With about a quarter of the NBA season in the books, the standings are starting to take shape. If it wasn’t obvious by the first week or so of the season, the Mavericks will likely be one of the teams picking at the top of the 2018 draft. Fortunately for Mavs Nation (and any other teams slated to pick early), this is shaping up to be a very strong draft class. With star power at the top and quality depth throughout, this should be one of the more exciting drafts to follow in recent memory. Without further ado, here is my initial crack at a way-too-early top thirty big board:
*Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com or sports-reference.com
- Luka Doncic, SG/PG – Real Madrid
Perhaps the most interesting prospect in the upcoming draft, Doncic has been on NBA radars for several years. In arguably the best professional league outside of the United States, Doncic is producing at an incredible rate for an 18 year old. Doncic is averaging 23.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per 36 minutes. He plays 27 minutes per game, so these aren’t terribly inflated statistics. I’m not entirely convinced that Doncic is necessarily the most talented player in this class, but he possesses unique qualities that put him at the top of my board. Doncic makes everyone around him better, and he can fit into most schemes because of his ability to play on and off the ball. He’s a fantastic facilitator in the pick and roll and in transition, he can spot up and knock down shots from anywhere on the floor, and he’s an elite rebounder for a guard thanks to his 6’7 frame. He’s not a liability defensively thanks to his length, but it will never be his strong suit either. Bottom line – Doncic is a franchise changing prospect, and has a real chance to be the first overseas player drafted first overall since 2006.
2. DeAndre Ayton, C – Arizona
Ayton had a lot of question marks heading into the 2017-18 season, but talent was not one of them. The Nassau-native looks like he was created in a lab with the sole purpose of dominating the game of basketball. A legit 7-footer with a 7’5 wingspan and a chiseled 250 pound frame, Ayton has tremendous offensive skill that should make him one of the toughest players to guard in the NBA sooner rather than later. Ayton can win by posting up, driving from the elbow, or shooting a jumper that extends to NBA three point range. He should be an elite dive man in the pick and roll thanks to his 40 plus inch vertical, but he is often more content popping out instead of rolling hard to the basket. This was just part of a major concern heading into the season, as his overall mentality and motor were questioned by scouts. He has answered most of those questions by playing his tail off on both ends of the floor, although his defensive instincts haven’t quite developed yet. His athleticism and size should allow him to be an adequate rim protector as he continues to learn how to play helpside defense, but he’s far from a defensive anchor. All that having been said, Ayton is another prospect that an NBA team could build around thanks to his offensive upside (24.7 points per 40 minutes) and rebounding ability (14.9 rebounds per 40 minutes).
3. Marvin Bagley III, PF/C – Duke
Perhaps the most talented player in a loaded draft class, Bagley has been nothing short of impressive in his first dozen collegiate contests. Averaging a ridiculous 27.3 points and 14.4 rebounds per 40 minutes on 61.1% shooting, it seems kind of odd that I wouldn’t put Bagley number one or two on my big board. Admittedly, I’ve been back and forth with this top three, and I expect I will continue to juggle them throughout the draft process. However, despite his incredible talent, I probably have the most questions about Bagley thus far. While he has dominated opponents down low with both his skill and second bounce to finish off a miss, he’s still developing as a jump shooter. He’s shooting 33% from three on about two and a half attempts per game, and I’m worried about his ability to space the floor unless he’s paired with another big who can shoot well. The problem with that is, that other big will also have to be a rim protector, as Bagley lacks the help side defensive and shot blocking instincts to be a reliable defensive anchor down low. He is quick off the floor and has a 7’0 wingspan, so there’s reason for optimism from a tools standpoint. I think Bagley supporters will look at him as versatile, while skeptics will say he’s a tweener who could be tough to build a team around from a personnel standpoint. I’m somewhere in between right now. NBA teams will have to be patient with the growing pains, because Bagley has “superstar talent” written all over him.
