South Carolina’s chances at having NBA draft picks in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1980s died in a span of 21 days.
Chris Silva on May 21 – and after testing the waters by performing in front of NBA teams and receiving feedback – decided to return to USC for his senior season. Brian Bowen – after doing the same, but also learning he wouldn’t be playing college ball in 2018-19 – decided on June 11 to withdraw from the NBA draft and will head to the G League or take the international route.
This year’s draft is set for Thursday. Sindarius Thornwell, a 2017 second round selection of the Milwaukee Bucks (and then traded to the Los Angeles Clippers), was Carolina’s first pick since Renaldo Balkman in 2006. Last time two Gamecocks were taken over three drafts? Try over 20 years ago when Brent Price, who started at South Carolina but transferred to Oklahoma, went 32nd overall to Washington in 1992 and Jamie Watson went 47th to Utah in 1994.
What will Silva and Bowen have to do to hear their names called next year? Frank Martin weighed in on both their futures during a news conference last week at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Silva is the reigning co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, but it’s that end of the floor, his coach believes, where he must improve most to make the professional transition.
“He’s a great rim defender – takes charges, blocks shots, strong, doesn’t get out of the way – (but) he’s got to get better,” Martin said. “He’s a 6-8 guy. Who in the NBA posts up anymore? So he’s got to learn how to defend on the perimeter, which he’s better at now than he was two years ago.”
Silva as a junior led South Carolina in rebounds (8.0) and blocks (1.4) per game. He’s a listed 6-9, 223-pounder who has primarily guarded those opponents of a similar size near the rim. Defensive versatility has to be further developed, Martin said.
“We all think that guys are perimeter players because they can shoot the ball,” Martin said. “That doesn’t make you a perimeter player. That makes you a guy that can shoot the ball. He’s got to learn to be more of a perimeter guy so when he’s in an NBA game and strategy is (to) switch ball screens, he doesn’t hurt your team because he stands up there and can’t defend the ball.”
Offensively, Silva averaged over 14 points a game last season, but committed 47 more turnovers than assists. “He’s got to be a better passer,” Martin said. Silva made five of his 12 3-point attempts. “Chris can really shoot it,” Martin said.
The native Gabonian averaged 1.4 more defensive rebounds than offensive boards.
“We think he’s a good rebounder,” Martin said. “He’s got to be a better defensive rebounder. He doesn’t rebound on the defensive end as well as he needs to. Part of that is because he’s so determined blocking shots and taking charges that he takes himself out of rebounding opportunities on plays that he doesn’t need to.
“You know what that is? Basketball knowledge, only playing five years. He just needs to keep playing so he can make better decisions.”
For Bowen, Martin believes the former McDonald’s All-American doesn’t have to do much – besides gain some game experience. The ex-Louisville signee was held out all of the 2017-18 season because of his connection to the FBI scandal.
Bowen only practiced with the Gamecocks this past winter. One of those sessions came in February as he teamed with former USC greats Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier, Duane Notice and Justin McKie in a scrimmage against the current players.
“I left that day saying Brian might be the best one on the court,” Martin said. “How good he was playing with other real good players, it was ridiculous.”
Game reps are valuable, however. Bowen, in some fashion, will soon get those, allowing him more momentum into the next draft.
“I believe there’s 12 guys that I’ve been fortunate enough to be around that not only made it to the NBA, but kept their jobs for a long, long time in the NBA,” Martin said. “So I kind of have an idea of the talent that’s needed and the makeup that’s needed.
“Brian Bowen’s an NBA guy. There ain’t no doubt. Whoever gives him an opportunity is going to have a guy on their team for a long time.”