December 2023 Scouting Roundtable
The No Ceilings crew gathers together for a roundtable on the state of the 2024 NBA Draft class.
With the start of 2024 just around the corner, many people are preparing their New Year’s resolutions, relaxing with their families, or hunkering down for winter storms. We here at No Ceilings are certainly looking forward to some exciting basketball over the next few months, but while the start of a new year is a time to look forward, the end of the previous year is a time to reflect.
It doesn’t have to take a new calendar to reflect, though; just turning the pages of the calendar is a chance to look back on the month that was all the same. For this roundtable, we gathered the crew together to answer some key questions about where this year’s draft class stands now, what has changed in the past month, and what we’re looking forward to in the month ahead. Without further ado, here are our December 2023 roundtable reflections.
1. Which player has been the biggest riser on your board in the past month?
Rucker: Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham have been outstanding to start the year, but I’ll go in another direction. Tennessee transfer Dalton Knecht has been one of the pleasant surprises of the entire 2024 NBA draft cycle. Our own Maxwell Baumbach was praising Dalton to start the year as a potential breakout candidate, and Knecht has been sensational. Plenty are going to view Knecht as a shooting threat on the perimeter with good size at 6’6”. He’s got some nastiness to his game, though, including some athleticism that really jumps off the page—no pun intended.
Stephen: I would have to go with Jamir Watkins. I’ve recognized Watkins as a draftable prospect for a while, but now I have him firmly within my Top 45. When we consider the type of player that typically gets selected higher than the consensus thinks, they usually possess particular qualities. Jamir has a lot of those. He looks every bit of his listed height of 6’7”, is a good athlete, makes good decisions with the ball, has good defensive metrics and tools, and is shooting at a respectable clip. With so many guards popping up this early, NBA teams may feel the desire to bet on length and athleticism with the belief that some options at guard will be available as priority UDFAs. That lines up for Jamir being the next late-season riser among NBA front offices.
Metcalf: Reed Sheppard. I was always impressed with Sheppard’s high school film, but I didn’t think it’d necessarily translate—especially this quickly. Sheppard’s numbers are still pretty bonkers and will come back to Earth, but his process, approach, and decision-making are so replicable that it wouldn’t be shocking for him to be a lottery to Top 10 pick come draft time.
Corey: Coming into this draft cycle I figured that Reed Sheppard would be a multi-year college guy. Now Sheppard is bordering on a Top 5 spot on my board. I get the concerns with his frame, but his skill and feel are so off the charts that I don’t think it’ll much matter. The dude can flat-out shoot the rock, he is a way better athlete than his haircut suggests, and he doesn’t make mistakes on the court. Even as his numbers balance out, he is still going to be a crazy impact guy. We’ve seen how important skill and quick processing ability is to NBA success. That is Reed Sheppard to a T.
Rowan: When Yves Missi had a few flashy plays against Auburn and some of Baylor’s other early opponents, he seemed like a fun future flier to keep track of. All Missi’s done is force his way into the starting lineup and consistently produce for the Bears in the paint. Across his four games in December, he’s averaging 12.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, all while shooting well from the field and playing major minutes. Instead of being a year early on Missi, I’m one of the many trying to catch up and not be too late on such a talented prospect. Expect to see him leapfrog up my Ouija Board in its next update.
Evan: It’s been Rob Dillingham for me. To be completely transparent with you the readers, I whiffed on my preseason evaluation of Dillingham, and he has made me pay for it. I came into the year not sure what to make of the Kentucky freshman guard, but his electric athleticism, shotmaking, and playmaking have been on full display in Lexington this year. He looks poised to follow in the footsteps of Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, and Tyrese Maxey in becoming the next great Calipari combo guard to succeed at the NBA level. He’s solidified himself as a Top 10 prospect on my board.
Nick: When this season began, I have to admit that I fully expected Justin Edwards to be the best prospect among the Kentucky freshman class. If you told me two months ago that I would have a different Kentucky player as the highest-ranked freshman on my board, I would have expected it to be Aaron Bradshaw, Rob Dillingham, or maybe even DJ Wagner. I would not have expected Reed Sheppard to be the Kentucky player I had highest on my board at this point, but his exceptional shooting and punishing defensive playmaking have won me over. In a class with plenty of question marks, Sheppard’s two-way play and clearly projectable shooting make him one of the few answers I have confidence in at this point in the draft cycle.
