We’ve changed things up a bit this year.
Instead of distilling the Draft into five positions -- point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center, as we’ve done since we’ve started the Big Board and Draft previews -- we’ve decided to make a switch. As the NBA continues to go toward position-less, small-ball lineups, most teams no longer make those distinctions. They have just three -- guards, wings and bigs. So we’re going to do the same going forward.
The Big Board will now have the top 25 prospects at each of those three positions, rather than 10. That will incorporate potential sleepers as well.
This year’s Draft has an unusual number of quality big men that will likely dominate the Lottery and the top half of the first round. But it also has a lot of very good guards who can score and put defenses on their heels. (By the way: please do not take these rankings literally. You cannot evaluate 25 prospects with any degree of certainty that, say, the 21st-ranked prospect is definitely better than the 24th-ranked one. You have to put them in some order, and it only takes one team to fall in love.)
* * *
A note on the rankings:
This is not a predictor of when these players will be taken. These rankings, based on discussions with dozens of NBA and college coaches, and NBA college scouts and team executives, address the question of how ready players are to play the position which they are assigned: In other words, if there was a game tonight, who would play better at that position tonight, not in three years.
We include underclassmen that are expected to declare for the Draft, or are at least thinking strongly about it. No one who hasn't thought about declaring is going to be swayed by seeing his name on a Draft board. So we include everyone. Players have until April 22 to enter the Draft.
Players are listed at the position at which NBA people believe they'll play as pros.
Players who declare for the Draft have until June 11 -- 10 days before the June 21 Draft -- to pull out, as long as they don’t sign with an agent. This rule was instituted last year to give players more time to make a more informed decision about their potential Draft status after talking with and working out for NBA teams at the Combine in Chicago, which will run May 16-20.
Again: This is not a mock Draft. No one has any idea what will happen between now and June 21; we don't know if there will be a major injury that will impact what a team wants or needs. What follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust -- and that, obviously, can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential for this year's crop of college and international players.
“In The Mix” will refer to players who have a good chance to be drafted, probably in the second round.
• If a player is not invited to the Combine, his height and weight will be his listed one from his school and/or his pro team if he's an international prospect.
* * *
David Aldridge's Big Board 2018: Guards
Rank | Name | School/Team | Class/Age | HT | WT > Projected
1. Luka Doncic | Real Madrid | 19 | 6-6 | 218 > High Lottery
2. Trae Young | Oklahoma | Freshman | 6-2 | 180 > Mid-Lottery
3. Collin Sexton | Alabama | Freshman | 6-3 | 190 > Mid-Late Lottery
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander| Kentucky | Freshman | 6-6 | 180 > Late Lottery
5. Lonnie Walker IV | Miami | Freshman | 6-5 | 204 > Late Lottery
6. Aaron Holiday | UCLA | Junior | 6-1 | 185 > Mid/Late first round
7. Khyri Thomas | Creighton | Junior | 6-3 | 210 > Mid/late first round
8. Zhaire Smith | Texas Tech | Freshman | 6-5 | 195 > Mid/late first round
9. Kevin Huerter | Maryland | Sophomore | 6-7 | 194 > Late First
10. Troy Brown | Oregon | Freshman | 6-7 | 215 > Late first round
11.Donte DiVincenzo | Villanova | Sophomore | 6-4 | 200 > Late first round
12. Elie Okobo | Pau Orthez | 20 | 6-2 | 180 > Late first/early second round
13. Landry Shamet | Wichita State | Sophomore |6-4 | 180 > Late first round
14. Grayson Allen | Duke | Senior | 6-5 | 205 > Late first round/early second round
15. Gary Trent, Jr. | Duke | Freshman | 6-6 | 209 > Late first round/Early second round
18. Jerome Robinson | Boston College | Junior | 6-6 | 191 > Early second round
19. Jacob Evans | Cincinnati | Junior | 6-5 | 199 > Late First/Early 2nd
20. Josh Okogie | Georgia Tech | Sophomore | 6-4 | 211 > Late First/Early 2nd
21. Hamidou Diallo | Kentucky | Freshman | 6-5 | 198 > Early second round
22. Bruce Brown, Jr. | Miami | Sophomore | 6-5 | 202 > Early second round
23. Tony Carr | Penn State | Sophomore | 6-5 | 204 > Early second round
24. Rawle Alkins | Arizona | Sophomore | 6-5 | 220 > Early second round
25. Jevon Carter | West Virginia | Senior | 6-2 | 205 > Early second round
IN THE MIX: De’Anthony Melton (19), 6-3, 183, USC; Shake Milton (JR), SMU, 6-5, 207; Devonte’ Graham, Kansas, 6-1, 186; Allonzo Trier (JR), Arizona, 6-5, 198; Trevon Duval (FR), Duke, 6-3, 186; Trevon Bluiett, 6-6, 198, Xavier; Keenan Evans, 6-3, 183, Texas Tech; Jaylen Adams, 6-2, 180, St. Bonaventure
* * *
Doncic looks like dominant force
“I Love Luka” is not a misspelled homage to television’s first mega-hit sitcom. It is what scout after scout tells you when you ask about the most NBA-ready guard in the world, 19-year-old Luka Doncic.
