The college basketball transfer portal is littered with players who look like high-floor additions, on paper. Hunter Dickinson-to-Kansas is a slam dunk for both sides. TCU could not have dialed up a better Mike Miles Jr. replacement than Delaware transfer Jameer Nelson Jr. Something would have to go very wrong for Creighton transfer Ryan Nembhard to fail at Gonzaga.
But the margin of error is not the same for every transfer portal marriage. The “bust” label gets slapped around ad nauseam, but there are some benchmarks that are often hit when dissecting why a transfer portal divorce happened. Usually, it stems from a disconnect on what the opportunity should be.
“I learned don’t chase the name on the jersey, chase the opportunity,” Santa Clara star Brandin Podziemski said at the 2023 NBA Draft Combine. “I think that’s super important for me. Any guy in the portal should go where they are wanted because you can only transfer once to play right away. So I think that decision has to be the best decision you make and it has to be somewhere where you’re going to play.”
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Here are eight boom-or-bust candidates in the 2023 transfer portal cycle:
Transfer portal rating: No. 78 overall
Skyy Clark wants to be the unquestioned lead guard. He made that crystal clear last season at Illinois. He’ll get that opportunity at Louisville. The well-traveled point guard has a chance to resurrect his career at Louisville. It’s been a while since the former five-star recruit played like a five-star and Kenny Payne desperately needs him if Louisville wants to escape the ACC basement. Clark’s talent is undeniable, but can he prove to be reliable?
Transfer portal rating: No. 67 overall
Arkansas has added an outrageous amount of talent to its backcourt both from the transfer portal and the high school ranks. Devo Davis still has a stay-or-go decision to make which could throw another wrench into the mix. Regardless, sacrifices might need to be made. When Arkansas was at full strength late in the season, it was five-star freshman Nick Smith Jr. who had to accept a diminished role due because Davis, Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV couldn’t come off the floor.
But we might have to look back at 2021-22 to examine the potential pendulum swings for Ellis. The Louisville transfer could easily end up being Arkansas’ JD Notae who earned a 29% usage rate because of his pure shot-creation ability. Ellis has that in his bag, and he just did that last year for Louisville. He could also end up being Arkansas’ version of Chris Lykes who has to accept a limited role off the bench because there are some really talented dudes in this Hogs’ backcourt. Guys like five-star Layden Blocker, Washington transfer Keyon Menifield, Houston transfer Tramon Mark or Temple transfer Khalif Battle will all be competing with Ellis for minutes. Ellis’ pendulum swings could be quite drastic.
Transfer portal rating: No. 37 overall
Arterio Morris isn’t transferring from Texas to Kansas to just play defense and be a reliable floor-spacer. Morris has the talent to be a star. That was evident even in spot minutes off the bench for a loaded Texas squad. There’s a world where Morris is one of the elite role players for one of the best teams in the country next season. But what if Kansas coach Bill Self needs Morris to be a defensive menace and accept a small offensive load? What if ball screens for DaJuan Harris Jr. and post-ups for Hunter Dickinson are the two things Kansas is best at? Will Morris accept a complementary role for the second year in a row?
Transfer portal rating: No. 62 overall
The Oregon staff pivoted to Kario Oquendo after missing out on prized Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht. Oquendo has been a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer for each of the last two years at Georgia. Can he buck that trend at Oregon? Oquendo has moments where his souped-up engine just obliterates ill-prepared defenders, but his shot selection has to improve for his efficiency to spike. Oregon has a lot of cooks in the kitchen right now. Oquendo could easily put it all together and become one of the best players on the team, but it would require a buy-in that old habits need to change.
Transfer portal rating: No. 16 overall
Caleb Love is back on the market after some academic red tape snuffed out a potential transfer to Michigan. Finding the right fit has to be paramount for Love. A system where his flaws get covered up and his strengths get featured has to be at the top of the wishlist. It’s all about decision-making. The glimpses when Love makes the right reads, takes good shots and sits down and locks his man up on the defensive end are fleeting but enticing. Not having to be the guy in 2023-24 could be just what Love needs.
Transfer portal rating: No. 92 overall
Will Baker is a really good offensive big man in the Mountain West. Even though he can be pretty reliant on his left hand, Baker should be a rock-solid offensive weapon for LSU coach Matt McMahon — especially if he can keep improving as a pick-and-pop weapon. But Baker has never been a high-impact defender at the collegiate level. Baker will be tested on the perimeter. He will be challenged by extremely athletic dudes at the rim. Will he be able to hold up against the SEC onslaught that’s coming? That’s a big question.
Transfer portal rating: No. 115 overall
Florida State desperately needed some ammunition from the transfer portal after Matthew Cleveland transferred to Miami and Caleb Mills opted to bounce for Memphis. Primo Spears (16.0 points per game at Georgetown last season) can certainly provide some firepower. But how much will it impact winning? And how much can Spears elevate a post-hype sleeper like Jalen Warley? An addition like Spears was a move Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton had to make after some frustrating exits. But, empty-calorie numbers from Warley are on the table.
Transfer portal rating: No. 2 overall
Kel’el Ware is a phenomenal talent. Ware’s tape last season wasn’t great. Both can be (and are) true. It’s up to Mike Woodson and the Indiana staff to put Ware in a position to reach his immense upside. A full offseason in the weight room should help him not get knocked off his spot while banging for position in the middle of the lane. Playing with a point guard like Xavier Johnson will be beneficial, too. But Indiana does not have a ton of proven, high-volume perimeter shooting on the roster right now which presents some pitfalls for a potential breakout season for the uber-talented big man.