2. Which player has been the biggest faller on your board in the past month?
Rucker: Riley Kugel is one of the top candidates here for me. I’ll throw another name though: Ohio State freshman Scotty Middleton. It’s not that I’m not a big fan of Middleton as a prospect down the road, but the minutes and production haven’t come around…yet. We’ve seen this over time with a number of talented freshmen. Malaki Branham averaged six points per game to start the year before exploding onto the scene. We will see if Middleton, or any of the other talented freshmen struggling to get minutes, can break out.
Stephen: I’ve recently moved several prospects from my Top 60 outside of my Top 100 altogether, but their fall may not be as “meaningful” as where I have moved Tyrese Proctor. Tyrese has fallen from late first to late second for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of him coming into the year, but I have kept him in my first round out of respect for his quickness and passing. Over the season, though, it is becoming clear that the shooting concerns I have are being validated. The lack of strength has shown itself, too. His 22.7 free throw rate is very low, which does make the reality of him being an NBA guard even more blurry. His defense has been average at best in some areas. Beyond that, we are seeing injury concerns creep in. With the embarrassment of riches we are seeing with the guards in this class, should an NBA team take Proctor based on preseason hype?
Metcalf: Riley Kugel. I wasn’t fully bought in with last year’s hype, but I did think there was a real shot of him going Top 5 if he simply maintained what he did to end last season. Unfortunately, he’s taken significant strides backward. Kugel looks like he constantly runs at 40% effort. He still has some flashes of a weak side steal or a drive and kick or a stepback three that look incredible. However, littered between these occasional flashes are the lobs to no one, the contested pull-ups instead of making the extra pass to a wide-open teammate in the corner, and the constant defensive miscues. It’s a bummer because Kugel has a ton of talent and should be a lottery pick, but he’s failed to build on last year and doesn’t even look like the best player on his team.
Corey: The pre-season darling wing combo of Holland and Edwards. Other prospects may have moved more spots, but none of those dudes were in the initial tier that these two dudes started in entering the cycle. One guy is doing way too much, and the other guy is doing way too little. Neither guy grades out particularly well statistically, especially compared to prior wing prospects that have hit. There is still a lot of time for both to right the ship, but it’s getting late early.
Rowan: Late-season surges are always an uncertain harbinger of the future, but it looks like Riley Kugel’s late-season close was more smoke than mirrors. He’s only averaging 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.5 steals, all while barely hitting the backboard on 46.1% shooting from two-point range and 26.4% from deep. As a prospect whose main appeal is scoring the basketball, it’s hard to justify Kugel staying in even first round contention. Unless he can bring more of a scoring punch or start contributing on defense or as a passer, Kugel’s stock may not recover in time to stay in the 2024 draft.
Evan: Unfortunately, Riley Kugel has also taken a significant tumble down my board. His poor shooting splits as Rowan laid out combined with the lack of progression he’s made as a defender, has me very worried about Kugel’s long-term potential in the league. The other name I’ll throw out there too is Scotty Middleton. The Ohio State freshman wing came into the year as a possible Top 5 pick, but he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. He’s only played 17.5 minutes per game for the Buckeyes, so to be fair Middleton hasn’t gotten many opportunities to showcase his talent. However, even in those limited minutes, Middleton has averaged just 4.9 PPG while shooting 39% from the field this season. I’m still holding out hope he can turn the corner, but Middleton’s looking more and more like a 2025 prospect as we move closer to June.
Nick: I’m with Rowan, Evan, and the Tylers on this one; Riley Kugel has dropped down my board more than anyone else this month. I was still holding out hope through the first month of the season that he would get back to his flamethrowing ways from the stretch run of last season; as time goes on, though, it seems more like that hot streak was the mirage rather than his end of the season play last year. He’s simply not a good enough defender or playmaker to be worth a first round pick if his shot isn’t falling, and his shot has...not been falling this season.
3. Every prospect goes through ups and downs on the court. Sometimes, a hot streak is a run of good luck; other times, it’s sustainable growth. Which prospect on a hot streak stood out to you? Is it real, or a mirage?
