Five Unique Prospects with a Shot at the NBA | The Prospect Overview
Maxwell examines five unique prospects who may have NBA upside! PLUS: UC Santa Barbara vs. UC Davis in the Mid-Major Game of the Week, and Quick Hits featuring some interesting deep cut prospects!
Feature: Five Unique Prospects with a Shot at the NBA
I’ve always gotten a kick out of quirky players. Growing up, I certainly admired the likes of Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, and Tim Duncan. But it was the oddballs, the eccentrics, and the tough-to-pin-down players that made me fall further in love with the sport of basketball. It was the Dennis Rodman’s, the Boris Diaw’s, and the Muggsy Bouges’s that made the game so endearing to me. It always gave me great inspiration to see players who weren’t cut from the most traditional cloths who end up not only making it to the NBA but finding success at that level.
Today, we’re going to celebrate the less ordinary. I’m going to take you through five of the more unique, stylistically distinctive prospects in college basketball that have a chance to make it to the next level.
Robbie Avila, 6’10”, Sophomore, Indiana State
2023-2024 Stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.1 TOV, 0.6 BPG, 0.5 SPG
Shooting Splits: 56.7/44.4/73.5
What Makes Him So Special?
Robbie Avila doesn’t look like most college basketball players. Imagine the seventh man on a seventh-grade B-Team. Now make him 6’10”. That’s what Robbie Avila looks like, except he’s one of the most destructive forces in mid-major basketball. Strip away any preconceived notions that your brain generated due to his frame and his sports goggles, and it immediately becomes evident that the dude can hoop.
Avila has outstanding feel. His 4.0 APG, near 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and 26.3 AST% are all uncanny numbers for a big man. When a handoff set sees Avila get the ball above the break, it’s a problem for the opposing defense. He’s a fantastic top-of-the-key orchestrator. His defender can’t sag off him because he’s always a threat to shoot (44.4% from three on 3.3 per game), and few players in the country can wire bounce passes to backdoor cutters like he can. Avila has also demonstrated short-roll playmaking capabilities, which is aided by his willingness to make good contact on screens. While he’s not the most explosive straight-line driver, he’s shown some downhill craft with his handle and footwork and getting past his man with a pump fake.
So, What’s the Hold Up?
Robbie Avila may be on the wrong side of an athletic cliff when it comes to an NBA projection. Avila, listed at 240 pounds, has a bit of a doughy physique. He doesn’t have the interior power that a player like Luka Garza brought to the table. He’s slow end-to-end and doesn’t pick up his feet when he runs. He’ll be slow to get up and down the floor, a non-negotiable at the next level. Avila doesn’t get off the floor high or quickly, making him one of the more ground-bound bigs in college hoops. His 2.2 BLK% is a number more common for a wing prospect and not one I’ve ever seen for a true center.
Avila needs to make a massive improvement to his fitness, and even then, I’m still not sure if he has the athleticism to scale up. Aly Khalifa was a similarly dazzling, high-feel, mid-major big man, and he’s had a hard time getting more than 20 MPG at a Big 12 school. The curve for bigs who struggle defensively is steep, and the offensive output has to be outrageous to cover for deficiencies on the other end. What Avila does have going for him relative to Khalifa is that I believe him to be a more natural lateral mover and think that he does better moving backward as well. Avila will always have a level of feel that can’t be taught and a level of skill that players work a lifetime to achieve. I’m always leery of betting against the combination of height, skill, and feel, and Avila has all three. His physical shortcomings make him a longshot but writing him off with so much time left on his pre-draft clock could be foolish.
Jonathan Mogbo, 6’8”, Fourth Year Junior, San Francisco
2023-2024 Stats: 13.7 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.1 TOV, 1.1 BPG, 1.9 SPG
Shooting Splits: 66.7/0/64.7
What Makes Him So Special?
