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2024 NBA Draft Pulse Check (Part I)
Some want to look down on the 2024 NBA Draft class. I'm here to tell you that it's time to start getting excited.
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We’ll be submitting entries all season long as well and joining in on the fun. In our first week, we went 3 for 3 on our college football entries. To add to the excitement of the NFL season starting, here is our entry for the opening night of the NFL season.
· Patrick Mahomes: Higher 0.5 yards (Week 1 sitewide special for all existing customers)
· Jahmyr Gibbs: Higher 30.5 receiving yards
· David Montgomery: Higher 0.5 rushing + receiving TDs
· Travis Kelce: Higher 6.5 receptions
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it” - Moliere
Basketball fans have been spoiled over the last several years. That sentence hits especially hard when you point your fingers toward the NBA draft. Various new waves of talent have come and gone when it comes to prospect evaluation over the recent years. With each passing year, the popularity surrounding the NBA draft has blossomed. Much of that has been due to the new wave of potential superstars that have taken over the game we all love.
There’s no denying that the modern NBA has evolved over the years. After being a league that emphasized feeding the big man in the post, the NBA game today has become a shooter’s delight. Much of that can be pointed to Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry, who has transformed the league with the importance of the three-point shot.
With that, a new set of desired skills has come from scouts and talent evaluators around the world. The gauntlet has been thrown down for players to bring more to the table before stepping foot on an NBA court. A perfect example of this is the point guard position. At one time, floor generals were evaluated on their ability to impact the game in a number of different areas. Could you get to your spots while putting your teammates in a position to succeed? Can you offer the upside to score at multiple levels?
Now, that idea has shifted. Point guards have shifted into these alien-like figures who offer the size of an old-school small forward with the handles of a seasoned veteran. Big men are required to offer the upside of being able to step out and stretch the floor. The game has changed, and with that has come the type of prospects we are evaluating on a year-to-year basis.
The last six years of the NBA Draft have brought fans some jaw-dropping talent. If you look at some of the recent names in previous draft classes, it’ll start to hit you that we’ve been more than fortunate with some of the incoming prospects.
Markelle Fultz (1st), Lonzo Ball (2nd), Jayson Tatum (3rd), De’Aaron Fox (5th), Donovan Mitchell (13th), Bam Adebayo (14th), John Collins (19th), Jarrett Allen (22nd), OG Anunoby (23rd), Kyle Kuzma (27th), Derrick White (29th), Josh Hart (30th)
Deandre Ayton (1st), Luka Doncic (3rd), Jaren Jackson Jr. (4th), Trae Young (5th), Mikal Bridges (10th), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th), Michael Porter Jr. (14th), Kevin Huerter (19th), Anfernee Simons (24th), Robert Williams (27th).
Zion Williamson (1st), Ja Morant (2nd), RJ Barrett (3rd), Darius Garland (5th), Cam Johnson (11th), Tyler Herro (13th), Brandon Clarke (21st), Grant Williams (22nd), Jordan Poole (28th), Keldon Johnson (29th).
Anthony Edwards (1st), LaMelo Ball (3rd), Devin Vassell (11th), Tyrese Haliburton (12th), Cole Anthony (15th), Tyrese Maxey (21st), Immanuel Quickley (25th), Jaden McDaniels (28th), Desmond Bane (30th).
Cade Cunningham (1st), Jalen Green (2nd), Evan Mobley (3rd), Scottie Barnes (4th), Josh Giddey (6th), Franz Wagner (8th), Alperen Sengun (16th), Trey Murphy III (17th), Quentin Grimes (25th).
Paolo Banchero (1st), Chet Holmgren (2nd), Jabari Smith Jr. (3rd), Keegan Murray (4th), Jaden Ivey (5th), Bennedict Mathurin (6th), Shaedon Sharpe (7th), Jalen Williams (12th), Jalen Duren (13th), Christian Braun (21st), Walker Kessler (22nd)
There are still plenty of names from the 2021 and 2022 classes that will likely take another big step forward in their young development. Obviously, the 2023 NBA draft class is going to bring plenty of excitement as well, with the likes of Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, and the Thompson Twins, to mention a few. But the bigger picture here is that we’ve had some tremendous talent come through the NBA, pushing the ceiling of the league to new heights.
The 2024 NBA draft class has gotten a bad rep. The amount of questions and doubts is higher compared to other years. Some are starting to point at this year’s class as the “reset button,” or one that might balance out a recent streak of sensational success in the history of draft classes.
