January 2024 Scouting Roundtable
The No Ceilings crew gathers together for another roundtable on the state of the 2024 NBA Draft class.
February is a loaded month in the basketball calendar. On the NBA side, the trade deadline and the All-Star break both mark critical turning points in the NBA calendar. On the college basketball side, teams will be gearing up for conference tournaments and the imminent onset of March Madness.
With all of that in mind, we here at No Ceilings gathered together to discuss some of the questions on our minds as players start to solidify their draft stocks with more than half of their respective seasons under most of their belts. 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 January 2024 roundtable reflections.
1. Which player has been the biggest riser on your board in the past month?
Rucker: We’re getting to a point in which the Dalton Knecht train is picking up ludicrous speed. The Tennessee Volunteers wing has been on a warpath as of late and is starting to cement himself as a player who deserves to be a lottery selection this year. He’s averaging 32.0 points per game in his last four games while shooting 48.3% from downtown. Knecht has the tools to shoot the lights out, but his offensive game has much more to offer than some might expect at first. In a draft class that is going to have a range of uncertainty at some point, Knecht should intrigue teams with his toughness and versatility on the offensive side of the ball. It’s not going to surprise me if he continues to trend upward.
Corey: Colorado State’s Nique Clifford. Clifford is in the midst of a breakout senior campaign after transferring from the Buffs. If the name of the game is size and versatility, then buying in on a 6’6” wing that can dribble, pass, shoot, and really defend from the perimeter is not a hard sell. Clifford plays with a smooth pace, and his confidence seems to be growing by the game. Albert and I got to break down film with him for the No Ceilings YouTube channel and his feel and work ethic jumped off the screen. Clifford is currently averaging 14/6/2.5 on 60/53/86 splits while clamping up dudes on the other side of the ball, and there seems to be no slowing down. Hop on the bandwagon while there’s still room.
Rowan: Dillon Jones, but I promise it’s not just because I wrote an article about him! Over the past month, Jones has neither gone on a hot streak nor has Weber State rattled off a winning streak, as they went 3-3 in January. That hasn’t stopped him from rising into the Top 25 on my board due to the versatile package he brings to the floor and other players dropping due to their flaws. In a draft class like this, I’ve started prioritizing skillsets that I can see working at the next level in a clearly defined role, which I feel Jones can do in the NBA.
Evan: I fully agree with everything Rucker said about Dalton Knecht. He’s simply been undeniable this season with his play for the Volunteers, specifically in the last month or so. It’s hard to see how Knecht isn’t a candidate for the lottery at this point. I’ll also take the chance to give some shine to BYU’s Jaxson Robinson. The senior wing wasn’t even ranked on my board the last time we did one of these round tables, but that has changed recently. Robinson’s shown some intriguing two-way potential and he’s averaging nearly 14 PPG on shooting splits of 43-36-90. His fluidity as a shooter, ball handler, and defender should hopefully get him more looks in the draft community going forward.
Nick: It’s hard to argue with Dalton Knecht as the choice here. He’s been a force for Tennessee all season, and he has turned it up to crazy levels over the last month or so, as Rucker or Evan mentioned. I also wanted to mention Zaccharie Risacher here; he might not have moved up as many spots as Knecht or others on my board this month, but his jump into the Top 5 on my board due to his recent hot streak, great shooting, and excellent defensive potential might be the most significant change in my board since last month.
Albert: Kyshawn George is the guy for me. I didn’t have him in my Top 100 a month ago, and now he’s sniffing the 40s. George has cooled off a little bit since his career-high 21 points and eight rebound effort against Wake Forrest earlier this month, but he’s shown a lot of good flashes recently. With good NBA size at 6’8” and bounce to his game, George is one to monitor the rest of the way. His shooting splits of 45.0/43.7/83.3 have to be taken with a grain of salt because of his low volume, but you can’t deny what you see with the eye test. The guy has a smooth-looking stroke and has enough ball skills to get you interested in what he’ll look like with more seasoning. George doesn’t look like a guy who’ll be ready to contribute to an NBA team from day one like Jaime Jaquez Jr., but he has a ton of tools NBA front offices are looking for in wing prospects.