Rucker: We need to start seriously focusing on what Kevin McCullar Jr. is doing for the Kansas Jayhawks right now. Sure, McCullar is producing fantastic numbers in a class that is going to have plenty of questions. He’s quickly becoming a candidate to be one of the “safest” picks in the entire class. But why isn’t McCullar a lottery pick right now? An argument could be made that he was deserving of being a first round pick last year. Now, McCullar has taken his offensive game to another level. He simply impacts the game in way too many ways that translate to winning basketball. I believe this type of growth is real and McCullar should only continue to creep up boards.
Stephen: Kevin McCullar Jr. has had such a fun run lately. Just through most of December, he has averaged shooting splits of 49/55/91 on over 13 shot attempts per game. What makes Kevin’s run feel sustainable to me is that he is being impactful from multiple areas on the floor. Sure, the 24 PPG this month has been fun, but the six RPG, four APG, and two SPG have led to winning basketball. McCullar has been a first round guy for most of the year, but now there needs to be serious lottery consideration. While the output may not stay this high, Kevin should remain productive as the season continues.
Metcalf: Trey Alexander started the year looking like a Top 5 pick. He was making everything, creating for others, and playing incredible defense. Unfortunately, that stretch looks to be the outlier. I’ve always really enjoyed Alexander’s game and think that there’s a spot for him in the league. However, since those opening couple of weeks, a lot of red flags have popped up in Alexander’s game that have coincided with a lot of inconsistent performances. Alexander’s lack of explosiveness has hindered his on-ball creation. The optimistic view is that in a lesser role where he isn’t THE guy, Alexander can contribute at a higher, more consistent level as he becomes an afterthought to the defense. While that’s still an extremely viable path for him, it doesn’t do wonders for his draft stock.
Corey: Rob Dillingham started the year as if he was on an NBA Jam heater. He was coming off the Kentucky bench and just absolutely cooking dudes with his blazing quickness, hairpin release, and advanced playmaking. But above all he was playing a much more nuanced game than he had in high school, where his light never shifted from green. Dillingham has cooled considerably in December, as some of the iffy shot selection has returned which has coupled with some struggles finishing near the rim. It has only been four games but Dillingham’s 38/27/67 splits, paired with seven assists to nine turnovers has his game looking as if it could have been a bit of a mirage. I’ve still quite enjoyed the Rob Dillingham experience this season and that has earned him time to adjust to the cold streak, but at his size, his margin for error the rest of the way is fairly small.
Rowan: He cropped up on the fringes of draft discussions last year, but this season, Wooga Poplar’s taken off for the Miami Hurricanes and established himself as a potential first-round prospect. He’s pulling off the rare feat of shooting more shots and raising his efficiency, especially from beyond the arc, where he’s shredding the nets at 50.8% on 5.4 attempts per game. Combined with his impressive verticality and dogged perimeter defense, all of Poplar’s improvements feel real and make him a safe bet as a role player on the wing.
Evan: I’ll just echo what Rucker and Stephen already said; Kevin McCullar Jr. has been on fire lately. The surge he’s made has definitively put the Kansas senior in the lottery discussion. It will be fun to watch if he can sustain this level of play for the rest of the year. Another guy who has been impressive too is Judah Mintz. While his assist to turnover ratio has gotten worse, the fact he’s averaging nearly 20 PPG while shooting 38% from beyond the arc is not something I saw coming. If he can keep that shooting efficiency up and improve his decision-making a little, maybe Mintz starts gaining some actual buzz to land himself on more draft boards.
Nick: Maxwell wrote about him far more incisively and eloquently than I ever could on Monday, but I just can’t get on board with denying Zach Edey’s inevitability any longer. Sure, his game is much more suited to dominance at the college level than at the NBA level. Sure, his mobility will limit him to being pretty much exclusively a drop defender in the NBA. At this point, though, I have complete confidence that Edey can be a game-breaking change-of-pace big man who will be an offensive menace in any situation and a positive defensive contributor in the right spot. Edey’s been on a heater since the start of last season, so it’s definitely not a mirage, and he certainly hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down this month or this season. It’s getting harder and harder for me to envision him not being at least a successful role player in the NBA, especially with his playmaking and rim protection improvements; in a class lacking in sure things, Zach Edey stands out to me more than he ever has before.
