Fans and pundits (including Dickie V himself) are nearly unanimous: Nigel, come back!
There are a few fans -- seemingly put off by Hayes's outspokenness on the NCAA's essential contradictions -- who think Nigel is gone. He's sick of college, they say. He'd rather do anything that play another year of basketball for free.
I think that's wrong. Hayes has been very open about his thought-process: he wants to whatever will give him the best chance of having a long NBA career. If that means coming to back to college for another year, that's what he's going to do. He's not going to play in the Turkish league out of spite.
It would be an easy call if he was relatively assured of being drafted in the first round. That's a guaranteed tanker full of money to play basketball, and except in rare cases going pro in that situation is a no-brainer.
It would (will?) also be an easy call if Hayes is assured that no one will draft him at all. That's a virtually guaranteed ticket an extended stint in the D-League or Europe, and Nigel has been pretty clear that's not his goal.
But the situation is this: Nigel may well get drafted in the second round. That's not ideal, but it's not necessarily a dead end, either. A few things have changed recently that make getting drafted in the second round potentially not-so-bad:
1) NBA teams are starting to realize the value of second-round picks. Players like Draymond Green are showing that there's plenty of talent still left. And teams are free to negotiate any deal they want with second-round picks, so they can be creative about structuring deals with players who are intriguing and may well develop into something.
2) In Hayes's case in particular, his "type" is something of the flavor of the month. "Position-less basketball" is the watchword, as everyone tries to copy the magic of the Warriors. A few years ago, Hayes might have been ignored as a tweener. But now there's a chance teams may key in on this as an attribute -- particularly given his rather freakish 7'3" wingspan.
So if Hayes is given some indication that he'll be taken in the second round by a team that is willing to work with him, that is a very intriguing and tantalizing opportunity.
The flip side of this is: can he really prove anything to pro teams with one more year of college basketball? Of course, if he come back and shoots 45% from three, he will raise his stock considerably. But how likely is that? And how much opportunity will he have in the strictures of the Wisconsin offense to show off the shooting guard skills that NBA teams would want to see out him? Unless he has a great year next year, or at least a great tourney run, the second round may well be his destiny no matter what. In that case, why not get started now?
Ultimately, I think Hayes probably will be back, because I don't think he's going to get any assurance of being drafted. He knows he can play better than he played last year, and a good senior year should at least assure him of a spot in the draft. But it's not a slam dunk.