Metcalf: Kwame Evans hasn’t put up crazy numbers, but he’s improved tremendously since the start of the season. Now that this Oregon team is slowly getting healthy, Evans isn’t being forced to play exclusively center. Being able to play more of that versatile power forward role, Evans is showing a much higher level of comfort on defense, is consistently directing everything on defense, and is showing his pick-and-pop capabilities. Evans still has plenty of room to grow, but his defensive consistency and impact have been incredibly impressive. When we look at some of the toolsy forwards in this class, there aren’t many who have shown as much potential and impact as Evans has.
2. Which player has been the biggest faller on your board in the past month?
Rucker: It’s going to be Kentucky Wildcats freshman Justin Edwards for me. On paper, Edwards has the tools you’re looking for in a modern NBA wing. Unfortunately, those tools just haven’t come around on a consistent level this year. Edwards is trending toward being a player that could potentially use another year as a breakout candidate. We’ve still got a long way to go, and Edwards could still intrigue NBA teams with his untapped potential. But with a lack of consistent production, Edwards has simply become an “idea” guy.
Corey: It’s been Isaiah Collier. I love the physical tools and flashes that Collier has shown, but the production has been erratic at best. His first step burst, strong frame, mid-air finishes, and playmaking creativity are intriguing at surface level, but the deeper you look at the film, the more holes you find. With a BPM under three, there just aren’t many examples of guys who have produced as little as he has thus far that have turned into viable rotation guys in the league. Collier is unfortunately out with a hand injury, so we’ll see if he turns things around when he returns. As it stands, Collier’s game feels a lot like eating too much candy. Sure, it may taste great now, but eventually you’re gonna end up at the dentist getting your teeth pulled.
Rowan: After holding on for as long as possible, it’s time to wave goodbye to Thierry Darlan’s 2024 draft stock. Darlan is still a massive wing/big guard prospect with tantalizing athletic tools and a knack for setting his teammates up, but across 19 games with the Ignite this year, he’s only shooting 28.1% from the field and 18.8% from deep. Part of his slow start is due to working his way back from injury, but I’ve seen enough to fully sell my position on Darlan as a draftable prospect this year… and hopefully start my hype train back up next year.
Evan: It’s either Carlton Carrington or Ron Holland for me. When it pertains to Carrington, he set Draft Twitter ablaze with a season-opening triple-double. However, this month, he’s averaging just 12.3 PPG and only 2.6 APG while also shooting 34.7% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. Carrington has cooled off slightly to start the new year, and it’s hurting his efficiency. Many might still see him as a first round talent, but I view “Bub” much more as a second-round project type of prospect now. As for Holland, everything both Nick and Rucker said about Justin Edwards I think you can also apply to the Ignite wing. Once discussed as a possible number one pick contender in this class, I don’t see Holland recovering enough from his rocky first half to get back into that mix.
Nick: I have to agree with Rucker here and go with Justin Edwards. His theoretical fit as an NBA wing was very easy to project heading into the season, but Edwards has simply not done enough to make that theoretical notion look more practical. I’d held out hope for him putting it together this season for quite a while, but it would be pretty late for a turnaround for him even with a scorching hot end to the season. He may still put together the pieces of his game eventually, but he will be a longer-term project than I would have hoped.
Albert: Donovan Clingan is the guy for me. Plain and simple, I think Zack Edey is a better player than him right now. Obvious thing to say, considering Edey’s been a force all season and has more experience. Clingan has battled injuries all season long, and I see real concerns with how he moves on the floor. I understand the intrigue, considering how big he is and what he could eventually become as a big, but I don’t understand the people who have all these concerns about how Edey moves on the court when I think Edey moves better than Clingan does. We’ve seen what foot issues can do to guys that big, and Clingan struggling with multiple foot issues in the same season has to be a concern.