4. Michael Porter Jr, SF/PF – Missouri
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll get to see Porter play more than just two minutes this season. Porter suffered a season ending back injury in his first game at Missouri, so we’re basing a lot off of his high school tape and what we know from a traits perspective. Porter is arguably the best offensive player in this draft. Let’s talk about what we know about Porter first. A 6’10 wing, Porter will be a tough matchup in the same way that Paul George and Kevin Durant are for NBA teams. He’s got legit NBA range, is an exceptional athlete for his size, and can score in a variety of ways. Porter is versatile enough to play as a wing, and tall enough to be a stretch four, although I think you’re pushing your luck if you’re relying on him for big time rebounding and defending inside. I really wanted to see if he improved his dribbling, as it was a little high and loose in high school, but he could get away with it. I also wanted to see if he could round out his game as a defender, as his length would play at both wing and against stretch fours. Regardless, we’ve seen injured players get drafted in the top five, and Porter would have really pushed for the top spot with a productive, healthy season. This should be an interesting storyline to watch.
5. Mohamed Bamba, C – Texas
Considered the last of the potential franchise-altering talents, Bamba has arguably the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft. Blessed with an insane 7’9 wingspan, Bamba has the defensive instincts and natural gifts to be a true defensive anchor for an NBA team. Bamba has some offensive upside, but he’s mostly a rim runner at this point. He needs to get stronger in order to finish consistently around the basket, but he has the frame to add good weight. He has good touch around the basket, and natural offensive skill, but it hasn’t translated at the collegiate level, as he’s shooting just 51.4% from the field and 57.1% from the line. But again, teams will want Bamba for his Rudy Gobert like defensive ability. Bamba is averaging a ridiculous 5.9 blocks and 14.5 rebounds per 40 minutes as the centerpiece of Texas’ chaotic defense. His motor has been an issue this year, and there are times where he looks uninterested and/or soft, opting to play closer to the perimeter or deferring to teammates. I’d love to see him turn up the aggressiveness and play with some more fire. NBA teams should expect a defensive stalwart with the hope of developing enough offense to turn him into an All-NBA talent.
6. Collin Sexton, PG – Alabama
After a guard-heavy 2017 draft, Sexton debuts as the first guard on my 2018 big board, just outside the top five. Sexton is a dynamic scorer with a true scorer’s mentality, averaging 18.0 shots and 29.7 points per 40 minutes. He has a quick first step that allows him to get to the basket at will. As expected, he gets to the line a lot (10.0 attempts per game), and he’s currently hitting free throws at a 76% clip. He’s a respectable enough jump shooter that defenders can’t just sag off to protect against the drive. Sexton can get a little out of control sometimes, and I’d like to see him improve on his 3.3/2.3 assist to turnover ratio. With a 6’7 wingspan and quick hands and feet, Sexton can be a solid defender when he wants to be. Late in close games, he’ll turn up the intensity, but it’d be nice to see that kind of defensive effort more often from him. Improving as a distributor and a defender would make him one of the premier young players in the NBA, but his scoring ability alone should get him drafted in the top 10.
7. Jaren Jackson, Jr, PF/C – Michigan State
A late riser on recruiting boards, the son of former NBA guard Jaren Jackson is starting to make a name for himself. Unlike his dad, Jackson is a physically imposing big man, standing 6’10 with a 7’4 wingspan. He uses that wingspan in combination with his quick leaping ability and defensive instincts to be an elite shot blocker (5.3 blocks per 40 minutes). Jackson has shown the ability to stretch his game out to the three point line, but he’s only hitting those shots at a 31% clip. He is shooting 83% from the line though, so there’s definitely reason to believe he could continue to improve as a shooter. Jackson has struggled to finish around the rim, which is concerning considering how raw he is offensively. Despite his inability to create his own shot and his struggles finishing around the basket, he’s still average 18.8 points per 40 minutes. His toughness, rebounding ability, and defensive chops should get him picked in the lottery, but NBA teams that believe they can develop his offensive game might take him closer to the top 8 picks or so.
