AUBURN — Auburn basketball fans are patiently waiting.
Well, patiently may be the wrong word, but the fanbase is sitting idle, hoping to soon see its star big man announce his return to the Tigers. Johni Broome, who averaged a team-high 14.2 points per game last season, declared in April for the 2023 NBA Draft and has since shown out in the pre-draft process.
Across two games at the G League Elite Camp earlier this month, Broome dropped 40 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks − a performance good enough to earn him an invite to the NBA Draft Combine, where he again played two scrimmages and posted 26 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks.
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“Our feelings have always sort of been, ‘Can you get yourself into that first round?'” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said May 15. “If you can get yourself into that first round, you need to go. It’s hard to climb out of the second round. … We’re rooting for Johni on one hand. On the other hand, we’d obviously love to have him back because he could be one of the best players, preseason, in college basketball next season.”
Broome has until May 31 to withdraw from the draft. If he elects to stay and go pro, here are a few options Auburn can turn to.
The first logical choice is to hit the portal for his replacement, but at this point in the process, many of the best transfer big men in the country have already found their homes for next season. That’s the issue Pearl has been forced to deal with: He can’t replace Broome without knowing his decision, but he’s watched the best replacements sign elsewhere.
Still, if Broome opts to remain in the draft, it’s safe to assume the staff will bring in at least one big from the portal. They may not start, but Dylan Cardwell would be the only scholarship player on the roster listed over 6-foot-8 if Broome doesn’t come back.
Cardwell has been Auburn’s backup center for the last few seasons, playing behind Broome in 2022-23 and Walker Kessler in 2021-22. The gap between Broome and Cardwell isn’t canyon-sized on the defensive end; Cardwell actually averaged more blocks per 40 minutes (3.97) than Broome (3.59), though his .15 fouls per minute were higher than Broome’s .11 and his 0.8 defensive win shares were less than Broome’s two, according to basketball reference. Defensive win shares are an estimate of the number of wins contributed by an individual player based on their defense.
Most of the concern would be on the offensive side. Broome showed off his post moves and expanded his range beyond the 3-point arc toward the end of the regular-season slate. Cardwell, meanwhile, has found most of his success as a rim runner, catching lobs and passes off of cuts.
Starting Cardwell, who is also in the draft process – though Pearl said he expects him to return – would put more pressure on Auburn’s other players, specifically the guards on the floor, to create more on offense.
Pearl tried something like this three seasons ago. With the athletic JT Thor on the roster, the Tigers ran a front court that featured him alongside Jaylin Williams as the pseudo center. Williams also entered the draft this offseason, but similar to Cardwell, Pearl expects him back.
Listed at 6-8, Williams averaged 4.7 rebounds last season as a forward next to Broome in the starting lineup, the same number he averaged playing with Thor. Having Williams as the tallest player on the floor isn’t ideal, but the Tigers got bigger elsewhere this offseason, going from Wendell Green Jr. (5-11) to Aden Holloway (6-2), Zep Jasper (6-2) to Denver Jones (6-4) and Allen Flanigan (6-6) to Chad Baker-Mazara (6-7). Auburn also added Alabama-Huntsville transfer Chaney Johnson, who is 6-7.
A lineup of Holloway, Jones, Baker-Mazara, Johnson and Williams could be dangerous in transition, too, exchanging rebounding and physicality for speed and 3-point shooting ability.
Richard Silva is the Auburn athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rich_silva18.