wood to improve upon—he could put on more muscle, refine his post game, develop a more consistent jump shot, and learn to be a better passer out of the post. He won’t earn playing time in the NBA until he can do all of those things, and if he enters the draft before he’s ready, a pro team may not want to wait three years for him to develop into a playable option.
Reason to go: He’s a first-round pick now
A bird in the hand, etc. Wood has already done enough to justify a first-round selection, and it’s hard to walk away from that. He’s loaded with potential—he’s got prototypical size and athleticism for the NBA—and he was also an extremely productive college player who posted 15.7 points and 10.0 rebounds last year. How much higher can Wood’s draft stock conceivably get?
Reason to stay: Chance to win at UNLV
Wood seems to embrace the culture of UNLV basketball, so coming back to lead a loaded Rebels team on an NCAA tournament run has to be appealing. Remember, Wood has never played in a postseason game in his two years at UNLV. If he returns for his junior year, the Rebels will have the kind of squad that can make noise in the tournament, and Wood can be in the middle of it.
Reason to go: No guarantees on the court
Sure, winning is fun, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that the Rebels will be a good team next year, with or without Wood. They had Wood tossing up a 15/10/3 line in 2014-15 and still barely cracked .500, so adding another blue-chip recruit (while losing Rashad Vaughn, Cody Doolin and Jelan Kendrick) may not automatically add up to a March Madness moment. If Wood comes back and the Rebels slog through another sub-par season, he’ll be wishing he had made the jump to the NBA when he had the chance.
Reason to stay: Chance to be a leader
If Wood leaves for the NBA, it will be at least six or seven years before he’ll be able to take on any sort of leadership role on a basketball team again—and that’s the best case scenario. That’s a really long time to serve as a role player and an afterthought. But that wouldn’t be the case at UNLV, where Wood would be the consensus star and big man on campus next year. Ask Frank Kaminsky how much fun that experience can be.
Reason to go: Zimmerman stealing stats
Zimmerman and Wood could pair together to form one of the best frontcourts in the nation. But coexisting isn’t always easy. Zimmerman replicates much of Wood’s skill set—he’s a long, shot-blocking presence who can face up and drive to the basket against big defenders. That’s great for UNLV, but maybe not so great for Wood. If Wood returns, there’s a chance that he and Zimmerman will be redundant, leading to Zimmerman siphoning off some of Wood’s production. That’s what happened with former Rebel Mike Moser, who was made redundant by freshman phenom Anthony Bennett and saw his NBA chances plummet as a result.
Reason to stay: Legacy
If Wood puts up another season like he did in 2014-15 and takes UNLV to postseason success, he’ll be remembered by Rebels fans forever. The locals are absolutely thirsting for a tournament run, and there’s something to be said for achieving legendary status.
Reason to go: Too much risk
The phone company doesn’t accept “legendary NCAA status” as a form of payment. Neither do mortgage lenders. Being a college icon has its perks, but NBA money talks. If Wood were to return for another year, he’d have to play well, show real progress in his game, and most importantly, stay healthy. There’s no guarantee all those things will happen. Remember Moser—he shunned the NBA, returned for his junior year, got hurt and played himself out of the first round. Sometimes it’s best to take the money and run.
Which way will Wood go? Besides a few cryptic tweets here and there, he hasn’t given any indication yet. He’s got until April 26 to make up his mind.
Stephen Zimmerman Recruiting Timeline
What Stephen Zimmerman’s Commitment Means for UNLV
Stephen Zimmerman Staying Home, Commits to UNLV
Mercer Transfer Ike Nwamu Set to Visit UNLV
Patrick McCaw Emerges as Program Cornerstone
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