8. Trae Young, PG – Oklahoma
When I first heard about Trae Young, people were calling him the next Steph Curry. I shrugged that comparison off, because there will never be another Steph Curry. I stand by that, but their games are very similar, for better and worse. Like Steph, Young is undersized at just 6’2, and he doesn’t have elite length or athleticism to compensate. However, he can shoot the lights out of a gym. He routinely pulls up 8 feet behind the college three point line, and he’s still averaging 37.5% on three point attempts. He’s not a one-trick pony though, as he’s got a very quick first step to attack defenders that are playing him close to negate the jump shot. He’s a flashy player, who likes to utilize his impressive arsenal of dribble moves to create just enough space to get a Curry-esque jumper off. He also possesses great vision, averaging 10.9 assists per 40 minutes. Still, that’s not as impressive as his 35.2 points per 40 minutes. That’s a lot of involvement on the scoreboard, whether he’s scoring or distributing. However, Young does have several shortcomings that Curry struggles with on a regular basis. His lack of size and length makes him a defensive liability, although he does read the game well and is averaging 2.6 steals per 40. He’s turning the ball over more than you’d like from a point guard, but with his usage rate, it’s to be expected. I’ve said a lot about Young, but he’s a polarizing prospect and I want to make it clear that I’m on the bandwagon.
9. Robert Williams, C/PF – Texas A&M
The first non-freshman/first-year-international player on my board, Robert Williams had an opportunity to get drafted in the lottery last year, but opted to return to Texas A&M to boost his draft stock. His stock hasn’t changed much yet, as he’s pretty much the same player he was last year. Williams is what he is – a rim running, athletic post player who will provide a lot of value both rebounding and protecting the paint. Per 40 minutes, Williams is averaging a ridiculous 17.2 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, and 1.6 steals. The bouncy big man is blessed with quick leaping ability and a 7’5 wingspan. Combine those physical gifts with a great feel for shot blocking, and it’s easy to see that this part of Williams’ game will translate to the NBA level. The only real defensive issue for Williams is that he tends to get a little too block happy, and will roam instead of playing proper team defense. The larger concern for Williams is on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, he is shooting 67% from the field, but he has very limited range (career 9.5% three point shooter), and is shooting just 36.4% from the free throw line. Williams reminds me a bit of fellow Texas A&M defensive anchor DeAndre Jordan as an elite rebounder and shot blocker. But like Jordan, he’ll be at his best offensively with creative playmakers around him that can get him the ball around the rim, as he won’t be able to create much offense for himself.
10. Mikal Bridges, SF – Villanova
While he may not be the flashiest Bridges on this list, Mikal has all the tools to be an elite 3-and-D role player in the NBA. Again, that may not sound very flashy, but those types of high floor players have a ton of value to NBA teams. Bridges has quietly improved his three point shooting year after year, shooting just 29.9% as a freshman, to 39.3% as a sophomore, and now up to a whopping 46.6% as a junior. He’s not strictly limited to popping threes offensively, as he’s a terror in transition thanks to his ability to run the floor and finish in traffic. He won’t create much offense on his own, however, particularly in the half-court. He’s not a good ball handler and his mechanics are wonky when shooting off the dribble. Having said that, he does more than enough defensively to compensate for his limited offensive prowess. At 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, Bridges has the feet to stay with guards and the length to guard stretch forwards, giving him the ability to realistically guard four positions. He’s also a defensive playmaker, averaging 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks per 40 minutes. Bridges always had the defensive chops to carve out a niche in the NBA, but his developing shooting gives him a chance to have a much more important role night in and night out.
