Iowa's Uthoff takes chance on NBA free agency

Mark Emmert

Former Iowa star Jarrod Uthoff passed up the opportunity to be a second-round NBA Draft pick Thursday because he didn’t want to be “stashed” in the developmental league or overseas, his agent told the Register on Friday.

“Now there is interest throughout the NBA and we are free to pursue it,” Adam Pensack wrote in a text message.

Pensack did not name the teams that expressed interest in selecting Uthoff.  He said there were “a few” of them but all wanted to employ the so-called “draft and stash” approach in which a rookie is sent to the NBA D-League or to a foreign pro league for seasoning, or to languish. Uthoff wants to play in the NBA this year, Pensack said.

Jarrod Uthoff averaged 18.9 points as a Hawkeye senior and now will try to convince an NBA team that he's ready for that level of play this year.

“It’s often better to not be tied to one team and then be able to potentially pursue opportunities with any of the 30 teams,” Pensack reasoned. “If a player’s goal is to play in the NBA, especially in year one, draft and stash is not the best route to do so since it yields zero chance in year one and only a very small chance in subsequent years.”

Uthoff, 23, is coming off an all-American senior season for the Hawkeyes in which he averaged 18.9 points per game and led the Big Ten Conference with 86 blocked shots. The 6-foot-10 forward from Cedar Rapids was projected to be a second-round pick in many mock drafts.

But second-round picks do not receive guaranteed contracts while the teams that draft them get exclusive negotiating rights, an imbalance that is making it more common for players to take the route Uthoff is, said Danny Leroux, an NBA salary cap expert for the Sporting News.

“Teams can be in a variety of spots in terms of willingness to spend (money) and positional availability. There can be a meaningful advantage to not being drafted,” Leroux said. “To explicitly say ‘Don’t draft me’ is definitely an interesting tack. It’s so egregious that we’re actually seeing players do that. I think we’ll see it more.”

Leroux estimated that 10 or more players may have taken the approach Uthoff did Thursday. There is a risk involved, though, especially if the player isn’t generating interest from other teams.

“In some cases, it can be a stigma to be undrafted. I don’t think it is as much anymore,” Leroux said.

Last year, 18 of the 30 second-round picks signed to play in the D-League or overseas, while about 10 undrafted free agents made it to the NBA.

For those selected in the final 10 picks, especially, it makes sense to wonder if they’re better off becoming free agents instead, Leroux said.

“For certain guys, maybe if it’s unlikely you’re going to get drafted, not only do you hear your name on draft night, but the consequence is less severe. You’re probably not really costing yourself a chance to play in the NBA, but you get the thrill of a lifetime,” Leroux said of why some players still opt to be drafted.

NBA draft recap: Pick-by-pick grades, analysis

Last year, Iowa’s Aaron White was chosen with the 49th pick by the Washington Wizards but was quickly sent to Germany with Washington retaining his rights. On Thursday, Iowa State’s Abdel Nader went to the Boston Celtics with the 58th selection and immediately agreed to spend his rookie year in the D-League.

Meanwhile, undrafted players like Kyle Wiltjer of Gonzaga and the Wichita State duo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet signed “partially guaranteed” deals with NBA teams shortly after the draft ended.

Players will continue to make those tough choices as long as the current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement holds, Leroux said. He expects some change will come, possibly before next year’s draft.

“If you’re going to have teams treat the end of the second round the way they are, where they’re basically taking a flyer on guys just to hold their rights, maybe you come to a different understanding. Maybe (NBA owners) didn’t think that exclusive negotiating rights are that big a deal, but it’s huge,” Leroux said.

As for Uthoff, Pensack said there won’t be an announcement about his immediate future “for a while for strategic purposes.”

But being undrafted won’t limit Uthoff’s chances to show NBA teams he belongs.

“You just get the flexibility to impress a team,” Leroux said. “There are going to be spaces open to prove yourself in summer league.”