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NBA Mock Draft: Julian Phillips goes late second round in ESPN projection

Will he stay or will he go?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Louisiana vs Tennessee Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee basketball is still waiting on a couple of key decisions — ones that will shape the look of this roster going into the 2023-24 season. Senior big man Olivier Nkamhoua has already hit the portal, but Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and Uros Plavsic all have yet to give us any indication on next season.

The same can be said for freshman wing Julian Phillips, who has an NBA decision to make. The 19-year-old is a former 5-star prospect who committed to Tennessee late after Will Wade was fired at LSU. Despite a rather pedestrian first season in Knoxville, Phillips is still popping up in NBA mock drafts.

Unfortunately for him, it’s not as high as everyone thought he would go at this time last year. ESPN released a fresh mock on Wednesday, and Phillips ended up going in the late second round.

53. Minnesota Timberwolves (via New York): Julian Phillips | Tennessee | SF | Age: 19.4

Before the season started, Phillips could be found in the late first or early second round. Now, it’s not a total lock that he would even hear his name called on draft night. Phillips would have to crush the process and answer some production questions that teams will undoubtedly have for him.

Would a late second round projection be enough for Phillips to make the leap? Or would another year of development at the college level make more sense? Considering his production and now with the added benefit of NIL, coming back to Knoxville has to be an attractive option.

As a freshman, Phillips averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He shot 41 percent from the field and just 23.9 percent from three-point range. The flashes were there, and there was a time early in the season where it looked like Phillips was going to be a primary offensive piece. 25 points against USC in the Bahamas — 12, 18, 16 in three consecutive non-conference games — but that didn’t last.

Phillips could return and try to iron out his shot, while taking on a much bigger role in the offense should James and Vescovi leave. At the very least, Phillips will likely go through the NBA Draft process. Whether or not he hires an agent and remains in the draft will be interesting to see.