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Who will break Northwestern’s NBA Draft drought?

If he can bulk up without losing his impressive skillset, Pete Nance might be the guy.

No Northwestern Wildcats were drafted in last night’s NBA Draft. That news should come as no surprise to any remotely engaged Northwestern basketball fan. Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh were not on any pre-draft top 100 NBA Draft prospect rankings.

Come next June, it will be 20 years since a Wildcat was selected in the NBA Draft. Evan Eschmeyer was the 34th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. Don’t expect the Wildcats draft drought to end in 2019, either. Vic Law and Dererk Pardon are solid players, but Law will be 23 and Pardon will be 22 by the time the 2019 draft rolls around. The NBA values youth more than it does experience at times, so the odds look slim for any current Wildcat to get drafted.

Here’s my take: Pete Nance will break the Northwestern drought during his time at Northwestern. For the dreamers, sure, maybe he’ll have a breakout freshman campaign as a non-blue chip recruit. Maybe he will surprise everyone and declare for the 2019 draft after his freshman season, a la Zhaire Smith of the Philadelphia 76ers, who is the only non-ESPN 100 recruit ever drafted after their freshman season (Nance is ranked 79th in ESPN’s top 100).

But it’s doubtful Nance will be a one-and-done prospect — non-five star recruits rarely are. Whether he is drafted in 2020, 2021 or 2022, I don’t know. That depends on his development and production at Northwestern.

Nance is listed at 6-foot-8, but his older brother, and Cavalier forward, Larry Nance Jr., told the Cleveland media Pete might be taller than that.

“I’ve yet to admit it, but I guess he’s a little bit taller than I am,” Nance said following a February loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Larry Nance Jr. is listed at 6-foot-9.

Pete is only 18, and bound to grow another inch or two in the coming years. I am writing this speculative piece under the assumption that Pete Nance will be at least 6’9.5”, and likely taller, when he enters the NBA draft.

In that same post-game interview, Larry Nance Jr. also discussed Pete’s style of play, describing his and Pete’s games as “polar opposites.”

Pete, unlike his brother, plays a finesse game. While much of that is no doubt due to his frail frame —he is listed at only 180 pounds— his style of play fits the modern NBA. The younger Nance likes to bring the ball up, take off-the-dribble jumpers and shoot three pointers. Those guard like characteristics in his game bode well for his NBA outlook.

Pete, however, does not possess the same explosive athleticism, nor the strength, his brother and father do.

Pete is listed as a small forward by his high school MaxPreps site, and as a power forward by college recruiting sites. Assuming he bulks up during his time in Evanston, however, Pete will fit the mold of an modern NBA big beautifully. NBA teams covet bigs with ball-handling and shooting ability. Ball-handling bigs allow their teams to get out on fast breaks because they can grab a rebound while all four teammates start running down the court. Shooting is arguably the most desired skill in the NBA right now. Bulking up, however, is imperative for Nance. NBA scouts need to see that he is a capable post defender and a solid rebounder.

There is a trend of blue-chip recruits wanting to play smaller than their natural position during their time in college.

Take Kevin Knox or Marvin Bagley III for example. Knox was the sixth five-star recruit to commit to Kentucky last year. He committed well after three five-star bigs (P.J. Washington, Nick Richards and Jarred Vanderbilt) had expressed their desire to play for John Calipari. Bagley committed long after Wendell Carter Jr. had spurned Harvard for Duke.

Both Knox and Bagley, according to ESPN’s draft expert Jonathan Givony, committed to play for Calipari and Coach K because they wanted to play at the three and the four, respectively.

Kentucky gave Knox the opportunity to play the three given the plethora of five-star bigs Calipari had already recruited. Carter Jr. is as center-y as centers come in 2018. He can shoot, but he thrives with his back to the basket and he is a terrific rebounder. The Bulls selected him 7th overall Thursday because of his low-post dominance, not his shooting ability. Carter was not going to play the 4 at Duke. Bagley knew this.

Knox and Bagley thought playing small would help them display their guard-like ball skills to NBA front offices.

Despite these developments, Knox, listed at 6-foot-9, will play the four a lot in the NBA. Although he will likely slot in at the three next to Porzingis in the starting lineup, he will also play extended minutes at the four. He didn’t do that at Kentucky. With Bagley, no one can truly know what Sacramento will do. The 6-foot-11 ACC Player of the Year should play some five next to Harry Giles. He should not play the three. But it’s the Kings, so who knows.

But back to the main point. Nance has guard skills. He will show that right away in Evanston. His offensive ability won’t be in question when he declares for the NBA Draft (yeah, I said it, WHEN). In order to quiet concerns over his thin frame, Nance must show that he can defend opposing big men at the collegiate level while also flaunting his offensive gifts.

Scouts don’t look for for big guys who can play small as much as they like ‘smaller’ players, with guard skills, that can play ‘big’. Pete Nance has those guard skills already. He will likely start at power forward for Northwestern at some point, but he needs to get stronger over the next couple years and prove that he can defend NBA centers.

If Nance flourishes on defense and on the boards in Evanston, he will end Northwestern’s NBA Draft drought in the 2020s.