There probably will be a dozen or more players selected before Villanova forward Saddiq Bey in the NBA Draft this October. It depends on how smart and bold the people making the picks turn out to be, which means it probably will be more.
In a few years, a number of the players drafted will inspire puzzled looks or laughter and the inevitable question: They picked him over Saddiq?
In his two seasons at Villanova, Bey did not make first-team All-American or average 20 points. He did not play in a Final Four, although there’s a fair possibility he would have if the NCAA Tournament had been contested in March 2020.
What Bey did, though, was demonstrate an inherent toughness that helped Villanova quickly rebuild after the loss of the top six players from the 2018 NCAA championship team and claim a share of the 2020 Big East regular-season title.
It primarily was his shot-making ability and offensive versatility that forced Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard to bench elite shot-blocker Romaro Gill during the decisive second half of the early March game that kept the Wildcats alive in the conference race. It was Bey’s four-point play — he was fouled while making a 3-pointer with 16:43 left — that gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead in the game.
It was Bey’s toughness and competitive fire that allowed coach Jay Wright to compile a 24-7 record in the abbreviated season with a frontcourt measuring 6-9 (freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl), 6-8 (Bey) and 6-7 (Jermaine Samuels).
Coach Jay Wright told Sporting News that Bey is a “complete player” and, relative to his NBA transition, praised his “combination of potential and immediate readiness to contribute.”
Depending on the quality of the international prospects who are selected, the 2020 NBA Draft is likely to end up in the debate about the worst drafts in the league’s history. Even in the most disappointing years, though, there are players hidden among the selections who turn out to be special. Think of Tim Hardaway being the 14th player chosen in 1989, or Joe Johnson as the 10th pick in 2001 or Kyle Lowry going 24th in 2006.
When circumstances such as this develop, we tend to focus on the errors made by the teams that passed on the opportunity to select these players. We pay less attention to the teams and executives smart enough to seize the opportunity that so many others ignored.
Bey will need to improve as a rebounder in order to become a successful pro, although some of his deficiency in this area is related to his positioning on offense, often away from the goal, making it difficult to access offensive rebounds.
But his offensive ability will get him the playing time necessary to move in that direction. He shot 45.1 percent on 3-point attempts as a Villanova sophomore, and that was on 79 makes. Inside the line, he converted at a 50 percent rate.
Defensively, he was essential to Villanova’s ability to compete against taller teams. Draft analysts have given him high grades for his ability to compete at that end.
Wright said Tuesday that Bey is making the right decision to turn professional at this point.