11. Miles Bridges, SF/PF – Michigan State
Not related to the aforementioned Mikal Bridges, Miles was a more heralded recruit coming out of high school, and is another player who could have been drafted in the lottery in 2017. But Bridges had unfinished business at Michigan State, and returned to try to win a title and improve his draft stock in the process. He’s put together a very similar season to his freshman year so far, which is both a good and bad thing for his draft stock. Let’s start with the good. Bridges is one of the most explosive athletes in the NCAA. Though undersized at 6’6, Bridges has an NBA ready body with an aggressive, above the rim play style that makes him appear bigger than he really is. The big question mark for Bridges coming into his freshman year at Michigan State was shooting, and he’s answered that with a very respectable career three point shooting percentage of 37.9% on 206 attempts. Additionally, he’s improved his free throw shooting from 68.5% to 93.3% so far this year. He’s a solid defender, and he’s dynamic in transition. The biggest improvement scouts wanted to see in Bridges’ game as a sophomore, however, hasn’t been there. His ball handling, though improved, is still subpar, and he struggles to create offense in the half-court because of it. He’s become overly reliant on his shooting, and it looks like he’s forcing some shots instead of playing within himself and Michigan State’s offense. There’s still a high ceiling because of his athleticism and shooting ability, but the hype from last year has definitely died down a bit.
12. Kevin Knox, SF/PF – Kentucky
Kevin Knox is one of the more intriguing talents in this draft. Kentucky is a program that is known for relying on a couple of key freshmen to lead their tournament charge. Unfortunately for Calipari and company, nobody has really shown the ability to take over a game yet. But Kevin Knox is starting to take on that alpha-role. A versatile scorer, Knox has a developing perimeter game, with some inside/outside scoring ability. He profiles as an ideal stretch four in today’s NBA, thanks to his size, ability to run the floor, and improving three point stroke (34% from three point range). He’s going to need to continue to get stronger so he can finish in tight around the basket, but he shows the touch necessary to be effective in that area of the floor. His quick feet and 7’0 wingspan make him a high upside defensive prospect who can guard multiple positions. Knox is a bouncy athlete as well, so his rebounding ability should translate well enough as a hybrid forward (6.5 rebounds per 40 minutes). I have some concerns about his ability to create his own offense, as his handle is loose and he dribbles with his head down. When he has a little bit of space, though, he can be very effective scoring from anywhere on the court. With loads of upside, Knox could very well move up draft boards as he continues to develop into that aforementioned alpha-role for Kentucky.
13. Bruce Brown, Jr, SG – Miami (FL)
Admittedly, the first time I saw Bruce Brown Jr, I wasn’t very impressed. But the more I watch, the more I like. Brown isn’t your standard, run of the mill, score-first shooting guard. He’s sacrificed some scoring to talented teammates Lonnie Walker and Ja’Quan Newton in exchange for more playmaking, rebounding, and defense. A career 35% three point shooter to date, Brown is a threat both from deep or thundering down the lane with explosive finishes at the rim. His assists are up from 4.0 to 5.8 per 40 minutes from last season to this season, and the turnovers are down from 2.5 to 2.0. Brown is also a strong rebounder for a guard, averaging 9.5 total rebounds per 40 minutes. His detractors will point out that he’s scoring just 12.9 points per 40 minutes on 44.2% shooting, and he’s also old for his class (will be 22 to start the 2018 NBA season). And while I will agree that scoring might be a concern for Brown, he’s such a well rounded player that I would still consider him a lottery talent, despite the lack of super high upside.
14. Lonnie Walker IV, SG – Miami (FL)
While Bruce Brown is the epitome of a well rounded, high floor prospect, his teammate Lonnie Walker might be one of the biggest boom or bust players in this draft. From a physical standpoint, Walker has loads of upside. At 6’4 with a monster 6’10 wingspan, Walker has the tools to be an elite on-ball defender. Offensively, Walker’s length and athleticism make him a treat to watch in transition, and he’s a high level shooter who is just starting to find his stroke. While he got off to a bit of a slow start to open up the season, Walker looks much more comfortable as he’s adjusted to the speed of the college game. Even with that slow start, Walker is averaging a respectable 18.2 points per 40 minutes on 36.8% shooting from downtown. A decent rebounder for his size as well, Walker offers a decently well rounded game to his scoring upside. I’d expect a similar transition period as he moves from college to the NBA, but Walker’s upside should get him taken higher than where I have him rated now. Like many of the freshmen on this list, Walker’s stock should start to take form as Miami gets into conference play.
