2022-23 Conference Previews: PAC-12
With the start of the college season rapidly approaching, the No Ceilings crew preview some of the key conferences and players to watch for the coming season. Up next: The PAC-12.
The college basketball season is rapidly approaching, but we here at No Ceilings have already kicked off our season in style. After releasing our Preseason Guide and new merch in our No Ceilings store, we could have decided to slow down until early November. However, that’s just not how we roll over here. The crew gathered to preview the biggest conferences in college basketball, along with highlighting some potential mid-major stars. Up next: the PAC-12.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter groupthink. Who is the best NBA prospect in this conference?
Metcalf: Kel’el Ware. It feels like a down year for elite PAC-12 prospects, but Ware is the headliner. I still have a lot of questions, but his combination of offensive tools, size, and athleticism is intriguing.
Nick: Amari Bailey. He has the playmaking chops and defensive physicality to enforce his will on games, and his feel is exceptional for a young guard. If he can make some improvements as a shooter, he could really establish himself as a prospect to watch in this draft class.
Albert: I wrote about Amari Bailey recently and he is my pick. I really like Bailey’s game a ton. I love how physical of a guard he is and I think he has some real playmaking ability. I hope he continues to grow as a shooter because his mindset and attitude on the court are a lot of fun to watch. The guy is afraid of no one and will bring a real edge to that Bruins squad this season.
Stephen: There’s legit concern that he won’t get the same amount of playing time as other lottery-level talents, but Amari Bailey is such an intriguing talent. In a draft that isn’t short on guard prospects, Bailey plays with great pace and can score in a variety of ways. I think he profiles well as a lead playmaker due to his sound vision and physical gifts.
Maxwell: I believe Amari Bailey is the guy. His feel, footwork, and scoring profile give him the makings of a modern NBA guard.
Paige: UCLA’s Amari Bailey. I could see Bailey being in the conversation for the PAC-12’s Newcomer of the Year or even winning it. He has the playmaking ability, scoring/defensive versatility, and athleticism that a guard needs to have in the NBA. The only question is: will he have an equal opportunity to showcase his talents, or will he not get a lot of minutes like Peyton Watson?
Evan: I’m as tantalized by Kel’el Ware’s potential as anyone, but I’m going to go with USC’s Tre White. His two-way potential is being massively undersold currently in my opinion. The 6’7” do-it-all guard has the size, skills, and athleticism to fill the “jumbo playmaker” prototype that’s so coveted in today’s NBA game. He also shines in the open floor and has a shifty handle. I’m curious to see if he can develop into a more consistent shooter over the course of the season, but I wouldn’t be shocked if White ends up being a Top 20 pick next summer.
Nathan: Kel’el Ware is the top prospect amongst evaluators and I’d actually agree with them right now. There are other freshmen who will get some buzz, but athletic 7-footers who can cover the ground he can, with the length to grab any rebound, block any shot, and catch any lob, will always find a way to productivity not just in college but in the NBA. I’m excited to watch how he continues to develop defensively, and if he can refine his outside shot. But Ware can be a special prospect when all is said and done.
Corey: I’m going to tentatively roll with Kel’el Ware to start the year, but I have a close eye on UCLA’s Amari Bailey. Ware is a prospect that is tantalizing on paper and has all of the theoretical tools you want out of a modern NBA big. If he can prove to efficiently space the floor, run the floor, dive to the rim, and show signs of scheme versatility on defense he should be a lotto pick.
Rucker: Oregon freshman big man Kel’el Ware will get the first nod as the potential top prospect in the Conference of Champions. We know how NBA teams get when there’s a potential big man with size that can run the floor and protect the rim. Ware has shown some serious flashes but it’s time to see if the motor can stay hot.
2. Admittedly, one of the most satisfying parts of analyzing the draft is being able to look back and say “psh, about time you guys took notice of him. I’ve been hyping him up for ages.” Who is the prospect that you are irrationally high on?
Metcalf: Mouhamed Gueye should have a really interesting year. With what should be a more prominent role, Gueye has a chance to harness his athleticism and be a really productive player on both ends of the floor.
Nick: I refuse to back down on how much I love Jaime Jaquez Jr. as a prospect. He’s one of the best playmaking forwards in the class, and he pairs his passing touch with elite off-ball defense and solid scoring with and without the ball in his hands. If his long-range numbers can hike back up after a down year last season, he could solidify his stock as a first round draft pick after his surprising decision to return to UCLA for one more year.