4. On the flip side, even the best prospects go through cold spells. One of our favorite sayings at No Ceilings (courtesy of Tyler Rucker) is “it just takes time.” Which prospect are you being patient with this month?
Rucker: I’ll throw out some heat here. It’s UConn freshman guard Stephon Castle. There are a lot of draft fanatics and evaluators out there asking plenty about Castle. I still firmly believe he’s one of the top talents in this entire class. But Castle is going to challenge a lot of us when it comes to the patience meter. He’s the poster child for the “it just takes time” campaign. The flashes are awesome but limited, especially after returning from an injury. It also doesn’t help that Castle is on a roster that features talent everywhere, so playing time and role is going to have to be considered here. But when you talk about the foundation of tools going back to his high school days, there’s a reason why scouts are still very excited about Castle when you ask around.
Stephen: Trey Alexander has cooled down somewhat over the past few games. After a tough game against UNLV, Trey’s efficiency numbers have dipped. This is something I anticipated coming into this stretch. I wrote about this in my last piece, but Alexander’s season needs to be evaluated carefully. We’ve seen what he has looked like as an ancillary piece on last year’s Creighton team, but this year has been a season of on-ball development for Alexander. I don’t expect that an NBA team will look to Trey as someone to be a high-usage player, but more as a role player. Based on what we’ve seen from him in that position, the things he has improved on this year have just been extra to me.
Metcalf: I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it up, but Garwey Dual is my guy here. Dual’s shifty on-ball creation, suffocating defense, and creative playmaking have been so much fun this season. They are legitimately three skills that I believe will translate to the NBA. Unfortunately, he can’t score at all. Even more concerning is the fact that Dual rarely even looks at the rim or to create his own shot. He doesn’t need to start averaging 20 points, but it would be nice if he took more than four shots a game.
Corey: I’m being very patient with AJ Johnson down under in the NBL. Johnson is barely getting any run with the Illawarra Hawks and his stats leave…ummm…much to be desired, but even in limited minutes I think his flashes have been super impressive. He’s certainly struggled as well with the speed and physicality, but we’ve seen how long it takes young physically underdeveloped prospects to adjust to that league. In a class like 2024 that has so few high-potential guys, I’m not ready to close the door on a smooth 6’6” shot maker like Johnson.
Rowan: After a thorough delve into Kobe Johnson’s sophomore season, I was ready to watch him burst out of the gates as the perfect glue guy for USC. That… hasn’t happened at all, as the Trojans have been a disjointed mess. Johnson’s suffered alongside the team, as his efficiency has tanked while his offensive load has increased. The foundation of his draft stock is still built upon the other great things he does on the wing, like make quick decisions and dominate with perimeter defense, but he becomes a much harder sell if he can’t hit shots from deep at even a reasonable clip. Given the chaos and injuries that have dulled the Trojans in the early season, I’m willing to give Johnson a longer grace period to get back into a groove, especially as he carries less of an offensive load and gets back to being a do-it-all wing for the team.
Evan: Milos Uzan hasn’t quite made the leap I expected him to as a prospect this season. He’s sort of taken a back seat to both Javian McCollum and Otega Oweh. Plus, the fact his shooting splits are down across the board hasn’t helped the Oklahoma sophomore’s case to become a first rounder much either. In spite of those struggles, I’ve been encouraged by some of the flashes Uzan has shown recently. I thought he handled fellow top guard prospect Isaiah Collier in the 72-70 Sooners win over USC last month. He even held his own against both Garwey Dual and Elliot Cadeau, In Oklahoma’s matchups with Providence and North Carolina. Uzan put up 12.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 SPG averages in those three games, while shooting 51.6% from the field and 37.5% from the three-point line. I’m still holding out hope that he’ll round into form sooner rather than later.
Nick: I’m still holding on to some of my Justin Edwards stock. His shooting hasn’t been there, and he’s been astonishingly poor in transition (ranking in just the seventh percentile, per Synergy), but there’s just enough wonkiness in his numbers to give me reason to hold out hope. He’s been a very good finisher around the basket outside of transition (ranking in the 66th percentile on at-rim attempts), and he’s oddly shot much better on guarded attempts (67th percentile) than unguarded attempts (14th percentile). The sample size so far is not doing my optimism any favors, but I think his 25.8% mark from three-point range is not indicative of where he’s at as a shooter. Hopefully, the rest of the season will be better for him; if not, I can at least take comfort in the fact that my hope didn’t feel entirely unfounded.
