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Moves I Like, Moves I Question
With college basketball getting underway, Stephen shares his thoughts on some of the moves from this past offseason.
Are You Ready?
I had to throw in a wrestling reference. DRAFT SEASON HAS BEGUN, and I couldn’t be more excited. Even with international play hitting its stride—and even with the Ignite and OTE having games under their belts—the draft cycle truly feels like it starts when the college prospects take the court. While games kicked off on Monday night, it’s still early enough in the season to share how I felt about some decisions.
The decisions I’m referencing aren’t the ones that are made on the court necessarily. I’m talking about the decision on where these prospects have decided to play for the 2024 scouting cycle. Every season, several prospects either meteorically rise up or precipitously fall down draft boards, and a large part of that variability has to do with who they play for.
This class will be no different in that regard, and that leads me to the meat of this article. Some of the team-fit decisions that prospects have made have been incredible, while some left me scratching my head. I’ll go ahead and say that those decisions won’t be labeled as “mistakes” or moves I “hate” here; I just see a more muddied path for them to trek.
Move I Love
Ja’Kobe Walter, Baylor
Ja’Kobe Walter is a Top 5 prospect for me coming into the year. He is a dynamic scorer of the ball, capable of scoring at all three levels. On top of that, he has a very good handle and is pretty athletic. Known mostly for his scoring, he is listed at 6’5” and looks to have a plus wingspan. His handle and attacking angles suggest there is room to grow as a total package scorer, as well as a budding playmaking bag.
What makes me like the decision to play for Coach Scott at Baylor, is what the Baylor program does for guards that report with some cache. The most recent example of such a player is Keyonte George. Keyonte was a highly touted recruit who profiled heavily as a scorer. What we saw from him to start the year, however, was more facilitating and some good defense. Such an approach from Ja’Kobe would answer potential questions regarding connectivity, as well as his defensive mindset.
It’s worked out well in the early going of his young NBA career.
Move I Question
Aday Mara, UCLA
I’ll be the first to admit that I love the offensive fluidity of Aday Mara, and came into the preseason with high hopes of how he could look in the PAC-12. His game is one of offensive polish, being capable of finishing deep within the paint with soft touches, while also having strong passing instincts. With that amount of offensive skill, what’s causing the hesitation?
The answer to that is multi-faceted. For one, UCLA hasn’t exactly been a freshman factory. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen this Bruins program get commitments from the likes of Peyton Watson and Amari Bailey—prospects who many believed were lottery-level talents—only to see their draft stocks plummet. Conversely, Coach Cronin has routinely placed a large amount of faith and trust in players who have spent multiple seasons within his program.
Aside from the recent freshman track record, the fit playing with Adem Bona gives me even more questions. Does the addition of Mara stunt any sort of offensive growth for Bona? Do the defensive concerns of Mara’s get addressed with Bona being the anchor? What does the offensive scheme and spacing look like? All of this blurs the vision of what Mara could be at the next level, as well as what his developmental plan could be.
Move I Love
Dalton Knecht, Tennessee
Dalton Knecht has already been the apple of many eyes here at No Ceilings, and he has also put up some very fun moments to wet the draft community’s collective pallet. With humble beginnings in the JUCO ranks, and then playing at Northern Colorado, Knecht brings his NBA-sized frame and NBA-ready game to the University of Tennessee.
Knecht’s ability to score the ball in a variety of ways fits what Coach Barnes has done with players like Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James. That collection of skills has flown under the radar due to the level of competition Knecht saw at his previous stops. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to show what he can do against teams like Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, etc., which should fortify his draft stock.
Tennessee’s style of play and their reliance upon upperclassmen makes perfect sense for Knecht, and it could propel him into real draft consideration.
Move I Question
Elmarko Jackson, Kansas
Elmarko Jackson is a very talented guard who has a ton of fans within the draft space. A consensus Top 25 recruit and McDonald’s All-American, Jackson had no shortage of colleges that he could have gone to. His shiftiness and good frame, along with his great scoring ability made him highly desirable. He ultimately chose Kansas, and will now be featured on a team with a ton of proven commodities.
Now, I don’t have questions about if he will be able to contribute, but I do wonder exactly how much he will be able to do so. In a meaningless game (on the court) against Illinois, Kansas leaned heavily onto their new transfer, Hunter Dickinson, as well as Kevin McCullar. Aside from those two, DaJuan Harris Jr. is a battle-tested guard who has been the table setter for Kansas for a few seasons now.
Perhaps the commitment to Kansas could be looked at as Elmarko showing his ability to play off of others, but he looks as if he would be more intriguing as the straw that stirs the drink. I’m not so sure Coach Self will let Elmarko cook in the majority of his games—especially with Harris coming off of a season where he logged over APG. Playing with Harris also has me wonder: who defends whom?
Move I Love
Walter Clayton Jr., Florida
Walter Clayton Jr. is a hooper’s hooper, and had a heck of a season at Iona last year. The decision to move up a level of competition was not a surprise to many, as Walter put up 16, 4, and 3 on 45/43/95 shooting splits. In an interview I had with Brandin Podziemski last season, one thing that stood out to me was how complimentary Podz was to Clayton Jr.’s game.