I’ll be the first one to tell you that those concerns are well deserved. But it’s not because of the overall depth that this class could potentially offer. The 2024 class is shaping up to have an extremely wide range of players that could start to cement themselves as legit talents for the next level. But, as with every single draft class heading into an upcoming cycle, plenty of questions that must be answered.
As we prepare for the upcoming draft cycle, some could argue that there simply might not be a “slam dunk” superstar talent in the 2024 class. But I would stress to meet that preseason verdict with some hesitation. These are the types of classes that personally get me the most excited as an evaluator. Not having a consensus top prospect creates a bit of mystery for fans. There’s legit talent in this class, making it even more exciting to see if any player can start to separate themselves from the rest of the pack throughout the year.
While basketball diehards might have a wide range of variance on their big boards this year, some names have the talent to put it all together and transform into a legit star. Because of that realization, evaluators will be watching closely to see who can start to put the pieces together throughout the year.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the notable storylines to keep an eye on moving forward.
The Race for #1
Matas Buzelis | Forward | G League Ignite
G League Ignite forward Matas Buzelis is going to have plenty of fans when it comes to the race for the top prospect in the 2024 class. It’s not hard to understand why Buzelis is going to have the intrigue of evaluators moving forward. Buezlis is listed around 6’10” and has impressive athleticism to go with an improving outside shot. He can hit you with a quick move and cover ground in a hurry before exploding to finish above the rim. There’s a lot of foundational upside that looks intriguing to develop, which is why scouts will thrilled that Buzelis is heading to play with the G League Ignite for the 2023-24 season.
The accolades have started to pile up for Buzelis throughout his basketball journey. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp and was also named the 2022-23 Gatorade Kansas Boys Basketball Player of the Year. During his senior year, Buzelis averaged 15.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting 53.7% from the field and 43.1% from downtown. He will need to continue to develop his game off the bounce, as well as prove he can deal with the physicality of the G League level, but the raw tools will have plenty of fans excited.
Ron Holland | Forward | G League Ignite
Ron Holland has drawn plenty of excitement in scouting circles, with his potential to be a two-way versatile force on the basketball court. Holland was ESPN’s #2 ranked high school basketball prospect this year and was expected to be taking his talents to Austin to suit up for the Texas Longhorns.
That’s until Holland pivoted and decided to spend the year with the G League Ignite instead. While it would have been thrilling to see Holland with the Longhorns, the move to spend the year with the Ignite is a welcomed one for scouts. Holland has the tools to be a menace on the defensive side of the ball. He flies around the court with his motor running on high and he’s going to be a high-effort player at any time.
The offensive game is the question moving forward, as Holland needs to take some strides forward with his outside shooting. If that area can show improvement, Holland has the tools to be a serious candidate for the top selection.
Justin Edwards | Forward | Kentucky Wildcats
One of the top contenders for the nod of being the top prospect in the 2024 class is Kentucky Wildcats freshman Justin Edwards. At one point, Edwards was considered the top prospect in high school basketball. Since then, Edwards has fallen to #3 on ESPN’s rankings. Edwards is a smooth-shooting lefty with promising size at 6’8”.
He’s fluid on the court and has the tools to be a versatile offensive threat, especially if his outside shot translates at a high level. After seeing Edwards in person at the Nike Hoop Summit, I found myself intrigued with another area of his game. The defense. Edwards showed some flashes of potential to be a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball.
Those flashes will need to become more consistent, but the fact that Edwards is heading to a stacked Kentucky Wildcats team should give him plenty of opportunity to make a statement for the 2024 NBA draft.
Tyrese Proctor | Guard | Duke Blue Devils
One of the top returners for the 2023-24 NCAA season is Duke Blue Devils sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor. Things are lining up for Proctor to send a serious statement when it comes to his stock for the 2024 class. He showed some awesome flashes throughout his freshman year and won’t turn 20 until April.
At 6’5”, Proctor has the size you are looking for in a potential combo guard asset in the backcourt. He showed some fascinating defensive chops throughout his freshman year and started to tease another level of offensive upside in the second half of the 2022-23 season.
In his last nine games, Proctor averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 40.2% from the field and 39.5% from three. If Proctor can showcase that another level has been unlocked offensively, especially from deep, he will find himself in the Top 5 conversation.
Riley Kugel | Guard | Florida Gators
One of the top names to watch when it comes to returners is Florida Gators sophomore year Riley Kugel. There’s potential for Kugel to absolutely explode during his second year with the Gators. After a quiet first half of the season, Kugel was viewed as a player who needed a big offseason to cement himself as a legit prospect for the 2024 draft. In his first 22 games, Kugel averaged just 6.6 points per game while shooting 35.6% from three.
