Shiny New Toy?
It's easy to be excited about incoming Freshman talent, but should expectations be tempered?
Keeping it Fresh
The theme for my preparation for this NBA Draft Cycle preseason is taking an almost-scientific approach to what has been working in previous NBA Drafts. Last week, I shared with you all what Player Types have been the most successful over the last five drafts. There were five listed—of course, there are more—and I gave a few examples of current NBA Players that align with those types, along with some early projections I have for the 2023 Draft Class.
What we’ll be doing this week is looking at how the NBA has valued drafting one-and-done prospects. A distinguishing characteristic this piece will have, compared to last week’s work, is that the 2022 Draft Class will be included. Similarly to last week, the 2017 class will make a return just to keep things consistent in terms of what has been occurring in the league. The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate whether or not draft fans should feel validated in how they are expecting the talented crop of freshmen in this class or to perhaps temper the expectations that “the consensus” can heap upon such young players.
In this piece, we’ll break down the past six drafts, going over the volume of young talent that was drafted in the first round each season. Quick disclaimer: international players or domestic players that went overseas for a season will not be included. We’ll also exclude players that have later gone on to play for the Overtime Elite or the G-League Ignite.
Thanks for reading No Ceilings! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
2017 NBA Draft Class
1st Round Freshmen: 16
Jayson Tatum | Duke | 3rd Pick
Bam Adebayo | Kentucky | 14th Pick
Jarrett Allen | Texas | 22nd Pick
On top of the “Notables” listed above, players like De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, and Markelle Fultz are all within the upper echelon of players that aren’t All-NBA or All-Star Teams but are steady contributors to their organizations.
There are other players that have had a season or two of steady output but have—for one reason or another—had some rocky seasons to go along with those years. Jonathan Isaac, Malik Monk, Zach Collins, Josh Jackson, Harry Giles, and Tony Bradley have all had some sort of success on an NBA Team, which is something to take into consideration when evaluating the overall quality of a draft class. However, due to either injuries or expectations based on where they were selected, they are slightly underwhelming compared to the more proven talent.
This class has already shown to be a very special one over the past few seasons. You’ll notice as we go along, but the 2017 draft class boasts the highest number of freshmen drafted in the first round. On top of that, it’s produced a good number of players that are currently on NBA rosters in general.
2018 NBA Draft Class
1st Round Freshmen: 14
Jaren Jackson Jr. | Michigan State | 4th Pick
Trae Young | Oklahoma | 5th Pick
I’m keeping the “Notables” section reserved for those players that have made either an All-NBA team or have received an All-Star selection, so let’s not lose our heads for some of the omitted names; they are still great talents. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Deandre Ayton, Wendell Carter Jr., and Collin Sexton are considerably talented, as they are largely expected to receive some sort of accolade at some point in their career if they can continue the success they have had so far.
There are other players, such as Michael Porter Jr. and Mo Bamba, that are very solid rotational players for their squads, but injuries have held up MPJ, while it has taken Bamba a little time to carve out a significant role—which is fine.
2019 NBA Draft Class
1st Round Freshmen: 11
Zion Williamson | Duke | 1st Pick
Darius Garland | Vanderbilt | 5th Pick
Tyler Herro | Kentucky | 13th Pick
Combined with the players named above, the 2019 class has been a little quieter in terms of the number of freshmen that have made a lot of noise—at least compared to the other classes here. Say what you want about RJ Barrett, but he has been a steadily improved player since entering the league. Although taken later in the draft, Keldon Johnson has been a consistent cog in San Antonio’s rotation, while there is hope that Kevin Porter Jr. can continue his ascent into the upper echelon of NBA guards.
Beyond those six players, the remaining freshmen in this class have had some moments, at best, but there is still plenty of time for those players to make a name for themselves. Here’s hoping that players like Coby White, Jaxson Hayes, Romeo Langford, and Nassir Little will all find their footing in the very near future.
2020 NBA Draft Class
1st Round Freshmen: 12
LaMelo Ball | Illawarra | 3rd Pick
Now, let’s not get hasty. I am not the one that didn’t vote in Anthony Edwards for some high-end NBA accolade. I’m just a messenger. Obviously, it appears as if Ant is destined for some serious hardware in his career. Along with Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton and Tyrese Maxey have both demonstrated that they could be mentioned for some All-NBA teams in the not-so-distant future.