Albert: I really liked Will Richardson before last season. Last season was a nightmare for Richardson and I lost almost all hope. I don’t know if he’ll be much better this season but I figured I should stick to my guns and continue to believe. Even if it means passing up on the Arizona guys that I love so dearly. Tubelis, Larsson, and Ballo should be awesome for the Wildcats this season.
Stephen: I have Azuolas Tubelis as a Top 30 prospect coming into the season. I love his midrange game–both as a scorer and facilitator. He has good rebounding mechanics and poses a unique threat in two-man actions, whether it be in pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops, or DHOs. If his defense can translate to at least average at the next level, Tubelis could be a playmaking five that gives his team unique shot creation from his position.
Maxwell: Azuolas Tubelis! He’s a much better defender than he gets credit for, he’s a savvy passer, and his scoring is still efficient even if the three-ball isn’t consistent. If he knocks down those shots this year, his stock should explode.
Paige: Stanford’s Harrison Ingram. Ingram is a big-time wing at 6’8” and 233 pounds, he can handle the ball, has incredible playmaking skills for his size, and has incredible vision. I really love the versatility to his game where he can play the 1 through 3 spots, and just the all-around game he has, being able to get to his shot no matter where he is on the floor.
Evan: Tristan da Silva. I actually think the PAC-12 is filled with under-the-radar pro prospects this season, and da Silva is one of the top names of the group. I love the versatility he possesses on both ends of the floor at 6’10” and am intrigued to watch how he flourishes as the “go-to guy” for the Buffs this year. He’s got the size and skills that NBA teams love at the forward position, which could see him creep up draft boards in 2023.
Nathan: I really like Pelle Larsson out of Arizona. Now going into his junior season, this will be the first campaign where Larsson gets real run as an offensive guy. He’s been a good shooter in his first two years in college, but he’s also a nearly 48% shooter from the field overall. Larsson is tough, rebounds for his position, and can defend multiple looks. While he isn’t on too many radars right now, I fully expect him to be a consistent name amongst the top 60 prospects in the 2023 draft class.
Corey: He may be a multi-year college guy, but USC’s Tre White has some sleeper potential to crash the party on draft night. White has good wing size at 6’7” with some intriguing on-ball creation ability for both himself and his teammates. White is more of a heat check guy than a consistent shooter right now and his ability to efficiently knock down shots as a Freshman will ultimately dictate if he’s a one-and-done, but White isn’t afraid to let it fly when the lights get bright and showed some real tough shot making potential at Prolific Prep.
Rucker: I’ll go with my guy Nathan here when it comes to the Arizona Wildcat wing. Pelle Larsson was an underrated complimentary piece last year for a STACKED Wildcats team. With multiple pieces heading to the NBA, Arizona now needs someone to step it up. Larsson will have the chance to be “the guy” when it comes to being aggressive and looking for his shot. He’s a smart player on the court who can play with some grit.
3. Unfortunately, there are two sides to that coin, and they do not have equal probabilities. Which prospect do you like but think has the most likely chance of failing to meet expectations?
Metcalf: Despite my answer to #1, it’s Kel’el Ware. Ware has a lot of interesting tools, but I’m afraid that they will be infinitely less effective against stronger competition. I have serious questions about Ware’s defense as he doesn’t move well in space, and most of his blocks feel like a result of just being big as shit. If the flexibility and processing speed haven’t improved significantly, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see Ware encounter an unforgiving learning curve.
Nick: Kel’el Ware. I really like the physical tools, and he could easily make this evaluation look foolish pretty quickly. However, I worry about his awareness and decision-making on both ends of the floor. He may end up being a longer-term prospect rather than a one-and-done at Oregon.
Stephen: My friends here may hate me for it, but Jaime Jaquez Jr. has been a struggle for me in terms of NBA evaluation. He is savvy, I get that. But there are injury concerns, and athleticism concerns because of that. Who does he defend in the NBA? His three-point numbers have been all over the place during his time at UCLA as well. With the depth of the NBA becoming ridiculously deep, Jaquez could have a very difficult journey to making an NBA team.
Albert: Let me start by saying I hate Stephen for questioning the greatness of Jaime Jaquez Jr. How dare you, Stephen. With that out of the way, my pick is Harrison Ingram. I was not a fan at all last season. I thought his handle was lacking, passing vision felt a tad overrated and he had almost no impact during the PAC-12 tournament when I saw him live. I think he has to continue to work on his body as he did not look NBA-ready to me.
