As the NBA Draft drew to a close last night, one name familiar to Kansas fans had not been called. Former Jayhawk Cliff Alexander went undrafted on Thursday and will now be allowed to sign as a free agent with a team of his choosing.
The draft is the latest chapter in Alexander's story that figured to have a promising end as recently as last spring when the Chicago native was pegged as one of the top high school recruits in the country. Unfortunately, in Lawrence, Alexander struggled to find his way while playing for Bill Self before running into NCAA issues that cut his freshman season short. Fearing that he would be ineligible to play as a sophomore, Alexander entered the NBA Draft.
Alexander is just the second Rivals top five recruit to go undrafted and there have been a number of explanations offered for his nosedive off front office draft boards. Perhaps the easiest one to dispel is the argument that Alexander performed poorly during his time at Kansas. I have written at length about this subject before on this site, but allow me to summarize the argument briefly here. While Alexander struggled to stay on the floor at times due to Self's coaching decisions and a bit of foul trouble, he excelled when he was on the court. Alexander's numbers are outstanding. He averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks per 40 minutes of playing time.
Before you jump on the fact that Alexander needs to improve aspects of his game like his shooting, footwork, and ability to defend without fouling, remember that the majority of NBA prospects are in the same boat, especially those taken in the second round. Alexander, though, likely has a higher ceiling than many of the second rounders taken, something that was nearly universally recognized before the 2014-15 college season.
That fact is odd given that another familiar retort against Alexander has been that he lacks the size to play in the NBA. Certainly Alexander's 6-foot-8 frame makes him an awkward fit, but his 7-foot-4 wingspan will likely make up for some of what he lacks in height. We have also known about Alexander's position problem for a while now--he didn't grow much in college. Still, nearly every NBA mock draft including SB Nation, Hoops Habit, and ESPN's Chad Ford had him going in the lottery to begin the season. That consensus represents some level of confidence in the big man's talent level. It would be rather surprising to see that confidence collapse entirely over the course of one season where Alexander put up strong numbers.
Although I don't expect Cliff Alexander to have an All-Star caliber NBA career, I did expect to hear his name called on Thursday. Draft Express suggested that Alexander could be a late first rounder in their final mock before the draft and many others figured he would come off the board at some point in the second round. A combination of issues likely put Alexander in this position, but his undeniable talent should give him an opportunity to make a roster in the league. In the end, perhaps this was for the best. Alexander will be able to choose a roster that fits his style led by coaches he's comfortable with. Maybe there's still a chance for a happy ending.