Jonathan Mogbo is like the ying to Robbie Avila’s yang. His feel and skill level are still high, but he has different strengths and shortcomings. From a body perspective, they couldn’t be more different. Mogbo has a chiseled 225-pound frame and looks like an NBA player. He moves like one, too. His balance when closing out and rotating is top of the line. He’ll slide his feet with anybody, and his power prevents big men from pushing him around. Mogbo will use his strength and length to force guards into bad predicaments, leading to turnovers. His ability to spring off the floor in a hurry helps him to deter shots around the rim and also block shots on the perimeter. His STL% of 4.2 and BLK% of 5.0 are both outstanding marks for a forward prospect.
He maximizes his tools on offense, too. Mogbo is a powerful interior scorer who can feast on mismatches for easy buckets. His assertiveness on the offensive glass (3.6 OREBS per game) generates consistent second chances for his team. He’s also an above-the-rim finisher with great hands and a big catch radius, making him an awesome lob target. His 71.0% at the rim in the half court (per Synergy) is a number that is more commonly seen among true big men than 6’8” power forwards. For example, that’s a better mark than Daniel Gafford and Jarrett Allen posted during their pre-draft seasons. Mogbo isn’t just a brute force, though—he’s a skilled, savvy passer. He sees the floor well, which is why he has a gaudy 22.0 AST%. His 10-assist outing against Vanderbilt was a masterpiece that altered my perception of what he could be. When he’s at the elbow, he’s tough to stop. He can find open shooters, wire the ball to cutters, or take his man to the cup.
So, What’s the Hold Up?
Jonathan Mogbo’s outside scoring game does not exist. He is 0-for-0 beyond the arc this season, and Synergy only classifies two of his 126 field goals taken this season as jumpers. It would be easier to have more optimism if Mogbo was younger or a great free throw shooter, but he’s in his fourth college season, and he’s only shooting 64.7% at the charity stripe. A player like Toumani Camara has a similar build, and he’s long struggled to find consistency from the outside, but the fact that he’s a willing and competent enough shooter has always kept defenses somewhat honest. Mogbo isn’t there yet. While his frame and power enable him to be a functional five at the college level, scaling that up against NBA size and athleticism makes for a tricky predicament.
I was skeptical of Mogbo when I first saw him earlier this season. He felt like a more mobile, switchable version of the undersized, mid-major college big that never seems to catch on. However, the passing he’s displayed on a more consistent basis since the Vanderbilt game has caught my eye. I don’t feel good about his outside game coming along, but with his athleticism and feel, he’s got more of a shot than most “short bigs.” He’ll likely require the right fit to truly stick, but I think Mogbo deserves Top 100 consideration if nothing else. He can guard multiple positions, he knows how to play, and he’ll be ahead of the curve from a physical standpoint. If the draft were tomorrow, I’d love to pick him up on an Exhibit-10 and see where he settles in training camp.
Kevin Cross, 6’8”, Graduate, Tulane
2023-2024 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.8 TOV, 0.9 BPG, 1.5 SPG
Shooting Splits: 62.5/42.9/77.9
What Makes Him So Special?
In a Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation, Kevin Cross is the “just right” between Robbie Avila and Jonathan Mogbo. While he’s not a knockdown threat from three-point range, he’s a willing enough shooter who has a chance to convert from deep (42.9% on 1.9/game, 77.9% at the free throw line, 79.3% on “far twos” per BartTorvik). While he may not be as strong or explosive as Mogbo, he’s far from a non-athlete. Cross moves well, can get up, and has some wiggle to him with his handle. That ability to create off the bounce adds to his face-up game, where Cross can get inside for easy buckets or find his teammates. He does the former a lot. He’s been Tulane’s primary playmaker this year and has been a maestro at the top of the key. There isn’t a pass in the book that Cross can’t make, and that’s part of why the point-forward has a 26.8 AST% on the year. Cross has also done a stellar job of finishing through contact this season, bolstering not just his FG%, but enabling him to take a career-high 6.2 FTA per game.
