CHICAGO - Expect a plethora of versatile players to be chosen in the first round, and specifically the lottery portion, of this year’s draft.
Several have been climbing up mock draft boards the last couple months, which isn’t a surprise considering multi-skilled players tend to last in the league a while.
The word “versatile” is part of everyday basketball conversations these days. One can be versatile strictly on defense, while another can be versatile strictly on offense. Then there are those who truly are versatile on both ends. Those are often the players NBA team personnel pay extra attention to.
Being extremely versatile helped the Orlando Magic make major strides during the 2022-23 season. In Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, they have two of the more versatile young players in the entire league. Wendell Carter Jr., meanwhile, has blossomed into one of the game’s most versatile centers. Several of their other players can juggle various roles as well.
If the Magic decide they want more frontcourt versatility with either or both of their two lottery draft selections, there are a few prospects in this year’s draft that might catch their interest.
Among them are Houston’s Jarace Walker, Villanova’s Cam Whitmore, South Carolina’s G.G. Jackson, UCF’s Taylor Hendricks, Iowa’s Kris Murray and Alabama’s Noah Clowney.
One thing we’ve learned about Villanova players over the last decade or so is that they are gritty and tough, and in many cases very talented, too. Kyle Lowry, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, and Josh Hart are great examples.
Whitmore, who’s 6-foot-7 and 232 pounds, appeared in 26 games for the Wildcats as a freshman this past season and averaged 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
“I can get to the basket easily off the dribble,” he said. “I can make sure I get around my defender with my moves…Defensively, I can maintain my guy. I can on-ball pressure – guard one through five. Those are my main strengths right now.”
Walker, meanwhile, averaged 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and one steal in his freshman year for the Cougars, who finished the season 33-4. The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder scored in double figures in two of Houston’s three NCAA Tournament games, including in a Sweet 16 loss to the Miami Hurricanes when he had 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
“My defensive versatility and just my offensive package – whether it’s catch-and-shoot, shooting off the dribble, passing, getting teammates involved. I would say just my overall versatility,” he said of his main strengths. “I’ve been getting a lot of shots up every single day – just trying to expand my range, so I can knock down open shots.”
Jackson is a very good shot creator at his size. As a freshman for the Gamecocks in 2022-23, the 6-foot-9, 215-pounder averaged 15.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 steals over 32 games. He scored in double figures in 25 of those contests, including against Auburn on Jan. 21 when he erupted for 30 points.
“I’m a very versatile player,” he said, sticking with the theme. “I’m pretty good on both ends of the floor. I’m still working on my lateral quickness, being able to stay in front of an offensive player for more than three seconds. I’m a competitor. I’m looking to win.”
No prospect elevated his draft stock throughout the college season more than Hendricks, who averaged 15.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.7 blocks over 34 games as a freshman with the Knights. He’s a big-time shot blocker, moves well laterally on the perimeter, and can hit spot-up threes. His ball handling and shot creation need work, but his combination of athleticism and assertiveness makes him an offensive threat.
Murray is the twin brother of Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray. Like Keegan the year before, Kris was one of college basketball’s most improved players in 2022-23 with averages of 20.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals over 29 games with the Hawkeyes.
“For me, definitely shooting is one of my strengths,” he said. “Just kind of getting used to the new ball, the distance obviously is a change. I feel like versatility (is a strength). I’m someone who can guard multiple positions. Offensively, I can play multiple positions. Defensively, I can guard multiple positions. I think my length can be a big disruptor at the next level, and I have to use that to my advantage.”
While Brandon Miller garnered most of the attention for the 31-6 Crimson Tide this past season, Clowney was a huge part of that school’s success on the hardwood. At 6-foot-10, 210 pounds, he has great touch near the basket and can finish with either hand while also being able to space the floor.
There are many others in this draft who warrant the “versatile” label. These are a few that seem to be generating the most buzz with a little over a month left before the draft takes place.
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