Cameron Bairstow, 6-foot-9 power forward, New Mexico
2013-14 stats: 20.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .556 FG%
One of the most improved players in college basketball last season, Bairstow went from a fairly anonymous role player to the Lobos’ star player as a senior. Part of New Mexico’s “Down Under” pipeline—he attended the Australian Institute of Sport, the same school as projected lottery pick Dante Exum, as well as current pros like Golden State center Andrew Bogut and San Antonio backup point guard Patty Mills—Bairstow’s bruising interior game and stellar final college campaign put him on the NBA’s radar. His physical toughness and high skill level are well suited for the next level, but it isn’t as if there aren’t veterans with similar talent in the league already or younger players with perceived higher ceilings, so finding the right fit will be crucial to his success.
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Career highlights: Bairstow was a reserve big man for the Lobos his first two seasons, but halfway into his junior year, he earned a starting job and finished the campaign in strong fashion, emerging as a double-figure scorer and impactful rebounder, en route to earning Mountain West Conference all-tournament honors, honorable mention all-conference accolades and being one of the team’s few bright spots in its shocking NCAA Tournament first-round upset loss to Harvard. His momentum continued into the offseason, as he excelled in Australian national team play last summer, leading his country to the silver medal in last summer’s World University Games. As a senior, Bairstow became a dominant force, leading the league in scoring and field-goal percentage at 20.4 points per game on 55.6 percent shooting, while adding 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in a season that resulted in making first team all-league and even various All-American awards from different outlets.
Strengths: Showing great awareness of his abilities, Bairstow doesn’t shy away from operating in the paint, whether using his skilled post-up game as a scorer or as an active rebounder. He’s also a capable face-up player with a soft touch on his mid-range jumper, as well as a more explosive athlete than one would think from observing his brawny frame. Bairstow is also a willing defender, but more than anything, he has a bit of a mean streak, embracing physical play on both ends of the floor, an attribute that will serve him well as a professional.
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Weaknesses: Even after spending more than half of his college career without making much of a dent before his breakout year, Bairstow’s consistency as a senior should help address concerns that he’s a flash in the pan, though it’s clear that his blue-collar game is based more on all-out effort than raw talent. Bairstow possesses only average size and athleticism for his position, and could have issues defending bigger, more explosive and perimeter-oriented power forwards in the pro ranks. On the other end of the floor, he must readjust to not being the focal point of the offense—that actually shouldn’t be an issue, after playing with current NBA player Tony Snell and fellow draft prospects Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk, all of whom were in the same recruiting class at New Mexico—and focus on non-scoring aspects of the game, such as screening, rebounding and running the floor, in order to be productive.
Draft projection: Likely a second-round pick, Bairstow can incrementally improve his stock in the weeks before the draft by competing at a high level against more ballyhooed prospects in workout settings. His role in the NBA is fairly well-defined, as his game seemingly translates well into being a physical, high-energy backup big man with the ability to make an impact as a second-unit scorer, and assuming he ends up in the right situation, he could have a long, effective career. The key for Bairstow will be finding that niche on the right team, with a need for him to contribute right away, so that he can establish himself and not be passed up in favor of either veterans already locked into the aforementioned role or a high-risk, high-reward developing prospect.