Despite the larger offensive role, Cross has actually progressed on the defensive end this year. His 2.4 Stocks (steals + blocks) per game is a career high. He’s always been long, fluid, and agile, but his level of engagement is the highest it’s been. Cross is consistently working to get into position and punish the mistakes of the opposing team. At the NBA level, the pairing of his size and instincts should help him more than hold his own against opposing forwards while giving him a real chance against bigger and smaller players as well.
So, What’s the Hold Up?
The biggest thing working against Cross is something he can’t change, and that’s his age. Other than that, nits have to be picked. He’s still thinner than most players his height will be at the NBA level. His shot diet could use some work, as he’s often too content to settle for mid-range jumpers and too quick to pass up open threes. There’s also the question of how truly reliable his jump shot is, given that he’s a career 28.2% from deep on lower volume. How his shot looks throughout the pre-draft process could swing things one way or another for him.
Kevin Cross has been in my Top 100 for a little while now. He’s tall, and he’s proven himself to be one of the sharpest players in college hoops. I also hate to bet against production, and Cross recently posted back-to-back 20-point triple-doubles. Yes, I worry about the jump shot, and yes, I wish he was younger. But few are more well-rounded, and even fewer of them are 6’8”. I also love the improvement Cross has made this season, playing the best defense of his career while taking on a big leadership role. His size and skill give him a chance to hear his name called on draft night.
Blake Hinson, 6’8”, Senior, Pittsburgh
2023-2024 Stats: 19.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 TOV, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Shooting Splits: 46.1/43.8/65.6
What Makes Him So Special?
Blake Hinson is an absolute bomber. He shoots and drains threes at a preposterous clip. So far this year, he’s launched 14.8 threes per 100 possessions, and he’s connected on 43.8% of them. That is a similar level of volume and efficiency that other three-point specialists like Sam Hauser and Corey Kispert posted during their final pre-draft seasons. As if those numbers aren’t enough, the eye test takes things to a different level. Hinson has beyond logo range and will stretch a defense to its limits.
He’s not a slouch inside the arc, either. He’ll use his gravity to create downhill openings for himself. Hinson has a sturdy frame, and he isn’t averse to contact on the way to the cup. He’s a solid interior finisher (55.2% at the rim in the halfcourt) and has enough of a mid-range scoring bag to get by when he has to bail his team out at the end of the shot clock. While he’s mostly a play finisher, he’ll make the occasional “oh hey, that was nice!” pass while driving to the cup.
So, What’s the Hold Up?
Outside of his shooting, it’s tough to point to another element of Blake Hinson’s game and say, “yup, that’s NBA-ready tomorrow.” He is truly a specialist. His rebounding is okay for his size. His handle and passing profile are run-of-the-mill for an NBA prospect. He’s also a pretty poor defender. Hinson isn’t particularly long, laterally quick, or vertically explosive, which could give him issues at the point of attack at the next level. At his best, he can throw his chest on guys to stifle their attacks, but scaling up, his strength advantage will be diminished. His 1.0 STL% and 0.0 BLK% on the year are also dreadful metrics far below what most wings produce in college. Having zero blocks is a red flag even for a point guard prospect, let alone a dude who is listed at 6’8”. He’ll also be 24.5 years old on draft night, so he’s on the older side, too.
The knocks are clear—Blake Hinson is an old prospect, and he’s one-dimensional. I get it. But my goodness, can this man shoot a basketball. Plus, he’s not a shrimp! As I noted in a recent article, the older prospects who ended up sticking around the NBA long-term were guys who had size, took a lot of threes, and made a lot of threes. And what do you know, BAH GAWD, that’s Blake Hinson’s music! Every time I throw on a Pitt game, I’m simply mesmerized by his range and accuracy. A draftable grade is likely out of the question given the severity of his flaws, but I’d strongly consider him for a two-way contract if he can start to show more complementary elements to his game. He’s definitely worth an Exhibit-10 flier at a bare minimum.
Tamin Lipsey, 6’1”, Sophomore, Iowa State
2023-2024 Stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.1 APG, 2.3 TOV, 3.6 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Shooting Splits: 50.4/40.9/65.5
What Makes Him So Special?