Metcalf: Unfortunately this is Trey Alexander. Alexander started the year looking like a POY candidate, but his tape recently has been less than ideal. Alexander still has games where he posts really impressive numbers, and I think he could still be a solid rotation guard. However, Alexander consistently struggles to create separation, lives on tough mid-range pull-ups, and a lot of his assists feel scripted. If Alexander was in more of an off-ball role, which is likely his best-case NBA scenario, he would probably look a lot more impressive. Since he’s consistently struggling to create space and easy looks against college defenders, though, it’s pained me to steadily drop him in my rankings.
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: Colorado Buffaloes freshman Cody Williams has been sensational as of late since returning from injury. Personally, he’s become my new #1 prospect in this entire class. The tools have been impressive, and the upside is terrifying. Plenty of scouts and NBA personnel were drooling about the potential for Williams down the road. It looks to be developing much quicker than some might have expected. At the same time, Williams looks to still have a treasure chest of upside just waiting to be unlocked. With scouts being familiar with Cody, as well as the recent success of his brother Jalen Williams (OKC Thunder), it won’t take long for NBA personnel to start buzzing about Cody as a legit candidate for the top pick. I’m buying the recent tools, and the Cody Williams train will continue to pick up speed.
Corey: KJ Simpson is a destroyer of worlds right now. It’s getting to the point where believing that he is on some kind of hot streak instead of just taking a serious leap in his game feels foolish. The hit rate on small guards is miniscule comparatively, and Simpson fits into that bucket, so there is real reason to remain skeptical, but if he was 6’5” doing what he’s doing right now, he’d be the talk of the town. Even with the height concerns, Simpson has shown enough all-around game to quell much of the apprehension. The stats say he’s a dude and the eye test says he’s a dude, I’m going to buy that he’s a dude.
Rowan: DaRon Holmes II has had as good of a month as any college big man outside of Zach Edey, but there hasn’t been a groundswell of support toward him. Over his last five games, Holmes II has averaged 23.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 2.0 blocks per game, all while shooting 44.4% from distance. While a stat sheet surfer may see Holmes II’s stats and think he hasn’t made meaningful changes to his game, it’s clear that he’s shooting a better deep ball, has capitalized on his passing potential, and is playing with a better motor than ever before. Expect to see him rise on the Ouija Board soon.
Evan: I feel Jared McCain has solidified himself as the best pro prospect on Duke’s roster this season with his recent play. After an ankle injury kept sophomore Tyrese Proctor on the sidelines for much of the month of December, McCain has taken full advantage of seeing an increased role. Over his last 10 games, the Blue Devils freshman standout has averaged 15.6 PPG while shooting an absurd 49.1% from the field and 42% from the three-point line. In my opinion, he’s got the potential to be the Tyrese Maxey or Devin Booker of this draft class.
Nick: As someone who’s been on the DaRon Holmes II bandwagon for a while, I can’t help but agree with Rowan here. He has long been a force to be reckoned with around the basket on both ends, he continues to operate as a playmaking hub of the Dayton offense, and he’s made significant strides forward with his jump shot. Hopefully, his recent hot streak gets more people on the bandwagon.
Albert: PJ Hall has seemingly been on a hot streak all season. In his last five games, he’s averaging 18.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. That may not be sizzling hot, but I wanted to key in on his last five games because I believe this is the type of player Hall can become on the next level. Currently, Hall is asked to do a ton for this Clemson team, but in a smaller role in the NBA as a secondary or tertiary option, I think he could become a true star in his role. I know he’s shooting the ball worse from outside this season, but you have to love how the shot looks and how he’s shooting it from the free-throw line. He’s also averaging over two blocks per game on the season. Considering how Hall started the season, I thought it was important to highlight his recent stretch as well. He may not be scorching hot, but he’s still playing at a high level, and you have to like that for his outlook.