15. Dzanan Musa, SF – Cedevita
While Luka Doncic gets all of the international hype, Dzanan Musa is another name to keep an eye on. His overall game is starting to round into form, but teams really want Musa for his scoring ability. Although he’s an average athlete, Musa is a creative scorer thanks to his improving three point shot (41.7%), deceptive quickness, and impressive body control. He has taken a step forward this year, improving his per-36 numbers from 11.0 points to 20.2 points. It took some time, but Musa has started to find some confidence as an 18 year old playing in a high level men’s league. As he’s gotten stronger, he has gotten to the line more, and he’s hitting free throws at a 76% clip, up from 58% the year before. Musa has worked hard to improve as a defender, but his lack of length and average-at-best athleticism might limit him to never being more than an average defender. Even still, he’s no longer a liability defensively, which again points to Musa’s work ethic and determination to improve in all aspects of the game. He’s always been a solid rebounder for a wing, averaging 5.9 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career. For a league in need of pure scorers, Musa will be on every NBA team’s radar. Remember Musa’s name, because he has a legitimate case to go late in the lottery.
16. Wendell Carter, Jr, C – Duke
The “other elite Duke recruit” has quietly had a solid season for the Blue Devils. Carter may be about ten years late to the NBA, as his old school game is a little outdated for today’s run-n-gun NBA. At 6’10, 260 pounds with a 7’3 wingspan, Carter will step into the NBA as one of the league’s most physically imposing players. His overall game is reminiscent of a young Al Jefferson, with his ability to score with his back to the basket or step out and hit the occasional elbow jumper. Carter has even extended his range to 3-point territory, as he’s knocked down 7 of the 14 deep balls he’s shot. His size and toughness make him an elite rebounder on both sides of the ball, as he’s averaging 14.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. Carter could be in a bit of a bind defensively though, as he’s not quick enough to defend pick and rolls at a high level, and he’s not an elite shot blocker to make up for that. Carter should still be a useful NBA role player thanks to his finishing, rebounding, and toughness, but he lacks the upside of a lot of other players in this draft class.
17. Trevon Duval, PG – Duke
Heading into the season, there may not have been a player I was more excited about than Trevon Duval. Duval’s speed and explosiveness made him a candidate to be the next new-age point guard in the Westbrook, Rose, or Wall mold. His shooting was a question in high school, and I was hoping he would start to resolve that concern. Unfortunately, he’s shooting just 15.2% from distance and 61.4% from the free throw line. As a result, teams are sagging off of Duval, limiting his ability to utilize his elite quickness and athleticism to get to the basket, where he’s done a good job finishing around the rim. On the other hand, Duval has looked much better as a facilitator than I would’ve expected, averaging 8.9 assists to just 2.9 turnovers per 40 minutes. For a player who got a lot of “baby Westbrook” comparisons, he’s done an excellent job of protecting the ball. Duval has also been one of the few bright spots on defense for Duke this season, as he’s averaged 2.5 steals per 40 minutes thanks to his quickness and 6’9 wingspan. Even if he never develops a reliable jumper, Duval should have a place in the NBA as a poor man’s Rajon Rondo. But if an NBA team can figure out how to develop a semi-respectable jump shot, it could unlock a dangerous offensive player hiding deep within Duval.
18. Hamidou Diallo, SG – Kentucky
One of the more interesting storylines of the 2017 NBA draft was that Hamidou Diallo was technically eligible for that year’s draft, and he very nearly declared without ever stepping foot on an NCAA court. Fortunately for Kentucky, Diallo decided to play in 2017-18 in order to improve his draft stock for the 2018 draft. Although he’s had an up and down season early on, there is a lot to like about Diallo’s game. He’s a terror in transition, as he seemingly glides up and down the floor before finishing with a thunderous dunk or acrobatic layup. Much of his offensive upside was predicated on his shooting development, which has been better, but not good yet (35.5% from distance, 66% from the line). Another player with ridiculous length, Diallo’s 7’0 wingspan give him the ability to guard all three perimeter spots. He’s also an above average rebounder for a guard, averaging 6.5 boards per 40 minutes. Right now, his offensive game is fairly limited, as he’s not much of a facilitator and his skill is raw. But the sky is the limit for Diallo, and I wouldn’t rule out a late lottery selection if a team falls in love with his tantalizing potential.