Tamin Lipsey is a competitor of the highest order, and that’s why he stuffs that stat sheet. He leads a 10-2 Iowa State team in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, and plays where he shows he has that dog in him per game. The steals per game total is obviously the one that catches the eye. His 6.4 STL% is truly special. Matisse Thybulle is the only other high-major player in the last decade to top that mark. His hand speed when guarding the ball is out of this world, enabling him to poke the ball loose on a consistent basis. Even if it doesn’t lead to a steal, it forces guys to pick up their dribble and brings the opposing offense to a halt. He’s also forcing a turnover on 33.9% of the pick-and-roll possessions he guards, which is some Marcus Sasser-type production. Lipsey punches above his weight as a rebounder, too, grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game.
Lipsey has also taken a big leap on the offensive end as a sophomore. During his freshman campaign with the Cyclones, he was a reliable, steady playmaker but limited outside scorer. This year, he’s upped both his volume and percentage from long range, going from 20% on 0.8 threes per game to 40.9% on 3.7 threes per game. Adding that perimeter scoring element was a must for Lipsey, and it further accentuates the rest of his game. Lipsey is a good leaper who can take off from far away and contort at the cup to finish. He’s got a quick first step, and he’s a slippery driver who chooses his driving paths wisely. Lipsey is a great playmaker for others, posting 6.1 APG to only 2.3 TOV. If the jumper holds, he’ll be one of the most well-rounded guard prospects in the country.
So, What’s the Hold Up?
It is a rough time for NBA players under 6’2”. Given that Lipsey is listed at 6’1”, and most players measure shorter than their listed heights at the NBA Combine, it’s always going to be an uphill battle for him. This gives him little margin for error. There are also fair questions to be asked about the validity of his improvements as a jump shooter. While the leap in both volume and percentage has been great to see, we’re still dealing with a small sample at this stage. Plus, his sub-70% mark at the free throw line doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. Without a reliable jump shot to keep defenses honest, the rest of his offensive game will be tough to get into against NBA length and athleticism.
Look, I get it, small guards are out right now. I’ve probably been tougher on smaller guards than a lot of evaluators, and sagged on many of them on my pre-season board. But I absolutely adore Tamin Lipsey, and there’s a real chance I could have him in my Top 60 on draft night. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s a nasty defender, he rebounds, he can pressure the rim, and he can pass. There isn’t a box required for a smaller guard that Lipsey isn’t checking right now. When it comes to smaller guards, I want to see a superpower, and Lipsey has one in his defensive output. If the shot holds, he’ll have as good a shot as any small guard at carving out a lengthy NBA career.
Mid-Major Game of the Week
This week’s Mid-Major Game of the Week saw UC Davis topple UC Santa Barbara, 76-62.
The marquee prospect in this match-up was UCSB’s Ajay Mitchell. For transparency, I’ve been lower on Mitchell than others in our collective. There was stuff to like in this outing. He finished with 12 points on nine shots. Mitchell is fluid with the ball, keeps a tight handle in traffic, and consistently cooks slower players off the bounce. He’s shifty, but the 6’4” junior is physical, too. He got to the free throw line six times in this one, which is right around his season average. His excellent touch at the basket, paired with his ability to keep rising through contact, makes him a persistent and-one threat. He’s a great passer, too, capable of making reads to top speeds. Mitchell can also make incredible finds under duress, like a beautiful lob pass he threw to Yohan Traore after getting walled off late in the clock.
Conversely, Mitchell’s flaws were on display here, too. He only took two three-pointers, and he missed them both. His unwillingness to pull the trigger from deep allows defenses to sag off of him, and in a match-up like this one against a good guard defender (who we will get to later), it made getting into his setups difficult. I worry that he lacks the power and explosiveness to compensate for his current jumper situation. On defense, he ended up behind his man while guarding the ball a few times.
