A year ago, Pat Connaughton never thought he’d be as highly coveted in the NBA as he was. Connaughton was the Orioles’ fourth-round draft pick in 2014, and because they forfeited their first two selections to sign Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz, he was essentially their second pick.
Connaughton was a highly prized pitching prospect from Notre Dame, and after he signed, pitched six games for Aberdeen last season.
He won’t be pitching in any this year.
After pledging his allegiance to baseball, Connaughton returned to South Bend last summer for his final year, and a funny thing happened.
Both he and the Fighting Irish had much better seasons than anticipated, and after Notre Dame reached the regional finals, narrowly losing to Kentucky, Connaughton had the basketball bug.
When he signed, the Orioles assured everyone that Connaughton would play out his final year at Notre Dame and report to spring training when his season ended.
The season went longer than anyone thought and even if he reported when it ended, spring training was just about over.
Connaughton justifiably wanted to see how good an NBA prospect he was and went to the draft combine and had the highest measured vertical leap.
He worked out individually for several teams, and one of them, the Brooklyn Nets picked him 41st, the 11th pick of the second round and dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Second round picks generally don’t have a long shelf life in the NBA, though San Antonio’s Manu Ginobli, and Atlanta’s Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap, have proven otherwise.
Connaughton has a legitimate chance to make the Trail Blazers, who are a team in transition with lots of open roster spots.
Even if he had pursued his Orioles career, Connaughton would probably be no higher than Frederick now. David Hess, who was selected just behind Connaughton, is a starter with the Keys.
If everything worked well with Connaughton, he could have been in the major leagues no sooner than the end of the 2016 season.
This way, he gets to pursue his NBA dream now, and if he makes it, he’s playing at the major league level at least a year sooner than he would have in baseball.
But, unlike baseball, if an NBA second rounder washes out, there are limited avenues. There’s the NBA’s version of the minors, the D-League, with its low salaries and long bus rides, and then there’s playing abroad.
While players are called up to the NBA from the D-League, most languish there, and if he goes the foreign route, Connaughton would opt for making a living instead of chasing the dream since relatively few Americans make it to the NBA after playing abroad.
If Connaughton doesn’t find success in the NBA this fall, he could return to the Orioles next spring—if both sides are amenable—and they may not be.
Connaughton had no idea when he signed that he’d be such a big-time prospect, and as recently as March, wasn’t considered likely to be drafted. And, he was drafted higher than most mock drafts forecast.
The Orioles could hold onto Connaughton for five more years, but they may feel jilted, and try and recoup much of his bonus money.
If he has a long NBA career, Connaughton will feel it was all worthwhile.
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