Metcalf: Jackson Shelstad is shooting the crap out of the ball right now. Shelstad was one of the most impressive players at Hoop Summit, so it isn’t entirely surprising that he’s having the impact that he currently is. Shelstad plays incredibly hard, is an elite shooter, and continues to show more in terms of playmaking. He’s also tiny. I have zero doubts that Shelstad is an awesome player and would be really surprised if he never makes it to the NBA. It would be nice, though, if he was a few inches taller.
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: Oregon Ducks freshman Kwame Evans Jr. had a slow start to the year before putting forth an impressive stretch of games. Over a five-game span, Evans averaged 13.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.8 steals, and 2.8 blocks while shooting 54.5% from the field. His last four games have been a bit of a “come back to earth” moment, as he’s averaged just 3.5 points per game in 16 minutes. Evans has the tools to be a fascinating developmental piece for an NBA organization. He’s a smart player who can make an impact on both sides of the ball. If Kwame can bounce back and have another solid stretch, he could be a name that starts to buzz as a legit 2024 prospect. For now, I’m in wait-and-see mode.
Corey: Donovan Clingan has not had the banner season that many scouts predicted he’d have. I had always been a bit more skeptical of Clingan’s per minute dominance last cycle. When you know you’re only going to be playing fifteen minutes a game, you can allow yourself to be more aggressive in contesting shots at the rim. But there was never a rush to crown him for me because I needed to see what Clingan could do when tasked with an increased frontcourt role. To many, Clingan has not lived up to the hype but the dude has still been pretty damn impactful when he’s been on the court. The “been on the court” part of that sentence is admittedly concerning, but Clingan is still someone I’m willing to stay patient with. In a draft with very little certainty, Clingan still seems like a safe bet for a smart team to nab good value.
Rowan: Despite the hype surrounding Bronny James, he hasn’t had an amazing January. He’s had as many games in double figures as with none, which has cast a cloud over his scoring potential. While his lack of consistency may be easier to scrutinize, I’ll continue to take the long view on James. The fact that he’s playing this season is a testament to modern medicine and his grit, while James doesn’t have the benefit of a non-conference schedule to buttress his numbers. With so much turmoil still swirling around this draft class, I wouldn’t be surprised to see James capitalize on the same success he’s had against Arizona and Arizona State and start recapturing the draft stock he had over the summer.
Evan: I don’t believe Ryan Dunn has done anything to hurt his draft stock necessarily over the past month or so, but I’m also not sure he’s done much to help improve it all that much either. His game just doesn’t have the same flash or sizzle, especially offensively, as some of his other counterparts in this draft. With the hot streaks players like Dalton Knecht, Dillon Jones, Kevin McCullar Jr, and Tyler Smith have all gone on this season, I’m curious how long a prospect like Dunn will remain ahead of that group given his limitations as a shotmaker. Nonetheless, I still believe in the Virginia star’s immense defensive versatility, athleticism, and selflessness. Dunn’s skillset should fit seamlessly into most NBA rotations.
Nick: Kwame Evans Jr. has had quite an up-and-down season, so it’s not exactly all that surprising that he followed up a serious hot stretch of five games with a bit more muted performances in his last few games. I’m not as concerned about Evans going cold as some other prospects, though; his incredible defensive playmaking gives him a really high floor even when he’s not putting points up on the board. I’m hoping that he can put more of his varied tools together for the stretch run of the college season, but I’m still holding onto my stock in his long-term potential even if he doesn’t.
