There is another Australian not named Dante Exum who could yet see his name called out at the 2014 NBA Draft, and that man is Cameron Bairstow.
Let's get one thing straight; I am an unabashed fan of Bairstow and his game. There is much to like about the 6'9" power forward from Queensland who graduated from New Mexico after delivering one of the all-time best year's by a Lobo in school history. He elevated his game astronomically over the past 18 months, so much so that he outshone more highly regarded team mates including reigning Mountain West player of the year Kendall Williams and highly touted center Alex Kirk - both whom also have high expectations of being drafted. It was not so much how quickly he developed and improved, it was more about how he set about doing it. Quite simply he worked harder than just about anyone else and his game flourished as a result.
Bairstow led the Mountain West Conference in scoring and shooting with 20.3 points per game at an impressive 55.6%. Throw in 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game in playing alongside a dominant center, and you end up with a well-rounded player that simply dominated at collegiate level. In starting every game, Bairstow scored 14 or more points in 33 of the 34 games the Lobos played. In digging a little deeper, he actually scored 20 or more points 22 times which is quite remarkable for any player, let alone someone who was averaging just 9.7 points per game a year earlier in predominantly coming off the bench. It was one of the truly great performances by an Australian in college basketball.
With all the on court success, the results, recognition and accolades started to flow. He helped the Lobos win the Mountain West Tournament for which he was duly named Most Valuable Player. Many believed it was just reward after he was overlooked for conference Player of the Year in favor of Xavier Thames whose team won the title.
So for all the on court success during the season and then backing it up with an impressive showing at the NBA Draft Combine, many NBA draft analysts still believe that Bairstow is only an outside chance at being drafted. Concerns surrounding a perceived lack of athleticism and therefore the ability to guard quicker players appear to be the main sticking points. Being able to demonstrate he has range to beyond the three-point line is another question mark raised against him.
So instead of focusing any actual or perceived reasons as to why he may not be drafted, let's focus on 10 reasons why Bairstow should expect to hear his name called out on 26 June 2014 (US time).
1 | Work ethic
Bairstow works harder than just about anyone else. After home games he would head straight into the gym to work out despite averaging more than 32 minutes per game. He changed his body and became a beast. He worked on his shot and became virtually automatic out to 18 feet. If he has any weakness, he will do whatever is necessary to overcome it, and that leads to dedication.
2 | Dedication
He knows what he wants and he has left no stone unturned in getting there. There is no reason why he will not continue to improve, especially when combined with his outstanding work ethic (see reason #1).
3 | Character
There is no ego that comes with Bairstow and no issues either. He is down to earth and goes about his work without fuss. Nothing fazes him and he acts with class at all times on and off the court. He is a true blue Aussie.
4 | Team player
A great team guy and he is fun to be around - something that seems inherent with the majority of players from Australia. Think Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova - great team guys to have around and a positive influence to everyone else on the team.
5 | Size and strength
He has an NBA ready body now. With his 6'9" frame and all the time spent in the gym, he overpowered everyone at collegiate level. He can bang and will thrive with the extra physicality of the NBA.
6 | Reliable shooter
Bairstow is money when left open out to 18 feet - he is automatic. His shooting percentage demonstrates it and he backed it up at the NBA draft combine with all eyes watching and even showed he has extended his range to beyond the arc - something not seen with the Lobos. He is an ideal choice for running the pick and roll at the next level.
7 | Consistency
Bairstow was nothing if not consistent in season 2013/14 with the Lobos. He was the one player that the Lobos relied on each and every game. He never disappeared or faltered in big games unlike others, always delivering when it mattered most (see Mountain West tournament).
8 | Coachable
From sitting on the end of the bench through to starting; Bairstow has proven he is coachable. Off the court he has taken onboard all the advice and instructions and turned himself into the player he is now. On court he is always moving and looking to make plays at either end. Give him a job or instructions and he goes out and completes it with no questions asked and no attitude - just what coaches want.
9 | Potential
Bairstow made huge strides in his senior year, however some parts of his game still require some polish. This includes refining his post-game and demonstrate in game situations that he can knock down the three-ball at the offensive end. At the other end he needs to improve his rebounding and defense, especially proving that he can stay in front of quicker players. However given his work ethic, dedication and skillset, he has all the tools to continue improving and that should ensure he remains an attractive prospect.
10 | Immediate Contributor
With his size, skills and attributes, he can provide minutes off the bench immediately for any team that selects him. His high energy for his position in coming off the bench could provide some spark and lift his team's intensity. He is also well suited to the pick and roll, able to set good screens and is deadly from mid-range.
Courtesy Jim Thomson / Albuquerque Journal
If for some crazy reason he went undrafted, I can still see him earn a place on an NBA roster by treading the same path worn before him by compatriot Dellavedova as a free agent. It would be a crime if one of the best power forwards in college hoops this past season was unable to find a place on an NBA roster for season 2014/15. In working out for a reported 11 NBA teams in the lead up to draft day, he is likely to continue to impress, remove any lingering doubts in NBA executive minds, and will indeed end up hearing his name called out on draft day.