For two years, NBA types have watched in amazement as Doncic has not just played in the best league in the world outside the NBA, the ACB in Spain, but has dominated men 10 years older than him and teams that have been around since before he was born. Playing for Real Madrid, Doncic has handled that storied program’s EuroLeague schedule just fine this season, averaging 17.1 points, five rebounds and 4.6 assists. Most importantly, on a continent where coaches often sit players with NBA-level potential either to discourage them from leaving or to keep NBA teams that come over to see and scout them -- or some combination of each -- Doncic plays 25-plus minutes a night for Real.
And when he didn’t play for Real last year, he teamed with Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic in leading their native Slovenia to the EuroBasket championship last September. In the quarterfinals, Doncic scored 27 points in Slovenia’s defeat of Latvia -- and Knicks unicorn Kristaps Porzingis. In the semis, Doncic went for 11, 12 and 8 assists in a rout of the storied Spanish national team featuring the Gasol Brothers, Ricky Rubio, et.al. In the final against Serbia Doncic only scored eight on 3 of 10 shooting, but Dragic went for 35 in his last game for his country as Slovenia won the gold, 83-75.
This guy is so good, it’s not funny. He’s not overly athletic, but he can shoot it. He can pass like (Steve) Nash. He has that competitive toughness that they have."
It’s just another indication of how prepared Doncic is for the next level. He’s probably not going to be a full-time NBA point guard, at least not in the classic sense of a low-to-the-ground quicksilver player who breaks ankles and crosses over defenders. But he can, and will, play both guard spots next season, and play them well.
“With Luka, his beauty/advantage is really that you cannot categorize him as a 1 or a 2,” says an Eastern Conference personnel man. “Position-less basketball is the rage in the league and he fits perfectly into that versatile model; he will play three positions in the NBA … you have to be able to pass, dribble and score/shoot. He can do all those things playing at the PG, OG and SF. He is a basketball player -- a real good basketball player with a basketball IQ beyond his years … the respect that he has from his much older teammates, peers, opponents, coaches and referees all across Europe is phenomenal.”
He produced on the two biggest stages outside of the NBA as a teenager, the European Championships and EuroBasket.
“He played against NBA caliber guys,” an Atlantic Division personnel man said. “In certain situations, he does struggle. He will struggle in some pick-and-roll coverages (defensively). But he’s so big and he’s so skilled he puts his shoulder on you or his back on you, and he can clear room to get his shot. If he gets into a pick-and-roll action and you leave the corner, the ball is going there. It’s a guarantee it’s going there. Whoever drafts him, if they use him the right way, it’s going to be real hard for him to fail. You put him in a ball screen, middle of the floor, with a good roller, it’s a really tough cover. Just the consensus I get is that people really like Doncic. They think he’s going to be a really good player. But when you get in that top three, top five, you start to wonder who’s really going to do it.”
“This guy is so good, it’s not funny,” a Central Division personnel man says. “He’s not overly athletic, but he can shoot it. He can pass like (Steve) Nash. He has that competitive toughness that they have. Say Phoenix took him. I’d play him at the one ‘cause you have (Devin) Booker at the two. I think he can play four different positions. He’s tough -- really tough, and competitive. He’s like (Marvin) Bagley. He’s supposed to be a senior in high school” in age.