Mitchell’s issues are somewhat out of his hands. The bar for guards is simply really high right now, even if you’re 6’4”. It’s tough to find NBA 1s playing 20-plus minutes a night who struggle to shoot, shoot rarely, aren’t plus athletes, and aren’t great defenders. The good news is that few have his craft, savvy, and counter game. If Mitchell can get his shot right and shoot it more often, that may be all he needs to get over the hump. A guy like Andrew Nembhard was a late bloomer on the shooting front, and that’s the blueprint for Mitchell.
Let’s circle back to Mitchell’s teammate, Yohan Traore. The 6’10” sophomore transfer from Auburn is a great bucket-getter. He had a great scoring game, racking up 25 points on 14 shots. He doesn’t shoot many threes, but he has a nice mid-range jumper and a bit of a bag to get to it. Inside, he can use his length to finish at the rim. He’s still thin down low, but he’s got broad shoulders and works to convert through contact. His ups and length make him a great lob target, too. The issue with Traore is that he doesn’t do much other than score. Through 10 games, in which he’s played 25.2 MPG, he’s averaging 0.2 APG, 0.2 BPG, and 0.0 SPG. He doesn’t look to pass, and the defense is a mess. His positioning as the big man in ball screens is poor, but even accounting for that, his tools should make him at least a somewhat productive defender. I need to see at least one other dimension to his game before I get excited.
Let’s give some love to the UC Davis guys, because after all, they were the winning team. My favorite NBA prospect on their squad is Ty Johnson. The 6’3” junior guard struggled to score, posting only nine points on 12 shots, but he was still the second-best player on the floor in this game, which is a testament to his mentality and ability to impact the game in multiple ways. He can be a streaky playmaker, but he posted 10 assists and zero turnovers in this one. In this game, he made sharp, snappy decisions within the flow of the offense. He wasn’t biting off more than he could chew, and he moved off the ball in a calculated manner when he knew he didn’t have anything cooking. Still, he’s got some junk to his handle along with other more subtle footwork moves to get himself separation. Add in his downhill speed and slither, and he’s got a lot of ways to create advantages.
What made Johnson so great in this game, though, was his defense. He was fantastic on that end of the floor and was the main reason why Ajay Mitchell struggled. He did a great job of staying in front of Mitchell and prevented him from getting the driving angles that he wanted. His foot speed helped him contain the ball even after a well-timed counter. With a career STL% of 3.5, Johnson can force opposing guards to cough up the ball on a consistent basis. But behind that playmaking is a solid fundamental base and a healthy level of intensity.
Johnson has one issue in common with Mitchell—he’s a somewhat reluctant, inconsistent shooter. He only takes 2.9 threes per game. That said, his 34.3% is a career-high, and his volume has increased year over year. While his playmaking was stellar in this game, he still gets sped up and turns it over too often in other contests. His barely positive assist-to-turnover ratio (3.3 to 3.0) is a mark that will need to improve. But in this game, Johnson showed that he can stay within the flow of a game and dominate, even on an off night. Continuing to progress as a shooter and decision-maker could get Johnson in the NBA mix.
I’ve also got to give a tip of the hat to Elijah Pepper, who was indeed the best player on the floor Thursday night. Pepper is a real-deal shot maker from the mid-range and beyond. He’s savvy in terms of how he uses screens, and he’s got a few tricks to generate space for himself. He led the game in both points scored (27) and made threes (five). While his athletic limitations may hinder his NBA chances, I wouldn’t be stunned to see him earn a Portsmouth Invitational nod given his gaudy scoring totals (20.6 PPG) and shooting splits (44.3/39.4/93.6).
The 6’9” junior Niko Rocak also caught my eye. There are scoring limitations (5.0 PPG, doesn’t shoot many threes), but folks, he is a force on defense. He finished with three blocks and three steals. His length, awareness, and athleticism make him a potent, multi-positional defender. It’ll take a giant shooting leap to get him on radars, but he’s a fun watch if nothing else.
Next week’s Mid-Major Game of the Week will be New Mexico vs. Colorado State! Make sure you’re following me on Twitter/X to vote in future MMGOTW polls!
