"My Guys" | The Morning Dunk
As we close out the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball regular season, here are the prospects I wanted to write about as "my guys" and why I feel they will ultimately succeed in the league.
Hello and welcome back to another Morning Dunk column!
This is it, we are in the home stretch of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball season with regular season play wrapped up and conference tournaments taking center stage. Not too long after that, we have “The Big Dance” to look forward to.
At this point, I’ve seen enough games to nail down some of my favorite prospects in this class. What exactly does that mean? What do I have in store for the audience today?
Consider this a refresher for some and an early “viewing guide” for others who need second opinions on a few prospects.
Let’s have some fun this week and break down “my guys” before the big action unfolds.
The basis of this column is simple at its core: who are the players that I feel are being undervalued to an extent in terms of current stock?
In other words, what do I find interesting in particular about what they bring to the table, and how do I see these things making a better case for their status as 2022 prospects?
Who are the players I’m willing to fight for at the war table at all costs in terms of ranking them and, if I were in a position to do so, draft them?
This list of players isn’t necessarily a compilation of who I feel will be the best for their careers. There are no mentions of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, or Jaden Ivey here. Based on pure potential alone, those are the four in no particular order I would still have at the top.
But who are the players I’m willing to bet succeed in the league at all costs? Who are the prospects who I would wager a favorable sum on their future?
That’s what I’m trying to break down here. Everyone has “their guys” in a draft class. Here are mine.
Johnny Davis, Wisconsin
28 GP, 28 GS, 34 MPG
20.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 44.6/33.3/78.2 Shooting Splits, 1.1 SPG, 25.3 PER, 53.8 TS%
I’m starting with a controversial selection right off the ba,t so to speak.
I mentioned above that I wasn’t looking to target the “best” players in the class, yet I have Johnny Davis making the cut despite sitting in the 5-7 range on the majority of draft boards. If you’re Tyler Metcalf here at No Ceilings, you may even have him higher.
So why Davis?
I come back to Davis because the month of February has been the perfect time to zoom in on his weaknesses and dissect what we shouldn’t love about his game.
His struggle to match his efficiency level near the start of the year during December and early January took shape in several games. While he’s held his own at the free-throw line all year long, his overall scoring totals and perimeter shooting marks have been hot and cold, particularly through conference play.
Scouts come back to the idea that he’s just not a number one option you want operating out of isolation possession after possession. Is he a player who’s much better as a secondary shot maker coming off screens or movement to position himself for spot-up or post-up opportunities?
The numbers would answer that question with an emphatic yes. Per Synergy Sports, his only “Below Average” mark on the season for most common play types is in isolation. Even when breaking down specific shot types, he’s been a very good finisher around the basket as well as runners and even rates out as “Good” on catch-and-shoot attempts.
Where things get messy is in his isolation numbers, as mentioned, and his shooting ability off the dribble. The vast majority of those shots come from when he’s on an island having to make every single thing happen for his team.
The Badgers aren’t exactly a team filled with lights-out shooters from the perimeter. Even their bigs who will occasionally step out and shoot are much better served facing or posting up around the rim. Brad Davison has been a flamethrower for the majority of the season, and Chucky Hepburn has shot 50% or better from three over his last four games.
Outside of Hepburn’s emergence as a legitimate shot maker, Davis has had to carry the brunt of the offensive responsibility particularly late in the shot clock. How many quality attempts should one expect to come from those looks, especially when defenses can hone in and guard him in ways NBA teams wouldn’t scheme for him, at least early on in his career?
That’s what I come back to with Davis. Once he gets to the league with not only more spacing and room to operate on those possessions, but also when he’s surrounded by better talent that doesn’t expect him to carry each half-court possession.
Davis has been lethal at times operating off the ball and navigating through screens on it. Once he gets that help at the top from the screener, he’s more than comfortable with reading the defense and taking what’s given to him. An underrated passer and smooth pull-up scorer in space, Davis is incredibly efficient in the most common play type run in the NBA outside of pure iso.