After Doncic, two freshmen projected to be point guards in the NBA are likely to be the next backcourt players taken -- Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton.
Fiercely competitive Sexton intrigues
Collin Sexton, an Honorable Mention AP all-American, was a second team all-SEC selection and co-SEC Freshman of the Year with Kentucky’s Kevin Knox. Sexton was second in the conference in scoring (19.2 per game) and had explosive offensive performances all season -- 40 against Minnesota, 30 at Arizona, 31 against Auburn -- for the Crimson Tide and his coach, former Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets coach Avery Johnson.
The 6-foot-3 Sexton intrigues because of his ability to get to the basket and get rewarded. He shot 252 free throws as a freshman, seventh-best in the country. (The top five free throw shooters ahead of him were all juniors or seniors; the sixth was Young, at 274 free throws attempted.) Sexton isn’t a great shooter (just 34 percent on 3-pointers), but his toughness and competitive streak are viewed highly by pro evaluators -- one of whom said Sexton plays with a similar relentlessness, if not anger, as Russell Westbrook.
“Collin can use his strength, which helps him in our league,” a Northwest Division birddog said. “He can use strength and be able to take contact and still get his shot off. I’m not sure Trae can do that in our league. In terms of physicality, he’s more ready to play than Trae. He’s not a great three-point shooter yet and he’s going to have to extend his range, unlike Trae, who’s ready at the NBA three-point line. He has to do a better job of making his teammates better, also.”
But Sexton became immortalized last Nov. 25, when Alabama played Minnesota at Barclays Center.
After a second-half scuffle between the teams, the game officials ejected everyone on Alabama’s bench, leaving the Tide with just five eligible players. One of those five soon fouled out, leaving them with just four; a few minutes later, one of the remaining four, guard John Petty, sprained his ankle, leaving them with three. And as there was no one else left, the Tide had to play the last 10 minutes of the game 3-on-5. And Sexton nearly won the game, anyway, scoring 23 of his 40 points after the ejections, 19 after Petty went down and it was 3-on-5.
“Collin’s a physical beast,” a Southeast Division college scout said. “They compare him to (LA Clippers guard) Patrick Beverley with some offense. The thing with Collin that he’s going to have to get better at is navigating and probing, where you’re not going be at a certain speed all the time. But I tell you what, he’s a dogged defender and he competes his tail off.”
Young can score, but can he defend?
Trae Young got a lot more pub during the college season, after he exploded onto the scene in Oklahoma’s first 15 games, and he was on national television, seemingly, every other day. Young was insane during that stretch, averaging 32 points a game while the Sooners were 14-1 and a Top 10 team. His numbers didn’t seem real: 43 against Oregon, 31 against Northwestern (including eight 3-pointers) and 39 and 43 in two games against TCU. And he shot from ridiculous, Stephen Curry-like distances with seeming ease.
A market correction was inevitable, given the Sooners’ relative talent level and opponents’ determination to get the ball out of Young’s hands. And both he and Oklahoma tailed off dramatically down the stretch, losing 12 of their last 16, barely making the NCAAs and going out in the first round against Rhode Island.
But Young’s numbers for the season were nonetheless highly impressive. Along with seniors Devonte’ Graham (Kansas), Jevon Carter (West Virginia) and Keenan Evans (Texas Tech), Young was a unanimous first team all-Big 12 team selection.
He led the nation in scoring (27.4) and assists (8.7) per game, and was second to Bucknell’s Zach Thomas nationally in free throw attempts (236). He led the country in usage rate (37.1); per sports-reference.com, he also was tops in Offensive Box Plus-Minus (11.2) and was tied for seventh in Offensive Win Shares (4.7), and he finished eighth nationally in made threes (118). The comparisons with Curry have continued in many circles. Most NBA types are a little soberer about it. But a lot of people still like Young and love his potential.
The guards his size, the small guards with the big bodies, excel, like the Jameer Nelsons, the Kyle Lowrys. This kid isn’t a bulldog, and his defensive effort is equal to Jimmer Fredette’s."
