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Did James Michael McAdoo return to school for the money?

Apr 6, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT

Kansas Jayhawks forward Thomas Robinson and guard Tyshawn Taylor celebrate over North Carolina Tar Heels forward James Michael McAdoo after defeating the Tar Heels in the men's NCAA Midwest Regional basketball game in St. Louis

North Carolina got some big news on Thursday afternoon when freshman James Michael McAdoo announced his intention to return to school for his sophomore year.

McAdoo was an all-everything recruit coming out of Norfolk, VA. And while his freshman campaign wasn’t overly impressive, there was a reason for that: he was playing behind Tyler Zeller and John Henson, who may have been the two best big men in the ACC.

McAdoo did get a chance to play heavy minutes late in the season as Henson went down in the ACC tournament with a wrist injury, and he didn’t disappoint. The freshman averaged 10.6 ppg, nearly double his season average, and 4.6 rpg in seven postseason games for the Tar Heels. That performance,, combined with the fact that McAdoo is a physical specimen that is a blood relative of Bob McAdoo, would probably have been enough to get him picked either in the late lottery or the middle of the first round.

In this day and age (and with the exception of last season, apparently), seeing a kid that is a guaranteed first round pick return to school is somewhat out of the ordinary. But McAdoo made a smart decision to return to school.

Why?

Because McAdoo has a chance to be a top five pick next season, and the difference between going 15th and fifth is a lot of money. Take a look at last season’s rookie scale. (For those that don’t know, first round draft picks get a guaranteed two-year contract with team options for the third and fourth year at predetermined values.) Jonas Valanciunas went fifth and Kawhi Leonard with 15th. Valaciunas will make double what Leonard does. Enes Kanter, who went third, will earn  almost $6 million more than Leonard in their first three years in the league.

That is a lot of money, enough to make it worth the risk to return for another season.

And rest assured, there is a major risk involved. While it is very possible that McAdoo could end up being the second coming of Thomas Robinson, who toiled behind Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins before finally getting a chance to shine this season, it is no guarantee. What happens if McAdoo struggles as the focal point of the UNC offense? What happens if he gets injured? What if he spends the offseason eating McDonald’s and Taco Bell instead of working out?

Plenty can go wrong over the next seven months that will scare of the teams looking for a franchise-changing draft pick. Barring some incredible stroke of bad luck, however, it is tough to envision McAdoo falling all the way out of the first round. If he ends up being the 25th pick of the first round instead of the 15th pick, McAdoo’s contract would only end up being worth around $1.6 million over the course of three years.

The bottom line is this: if you are projected to go in the mid-to-late first round, and, in a best case scenario, you’re a late lottery pick, it makes sense to leave immediately. The money made over the course of your contract wouldn’t be significantly greater than the money you would earn in that extra season in the NBA. But for that precious few that have a chance to play their way into the big money of the top five, there is plenty of financial incentive to stay.

I can’t help but think that is why McAdoo is back at Chapel Hill this year.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

  1. atwatercrushesokoye - Apr 6, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    Maybe he felt he just wasn’t ready yet? It’s great for these players to go to the NBA and hit the jackpot once, but there are plenty of them who never become anything and end up playing for nothing in Europe 3 years after being drafted. If he (and all young players) actually stay in school and refine their game to the point where they will be good NBA players and not just guys getting one big payday, not only will they get drafted higher and get more money then but they actually will get multiple big contracts in their careers.

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