Why Payton Sandfort should return to Iowa for one more year

Payton Sandfort has declared for the 2024 NBA Draft, but preserves his eligibility. It's a tough decision, but returning to Iowa for one more season is the right call.
Ohio State v Iowa
Ohio State v Iowa / Matthew Holst/GettyImages

Payton Sandfort has a tough decision to make. Truthfully, I'm usually of the mindset that players should always go pro the moment they are draftable, but that can be a tricky process in the NBA.

Sandfort drew attention down the stretch as Iowa looked to capture a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Nothing draws eyes quite like recording the first triple-double in program history, does it?

Throughout the run, Sandfort was electric, particularly with his three-point shooting. If there's one thing NBA scouts know about the 6-foot-7 junior's game, it's that he's an excellent shooter of the basketball.

Those in his corner will argue that he's proven his worth as a passer and rebounder as well. He's versatile between guard and small forward and displays a fine basketball IQ.

So why then should a player projected to go in the mid-second round return for one more year of college basketball?

Truthfully, it's not about the potential of Iowa Hawkeyes basketball. Should Sandfort return, alongside him in the starting lineup are Josh Dix and Owen Freeman. Tony Perkins and Ben Krikke are both gone for separate reasons. There aren't any high-profile names projected to land in Iowa City via the Transfer Portal yet either.

That's not to say Iowa will be a bad team next year with or without Sandfort. But the team, at least on paper, figures to be a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team scratching for an NCAA Tournament bid once again.

Now, should Standfort lead such a team to the post-season, he'll garner further attention. Displaying a leadership ability, the command of a team to will them beyond their percieved limits is a huge positive to top a scouting report, after all.

But the real reason is his perceived weakness by NBA scouts. Most scouting reports indicate that the biggest question about Standfort is whether he can move laterally with explosive talents such as those featured in the NBA. Once the Hawkeyes were in the tournament bubble and Sandfort had NBA eyes on him, he didn't have many opportunities to prove that narrative wrong.

Next year, he should get some of those opportunites. First of all, all eyes will be on him from the beginning of the season. He'll be the focal point of the program and will be heavily relied upon to get the team through the season.

Further, the Big Ten will be a stronger conference with the additions of the former PAC-12 schools. Teams like Oregon and USC have speed and will provide a great challenge for Sandfort to answer the call.

See, it's not about whether Sandfort can play in the NBA. He absolutely can. It's about maximizing his value.

Sandfort will be one of the biggest names in all of Iowa athletics through 2024-25. Caitlin Clark will be gone as will much of the women's team altogether. Perkins is gone. The Hawkeye football team is largely unproven and will need to create new stars to be competitive next season. That means plenty of NIL money will come Sandfort's way if he produces.

If that's the case, then Sandfort maximizes his value in both avenues and walks away a bigger winner than if he simply settles for a possible second-round selection in this year's draft.

If Sandfort can nullify his biggest question mark and become the face of Iowa athletics for a season, his chances of going in the first round or becoming a lock to hear his name called early in the second round at worst, he is the biggest winner. Those are achievable goals for him if the end of the 2023-24 campaign was any indication.

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