His pace of play, awareness, and maturity on both ends of the floor all give me great confidence in his pro prospects. I recently got to see him in person, and I’ve never seen a prospect so locked in before a game that I’ve seen live. Davis is as fiery of a competitor as they come, and no matter what defenses throw at him, he finds ways to respond in the game.
If his shot isn’t falling, Davis looks to get others involved. He’ll rebound on both ends, cut, leak out in transition. Defensively, he’ll guard the other team’s best perimeter option, no questions asked. Davis will do literally whatever it takes to win.
And I buy the jump shot from deep and the handle long-term. He needs to make improvements to both no question about it. But the work ethic and desire to improve, all from someone I didn’t even have on my watchlist before the year started, are as rare as can be.
Davis is a winner and a leader. When it comes to “stars” in the NBA I hardly ever bet against those who want it the most despite some athletic limitations.
If you had to ask me out of the top four guys who I would peg as having the best chance to blossom into an All-Star, I wouldn’t think twice about uttering Davis’ name. He’s that good, and unlike some, I truly believe the sky is the limit.
No comparisons are ever one-to-one, but he reminds me so much of Devin Booker that I can’t let that thought go. Davis has the goods, and I’m betting on him as one of “my guys” through the rest of this draft cycle.
Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee
11 GP, 10 GS, 28.5 MPG
12.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 34.4/26.6/74.3 Shooting Splits, 13.8 PER, 45.0 TS%
There really aren’t many words to write here about Patrick Baldwin in terms of “convincing” anyone in the audience to buy in to more of his stock as a prospect.
As you can tell from the listed statistics, I don’t have a reasonable case to make with the numbers, outside of the fact that he still rated out well in pick-and-roll play types as well as operating in transition and shooting off the dribble.
Despite all of that, I’m still buying long-term into Baldwin as a prospect who still has a lottery case and potentially a Top 10 one.
Going back to his high school days, Baldwin has plenty of clips on YouTube as an isolation shot maker, off-ball threat, and even a clever passer at times off a live dribble.
Even during his stint with Team USA, Baldwin showed some high-caliber shot making and defensive versatility, which allowed him to maintain his projection near the top of the 2022 draft preseason.
Then he got to Milwaukee, where he was nowhere near a clean fit around the talent and even his own father, who coached the team.
If you’re buying into the initial projection of Baldwin as a Michael Porter Jr. type of prospect who can bail out offenses on a dime late in the shot clock, then you’re looking through the wrong lens at this point.
I personally won’t rule out such outcomes until I’ve seen more evidence away from this year. But if that’s the type of player with size and shooting touch you’re looking for in the draft, Smith would be the pick there as he quite literally rises and fires whenever he pleases, no matter how many men try to contest his shot.
But at the same time, 6’9” shooters who are better than the numbers suggest and can move the ball, as well as help around the basket defensively, aren’t always available in the draft either.
Some of the film from this season is awful to watch. I get it. If you remove this year from the equation, though, we’re left with the same situation in which Cole Anthony was left in when he came out of North Carolina.
Anthony was also a highly touted prospect preseason who had a few games where he put it all together, but he suffered as a whole from poor fit with little help around him, along with injuries that derailed his entire freshman year.
Sound familiar? While not one-to-one, Baldwin’s situation stands to have eerie comparisons, with a similar projected drop come draft night.
There’s a chance Baldwin glides through workouts with better interviews than expected while showcasing his sweet stroke from all over the floor, dazzling scouts and executives with a flurry of makes.
He could also bomb those pre-draft workouts, do very little at the draft combine and slide into the 20s when it’s all said and done.
As a matter of fact, ask me which scenario is more likely, and I may even say the latter.
That, however, doesn’t change where I stand on him as a prospect.
In our most recent mock draft episode on the No Ceilings podcast, I mocked Baldwin 10th to the Portland Trail Blazers, stating my case that he would be well suited for a Portland type of situation.