Coming to Florida, Walter will have the opportunity to play alongside Riley Kugel—one of the more highly regarded draft prospects in the 2024 class. The two of them should be able to complement each other well, as Walter had an assist percentage of over 20%. Also, the pressure that both can put on the defense should help keep the defense honest.
While Clayton Jr. is considered undersized as a guard, his floor spacing, court vision, and the potential he has to play off of others should increase his standing in the draft space. Florida has some ballers.
Move I Question
Caleb Foster, Duke
Caleb Foster is similar to Elmarko Jackson for me. Both were highly regarded prospects for this class and had a number of places they could have played. While I have my concerns for Jackson, I do expect him to at least play significant minutes. I do not have the same level of confidence in Caleb Foster.
Duke has Tyrese Proctor, Kyle Filipowski, Mark Mitchell, Jeremy Roach, and Ryan Young returning—players who played at least 17 minutes a night. This Duke squad is also bringing in Jared McCain, Sean Stewart, and TJ Power as freshmen. While Caleb is a very talented scorer, the number of mouths Duke will have to feed makes me wonder how much opportunity he will have to display the depth of his game.
With most draft classes averaging about 13 freshmen drafted in the first round each year, I’m curious to see if Caleb is given the chance to be one of them.
Move I Love
Keshon Gilbert, Iowa State
Keshon Gilbert was a player who captured my attention early last season—so much so, that I made a video to illustrate how I viewed him as a first round guy. He put up 11.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 3.2 AGP, all while posting shooting splits of 46/38/78. His improved usage percentage came with a better assist and turnover percentage. The growth he displayed in his sophomore year was very encouraging,
After a bumpy season, UNLV saw a number of their players transfer out, with Keshon being one of them. Gilbert has good size for his position and a good shot, and he is flat-out fun to watch operate at different speeds. Transferring to Iowa State makes a ton of sense for what Keshon can do. He’ll be able to play off of other talent, such as fellow transfer Curtis Jones, as well as incoming freshman talent Omaha Biliew.
Gilbert’s defense could actually be the key in terms of improving his stock. Iowa State wasn’t exactly a world-beater on that side of the ball, but they were 25th among all high major programs, according to BartTorvik. Adding Keshon’s 3.5 steals percentage could spice those numbers up even more.
Move I Question
Arthur Kaluma, Kansas State
Was there another team that didn’t live up to the expectations more than the Creighton Blue Jays? There are cases for others, but Creighton was billed to be a powerhouse, largely because they had a number of highly regarded players at every position. Arthur Kaluma not meeting the expectations that were placed on him almost served as a microcosm as to why the Blue Jays disappointed. Seeing Kaluma move on to another team seemed to make sense, but was Kansas State the right move?
One of the biggest things that hurt Kaluma’s draft stock last season was the jumper, as he shot about 31% from deep on over three attempts per game. Kansas State as a team was around the middle of the pack in three-point percentage, shooting about 34% collectively. On top of that, Nae’Qwan Tomlin—arguably the team’s best player—is going to miss time with a suspension. Is Kaluma suited for a larger role than what he had at Creighton? We’ll find out soon.
Move I Love
Tyler Burton, Villanova
I’ve long appreciated the way Tyler Burton has played at Richmond, as he has been ranked within my Top 60 for consecutive years. Improving each and every season with the Richmond Spiders, Burton tested the draft waters on multiple occasions, only to return to build upon his game. Last season, he recorded a career-high in points per game, but also his least efficient season since he was a freshman. This may have been due to players like Jacob Gilyard and Grant Golden departing the team. A move seemed both inevitable and necessary for Tyler to make the best impression on NBA front offices.
Burton’s transfer to Villanova could be just what the doctor ordered. The Wildcats, historically, have a very good track record of producing NBA talent while also putting their best players in the best position to succeed. With Kyle Neptune taking over the recruiting and play calling, there may be some skepticism as to how Burton will fare.
I’m a fan because the Wildcats have a team catered to the success of upperclassmen like Justin Moore, Hakim Hart, Eric Dixon, and TJ Bamba, as well as having a talented, table-setting guard in Mark Armstrong. Burton, a career 33% three-point shooter, will have the opportunity to play off of other good shooters and facilitators, which should allow for him to show off his great off-ball skills.
Move I Question
Jaden Bradley, Arizona
Jaden Bradley was a player who became a “wait until next year” guy within the draft community last season. In just under 20 MPG with Alabama, Bradley put up over six points per game, and more than three assists per game. His efficiency was spotty, but the flashes of what he could be had folks excited—myself included. Mark Sears returned for another season with The Tide, and mid-major star Aaron Estrada transferred up in competition by committing to play for ‘Bama as well.
The decision to transfer made sense for Bradley, but I instantly became curious as to why he chose Arizona. Kylan Boswell had a similar season at Arizona to Jaden Bradley, as he had a small but intriguing role as a freshman. Kylan is expected to be one of the best returning guards in the country. Tar Heel-turned-Wildcat, Caleb Love, has been one of the better shooting guards in the country for a few seasons, and looks to be in Bradley’s way. There is also incoming freshman KJ Lewis, who has some people believing he could get some strong minutes.
With all of these guards, it’s almost worth wondering why Bradley didn’t stay as a guard who has experience in a system or transfer to a team with fewer guards who are likely to get heavy minutes.
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