Albert: Justin Edwards has had a nightmare freshman season. Coming into the year, we as a collective had him ranked number one in our pre-season draft guide. We truly believed he had star potential and thought he would have a really strong freshman season. None of that has panned out at all, and he is plummeting down draft boards left and right. Considering how rough it’s been, I still believe in the long-term potential of Justin Edwards. Although he hasn’t had the freshman season we thought he would have, a big part of me still wants to hold on to my Justin Edwards stock and see what he looks like a year or two from now. I think it’s been a weird year for him at Kentucky with the meteoric rise of guys like Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham. We’ve seen other guys have weird years at Kentucky and go on to look really different in the league. Maybe that’s Edwards? If all goes well moving forward, Maybe Edwards will have a rock-solid end to the season and declare for the draft.
Metcalf: Tyler Kolek has been awesome this year, but he started this month with a few real stinkers against Butler and Seton Hall, where he combined shot 2-19. He’s followed up those games by shooting 50% and scoring 21 and 15 against Villanova and St. John’s, respectively. Over his last five games, Kolek is shooting just 15% (3-20) from three. Kolek has always been a pretty reliable shooter, so as long as this cold spell doesn’t continue much longer, I don’t think there’s any reason to panic.
5. Which game next month are you most excited to watch?
Rucker: For me, it’s going to be Arizona @ Colorado on February 10th. The Wildcats faced Colorado earlier and it was a massacre by the score of 97-50. But Colorado was without Tristan da Silva and Cody Williams. This should be a mouth-watering matchup with both teams healthy. Colorado will be eager to send a message, and it’s going to be one of the top tests of the year for Colorado freshman Cody Williams. That’s a game that should be circled on EVERY scout’s calendar.
Corey: I’ll be in attendance when Princeton takes on Penn next month. Very much looking forward to getting in person eyes on Tigers guard sensation Xaivian Lee.
Rowan: With their utter glut of 2024 draft prospects, it’s hard not to circle every Kentucky game for the foreseeable future as a must-watch. Their toughest test comes at the beginning of the month while also offering a great scouting matchup, as the Wildcats will go up against the Volunteers on Sunday, February 3rd. The dynamite quartet of guards for Kentucky, with Antonio Reeves, DJ Wagner, Rob Dillingham, and Reed Sheppard will have their work cut out for them, being guarded by Zakai Zegler, Santiago Vescovi, and Jahmai Mashack. On the wing, Dalton Knecht’s duel against Justin Edwards should give each player’s evaluation an important data point for their final draft stocks. Finally, the emergence of Big Z, Aaron Bradshaw, and Tre Mitchell should face a stout selection of looks from Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka. It should be a tight game with many fireworks and important analytic lenses to consider, which is my exact cup of tea.
Evan: Kansas vs. Baylor on February 10th. Allen Fieldhouse is one of the best gyms in the country, and having it as the backdrop for this matchup will be cinematic to say the least. I’m excited to see how Ja’Kobe Walter handles that environment as he continues to make his case to be the number one pick of this draft. Watching him and fellow freshman sensation Yves Missi go up against the Jayhawks core of Hunter Dickinson, Kevin McCullar Jr, KJ Adams, and the emerging Johnny Furphy should be fantastic from a scouting perspective.
Nick: Kentucky vs. Tennessee. Kentucky is often the hottest name in college basketball anyway, and their prospect-laden roster becomes even more of a must-watch affair than usual with Zvonimir Ivisic now being cleared for game action. On the other side of this one, Dalton Knecht has been on fire recently for Tennessee, and his matchup with Kentucky’s wings will be another opportunity for him to continue to prove himself.
Albert: This probably isn’t the sexiest pick, but Wake Forest at Duke on February 12th is my pick. Hunter Sallis is having himself a season. After struggling to find a consistent rhythm at Gonzaga his first couple of seasons, it’s been nice to see Sallis playing well for the Demon Deacons. Seeing him go up against a tough team like Duke will be a nice test for him.
Metcalf: Same as Rucker. It’s an awesome matchup, and I really want to see how Cody Williams and Tristan da Silva match up again. Colorado got stomped in their first meeting, but neither Williams or da Silva played. It will be a great opportunity for them to show why they have so many fans.