Maxwell: I’m still lagging on the Kel’el Ware hype a little bit. The shooting is still theoretical and he makes puzzling decisions on both ends of the floor at times. Given the amount of veteran talent on Oregon, he should be set up to succeed, but if he doesn’t, they could grow frustrated with him.
Paige: Oregon’s Ke’lel Ware. I really do like Ware as a prospect (an athletic 7-foot rim-protector who can shoot), but I’m not totally set on if Oregon can give him the added growth he needs this year. Ware sometimes lags on the defensive end and isn’t as aggressive as he can be at his size. I would love to see him improve greatly in these areas against high-level competition, but I’m not sure the improvements will be there the way they need to be.
Evan: It’s Ke’lel Ware for me as well and it isn’t because I’m not a believer in his abilities or potential. However, I’m just not sure I’m ready to jump on the bandwagon with some in proclaiming he’s a Top 10 talent in this class ahead of this season.
Nathan: I’m a fan of Adem Bona, but there’s a realistic world where he doesn’t get the playing time to carve out a path to first-round consideration this year. One of the best end-to-end bigs in the country, Bona can rip and go with the best of them. He can challenge shots, finish lobs, and cover a lot of ground. But there will be some fairly big growing pains defensively in the schemes Mick Cronin wants to play, and he still needs to find ways to impact the game offensively other than exclusively being a play finisher. He’s raw, but the upside is there. It just may not all come together for him this year.
Corey: I completely get the intrigue with UCLA big Adem Bona, but I’m not ready to buy in. Bona is a dynamite athlete with a good frame but when that is your main calling card as a big prospect, it usually means that it’s going to take some time before all of the tools are functional. At the moment Bona is pretty raw and I think there is going to be a harsh adjustment period as the game speeds up at the college level.
Rucker: I’m also going to be on the “buzzkill” side and say Oregon freshman Kel’el Ware with this question. There’s going to be plenty of intrigue with Ware as a big man, he’s got the tools to swing his draft stock as much as anyone. But there’s also some legit concern with the idea of him being a one-and-done player.
4. The shiny new thing is always the most enticing to go after, but there is always a ton of value in older prospects. Based on their previous college seasons, which returning player are you most excited to watch and has the best NBA potential?
Metcalf: I’m pretty lukewarm on him as an NBA prospect, but this is pretty easily Jaime Jaquez Jr. for me. Jaquez does all of the dirty work that you want from your role players. The big question is what the shot looks like. If we see Jaquez return to the 39.4% on 94 attempts we saw in his sophomore season, then it wouldn’t surprise me if Jaquez sneaks into the first round. However, if the shot continues trending poorly like his 27.6% on 76 attempts last season suggests, then I get skeptical about what team would reach on him in the first round.
Nick: Since I’ve already talked about Jaime Jaquez Jr. for an earlier question, I’m going to go with Harrison Ingram here. He struggled in a number of ways, sure, but he was also named the PAC-12 Rookie of the Year last season for a reason. His playmaking gifts alone are enough to warrant consideration given his 6’8” frame; some improved shooting, particularly from distance, could really solidify him as an NBA prospect by the end of this season.
Albert: I love Jaime Jaquez Jr. but I’m going to pass on talking about him since everyone else already did. He’s awesome, go read what everyone else said. My pick is Azuolas Tubelis. Watching him play live last year was an absolute treat. The guy always plays at his pace, doesn’t care that he’s not a superb athlete. He just does whatever he wants on the court. He’s an incredible team player that loves to pass and do all the dirty things. The guy is always fighting for boards and showed great touch around the rim and beyond. I think he’s just going to extend his range and be the perfect complement to Ballo.
Stephen: You know, it’s crazy how people can talk about a Sophomore player as if he can’t improve, but I really am excited to see Harrison Ingram this year. No one can downplay his feel for the game. His post defense was under-discussed last season as well. With an offseason worth of conditioning coming off of a year of experience in a tough conference, I believe Ingram will improve laterally to help his perimeter defense. If he adds some spot-up shooting to his game, folks could be partaking in some revisionist history in the near future.
Maxwell: Jaime Jaquez Jr! He’s such a blast to watch. I’m hoping the ankle issues are behind him so we can see him back to his old self and then some.
Paige: UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr.. The 6’7” 225-pound forward is a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor. With his size and strength, he’s able to play “bully ball” with the smaller guards, and stand his ground with the bigs. Even though he doesn’t possess a lot of speed or burst, he doesn’t necessarily need to, as his “feel” for the game is incredible and I think can translate really well to the next level. I think the dynamic duo of Jaquez Jr. and Amari Bailey will be one to closely monitor this season and should be a real treat for us basketball junkies.