5. Which game next month are you most excited to watch?
Metcalf: Colorado vs Arizona on February 10th should be a lot of fun. Cody Williams should be back healthy, and it will be a great test for him. It will also be fascinating to see how Keshad Johnson, KJ Lewis, and Kylan Boswell hold up on their end. All four players have impressed throughout this season, but having another matchup on the resume against potential first round talents is always exciting.
Rucker: I’m with Metcalf on this one, Colorado vs Arizona is going to be a huge game, especially for Cody Williams when it comes to making a serious charge up some boards. Arizona has a lot of names on their roster that can be some pleasant surprises in this draft space (KJ Lewis for one). But if Williams can put forth an impressive outing against Arizona in a hostile environment, things are going to start getting a little louder in the draft space for the talented freshman forward.
Stephen: Oklahoma vs. Kansas on January 13th could be a very fun matchup. Kansas has Kevin McCullar Jr. as their main NBA Draft prospect, but it will still be fun to evaluate KJ Adams Jr., DaJuan Harris Jr., Hunter Dickinson, and Elmarko Jackson as well. The Sooners have a chance to showcase Otega Oweh’s efficient scoring and stout defense against some tough matchups while also letting Javian McCollum continue to make a case that he is one of the better guard prospects in this class.
Corey: I’m most looking forward to Clemson vs Duke for the PJ Hall vs Kyle Filpowski showdown. PJ Hall has been nothing short of phenomenal this year, and there is an argument that he is just the actualized version of what we want Flip to be. This is the kind of game that can really turn some heads for Hall, as he still feels fairly underrated amongst the mainstream boards.
Rowan: The game that I’m most excited to watch next month is Duke versus Georgia Tech. This will serve as a rematch of the 72-68 upset that the Yellow Jackets scored early in the season, which adds a dash of extra spice. The Blue Devils have played a tough non-conference schedule, which has hurt them in the loss column, but made them a better team overall in Tyrese Proctor’s absence. Proctor could be back by this game, but even if he can’t suit up, all of Jared McCain, Mark Mitchell, Kyle Filipowski, and Caleb Foster offer an intriguing scout as they ease into their respective roles on both ends of the floor. On the other side, Damon Stoudamire has started to awaken a sleeping hoops giant for Georgia Tech with shrewd recruiting and good coaching on the defensive end. The team bested Duke already this season and scored a win over then-#21 Mississippi State, but there’s still room to grow for the squad. Miles Kelly, who started as a top 45 player on my Ouija Board, has had an abysmal shooting season so far, but a hot shooting night in a premium matchup could help reignite his spark. Baye Ndongo has been a plesant surprise as a springy, active big man for Georgia Tech, while Kowacie Reeves Jr. is living up to his potential as a quality college wing. It’s always informative to get a rematch to see how much players and teams have improved and this should be a good litmus test for both teams heading into conference play.
Evan: I’m with Corey, give me the Duke vs. Clemson showdown. If you haven’t watched Brad Brownell’s club this season, you’re missing out. PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin are one of the most skilled frontcourts in the nation. Additionally, Chauncey Wiggins and RJ Godfrey are two forward prospects that you should monitor for future drafts. I genuinely believe this Tigers team could be a legitimate Final Four contender this year, with their meeting in Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 27th being a perfect opportunity to prove their potency on a national stage.
Nick: This might seem like a bit of an odd choice, but I’m actually really excited about Duke vs. Pittsburgh on January 9th. Bub Carrington has cooled off substantially after being the draft darling of November, but I’m fascinated to see how he does against Tyrese Proctor and Jeremy Roach. Pittsburgh has two tough ACC challenges in Syracuse and UNC leading up to this game, so hopefully they’re locked in and ready to go for this one. It will also be interesting to see how Kyle Filipowski handles the Diaz Graham twins and Federiko Federiko down low, as Pitt can provide more size and mobility down low than the vast majority of NCAA squads.