Regardless of if that team blows it up or keeps Damian Lillard in the fold, the amount of responsibility Baldwin would have within the offense would be much more minimal compared to some of the expectations he had this season at Milwaukee.
He would only be tasked with hitting open spot-up jumpers, spacing the floor, leaking out in transition, and playing to the best of his defensive ability. If the shot isn’t there, he can pass with little worry, knowing that the ball is going to a much more capable offensive player than he previously had around him.
That’s another point that helps me to buy in to what Baldwin could be in the league. As a third option, Baldwin could absolutely thrive given the right circumstances. There’s even still room for him to grow into a kick-ass number two, depending on who you talk to.
But the trust and confidence have to be re-baked into his DNA once he gets into the league. That could take time. Watching some of those Panthers games, it was clear as day that he didn’t fully trust his teammates, likely because they didn’t fully trust him.
I was flabbergasted going back and watching some of his mates dive headfirst into the paint and get collapsed on by three defenders, yet refuse to pass back out to a player who was once projected amongst the best in his class. That wasn’t even just a one-time or two-time occurrence either.
Now, I did not get a chance to be in that locker room or talk to anyone in the program. I have no idea what clouded the team’s dynamic. But something still doesn’t sit right with me about that whole situation.
Because of those issues, I’ll continue to bet on Baldwin being better than this season would indicate. I’m not saying he should rise back to where he once was, but I firmly believe he can be a quality NBA player in the right context.
As it usually is, fit will be everything with Baldwin come draft night.
Bryce McGowens, Nebraska
30 GP, 30 GS, 33.3 MPG
17.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 40.8/28.0/83.8 Shooting Splits, 17.5 PER, 54.0 TS%
I started the year incredibly in on Bryce McGowens, ranking him as high as 15 on an initial big board. Coming out of the gate, his scoring versatility was on full display.
Step-back jumpers in the mid-range, pull-up threes, footwork getting to the basket, and drawing fouls. The definition of three-level scoring had McGowen’s photo right next to it in the basketball dictionary.
Over the course of his frosh year, however, the glitz and glamour faded as the efficiency continued to tank in certain areas, particularly his outside shooting.
While the overall field goal percentage is also lower than one would prefer, his three-point shooting has remained a sticking point in terms of selling him as a wing scorer at the next level. Like it or not, guards and wings eventually have to shoot to live up to their potential in today’s NBA.
I’m buying the stroke long-term more than others are, as I think it’s actually a smooth motion. He could adjust where he brings the ball up from initially, but release and follow-through are fairly consistent on both spot-up and pull-up shots.
But efficiency has to come into play at some point, and it really comes back to shot selection. While McGowens can get to the rim with some nifty footwork, he also has the tendency to settle for contested jumpers that he likely knows he shouldn’t take.
That comes back to the bigger issue at play here, which is more than just the numbers. Overall, I wouldn’t bet on more than 14 players in this class having more natural scoring talent than McGowens. However, his awareness on both ends of the floor, particularly defensively, has lacked and held him back.
Tunnel vision on the offensive end that hasn’t led to better ball movement, and he misses rotations and closeouts on the defensive end while looking like he’s fallen asleep at times. These are things that NBA coaches would want to fix with the foundation before worrying about his shot diet and volume.
The flaws McGowens does have, though, can be coached up and improved upon. What you can’t teach is being a 6’7” wing with length and fluidity who is comfortable attacking and creating despite his lack of bulk on his frame in certain situations. McGowens isn’t afraid of anyone, and it shows in how many times he can get to the line per game.
When his shot is on, and when he is also contributing from the charity stripe, he looks the part of a very dangerous third option in the league. I won’t put it past him to develop further and establish himself as a potential All-Star level scorer.
However, the other parts of his game have to improve. He needs to be able to not only guard individually but also play within a team construct. McGowens needs to keep his head up and build chemistry with teammates so he can pass out of dicey spots once he steps inside the arc.