19. Khyri Thomas, SG – Creighton
Always known as a bulldog defensively, Thomas has started to develop an offensive game that should push him toward the middle of the first round. In his third year at Creighton, Thomas has seen his usage percentage rise from the upper teens to 23.7%, and he hasn’t disappointed. Thomas has always been a good three point shooter, and an increase in three point attempts has actually led to a higher three point percentage as well (43.6% up from 39.3%). Thomas doesn’t have super high offensive upside, however, as he lacks the ability to be a primary ball handler and facilitator. Offensively, he’s at his best in transition or when others can create enough space for him to get his jump shot off. Despite standing 6’3, he’s long and uses his 200 pound frame to box out and rebound at a high level (career 7.4 rebounds per 40 minutes). His toughness, lateral foot speed, and length make him a tough defensive assignment for any potential perimeter opponent. Age and lack of offensive upside pushes him down the board a bit, but the NBA will always have room for 3-and-D players, and Thomas should push for playing time from the get go.
20. Nick Richards, C – Kentucky
Nick Richards looks like a Willie Cauley-Stein starter kit, and not just because they are both athletic big men from Kentucky. While he lacks the skills to be an offensive power house, he’s a great finisher around the basket, and an ideal target man for lobs in the pick and roll. His ability to roll hard to the basket also opens up opportunities for his teammates, as defenses tend to swarm the paint after Richards gets a couple of easy baskets. Offensively, he can do some damage on the block, but he’s at his best when he can just cut to the basket and play off of his teammates creating for him. He’s quick off the floor, and has the natural shot blocking instincts to be a rim protector at the NBA level (3.3 blocks per 40 minutes). Unfortunately, Richards is still learning the nuances of defending, and is averaging over 5 fouls per 40 minutes. He’s also going to need to add some strength, or he’s going to have a tough time with the physicality of the NBA. Having said that, he’s a strong rebounder thanks to his length and motor. I’m not really sure what his upside is, as his offensive skills may never truly develop, but rim protectors that can finish inside tend to have a spot on NBA rosters.
21. Troy Brown, SG/SF – Oregon
Brown has one of the higher ceilings in this draft class, but he’s a long way from putting it all together into one finished product. The consensus top 15 recruit has gotten off to a slow start at Oregon, but he’s flashed all of the potential that should keep him in the mid-late first round hunt should he declare early. Viewed as a point guard coming out of high school, Brown has smooth handles and is a pretty decent facilitator, but he hasn’t protected the ball very well (4.4 assists to 3.6 turnovers per 40 minutes). He should thrive in the pick and roll game at the next level, and he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate at 34.9% from deep. At 6’7, he has excellent size for a wing and can guard multiple positions. He’s also an elite rebounder, averaging over 10 boards per 40 minutes. While he’s not an elite scorer, Brown’s defensive versatility and rebounding ability should still give teams enough reason to draft him in the mid-late first round, should he choose to declare. But he may want to stick around another year to improve his draft stock.
22. Grayson Allen, SG/PG – Duke
Regardless of your thoughts on Grayson Allen’s on-court antics, you can’t deny his ability as a basketball player. The senior from Duke has developed a reputation as a dirty player, but I wouldn’t be surprised if NBA teams view a lot of what he does as ultra-competitive. Putting that to the side, let’s talk about what Allen can do on the court from a basketball perspective. Allen has the unique ability to impact the game as both a scorer and a distributor as an off-ball guard (22.0 points and 5.5 assists per 40 minutes). He can play the point in a pinch, but his value comes as a scorer. Always viewed as a good shooter, Allen has taken his game to another level this year, shooting 45.2% from three and 88.4% from the free throw line. Additionally, he’s a threat to score in transition thanks to crafty footwork and explosive athleticism going to the basket. He’s not going to provide much in terms of defense or rebounding, and might be considered a liability in those areas, but Allen has been ready to step on an NBA court for the past two or three years. Whoever takes him will be getting a hyper-competitive athlete that can play either guard spot, and is ready to make an impact from day one.
