Once the first report surfaced Wednesday night that New Mexico State's 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar was turning pro, a torrent of criticism quickly followed.
"Whoever is reportedly telling Sim Bhullar that it's a good idea to enter the NBA draft is someone Bhullar should stop listening to," SI.com NBA writer Chris Mannix tweeted. ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman was even less charitable, calling it "a horrific decision."
The backlash is fair to some extent since Bhullar is unlikely to taken in the NBA draft and desperately needs another year of conditioning and skill development to have any chance to be an asset at that level. Nonetheless, the criticism also overlooks the fact that the injury risks associated with Bhullar's massive size and weight make him a unique case.
The window to make money as a professional basketball player is considerably shorter for a 7-foot-5 center conservatively listed at 360 pounds because his joints and feet are likely to break down sooner than even the average center's would. Bhullar already had foot injuries during his redshirt season and last year, so it's tough to blame him for wanting to maximize his earning potential.
Bhullar is entering the NBA draft after a sophomore season in which he averaged 10.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. He earned the WAC tournament's Most Outstanding Player award for the second straight season and led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
While Bhullar's conditioning remains his greatest flaw, he has come a long way since the summer before his freshman season. The player who was gasping for air after a few possessions during offseason pick-up games and lagging well behind his teammates during early-summer conditioning cut candy and junk food from his diet and shed enough weight to play 24.3 minutes per game as a freshman and 26.3 as a sophomore.
The biggest strengths of Bhullar's game are his ability to clog the lane and alter shots around the rim on defense and his soft hands and ability to pass out of a double team on offense. He'd be both the tallest player in the NBA and the first player of Indian descent in the NBA if he's able to latch on with a team, which would potentially make him far more marketable than the typical rookie free agent.
Though another year in college might help make boost Bhullar's stock next June and maybe make his path to the NBA smoother, that doesn't make his decision to bolt now as absurd as some have suggested.
Bhullar's window to make money in basketball will probably be shorter than most. Yes, he needs to shed more weight. Yes, his low-post game needs further refining. But leaving school now gives him the chance to work with big man gurus, nutritionists and strength and conditioning coaches overseas or in the D-League while also getting paid for it.
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