When Hunter Dickinson first declared for the NBA Draft at the end of May, most thought he was merely testing the waters to get pro feedback without truly considering a departure.
That wasn’t the case, Dickinson revealed on Tuesday.
“In the beginning, once I made the decision, I was probably leaning towards leaving and becoming a professional athlete,” Dickinson said. “I would say up until I didn’t get invited to the actual NBA combine, (that) is probably when it went to 50/50 for me.”
But on Tuesday afternoon, the Michigan basketball team’s All-American center announced he’d be returning for a sophomore year. He reported for the Wolverines’ practice on Tuesday afternoon, according to a team spokesperson. At 7-foot-1, Dickinson averaged 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds en route to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He put the Wolverines on his back at times throughout the season, helping the team earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reach the Elite Eight in only Juwan Howard’s second year.
Going through the pre-draft process, NBA scouts gave Dickinson three main pieces of feedback. Offensively, they want to see Dickinson showcase his outside shooting ability and develop right-handed counter moves in the post. At the other end of the floor, scouts encouraged Dickinson to work on defending ball screen switches. He worked out for the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder over the last month.
“The biggest thing (NBA scouts) want to see is me make 3s for an entire season,” Dickinson said on Jeff Goodman’s Field of 68 show. “They saw me make 3s in the workouts and they were impressed with my shot and stuff like that, but they wanna see it over the course of the entire season. And then of course, trying to use my right hand more and stuff like that, being able to guard the ball screens, being able to show that I can switch and hard hedge and stuff like that are some things they wanted.
Despite a strong showing at the G League Elite Camp in Chicago, Dickinson didn’t earn an invitation to the NBA combine — an indication that he wasn’t on most draft boards. He confirmed that himself on Tuesday, telling reporters that most teams projected him in the back half of the second round. But if he had a first-round guarantee, Dickinson admitted he would have remained in the draft.
But at the end of the process, the pull of returning to school overcame the prospects of fighting to make an NBA roster as a second-round draft pick. Dickinson added that the possibility of making money off his name, image and likeness also factored into his decision.
“The combination of where NBA teams had me slotted to get drafted and also the combination of being able to experience a normal year at Michigan (influenced my return),” Dickinson said. “Those two things were probably the biggest influencers for me and things that led to my decision to come back for another year.”
Now, Dickinson will enter his sophomore season as one of the nation’s top returning players. Turning 21 in November, he’ll be in the conversation for preseason first team All-America as he leads a Michigan program set to welcome the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class.
And if he improves on the NBA feedback he received, that could be enough to put him over the top as a first-round pick a year from now.