“He got overhyped a bit when they were rolling, but when they went down he got overanalyzed, too,” a Central Division executive said. “Big 12 teams were keying on him and his team wasn’t very good. I don’t think he’s Steph Curry but I think he’ll be a good player. He’s small but he’s quick. He needs to get stronger but he’s not soft. The size (Young is listed at 6-2; he likely isn’t) is a little bit of a concern but when you can shoot like that and you can see the floor, you’ll find a place. I was impressed with how he adjusted and he played well doing it.”
The executive acknowledges he thinks Sexton will wind up being a much better defender than Young, “but I like Trae Young,” he said. “He’s more scorer than pure shooter (Young made 36 percent of his 3-pointers), but the guy’s athletic, he’s tough, plays with great emotion, unselfish. I think he’s going to be really good.”
The defensive piece, though, creates significant concerns. One scout predicts that Young won’t be able to switch defensively on pick and roll sets, as Curry and Klay Thompson do so well at Golden State without being exploited.
“A lot of what he does isn’t going to translate,” a Southeast Division college evaluator says. “Think about for 82 games, if he’s the starting point guard on your team, think about the guys he has to play against that have length and explosion. Elfrid Payton isn’t an All-Star in our league, but he’s 6-5, long and athletic. He’s going to swallow Trae Young up. If you put (Kings guard) Garrett Temple on him, he’s going to struggle. The guards his size, the small guards with the big bodies, excel, like the Jameer Nelsons, the Kyle Lowrys. This kid isn’t a bulldog, and his defensive effort is equal to Jimmer Fredette’s.”
Young will have to show he’s serious about improving defensively.
“I’d seen (him) doing some of the things he did in the second half at Oklahoma before he was at Oklahoma,” another scout said. “I have a viewpoint from when he was still in high school and what he did with the USA Basketball team (on the 2016 U.S. Under 18 squad that won the gold medal).
“I saw first and foremost a guy who wasn’t going to play defense, or can’t play defense, or won’t play defense, and it’s gotten worse at Oklahoma. I saw a guy who’s very light in his body (Young was listed by Oklahoma at 6-2, 180) who would struggle with the physicality of the NBA game. I saw a guy who took shots way beyond his range at that particular time, and at the wrong time of either the game or the possession. And I saw a guy who really didn’t shoot it that well, as well as he shot it the first half at Oklahoma.”
But, the scout continued, Young did improve significantly as a passer in his one season as a Sooner. And that will be important going forward.
“I think he’s going to be able to do some things at the next level better than he did on college,” another scout said. “He’s going to be passing to a finisher on the wing and a finisher at the basket. That’s where he separates himself from Collin.”
Gilgeous-Alexander a skilled playmaker
Kentucky freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is yet another one-and-done Wildcat whose potential exceeded his production in his one season in Lexington. But long and rangy at 6-foot-6, Alexander does have significant NBA potential at the point.
Yet another talent from the burgeoning Canadian pipeline, the Hamilton, Ontario, native’s arc this season mirrored his team’s: a very slow start by Kentucky standards, followed by rapid improvement and a strong postseason showing. Kentucky lost four games in a row midway through the regular season and looked like an NCAA bubble team. But Gilgeous-Alexander picked up the pace down the stretch of the regular season, leading the Wildcats to seven wins in their final eight regular season and SEC Tournament games.
In the SEC final against Tennessee, Gilgeous-Alexander scored a game-high 29 points to secure both the conference title and tournament MVP honors.
Gilgeous-Alexander helped Kentucky get to the Sweet 16 with 27 points (on 10 of 12 shooting from the floor), six rebounds and six assists against Buffalo in the second round. Both he and the Wildcats petered out against Kansas State in the next round, but his likely first-round standing in the Draft was secured.
“He’s probably had one of the better years for a point guard, coming where he came from,” one scout said. “I wasn’t sure he was a player that should have even gone to Kentucky. But Shai’s done a great job of improving his game, showcasing what he can do, making his teammates better, making that team better, sometimes putting it on his back and willing them to win. And I wasn’t sure I was going to see that at the beginning of the year. I think he’s really improved his status within the NBA.”
Gilgeous-Alexander will need to display a larger sample size behind the arc in the pros. While he shot 40 percent on 3-pointers at Kentucky, he only took 57 in 37 games.
“I’m not a fan of his game; is it a trick game?,” one scout asked. “But, he’s long.”