Evan: UCLA’s Jaylen Clark. I like the junior guard’s pro potential as a combo guard and believe he could be one of the best defenders in the conference. I’m very interested to see though, if Mick Cronin will hopefully give him the minutes to showcase his ability this season, and if Clark’s offensive skillset evolves to where he’s more than just a complementary piece on that end of the floor.
Nathan: I do want to see more of Mouhamad Gueye out of Washington State this year, but to me, the most interesting storyline for a returning prospect revolves around Marcus Bagley. At one point, he was a one-and-done freshman who was on his way to a first-round selection through his shooting ability and defensive toughness for a 6’8” forward. After multiple seasons lost due to injuries and being in and out of the lineup, Bagley has become an afterthought in a number of draft circles. If he can shoot the cover off the ball, remain effective on line drives, and compete defensively each night while proving he can put close to a full year together, he could put himself right back into draft consideration.
Corey: Oh you already know I’m rocking with my guy Jaime Jaquez Jr. whom I’d have had no problem with using a first round pick on in the 2022 NBA Draft. Jaquez isn’t the flashiest guy on the court but he’s got legit NBA size, feel, and skill. Triple J is even an underrated athlete who can play above the rim and get flexible in the air for crafty at-the-rim finishes. Jaquez has a down shooting year from three after shooting well the year prior, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Jaquez won’t single-handedly save your franchise from the depths of NBA loser hell, but a smart team will take him and get a solid contributor on the cheap.
Rucker: As much as I appreciate Jaime Jaquez Jr. as a potential steal in the upcoming NBA draft, I’m the most fascinated to evaluate Stanford sophomore Harrison Ingram. The 6’8” forward has the tools to intrigue teams with his two-way potential at the next level. Stanford often ran sets with Ingram as the primary ball handler and playmaker last year. If the rest of his game can come together, he should start to have the attention of NBA scouts once again.
5. Whether it’s Anthony Edwards dropping 37 points against Michigan State or Austin Rivers ripping the heart out of UNC fans or De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball, fans are provided with mesmerizing matchups and performances every season. Which matchup, whether team vs. team, player vs. player, or player vs. team, are you most looking forward to?
Metcalf: UCLA vs Arizona.
Nick: UCLA vs. Oregon. It will be fascinating to see how Kel’el Ware fares defensively against an aggressive, physical guard like Amari Bailey and a do-it-all two-way forward like Jaime Jaquez Jr. in this one.
Albert: Give me UCLA vs USC. That USC team is going to be better and more interesting that people realize. It’s unfortunate they won’t have Iwuchukwu to start the season but if he comes back, he’s going to be a ton of fun to watch. He really stood out in the Nike Hoops Summit last season. Also Tre White is a guy people should be watching. That guy has good size and can really score.
Stephen: It’s gotta be Arizona and UCLA. There is just too much professional-level talent to deny this being the game to circle. Kriisa, Larsson, Tubelis, and Ballo going up against Bailey, Bona, and Jaquez Jr. will put a ton of butts in seats (shoutout Tony Schiavone).
Maxwell: Kel’el Ware vs. Adem Bona. Ware is more skilled and polished, but Bona’s motor runs higher and he’s a better raw athlete. Still, Ware really turned it on in all-star games, and it seems like he loves the spotlight. They’ll both be looking to prove their case over the other.
Paige: UCLA vs. Oregon. I’m very excited to see Bailey, Campbell, and Jaquez Jr. go up against Kel’el Ware and Will Richardson.
Evan: Oregon vs. USC on February 9. I’m excited to see Kel’el Ware and Vincent Iwuchukwu go at it again, after watching their first meeting in this year’s Nike Hoop Summit game.
Nathan: Arizona against UCLA. There’s a real matchup across the board by position between the two teams. Amari Bailey against Kerr Kriisa in the backcourt, Pelle Larsson vs. Jaime Jaquez on the wing, and Azuolas Tubelis is a breakout candidate against the lauded freshman prospect Adem Bona. Both rosters go deeper than those guys, but the level of competition in this game should be high as tempers flare between two talented coaching staffs. I can’t wait to watch these two squads battle it out.
Corey: UCLA vs Arizona is filled with a ton of intriguing NBA prospects. No brainer viewing from a scouting perspective.
Rucker: UCLA vs Arizona. Tyler Rucker will be in attendance. I also might rush the court. On a serious note, those two teams always seem to have a bloodbath of epic proportions. Plenty of talent on both rosters, should be another great showdown.