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After a strong start, it was a disappointing finish to the season for LSU basketball, which fired coach Will Wade ahead of the NCAA Tournament, where it suffered a first-round exit against Iowa State.
While the season didn’t go as many fans hoped, there was one silver lining all year: forward Tari Eason. A transfer from Cincinnati, Eason had solid if a bit underwhelming production as a true freshman with the Bearcats, but he had a breakout season in 2021-22 with the Tigers.
He averaged a team-high 16.9 points with 6.6 rebounds while being named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year and given a First Team All-SEC selection. After an impressive sophomore season, Eason is heading to the 2022 NBA draft, where he’s projected as a first-round pick in the latest mock from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz.
The pair has Eason heading to the Chicago Bulls with the 18th pick, just a few picks outside of the lottery. Here’s what Schmitz says about him.
The Bulls ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency in the regular season, and they could without question use another versatile wing defender like Eason, one of the most productive and efficient all-around players in the NCAA as a 20-year-old junior. While likely more of a 4/3 at the NBA level (a spot currently occupied by Patrick Williams), Eason played a fair amount of small-ball 5 in college and could give the Bulls a different look with his length and foot speed, as they’re used to playing in deep drop coverage with Nikola Vucevic at the 5. Eason isn’t the most polished ball handler or decision-maker and had his fair share of no-show games at LSU. But the fact that he can add value as a transition finisher, rebounder, cutter, occasional spot shooter and defender at 6-8 with a 7-1 wingspan alongside a perimeter creator like DeMar DeRozan makes him an intriguing fit in Chicago.
For a team that needs help on defense, landing Eason — a semifinalist for the national defensive player of the year award — would be a solid pickup in the middle of the first round. As Schmitz mentions, he’s one of the most versatile prospects in this draft and can do a lot in addition to his defensive acumen.
Eason is the only LSU player Givony and Schmitz have off the board in their full two-round mock draft, meaning they currently have an undrafted projection on forward Darius Days, who chose to enter the draft instead of returning for an extra fifth season of eligibility.
We’ll have to wait until the draft on June 23 to find out where Eason will play his professional ball, but regardless, it would be a major shock if he’s still on the board at the conclusion of the first round.
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