I’m sold on the talent package, though. At the end of the day, you bet on talent in the league. McGowens has so much to tap into, and to his credit, he’s been on a tear over the last few weeks. Even analysts like Sam Vecenie and Matt Pennie are starting to take notice and are back to considering him as a likely first-round pick.
I’ve maintained my stock on McGowens as a first-rounder over the course of the year. Even when he struggled alongside some other struggling freshmen like Max Christie and Peyton Watson, I refused to drop McGowens out of my top 30 projections.
The most important thing in the NBA other than playing defense is being able to put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways. Just like with Davis, I’m a sucker for old-fashioned scorers who can get to the line and feast in the mid-range.
Those are the guys who up their scoring averages over the course of their careers, unless, of course, you’re an outlier of outliers like Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry. Even those guys, though, have developed craft and are massively effective on free throws.
McGowens is one of “my guys” in this draft class, and I remain intrigued to see how far he can continue to climb as we get closer to June.
Walker Kessler, Auburn
31 GP, 31 GS, 25.7 MPG
11.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 62.1/21.3/59.7 Shooting Splits, 4.5 BPG, 31.4 PER, 64.0 TS%
While more traditional big men aren’t always viewed as the sexiest first-round picks, Walker Kessler has impressed me as much as any other prospect in the 2022 class.
The dominance he’s exhibited putting a lid on the rim has been breathtaking at times. One would’ve expected the answer to who is the best shot-blocker in college basketball this year to be Holmgren, but Kessler is the answer.
His ability to stay with the driver, not bite on pump fakes, and fully anticipate when the shot is going up is special. Kessler swallows up everyone, from matchups of similar size all the way down to guards if they get near the basket. At 7’1” and 245 lbs., Kessler is a mountain of a man.
And while he’s certainly been productive finishing around the basket on a variety of play types, from cuts to rolls to transition dunks, Kessler’s sky-high player efficiency rating stems from how dominant he’s been defensively.
Now, is he the best center for playing in space and trying to keep up with quicker guys all of the time? No. There are certainly examples on film that highlight that.
But he’s aggressive, and the motor ALWAYS runs hot from possession to possession. He’ll sprint back and contest with the best of them. Kessler gives effort; when you combine that with his IQ on the defensive end and his physical tools, it makes for one enticing package in a big man.
If you’re taking Kessler in the first round, you’re also likely betting on him eventually figuring out the jump shot to some degree. He’s been eager to launch on trailer looks, and even though his percentage is still in the low 20’s, he’s remained eager to keep trying and eventually make it an effective addition to his offensive arsenal.
Rim protection, high IQ, great finishing, and effectiveness as a trailer and a pick-and-pop threat. Remind you of anyone in particular?
How about the Milwaukee Bucks’ Brook Lopez? Not the Lopez who dominated down low in Brooklyn, but the Lopez who’s very comfortable around the basket, steps out and spaces the floor, AND (most importantly) has been one of the league’s better shot blockers over the last few years.
Lopez may not be the Bucks’ best answer to close out EVERY game from the center spot, but he provides enormous value as well as insurance in the minutes he does play.
That’s the type of role I can envision Kessler having as he continues to develop. Guys like him stick in the league; there will always be a home for a Kessler.
And if I’m taking a big man in the first round, I want there to be a blend of skill, IQ, and upside. Kessler provides all three of those, even if none are tied to elite athleticism and verticality at the position.
I’m betting on Kessler to figure out the shot and make life difficult for opposing players on the defensive end. And should that bet pan out, he’s absolutely one of the better plays a team, particularly one with needs down low, to make in this upcoming draft.
Christian Braun, Kansas
31 GP, 30 GS, 34.2 MPG
14.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 50.9/38.3/73.2 Shooting Splits, 20.5 PER, 59.8 TS%
I am not alone on the Christian Braun island.
Tyler Rucker here at No Ceilings has been there with me dating back to last year. Chuck over at Chucking Darts has discussed him as having a case as a top 20 prospect. Even scouts who cover the game for mainstream outlets have mocked Braun in the first round.