23. Mitchell Robinson, C – N/A
Where to begin with Mitchell Robinson? Similar to Michael Porter Jr, we really don’t know much about him, but Robinson wasn’t quite as highly regarded as Porter. And while Porter chose to attend Missouri and got hurt two minutes into his career, Robinson decided to forego college altogether, and is reportedly preparing for the draft already. So not only is he not playing college ball, he’s not playing anywhere until he gets drafted. NBA teams are going to have to go off his high school tape and draft workouts, but Robinson’s raw talent alone should still get him drafted in the first round. A legit 7-footer, Robinson is an incredible athlete with a wealth of tools at his disposal. Defensively, Robinson has excellent shot blocking instincts to go with a 7’4 wingspan and quick bounce off the floor. He can run the floor like a deer and has great touch around the basket. He’s raw in terms of creating his own shot in the low post and will need to continue getting stronger so he can finish through contact consistently. He’s a high level rebounder thanks to the aforementioned length and athleticism, as well as a high running motor. There will be tons of off-court questions for Robinson to answer, but there’s too much talent for NBA teams to ignore him.
24. Anfernee Simons, SG/PG – IMG Academy
Much like Hamidou Diallo last year, Anfernee Simons has a chance to test the draft waters without ever stepping foot on a college or professional basketball court. Simons is a consensus top ten recruit as a fifth year senior who just oozes talent. Taking a player out of high school would be very risky, but teams would be getting an elite scorer in Simons. At 6’4, 180 pounds, he has great size for a combo guard, with room to grow into his body. His highlight packages on YouTube are filled with ankle-breaking crossovers, flashy passes, and high flying dunks. Of course, these are just highlights, and it’s hard to comment on his strengths and weaknesses without seeing legitimate game film against legitimitate talent. Obviously NBA teams will have as much access as they need, but they really won’t be able to see Simons against the best competition unless he participates in the NBA combine and other team-led workouts. It would be a huge gamble to draft Simons, but late in the first round, it might be worth the risk.
25. De’Anthony Melton, PG/SG – Southern California
Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten the chance to evaluate Melton this season after a promising freshman campaign in which he posted per 40 minute averages of 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.8 steals, and 1.5 blocks. Due to an ongoing investigation in which Melton has done nothing wrong, USC has kept Melton on the sidelines so they don’t risk forfeiting games he played in should he be declared ineligible by the NCAA. You can research the entire story for yourself, but essentially Melton is being punished because a family friend allegedly accepted money to influence him to sign with a particular agent once he declares for the NBA. But enough about that, let’s talk about Melton the basketball player. Melton is a do-it-all guard that lacks the offensive upside to be a lottery pick, but has an all-around game that NBA teams covet. He really struggled from three point range, shooting just 28.4% from distance as a freshman. Melton’s bread and butter, however, is his defensive versatility thanks to a 6’8 wingspan and a high basketball I.Q. He’s also a high-level rebounder with the ability to go coast-to-coast and finish strong at the other end. Melton’s ability to stuff the stat sheet and play tough defense should warrant a late first round-early second round selection as a rotational combo guard.
26. Brandon McCoy, C – UNLV
I know I used this line with Wendell Carter, Jr, but McCoy came into the league about a decade or so too late. Frankly, any post player who scores 27.9 points and grabs 16.1 boards per 40 minutes with a 30.5% usage rate will be on NBA radars. A 60+% shooter from the field, McCoy has excellent touch around the basket, and is developing his back to the basket game pretty well. Most of his damage is done by hanging out a few feet from the basket, but he’s coordinated and strong with the ball, so he rarely makes mistakes when he gets opportunities served up on a silver platter. The problem is, McCoy is not a threat to stretch the floor since he lacks a reliable jump shot. He’s also not very fleet of foot, and he struggles defensively against the pick and roll as a result. McCoy isn’t a high level shot blocker either, averaging just 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes. His rebounding ability and touch around the basket should garner late round interest, but his lack of versatility and fit for the modern NBA will knock him down behind more athletic and versatile big men.
27. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG/PG – Virginia Tech
The lanky Canadian has been a key factor in Virginia Tech’s hot start, averaging over 20 points and 6.6 rebounds per 40 minutes. Alexander-Walker has been effective scoring from everywhere on the floor, but has done a lot of damage from downtown, shooting 46.7% from three. While he came into Virginia Tech as a combo guard, Alexander-Walker really hasn’t displayed the playmaking chops that would allow him to run the point successfully at the next level. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, but he’s dangerous in transition thanks to long strides and his finishing ability around the basket. With a 6’9 wingspan, he should be able to guard either guard spot, and maybe even smaller forwards as well. He’s going to have to add muscle, which should help both defensively and scoring around the basket through contact. He will have to keep up his impressive shooting if he wants to move up draft boards at all, but Alexander-Walker might be better off returning for his sophomore season to improve his draft stock.
28. Justin Jackson, SF/PF – Maryland
The “other Justin Jackson” nearly declared after an impressive freshman campaign at Maryland, and he probably would have been a mid-first round pick if he did. Instead, he returned to school in the hopes of jumping into the lottery, but the results just haven’t been there the second time around. At 6’7, 230 pounds with a monster 7’3 wingspan, Jackson has the body to step into the NBA right now. The length hasn’t equated to blocks or steals, but it’s been a huge factor in his rebounding ability. As a hybrid forward, average over 11 rebounds per 40 minutes should be a major selling point for any team that needs help on the glass. The biggest area of concern for Jackson is his three point shooting. While his free throw percentage has increased from 69.8% to 82.8% this year, his three point shooting is down from 43.8% to just 25.0%. Realistically, he’s probably somewhere in between those two extremes, which still profiles as an average or better shooter. He won’t create a whole lot of offense for himself or teammates though, so he’ll need to re-discover his shooting form if he wants to maintain first round status.
29. Landry Shamet, PG – Wichita State
Wichita State is one of my favorite teams to watch, and Landry Shamet is a big reason why. The crafty junior is scoring at a ridiculous rate this year, shooting 54% from the field, 50% from three, and 88.9% from the free throw line, leading to 23.0 points per 40 minutes. His shooting alone is enough reason for teams to be excited about him, but he’s also improved as a playmaker. Even though he’s handling the ball much more than he has in the past, he’s still averaging an impressive 6.2 to 2.6 assist to turnover ratio per 40 minutes. Shamet isn’t going to provide much value defensively, though, and his average at best athleticism may give him trouble on both sides of the ball at the next level. Regardless, Shamet’s scoring ability should give him a role as a spark off the bench on most NBA rosters. It will come down to teams wanting to gamble on high upside-low floor players or low upside-high floor players like Shamet.
30. Daniel Gafford, C/PF – Arkansas
Speaking of high upside-low floor players, allow me to introduce you to Daniel Gafford. This might be a waste of time, as Gafford could choose to wait until he has a larger role to declare, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Gafford has a Robert Williams/Zach Collins type rise up NBA draft boards. Only averaging 19.8 minutes per game, Gafford’s per 40 numbers are insane: 24.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks. Gafford is still raw offensively, but he’s a strong finisher around the basket, as proven by his 69.4% field goal shooting. Defensively, Gafford is quick enough to defend the pick and roll at a high level, and he’s got great shot blocking instincts to play help side defense as well. He’s still got a ways to go in terms of learning the smaller nuances of the game, but should Gafford declare, an NBA team with patience could reap huge rewards by drafting Gafford.
Just Missed: Jalen Hudson, SG – Florida | Chimezie Metu, C – Southern California | Tyus Battle, SG – Syracuse | Shake Milton, PG – SMU | Isaac Bonga, SF – Fraport Sky
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