-I’m a big fan of UMass’s Matt Cross. You can squint and see some Jaime Jaquez in the 6’7” senior. He’s strong, tough, and crafty. He sees the floor well and has loads of counters to get to his spots inside. His setups get him consistent clean looks, and his tenacity when he is smothered takes his scoring to another level. He’s made 63% of his twos so far this year. His jumper remains a question (29.7% on the year, 32.9% for his career, but a 6-for-15 outing during the Diamond Head Classic gives room for optimism. Even still, Cross does everything. He rebounds on both ends (11.9 OREB%, which is absurd for his size, 20.2 DREB%). On defense, his footwork, length, and strength help him stay in front of a wide range of opponents. If he shoots well during conference play, there’s a real Top 60 path for him.
-I mentioned that Yale’s Danny Wolf blew me away during an earlier edition of the Prospect Overview, and he’s kept up the great work. The 7’0” sophomore posted 11 points, six boards, and four blocks against Kansas back on the 22nd. He’s a three-level threat, posting 13.1 PPG on 48.1/41.7/68.3 splits. What makes Wolf different than most big men is how well he’s able to leverage his gravity. He can really put the ball on the floor and has a slew of counter moves at his disposal. There were a few plays where he was able to put Hunter Dickinson in a blender. His offensive skill is off the charts. Continuing to round out his rim protection in the coming years will be the final piece for him.
-Georgia Tech’s 6’9” freshman Baye Ndongo is a hoot to watch. It’s all energy, all the time. He’s got some quickness and slither inside, which allowed him to burn Nevada’s slower players on the block and in the mid-post during their recent matchup. He’s got a great second jump, which helps him clean up on the interior for easy putbacks. Defensively, his explosiveness off two feet helps him swat opponents at the rim, and his anticipation helps him nab steals. At 6’9”, he lacks ideal height for a center, and he’s still not a floor spacer (25% from deep on 0.4 threes per game). He also needs offensive seasoning, as he’s turnover-prone and doesn’t deal with doubles well. But the bottom line is that he’s a first-year college player and he’s really good. He’s averaging a near double-double (11.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and posting great defensive playmaking marks (2.2 STL%, 7.1 BLK%). Keep an eye on him.
-Pierre Brooks has been putting together a fantastic scoring season for Butler. The 6’6” junior who just transferred over from Michigan State is posting 16.8 PPG on 50.3/38.5/70.6 splits. He’s built like a grown man, boasting a thick, muscular frame. He made Bryce Hopkins look small. He’s got polish in the mid-range, and his volume from deep (10.4 attempts per 100 possessions) has been great to see. Brooks does face the “and what else?” question, as he’s a mundane rebounder and doesn’t bring much of a playmaking punch on either end of the floor. If he can round out his game, he could start to generate serious buzz.
-Johnell Davis’s 35-point outing against Arizona was a clinic. He’s a stellar mid-range shot maker, he uses his power well, and his finishing touch is a thing of beauty. He’s earning his 16.3 PPG on highly efficient 49.0/44.7/78.0 splits. On defense, he holds up well against bigger players because he’s strong and tough. He’s also an unbelievable rebounder for his size (7.1 RPG). I’d love to see playmaking improvements down the stretch. Right now, he’s averaging 2.3 APG to 2.8 TOV. He suffers from tunnel vision, and he’s prone to picking up his dribble at inopportune times in high-traffic areas. If I felt better about Davis’s table-setting skills, he’d be in draftable range for me.
-You know who I still kind of like? Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. The 6’10” junior has a high motor, produces on the offensive glass (11.3 OREB%), and has soft touch inside. Louisville has been a mess this year, but it always feels like he’s playing hard. An NBA projection is a bit tricky because he’s sort of cut from the “energy power forward” cloth you don’t see much these days, but I do wonder if he might look better in a different context. He’ll need to take steps forward as a floor spacer and/or rim protector to warrant draft consideration when the time comes, but I’d consider him for a training camp deal given his size and athleticism.