However, it feels like if there is a player who just ends up falling into the second round, he’s one of the first guys on that list.
As it stands, Braun is a prospect who rates out in the 84th percentile offensively and the 80th percentile defensively. He’s a 6’6” athletic guard who can get up off two feet. He guards his arse off, has a nose for making plays, and offers offensive versatility, particularly in transition.
While not a lethal shooter from three-point range, Braun does rate out on the 87th percentile on jumpers overall, sitting in the 78th on catch-and-shoot looks and 87th on all jump shots off the dribble in the halfcourt.
In transition, as I mentioned, he’s 61% on all looks out on the break. From leaking out to cutting, spotting up, or even playmaking out of pick-and-roll, there’s little that Braun isn’t capable of doing on the offensive end. Factor in how tough he is finishing through contact around the basket, along with his fire as a competitor, and it’s easier to see why I’ve been a fan for quite a while.
Now obviously, the deep ball has to be more consistent for him. And when he is in isolation situations, being more effective than just in the 15th percentile on those possessions would help his draft stock.
But how often is an NBA team going to ask him to do those things? We’re talking about a late first/early second-round pick. I’m not projecting Braun in the lottery where his looser handle driving in traffic and lack of separation one-on-one would be glaring weaknesses in terms of pitching him as a higher level option offensively.
I just come back to watching him on tape; you know he’s a basketball player. He makes smart decisions, rarely forces shots that he shouldn’t, and defends multiple positions on the wing. He’s active in playing passing lanes, helps his teammates, and rebounds on both ends.
Braun is a “little things” guy who loses appeal if you ONLY look at him through the lens of what he can’t do. Further examining what he DOES bring to the table clarifies, in my humble opinion, a safe floor for him as a rotational player in the league.
Even if he’s not a long-term starter, having Braun as a 7th or 8th man on a really good team isn’t a terrible outcome either. I’m more willing to bet on a player like that later in the first round or early second. Give me guys who I know can come in and contribute in certain areas while still having room to improve upon in others.
I get the feeling he’s a starter in the NBA, and that’s why I’ll likely end up higher on him than others once the more finalized editions of my rankings drop.
Braun is my type of guy through and through, and I’m glad he’s gotten more buzz as Kansas has racked up yet another Big 12 regular-season title.
Alondes Williams, Wake Forest
31 GP, 31 GS, 33.8 MPG
19.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 51.8/30.0/70.3 Shooting Splits, 24.9 PER, 58.9 TS%
I fully understand why not everyone is a fan of Alondes Williams.
His propensity for flair and pizazz when it’s not always needed can turn off some scouts. Decision-making is crucial to a lead guard’s success, and while Williams has the size at 6’5” to play off the ball, he’s at his best when the rock is in his hands.
And yes, he can make some choices on passes that leave you scratching your head and rolling your eyes.
But when you take notice of the greater number of reads and passes he DOES make on a game-to-game basis for Wake Forest, his NBA role becomes increasingly intriguing.
I’m not making the direct comparison, but let’s quickly bring Ayo Dosunmu in here. For all that Dosunmu showed he could do at Illinois, critics came back to the idea that he’s likely not a full-time volume point guard at the next level and would be better served coming off the bench as a change-of-pace guy.
Scouts got too hung up on what they didn’t want him doing and ignored the improvements he made year to year—improvements that have shown themselves in spades for the Chicago Bulls.
Dosunmu spent a ton of time improving his pull-up jumper, pick-and-roll creation, and defensive effectiveness. Now he’s been able to fill in as a starter and help Chicago continue to rack up wins during an impressive season.
I am one of those evaluators who came in too low on Dosunmu. Maybe I’m just trying to write my wrongs with Williams, or maybe I see some of the same potential.
Williams has made some erratic decisions with the ball because he has to for the Demon Deacons. Outside of Jake Laravia, how many other NBA-caliber prospects are on that squad? Williams is the engine, the straw that stirs the drink for a surprise ACC team.