Saddiq Bey leads the charge among the next rung of talent included in this class. He is joined by a few other talents, namely James Wiseman, Patrick Williams, Jaden McDaniels, Deni Avdija, Onyeka Okongwu, Isaac Okoro, and Jalen Smith as some of the guys that have the highest likelihood of producing in the league for years to come.
2021 NBA Draft Class
1st Round Freshmen: 14
To parrot off of what was said earlier, just because there aren’t any “Notables” in this class (yet) doesn’t mean there won’t be later. Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and Scottie Barnes all had legitimate cases for walking away for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year as freshmen. Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs didn’t have as high of a “pop” as the aforementioned players, but they still look like they are going to be real players.
Moses Moody seems like he will be an important player for the future of his team, while other players, such as Ziaire Williams, Cam Thomas, Joshua Primo, and Day’Ron Sharpe, could be long-term rotational players.
2022 NBA Draft Class
1st Round Freshmen: 12
None of these players have taken the floor yet, and it will (unfortunately) be another whole season before we see how Chet Holmgren will pan out in the league. There are players that we expect to succeed, like Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith Jr. Beyond them, the list of freshmen that could grow into long-term starters or heady rotational players seems to be in the eye of the beholder. I personally am a believer in players like Malaki Branham, AJ Griffin, Jalen Duren, and Tari Eason—players I had projected as lottery-level talents in this class.
2023 NBA Draft Class Outlook
SI’s Mock: 15 freshmen
Takanthon’s Mock: 15 freshmen
Bleacher Report Mock: 19 freshmen
ESPN’s Mock: 18 freshmen
The Athletic’s Mock: 13 freshmen (Sam Vecenie actually speaks a little to the point I am making here in the prelude to his Mock Draft)
This class is teeming with talented freshmen, no doubt. As I am surveying things in the early going, it appears that there are about 25 freshmen that I have either seen appear high on some of these “Way-Too-Early” mocks or that I truly believe have a fair shot at crashing the party as the draft cycle unfolds.
While I’m eyeing these roughly 25 freshmen, the one thing that this exercise has taught me is that sometimes we fall in love with the “Shiny New Toy” a bit too easily at this point in the season (if you consider this “the season”). And I throw myself into this collective “we” here. It’s fitting that Sam Vecenie of The Athletic settled with 13 freshmen being selected in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, as that is the average number of freshmen that have been taken in the opening round since 2017. As I am piecing my initial board together, below are some of the Freshmen that I believe either are, or could be, considered to be first round selections for the 2023 Draft Class:
Cam Whitmore | Forward | Villanova
Dariq Whitehead | Forward | Duke
Keyonte George | Guard | Baylor
Nick Smith Jr. | Guard | Arkansas
Dereck Lively II | Big | Duke
Gregory “GG” Jackson | Big | South Carolina
Jarace Walker | Forward | Houston
Cason Wallace | Guard | Kentucky
Anthony Black | Perimeter | Arkansas
Amari Bailey | Guard | UCLA
Kel’el Ware | Big | Oregon
Baba Miller | Forward | Florida State
Dillon Mitchell | Forward | Texas
Jordan Walsh | Wing | Arkansas
Brandon Miller | Forward | Alabama
Jalen Hood-Schifino | Wing | Indiana
Tyrese Proctor | Guard | Duke
Gradey Dick | Wing | Kansas
Kyle Filipkowski | Big | Duke
Kymany Houinsou | Perimeter | Washington State
Chris Livingston | Forward | Kentucky
Judah Mintz | Guard | Syracuse
Malik Reneau | Forward | Indiana
Julian Phillips | Forward | Tennessee
JJ Starling | Guard | Notre Dame
Mark Mitchell | Forward | Duke
As it goes with almost every other class ever, there will likely be a name that squeaks into the conversation. Nevertheless, while we assimilate our projections this far ahead of the looming season, we need to remember what history has shown us: freshmen can be talented; they can be tantalizing. However, returning players are actualizing their development every season they come back. There is a level of projection. There is a level of potential left for them to find. But there are also further along in production—something that NBA teams value in conjunction with who they will be down the line.