And some scouts have concerns about Gilgeous-Alexander’s body. He favors long and lanky point guards in recent years like the Utah Jazz’s Dante Exum, Charlotte Hornets’ Michael Carter-Williams and Golden State Warriors’ Shaun Livingston, all of whom broke down physically early in their careers. Against West Virginia in January, Gilgeous-Alexander was harassed by Jevon Carter, scoring six points on three made field goals.
But, the Kentucky pedigree and his size will make selecting Gilgeous-Alexander early a risk someone will take.
“Long term, is he safer than some of these other guys that are going to go higher?,” an Atlantic Division personnel men asks. “He’s got positional size. His shot is low but it’s not broken. He can play downhill and get in defensive position -- some.”
Walker IV gets some lofty comparisons
Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV is in the process of deciding if he’ll enter the Draft after a solid freshman season for the Hurricanes in which he was an Honorable Mention all-ACC selection and made the ACC all-freshman team. But despite projections that have him solidly in the first round, Walker is torn about what to do. (His father isn’t; Lonnie III wants his son to return to the 305 for his sophomore campaign.)
Walker had some strong offensive games: 25 points, with four 3-pointers, in an overtime win against Louisville in January, followed by a 23-point, 5-assist effort against Florida State. But both Walker and the Hurricanes were slowed by a foot injury to starting point guard Bruce Brown, Jr., who underwent surgery on it Feb. 1 and missed the rest of the season. (Brown, Jr., a sophomore, is also considering putting his name in for the Draft, but has an even cloudier decision than Walker’s, considering his rehab will continue while he tries to decide what to do.)
If Walker does come to the NBA, though, he has some fans.
“To me, he’s the best two guard in the draft,” a Central Division executive says. “He’s DeMar (DeRozan) with a jump shot. If he was at another school where he was a spotlight of the offense, everybody would be talking him top five, top 10 (in the Draft). And he’s supposed to be a hell of a kid. He’s very athletic.”
Walker came back after tearing the meniscus in his knee during an offseason workout last summer, spraining his ankle early in the regular season against Florida A&M and twisting his knee against Middle Tennessee State.
“He got a late start with the (first) injury,” one personnel man said. “He had no preseason. And then they brought him along slowly. They let him feel his way around and then they started coaching him once he got comfortable. But once Bruce got hurt, they had all these guys on the ball. No disrespect to (Chris) Lykes (who took over at the point for Brown), but he isn’t the kind of guy to set Lonnie up. Even though he’s small, he’s not really a facilitating guard. I don’t want to say he hurt Lonnie, but early (with Brown), there was a stability and Lonnie knew he was going to get touches.”
This personnel man is high on Walker’s upside.
“He’s an elite athlete,” he said. “You watch this kid get off the floor, he’s a quick twitch, bouncy, off of one foot, and off of two feet, with a prototypical stroke. That’s a kind of guy who’s going to be able to shoot. If all else fails, he can get into space and make a shot, and he can get down the floor and dunk the ball. He has a little issue when he gets into the paint. He’s so athletic, he tries to do a lot of things in there. It’s a blessing and a curse. He’ll leave off of one foot, hang, tuck, try to make some acrobatic play. He should just put his head down.
“He started to embrace (defense) and he got really good at it. He won three games for them by blocking shots at the end of games. He was being very disruptive, getting steals, getting deflections. That two-way ability is there. He has the feet to be able to guard people.”
Dumars-like quality to Thomas' game
Creighton’s Khyri Thomas established himself as a top two-way prospect as a junior. He won his second straight Big East Defensive Player of the Year award this year after being co-Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, becoming just the 19th player in conference history to win more than one DPOY award. Thomas was second team all-Big East this season after averaging 15 points and 4.4 rebounds for the Blue Jays, including 41 percent on 3-pointers. That consistently both in front of and behind the arc helped him finish 16th in the country in Effective Field Goal percentage (.629).
The 6-foot-3 guard has mid-first potential but is weighing whether to formally declare for the Draft. If he were to wait until 2019, he might rise up boards; next year’s Draft is not expected to be nearly as strong.
“Next year’s Draft is so weak he could be a Lottery pick,” one veteran personnel man said. “He’s good, though. I like him. That kid, you could put in an NBA game right now.”