That was until a sensational charge at the end of the season started to get the intrigue of scouts. In his last ten games, Kugel went on to average 17.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while shooting 49.6% from the field and 39.6% from three. Consistency will be the key for the 6’5” guard. Things are lining up for Kugel to storm up boards. But now is the time for Riley to showcase he can be the prospect every evaluator is hoping for.
Trey Alexander | Guard | Creighton Blue Jays
Creighton Blue Jays combo guard Trey Alexander is back for another year of development and he should be on plenty of radars when it comes to draft evaluators. Alexander was a name that was trending as a potential sleeper for the 2023 NBA draft. That was until he decided to return to Creighton for his junior season.
Alexander is coming off a strong season, and one that simply didn’t get enough praise in the public eye. He finished his sophomore year with averages of 13.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 44.7% from the field, 41.0% from three, and 82.4% from the free throw line. Alexander has the size and versatility that teams are looking for at 6’4”. He’s shown that he can be efficient, but now Trey needs to take it to another level.
Judah Mintz | Guard | Syracuse Orange
The stars are aligning for Syracuse sophomore guard Judah Mintz to be a potential breakout candidate in college basketball. After showcasing some impressive offensive flashes as a freshman, Mintz has the tools to take a big step forward this year for the Orange. Mintz is a crafty offensive force, who can get his shot and put up some eye-opening numbers.
He averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists per game last year on shooting splits of 44.6/30.3/75.1. At 6’3”, Mintz has the size to offer some serious offensive punch out of the backcourt. The key is going to be unlocking the outside shot on a more consistent level. The potential is there and Mintz will have an assortment of fans. But the time is now for him to send a statement to the basketball world.
Donovan Clingan | Big | UConn Huskies
After a year that lacked some punch when it came to the big men, the 2024 class is shaping up to offer some intriguing talent. The one to watch out for is UConn sophomore center Donovan Clingan. The 7’2” big fella is coming off an impressive year as an outstanding rotation piece for the defending champion Huskies.
Clingan is a load in the paint and is reportedly up to 280 pounds. He averaged 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game last year in 13.1 minutes while playing behind Adama Sanogo. Now it’s time to see what Clingan can do with extended minutes. There’s plenty of excitement surrounding Clingan and this Huskies team. Donovan will need to show that his impressive versatility can be consistent with a heavier workload. It’s all lining up for Donovan to be one of the top centers in this class. If he takes another step forward in his development, he should be cemented as a potential Top 10 selection.
Aday Mara | Big | UCLA Bruins
This is where we start to get fun. Over the last several years, Aday Mara has been impressing with his play overseas, notably with Spain during FIBA play. After rumors suggesting that Mara was on his way to UCLA, those rumors were confirmed as the Spaniard announced he would be heading to suit up for the Bruins for the 2023-24 season.
Mara is a load at 7’2”, 245 pounds, and is a disruptor on the court. He’s incredibly skilled for a big man of his age, offering some fantastic feel and playmaking ability. The question moving forward is: how quickly do the rest of the pieces come together?
While Mara has shown some impressive feel and shot-blocking ability, he’s going to need to showcase that he can deal with the physicality of the collegiate level. If Mara proves he can battle in the trenches, he will be one of the top centers in this class.
Izan Almansa | Big | G League Ignite
There’s been plenty of buzz developing around Izan Almansa as one of the top big men for the 2024 NBA Draft. Almansa has been a bit all over the place, as he’s gotten a taste of competition at all levels. He’s piled up an impressive resume overseas, as he’s been named FIBA World Cup MVP for the U17, U18, and U19 tournaments over the last couple of years while representing Spain.
In the last two seasons, Almansa has been playing in the Overtime Elite. During the 2022-23 season, he played for the YNG Dreamerz, averaging 9.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 58.3% from the field. After another impressive FIBA outing, Almansa has started to get the attention of NBA scouts once again.
He’s been previously listed at 6’10”, 216 pounds, and is a bit undersized for a natural center. Almansa will be suiting up for the G League Ignite for the 2023-24 season, which should be a fantastic developmental path for him. Almansa will have plenty of intrigue, especially if he can prove to hang with the physicality in the G League. There’s some impressive touch around the basket, as well as some good awareness.
Kyle Filipowski | Big | Duke Blue Devils
The big man is back for another season with the Duke Blue Devils. Some thought that Kyle Filipowski would be a popular riser for the 2023 NBA draft class. Instead, Filipowski announced he would return to Duke for his sophomore campaign. Reports have suggested that Filipowski has put on close to 20 pounds for the upcoming year. There’s no denying that Filipowski plays with a high motor and possesses some intriguing playmaking upside to his game.
