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Looming decision for Kerwin Roach II will impact upside for Texas next season

The Longhorns haven’t had much luck with NBA Draft decisions in recent years. Will that change?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas vs Nevada Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Will he stay or will he go now?

For Texas Longhorns star Mo Bamba, that’s been a foregone conclusion for, well, since he even committed to the ‘Horns. And probably even before that. For junior guard Kerwin Roach II, it looms as an extraordinarily important storyline when assessing the potential upside for the 2018-19 Texas basketball team.

Following the NCAA tournament loss to Nevada on Friday, head coach Shaka Smart didn’t directly address a question about Roach’s future beyond expressing support for whatever decision the athletic guard decides to make

Recent rule changes help Texas — players can now go through the NBA draft combine process and work out for one NBA team without losing eligibility. Andrew Jones went through that process last year and, based on the feedback that he received, opted to return to school for another season.

Roach will almost certainly take advantage of that opportunity, so the Longhorns likely won’t know whether he’ll be in Austin this fall until the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw 10 days after the combine in May.

Early perspectives on whether Roach is draftable are variable, but has him as the 39th pick in the draft. Unless the 6’4, 180-pounder decides that he has unfinished business in college basketball and wants to put off a professional payday for another season, that’s probably enough to convince him to leave.

ESPN, on the other hand, doesn’t have Roach among the top 150 prospects, so without a strong NBA draft combine showing, he would be more likely to go undrafted than not.

For some players, that works out — former Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor suffered a similar fate, but improved substantially during his year in what was formerly known as the D League and is now a rotation player with the Atlanta Hawks in his second season out of college. Taylor’s story illustrates the benefits of playing basketball full time instead of splitting focus on school and suffering from the practice restrictions imposed upon players by the NCAA.

No matter what Roach does, he probably isn’t a rotation player in the NBA next season and is more likely to go undrafted than hear his name called in the top half of the second round. But NBA teams also now have two more roster spots for players who can sign two-way contracts with that organization and the G League. Players with those contracts can make three times what players signed to G League contracts are paid.

The junior improved significantly during his junior season, boosting his scoring average, shooting much better from three-point range (36.4 percent compared to 28.4 percent last season), and becoming a dangerous threat off the bounce.

When Roach returned from his fractured hand early in Big 12 play, he scored 20 or more points five games, ending the season with a career high of 26 against Nevada, including 6-of-10 shooting from distance. He got his teammates involved, too, dishing out seven or more assists in three of the last five games.

A former high school triple-jump champion, Roach is an elite athlete known for his highlight-reel dunks, as well h high-level defensive ability on the ball. Evaluators often use free-throw percentage to provide three-point shooting at the NBA level and there are serious questions for Roach in that regard — he improved to 65 percent this season, but that’s not particularly good for a shooting guard.

At 6’4, his height is borderline for that positioisn and while he’s improved as a decision maker on the ball, he’s probably not a primary ball handler at the next level, either. Down the stretch, Roach was also inconsistent, vacillating between winning efforts and going 6-for-34 shooting three games against Kansas State and Iowa State.

If Roach can improve his shooting from distance and from the free-throw line while further establishing his reputation as one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball, he would have a better chance of sneaking into the draft by staying another year in college. On the offensive end, greater consistency would is the way to improve those numbers.

At the same time, if Roach decides that he wants to get paid for playing basketball next season and benefit from the extra hours he can put in as a result, an honest assessment has to admit that he probably has a better chance of making an NBA roster in 2019-20 by spending next season at the professional level.

The evaluators at the NBA draft combine, if Roach receives an invite and attends, might have a different perspective, of course.

From the Texas perspective, since Eric Davis Jr. may not return for his senior season as a result of the current allegations against him and the complete uncertainty surrounding the availability of Andrew Jones as he works to come back from leukemia, Roach’s decision is huge.

Getting him back would provide the team with perhaps its only senior guard and a leader capable of making big plays in big moments. Roach is on track become one of the best guards in the conference.

And Texas would finally benefit from a little bit of luck with the rare return of a talented player considering departing for the professional game. Just don’t hold your breath for it.