Another talent evaluator compares Thomas with Aaron McKie, a defense-first two guard who played 13 NBA seasons, winning the 2001 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
“He’s a guy who has that a multiple skills set,” the scout said. “He can be a secondary or third ball handler for you, tough defender, smart, will never hurt you by taking bad shots or trying to force the issue. Defensively he’s going to be like a coach’s pet, because he’s going to play the right way. And if he hits the Lottery, he becomes (Hall of Famer) Joe Dumars. And his demeanor on the court. I saw them beat Villanova at Creighton, and he was so focused. It’s no nonsense. It’s like he’s been there already. Almost emotionless. But he competes.”
And some notes on the others …
• Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith also has defensive chops, making the Big 12’s All Defensive team. Those abilities, combined with these kinds of feats at the other end against Stephen F. Austin in the NCAAs have pro scouts salivating. His rate of improvement is increasing.
“When I saw him being mentioned in the Draft, I was like, what?,” said a college coach whose team played against Smith and Tech this season. “He’s one of those freak athletes, one of those guys that the NBA likes. Elite level athleticism. He’s got some toughness to him. He doesn’t shoot it well, but he’s an elite level athlete. He doesn’t have great bounce but he can bounce it a couple of times … he’s got a lot of holes in his games but he can run the floor and he can finish. He can rebound the ball and he can probably be a good defender. If he’s going to be in the league he’s going to be one of those guys that finishes on the wing.”
• Duke’s Grayson Allen had to show pro scouts he could get past the emotional outbursts and borderline dirty plays that plagued him throughout his first three seasons in Durham. And, other than a dubious act against North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks in the ACC tournament last month, Allen cleaned up his act, earning third-team all-ACC honors.
“Grayson improved his stock quite a bit this year,” a Pacific Division evaluator said. “I think he was more under control emotionally. I think he really worked on that with his body language. He was, I thought, a real good leader with those kids. When they struggled, he kind of brought them in and talked to him. I think he showed he can play point guard more this year, which is going to help him with the versatility factor. His passing ability improved quite a bit … I can’t really see him getting out of the first round. Somebody in that 18-30 range has to bite on him at some point.”
But Allen, of course, will have to continue to show he’s turned the corner.
“He’s older, he’s strong, he’s fearless, he’s dealt with adversity, and that can be a good thing if you can handle it,” another scout said. “The stuff that he did in college, he’s not going to get away with that in the big boys’ league. It’s more so about his skill set. He can make a shot. He can make a play. He didn’t really have to get out on the floor and guard guys, and when he gets to the league he’s going to have to guard those guys. You have to deal with guys off the bounce. Any coach, in my opinion, you’d rather have a guy you have to dial down rather than try to dial them up.”
• At 6-foot-7, Oregon freshman Troy Brown has the size to be a wing in the NBA, but for now he continues to be viewed as the combo guard he’s been thus far in his basketball career. A five-star recruit out of Las Vegas who is the Ducks’ highest-ranking recruit ever, Brown was an Honorable Mention all-Pac 12 freshman team member, averaging 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
What Brown has not yet displayed is great shooting range. He shot just 29 percent on 3-pointers at Oregon, and the Ducks couldn’t make a run to the NCAAs, losing in the Pac 12 tournament semifinals to USC and in the second round of the NIT to Marquette. But with a wingspan of almost seven feet, Brown’s physical tool box intrigues at the next level whenever he arrives.
“He’s never going to transition into being the guy you give the ball and he’s bringing it up,” an Atlantic Division personnel man said. “But he has a great passing feel. I saw him play against (UCLA guard) Aaron Holiday during All-Star Weekend. He struggles shooting the ball. He turns down a lot of open looks. His shot is inconsistent and it’s gotten to him, where he doesn’t trust himself to make or miss shots. It’s made him more of a facilitator, which is a good thing, because that’s his strength. But he turns down too many shots.”
Despite his length, Brown was not as disruptive defensively for Oregon as some anticipated. But he gave good effort at that end.
“Everything is on the come with Troy,” a Pacific Division evaluator said. “You’re betting on what he’s going to be five years from now. He’s never going to be very athletic. He’s got great size, he makes plays, and he defends pretty well. But he’s another kid who can’t shoot. So, to me, you can narrow down the teams that will take him to about 10. And I guarantee you that it’s going to be teams that have the most faith in their player development programs -- a team that can say ‘our guys can make this guy better.’ He may have a bigger ceiling than all of those other players … he’s a high risk, high reward -- not in terms of personality; he’s a great kid. But what he can develop into?”