The key for the Duke big man will be unlocking the offensive weaponry at an efficient level. Filipowski has shown that he has the ability to be a potential pick-and-pop weapon with a smooth shooting stroke from beyond the perimeter. He will need to be more consistent from downtown, as he shot just 28.2% from three during the 2022-23 season.
Kel’el Ware | Big | Indiana Hoosiers
It was a disappointing freshman campaign for former Oregon Ducks big man Kel’el Ware. After being considered a preseason lottery pick in some circles for the 2023 NBA draft, Ware struggled to generate consistent minutes with the Ducks. A year later, Ware entered the transfer portal before announcing he was heading to suit up for the Indiana Hoosiers.
It’s a great fit for Ware, who will be the next developmental piece for Mike Woodson. Ware has shown flashes of being a dynamic big man with the upside to be a floor-spacing asset, as well as some fascinating shot-blocking ability. If Woodson can unlock Ware’s motor on a consistent level, there’s a chance for Ware to have a breakout year for the Hoosiers.
Adem Bona | Big | UCLA Bruins
One of the most terrorizing big men in this class is UCLA Bruins sophomore Adem Bona. After a strong finish to his freshman year, Bona looked to be a potential wildcard climber for the 2023 NBA draft. An unfortunate shoulder injury prevented Bona from participating in any pre-draft workouts. That resulted in Bona announcing he would return to the Bruins for his sophomore year.
The biggest question moving forward is what does UCLA do with Bona and incoming freshman big man Aday Mara. Is there a world in which Mick Cronin can look to play them both together? Bona is going to have some fans in NBA circles due to his strengths on the basketball court.
He’s a special defensive talent who overpowers opponents with his physicality and freakish explosiveness. Bona has the tools to be a rim-running monster moving forward and it would seem as if UCLA will want to lean on his ability early on as he makes impactful winning plays.
Aaron Bradshaw | Big | Kentucky Wildcats
One of the top incoming freshmen to keep an eye on is Kentucky Wildcats big man Aaron Bradshaw. The 7’0” center was ranked 6th in ESPN’s high school basketball rankings and was considered by some to be a preseason Top 10 pick. Bradshaw is a load in the paint with great length and can do some damage around the basket.
But there will be plenty of questions about just how quickly Bradshaw can hit the ground running for the Wildcats. He’s going to have some serious obstacles to overcome. One of the biggest ones is a preseason broken foot that has kept Bradshaw sidelined after surgery. Bradshaw will also be turning 20 years old months before the draft, which might get some of the age truthers out there fired up.
Xavier Booker | Big | Michigan State Spartans
You’re going to want to keep a close eye on this one, folks. The 2024 NBA draft class is going to feature a lot of “ifs” when it comes to some of these prospects. What that means is that if some players find their groove early, it could twist the entire vibe of this incoming assortment of talent.
A potential wrench in the entire class is Michigan State freshman big man Xavier Booker. He’s listed at about 6’10” but has a horrifying 7’4” wingspan to pair with it. On tape, Booker will have some plays that simply make you laugh out loud like the Joker being interrogated by Batman in a classic “good cop, bad cop routine.”
Booker showcases some sensational tools. Sure, he has some rawness to his game, but it’s a type of talent that could skyrocket if things start to click early on throughout the 2023-24 NCAA season. He flashes on both sides of the ball, finishing above the rim with nastiness as well as showcasing some rim-protecting upside.
The high school film would suggest a classic big man who was bigger and more athletic than every opponent who stepped on the court. That will draw some concerns about the motor. He’s going to the perfect place that should challenge that doubt and could draw plenty of comparisons to former Michigan State freshman standout Jaren Jackson Jr.
Elmarko Jackson | Guard | Kansas Jayhawks
The Kansas Jayhawks are going to have another roster that features plenty of returning pieces, especially in the backcourt. It could take some time, but Elmarko Jackson has the tools to be a serious riser in the 2024 class.
Jackson is listed at 6’3” and looks to have a promising build to add to. The part of his game that impresses me the most is the poise. Jackson looks to constantly be in cruise control and can suddenly explode to showcase his underrated athleticism. He’s got a smooth feel for the game and showcases the upside to be a versatile threat on the offensive side of the ball. There’s potential for Jackson to develop into a dangerous three-level scorer.
