Instead of criticizing or questioning Kaleb Wesson, his skills, or his decision to leave Ohio State and enter the NBA Draft, I think it’s important to take a second and recognize how far this young man has come.
Kaleb Wesson stepped foot on Ohio State’s campus in the summer of 2017 weighing in at 290 pounds. That right there is an absolute unit. As a freshman, it was obvious the gimmicks that worked in high school (just bullying kids who he literally had 100 pounds on, blocking every other shot that comes within arm’s reach, etc.) were no longer going to work.
It was also apparent that his high school conditioning was inadequate to fully prepare him for Big Ten basketball, which really is not surprising. Wesson trailed behind offensive and defensive possessions, often arriving late and then fouling because he was not in position in time. And it looked like he wanted to shoot more from distance, but he was rarely given the green light.
To be blunt: he was too big, too slow, and too undisciplined. If anyone suggested in 2017 that Wesson was going to be drafted in three years, you’d be laughed out of the room.
But then he went to work. He lost almost 40 pounds. He became quicker and improved his footwork. 2017 Kaleb Wesson would panic and force a bad shot if he was double-teamed, but 2019 Kaleb Wesson made teams pay for sending two defenders his way, always finding the open man on the perimeter. Suddenly, the NBA didn’t sound like a longshot at all.
And we shouldn’t pretend that coming back to school for one more year would have improved his chances, because it would not have. 21-year old's are already too “old” to waste a draft pick on in the eyes of many NBA GM’s (if Obi Toppin was 19 years old and not 22, he may have been the No. 1 pick). If Wesson had finished at Ohio State and re-entered next year, his odds would probably have dropped.
If nobody wanted to draft a 21-year old stretch-four who’s not big enough to be a true center, but too slow to be a wing, why would teams want to draft the exact same player, but a year older? Kaleb shot nearly 43% from three last year, which was his biggest selling point to scouts. The odds that Wesson shoots better than 43% from three-point range during a hypothetical senior year is almost zero.
He did his best. He got in shape. He gave himself a great chance to get picked. But now Kaleb Wesson is going to have several options. There will be NBA teams interested in signing him to a two-way contract, where he’d basically bounce between the big team and their G-League affiliate. There will also be opportunities to play overseas.
So now that we’ve put some #respeck on his name and covered our bases about where his opportunities may lie, what are three realistic landing spots for the former Buckeye bruiser?
Eight years ago, the Boston Celtics selected Jared Sullinger with the 21st overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Sullinger went on to have four solid seasons in Boston before he left town for Toronto.
Wesson is not nearly the player Sullinger was, but the sport itself has changed drastically in less than a decade. Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. — a Second Team All-American last year probably the best comparison to 2012 Sullinger — didn’t get taken until the 32nd pick of this year’s draft, mainly because his lack of range. Like Sullinger, Carey doesn’t have an outside shot.
Boston is guard heavy but light on big men. Their starting center last season was third-year German pro Daniel Theis, who averaged 9.2 points per game last season while pulling down 6.6 rebounds. His 6.6 boards per game were third-best on the team, and only 0.2 ahead of Jaylen Brown — a guard. Boston also has Enes Kanter on the roster, who is a solid backup to Theis and led Boston in rebounding at 7.4 boards per game despite playing just 17 minutes per contest. The Celtics extended a qualifying offer to 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall on Thursday as well, but the second-year pro out of UCF is extremely limited anywhere outside of the post.
The Celtics will continue to add depth to their frontcourt before the season starts in a few weeks, and Wesson would give them a sharpshooter as they watch Gordon Hayward potentially leave in free agency. I’m not sure if Wesson would play significant minutes, but I’d probably slot him in between Kanter and Fall in the hierarchy of Boston big men.
The Denver Nuggets would be a fun landing spot for Wesson for two reasons.
First, his good buddy Keita Bates-Diop seems to have found a home in Denver as a key bench piece, and seeing former teammates together would feel like a happy ending after his not being taken on draft night. Bates-Diop, who was the 48th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, averaged 6.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last season, which was split between the Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Secondly, the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is one of the players Wesson models his game after. In a recent interview with USA Today, Wesson said,
I feel like my game is kind of like Al Horford and Nikola Jokic. I am somebody who can initiate offense and I can play in those pick-and-pop, short-roll situations where I’m reading a defense.... I always had the ball in my hands. I averaged almost three assists a game at Ohio State. I don’t think a lot of guys of my height were doing that in college. I know when to shoot the ball and when to pass it.
Jokic has already made two NBA All-Star teams at age 25 and essentially averages a double double for his career (17 pts, 9.7 reb). He’s 7-foot and 280 pounds, too, much bigger than Wesson all-around. On top of that he is an elite passer, having dished out 7+ assists per game each of the last two seasons.
While Kaleb Wesson will probably never sniff these numbers, learning from a player with a comparable skillset could go a long way in his development. Regardless of where he ends up, it will take a year or two of seasoning before he’s completely thrown into the fire. If that’s the case, why not have him sit behind one of the best in the league, who he already models his game after?
My basketball knowledge more or less falls off a cliff when we stop talking about American hoops, so this will be the shortest section.
The biggest selling point for playing overseas is the obvious one — the money. No, you’re not making millions of dollars like in the NBA, but plenty of former Buckeyes have had successful overseas careers after going undrafted. Aaron Craft, William Buford, and LaQuinton Ross all went undrafted out of Ohio State, but still are having successful basketball careers while making anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 per year.
If Wesson’s goal is to play professional basketball, he’s going to have plenty of opportunities to do that. The “NBA or bust” idea is burnt into our minds as fans because we may lose track of our favorite college athletes when they leave the United States.
But for the players, leaving college and going pro has always been about making money and supporting themselves and their families. That is the goal from the very beginning for each and every one of them. And playing overseas would absolutely do that for Kaleb if that’s where he ends up taking his talents.