• UCLA’sAaron Holiday is the latest in a line of Holiday guards who will do well in the NBA. The younger brother of Jrue (New Orleans) and Justin (Chicago), Aaron Holiday was a first-team all-Pac 12 selection as a junior before declaring for the Draft. NBA people love players with established NBA lineage.
Holiday led the conference in scoring (21.7 points per game) and was second in assists (5.9). He scored 20 or more in 13 of the Bruins’ 18 conference games in the regular season, and had back-to-back 34-point performances in UCLA’s last regular season game and first game of the Pac 12 Tournament. His season ended ignominiously with some poor decisions in the last two minutes of UCLA’s first-round NCAA loss to St. Bonaventure in the First Four, but Holiday is still viewed as a solid first-round prospect.
“His family lineage helps him,” a Northwest Division personnel man says. “He’s got two pros as brothers. So he understands the pro game, he understands the lifestyle, he understands a lot of things. He will acclimate into the NBA a lot easier than most college players. In terms of his game, I think he’s got a chance to be a little bit better in the pros than in college, only because he won’t have to do as much in the pros as he had to do at UCLA.
“He has a good understanding of how to play the game. He’s a good shooter. He has great length for his size, real long arms, which will help him defensively and help his get his shots off against taller players. Again, with him, less will probably be more; with less responsibilities, he will become more efficient.”
Holiday’s ability to probe and turn the corner on pick and rolls was something he learned the family way.
“He works out with Jrue and Justin in New Orleans in the offseason,” one birddog reports. “They’ll just go into the gym and rip each other’s faces off. He hasn’t been coddled. He’ll come in and work really hard because he knows what’s expected.”
• Wichita State sophomore Landry Shamet had a breakthrough second season in the American Athletic Conference, leading the AAC in assists (5.2) and shooting a prolific 44 percent on 3-pointers, 13th-best in the country. It was a promising sign for the 6-foot-4 point guard, who officially declared for the Draft late last week, announcing he’ll hire an agent.
The Shockers were 25-8 and finished second in the AAC in the regular season, but didn’t win the conference tournament and went out quickly in the first round of the NCAAs in an upset loss to Marshall. In that game, Shamet shot just 3 of 13 from the floor, missing all seven of his 3-point attempts.
But Shamet’s ability to shoot from deep, combined with the recent track record of WSU guards in the NBA -- both Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker have stuck and played well for the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks, respectively, out of Gregg Marshall’s program -- make many believe Shamet will have a solid pro career as well.
“I love Shamet's shooting and unselfishness,” a Central Division talent evaluator said. “Another average athlete and defender though, and struggles versus physicality … but he’s better than (Cincinnati guard Jacob) Evans and (Penn State guard Tony) Carr: he’s younger, a pure point guard and (superior at) shooting.”
• Villanova junior Jalen Brunson has been a star all season for college basketball’s best team; Brunson and his Villanova Wildcats will play for their second national championship in three years tonight when they face Michigan in the NCAA title game. Regardless of that game’s outcome, Brunson has impressed with strong leadership at the point all season for Villanova, and will get a good look at the next level.
The son of longtime NBA veteran guard Rick Brunson, now an assistant coach for the Timberwolves, Jalen Brunson was Big East Player of the Year and a unanimous first team all-Big East selection, finishing third in the country in Win Shares (7.6). He led a balanced Wildcats team in scoring (19 ppg), with an assist-turnover ratio near three, ideal for a pro point guard. He raised his overall and three-point shooting percentage (.527 and .413), and while Villanova finished second in the regular season standings to Xavier, the Wildcats rectified that by winning the conference tournament. They’ve continued their run through the NCAAs.
“He’s just had a fabulous year,” an admiring Western Conference scout said. “He’s just hard-nosed, high basketball IQ, makes his teammates better, has really improved his shooting, knows what to do with the ball, knows how to get into the lane to create stuff either for himself or teammates. The concerns are going to be, not a great athlete, his ability to guard point guards. But he will be a very good backup point guard, if not a starter somewhere down the line.”