He’s done it around the basket with acrobatic finishes. He’s even had a decent year in nailing open catch-and-shoot threes, and in cutting to the basket and relocating when he hasn’t had the ball in his hands.
But his first step is awfully hard to stop. And when Williams gets downhill, good luck keeping him from getting two feet in the paint and finishing or converting on a floater with the touch he has.
He can create shots inside the arc from a variety of angles, and if he could continue to improve on his pull-up game from three, he’d be one of the steals of the draft looking back on this 2022 class.
Williams’ vision and scoring ability are tough to match by a number of prospects in his projected early to middle second-round range. He’s not nearly the same defender as Dosunmu, but he has the size to at least battle with others in the backcourt.
I’m fully buying in to the chance that Williams can impact a team in a similar way that Dosunmu has for the Bulls. A spark plug off the bench who can keep growing and spot start when needed. That type of guard is valuable for any team looking to contend in a big way.
As far as bets go in the second round, catch me pushing my chips to the center of the table on Williams as a very legitimate dark horse in that range to outperform his draft position.
Michael Foster, G-League Ignite
My last pick in this column has yet to crack the first-round conversation on any boards I’ve looked at. Some scouts don’t even have him anywhere close to that range.
The slander towards Michael Foster was most evident to me in the selections to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend. Foster wasn’t selected to play on one of the four teams comprised of rookies, sophomores, and G-League Ignite players. Instead of Foster, Scoot Henderson got the nod.
And while I agree Henderson’s game is better suited for this type of exhibition, along with the hype and the fact that he’s the better long-term prospect, it still seemed like a slap in the face for Foster considering he’s eligible for 2022 and Scoot is not.
Despite all of that, I came around on the idea of Foster as a prospect a while ago, and I was sold even more when I saw the Ignite team in Delaware against the Blue Coats.
Just watching Foster warm up is a delight. At 6’8” and 250 lbs. Foster is coordinated in ways someone his size often is not. Watching him go through drills and practice not only standstill jumpers but also sizing up his man and nailing step-backs really hit home just how talented he is offensively.
And what’s not to like about what he brings to the table on that end? A vertical lob finisher, powerful post scorer, AND someone who can step out and hit nail jumpers while continuing to extend his range from three? I’ve seen passing flashes and spin moves off the dribble; if those step-backs ever become a regular part of his game, the results could be lethal.
His mismatch potential at the forward spot offensively certainly gives Foster appeal as an NBA player. Where the case falls apart is in his awareness on both ends. While he’s shown some ability as a passer, his court vision on the offensive end still needs to continue developing.
Defensively, he can make plays by playing passing lanes and blocking shots around the rim, but he’ll get lost on switches, lose his man on the perimeter and occasionally give up a back door if he’s the last line of defense.
I’m not sure if he’s a full-time center in the NBA, or what his ideal position is long-term due to some of those issues. Do you want Foster out more on the perimeter on stretch forwards? Is he good enough to be the primary rim protector as a “small ball” big?
I don’t currently have the answers to those questions on the defensive end. But outside of some fumbling of the basketball and awareness issues offensively, I see so much natural scoring talent in Foster.
And at the end of the day, we’re talking about someone projected to go in the second round. With the right developmental situation in place, I could see a JaMychal Green-like career arc for Foster, which would be a great get for any team that late in the draft.
But there is starter upside to Foster. He’s still young and has plenty of time and room to grow out his game further on both ends. Foster will need time to continue developing in the G-League, and he needs to go to a team that will be patient with his progression.
These are the players I’m all in on spending a second-round pick on if the organization is to be trusted from that perspective. I liked Isaiah Todd last year for similar reasons; they aren’t quite the same player, but they still share similar offensive upsides.
Foster has produced at excellent levels for someone his age in the G-League. Who knows the numbers and impact he could have on games a few years from now in the NBA. I’ll take him as one of “my guys” in this class, and hopefully he gets taken sooner rather than later in the draft.