On Thursday morning, it was announced that South East Melbourne Phoenix Next Star, Terry Armstrong, will enter the 2020 NBA draft.
This may come as a surprise to some, after Armstrong failed to make an impression in his first professional season. The 19 year old swingman only managed to play 18 minutes through the 2019/20 NBL season.
In what is widely considered a weaker draft, this is as good a year as any to bank on a team taking a flier on theoretical potential, so it's not completely out of the question that Armstrong gets selected by a team deep into the second round. However, with the seemingly compromised pre-draft process, it's going to be a challenge for Armstrong to convince teams to take a chance, when there's plenty more established college and overseas players competing for deep draft selection, even with the suspended March Madness tournament.
Even within the NBL, such players as Sam Froling and Kouat Noi, who have been aiming at the 2020 draft, appear to have minimal draft chances, despite having much more productive NBL seasons.
Armstrong may have NBA potential, but right now, it's clear that he's not ready. While it is unclear whether declaring for the draft itself voids the second year of a Next Stars deal, the writing may be on the wall for Armstrong's NBL future regardless.
Both Armstrong and Phoenix General Manager Tommy Greer's statements on the release acknowledge the struggles that Armstrong had throughout the season, and appeared to the respective parties choice to move on.
“I’d like to thank the S.E. Melbourne organisation, the fans and my fellow teammates for giving me the opportunity to be part of their family,” Armstrong said.
“There were many challenges that I had to overcome, both on and off the court. These obstacles have helped mould me into the man I am today. After sitting down with my team, we’ve decided that the best decision for my professional career will be entering the 2020 NBA Draft,” Armstrong said in the release.
Armstrong also shared a tweet from Jake Weingarten, who mentioned that he "had the option to return to the NBL next season but will go the NBA route rather".
In chatting with Dwayne Russell on SEN earlier this week, Russell asked for Greer's thoughts on the Next Stars program. Greer noted that the NBL's Next Stars program "was a hit", concurring with the success of LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, but failed to bring up Armstrong, nor his involvement with the franchise beyond this season.
When reached for comment on Thursday, a team spokesman confirmed Armstrong's return would be a club decision, depending on the outcome of the draft.
With the team looking for more length and athleticism going into next year, it makes sense for the team to have a Next Star, be it Armstrong or a new prospect.
However, with next year's Next Stars class potentially being a deeper crop than last seasons, as Liam Santamaria proposed at the end of this week's NBL Overtime, there's likely plenty of opportunity for the Phoenix to recruit a new player into their Next Stars slot that is more likely to contribute. While the club's comment appears to leave the door open for Armstrong's return should that not occur, it still seems plausible that Armstrong's time in the NBL is done.