Jay Wright’s program has produced a lot of pros over the last decade as well, and that track record will help Brunson.
“The way they run things is flat-out better than everybody else,” another Western Conference exec said. “It takes a certain type of kid to want to go there. They make that kid better, and they turn into good pros. They’re not the one and done type.”
• Eighteen-year-old Anfernee Simons spent the year at IMG Academy in Orlando after decommitting from Louisville in 2016, when the Adidas scandal enveloped former coach Rick Pitino (who continues to maintain his innocence). As Simons is a year removed from his high school class, he is eligible for the Draft, and he entered last month. Simons was a five-star recruit before he decommitted, and as such, at 6-foot-4, he’ll get a look.
“He’s got a young body and an even younger face -- he looks like he’s 12 years old,” a Southeast Division executive said. “He could be like a Monta Ellis, a combo guy who can pass and shoot it. And he may grow a little more. Nice skill set, crafty. But it’s just so scary because he’s so young. And you watch him against the prep school guys more than the college guys. But he’s a real prospect.”
• French guard Elie Okobo doesn’t have the prospect stature of Doncic, but the 20-year-old is garnering interest as a potential late first or early second-rounder. He was on the undercard at Justin Patton’s pre-Draft workout in Las Vegas last year (Patton, taken by the Bulls 16th overall, wound up going to Minnesota as part of the Jimmy Butler trade), and not many noticed. Playing for renowned Pau Orthez in France’s Pro A League, Okobo has started most of the season, averaging 12.8 points and 4.4 assists.
“I think he’s the fourth-best point in the Draft,” a Southwest Division executive said. “The kid is crafty and talented as a sleeper in the Draft that hasn't been followed as closely as he should be.”
Said an Eastern Conference exec: “in the last month he’s had a couple of really good games -- efficient games where he’s not turning the ball over. He’s hitting a few threes. He’s really starting to figure it out. Lefty. Nice change of pace to his game. Most of his game is the three. He builds his game off the three. He can see the floor and make the right read. And he can pass. He’s practiced with men for a long time and he’s got a lot of time with his age group. He’s having some pretty good results.”
• Boston College junior Jerome Robinson had a sensational season, being named as an AP all-American and first-team all-ACC choice (he finished second to Duke’s Marvin Bagley for conference player of the year honors). Averaging 20.7 points, Robinson led BC to an upset of Duke in December, starting a run of big performances -- 29 at Virginia, 32 versus Virginia Tech, 46 at Notre Dame in February and 30 at Miami.
He’s among the more talented offensive guard prospects who are likely to be available in the late first and early second rounds, along with Duke’s Gary Trent, Jr., and Arizona’s Allonzo Trier.
“I really like him as a shot maker,” a college coach whose team played Boston College this season said of Robinson. “The question Is defense but he has tons of skill and good size and athletic ability. (BC Coach) Jim Christian is one of the best offensive minds in the game, and they use tons of creative ways to get him shots -- pick and rolls, dribble handoffs and creative sets. I think he can do either” in the pros.
• On the other side of the prospect tree isWest Virginia’s Jevon Carter, the top defensive point guard in the country.
The 6-foot-2 senior led the Mountaineers to the Sweet 16 on the strength of his scoring (17.6 points) and assists (6.6), but mainly because of his sheer tenacity on D. He led the nation in steals (111) and was second in steals per game. He locked up opponents all season, using his quickness and strength to keep them from getting anywhere near their sweet spots or feeling comfortable on the odd chance they did.
Carter shot 39 percent behind the arc as a senior, but will have to continue to diversify his offensive game to be able to stick. Nonetheless, his defensive chops are so good, and his leadership was so acute in Morgantown the last few years, that he’ll have a chance to stick with a team and improve offensively, as guys like Patrick Beverley have done.
“If he just defends and shows he can make open shots, to stay in the league that’s all he needs to do,” one college coach who’s seen Carter several times the last few years said. “He doesn’t need to go in there and try to be John Wall or something. Late first? It’s just a tossup. Somebody might take him because he’s got so many good qualities. I think he shoots it better than people think he can. I think he can make shots. He’s a good decision maker as far as ball movement. The ball doesn’t stick with him. He’s a student of the game.”
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.