The next step in his development will be making the advanced reads as a distributor, but he’s shown the willingness to make the extra pass and an understanding of where the ball should go. Jackson averaged 19.0 points and 6.0 assists during his final year of high school.
Ja’Kobe Walter | Wing | Baylor Bears
There’s a bit of buzz starting to surround a certain freshman who will call Waco, Texas his home for the 2023-24 NCAA season. The Baylor Bears are set to have another exciting number of options in their backcourt this year. The one to get familiar with is Ja’Kobe Walter. You can go ahead and pencil in Walter as a potential “wild card” to make some SERIOUS noise in the lottery rankings this year.
Walter simply has the goods, folks. He’s a potential dynamic threat on the perimeter who stands out with his ability to adjust and react off the bounce. There’s creativity to his game, especially when it comes to his ability as a scorer. Yes, the defensive ability is just as exciting. Ja’Kobe stands out on a regular basis with his ability off the ball, constantly moving into ideal position like an NFL safety haunting a quarterback on a bad day. There’s legit two-way potential for Ja’Kobe to be one of the top players in this class. Although Baylor has a loaded roster, it wouldn’t surprise me if Walter becomes a name that is getting PLENTY of NBA scouts to Baylor this year.
Caleb Foster | Guard | Duke Blue Devils
The Duke Blue Devils are going to feature a number of talented names in their backcourt for the 2023-24 season. Sophomore Tyrese Proctor, freshman Jared McCain, and senior Jeremy Roach will all be battling for consistent minutes this year. Another name to keep an eye on is incoming freshman Caleb Foster.
Time will tell when it comes to who will separate themselves for heavy minutes for the Blue Devils this year. But Foster is a name to monitor, as he has the upside to be a hot commodity in NBA circles. Listed at around 6’5”, Foster has shown the shot-making potential to be a three-level scoring weapon moving forward. The key for any of the prospects with the Blue Devils is going to be showcasing their ability to play off of the ball, as there will be plenty of mouths to feed. If Foster can showcase that early, he will be tough to keep off the floor.
AJ Johnson | Guard | Illawara Hawks (NBL)
This is where things are going to get fun, folks. AJ Johnson was originally expected to head to Texas for the 2023-24 NCAA season. That was until Johnson pivoted and decided he would spend the upcoming season playing overseas in the NBL with the Illawara Hawks. It’s going to be another fascinating “curveball” in this draft class, as Johnson becomes the latest big-time recruit to head over to Australia.
Despite being the 47th overall high school basketball recruit in ESPN’s rankings, Johnson has the upside to become a popular name in NBA circles. He’s a shifty ball handler at 6’5” and is oozing with the potential to become a lethal multi-level scoring option. The frame will need to come around, as Johnson is still a bit thin. If he can hold his own with the physicality of the NBL, it’s going to echo in the ears of NBA scouts as Johnson is just scratching the surface to unlock his full arsenal offensively.
Cody Williams | Forward | Colorado Buffaloes
The brother of Oklahoma City Thunder wing Jalen Williams, Cody Williams has generated plenty of buzz when talking around the league to scouts. There’s some serious rawness with Cody’s game, but the flashes will have you picking your jaw up off the floor. Williams is heading to Colorado this year and he will be a prospect that requires some patience while he finds his groove. Cody was the #7 overall prospect in ESPN’s high school basketball rankings. Seeing Cody in person at the Nike Hoop Summit confirmed my prior analysis. He was a player who looked to still be figuring out everything but there were flashes of a dangerous versatile player just waiting to be unlocked.
It seems as if it’s only a matter of time before everything starts to click for Cody. He might not be a player who puts up big numbers out of the gate. But if everything starts to come together at some point during his freshman year, you can bet that NBA scouts will be foaming at the mouth. As one scout told me, “when everything starts to click…oh boy.”
Thierry Darlan | Wing | G League Ignite
There’s going to be a plethora of prospects suiting up for the G League Ignite this year. While many will have their attention focused on the likes of Ron Holland, Matas Buzelis, and Iman Almansa, there’s another name that has gotten my attention. Insert 6’6” versatile wing Thierry Darlan.
Darlan was previously with the NBA Africa Academy and will be a serious wildcard to watch out for with the Ignite this year. He’s got great size for a wing at 6’6” but has shown the potential to be a crafty player with the ball in his hands. He’s lengthy and can get downhill in a hurry. The outside shot has me intrigued and while there’s some expected rawness to his game, the potential is flat-out awesome. Personally, I think the biggest developmental area for Darlan this year with the Ignite is his defense. If he can unlock that part of his game, things are going to get really exciting for the versatile wing.
PART II COMING SOON