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Sophomores Who Could Step Up | The Prospect Overview
A new season brings new circumstances! Maxwell examines five sophomores with bigger roles who could burst onto draft radars this year! PLUS: Quick Hits across the world of basketball!
I love basketball, and particularly, I love the process of scouting basketball. Where my heart truly resides, though, is on the margins. I take great joy in digging through piles of players that have been overlooked, undervalued, or not given fair consideration.
That brings us to today’s column. DRAFT SZN is in full swing with international play taking place, the NBA season on the horizon, and college basketball right around the corner. Early mock drafts have been popping up with greater frequency. Many of these mocks feature sophomore players projected to take a big step forward in their second season. Ryan Dunn and Terrance Arceneaux have been hot names. While they didn’t post the biggest counting numbers as freshmen, the belief that a change in circumstance paired with continued improvement has led to a rise in their stock.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with talking about Ryan Dunn and Terrance Arceneaux! But like I said, my heart resides on the margins. Today, I want to look at five other sophomores who could step up in a different setting but haven’t been receiving the same type of acclaim as Dunn and Arceneaux. I also structured this loosely in the format of a starting five, trying to avoid positional overlap. Oh, and real quick, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter/X here. Let’s get to it!
Tarris Reed Jr., 6’10”, Michigan
Ranked 31st in the class of 2022 via RSCI
2022-2023 Stats: 12.6 MPG, 3.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.1 APG, 1.0 TOV, 0.9 BPG, 0.5 SPG
Shooting Splits: 51.7/0/40.0
What’s different now?
Tarris Reed Jr. didn’t get to see the floor much as a freshman. As a 6’10”, 265-pound big man, there was significant overlap between his game and Hunter Dickinson’s. A three-time All-Big Ten player, Dickinson had much more experience and polish to his game. The two shared the floor on occasion, but they didn’t bring out the best in each other. Now, with Dickinson off to Kansas, the starting 5 spot is open. Olivier Nkhamoua’s defensive versatility makes for a cleaner 4-5 pairing with Reed.
What are you selling here?
I was quite enamored with Tarris Reed Jr. coming into the season last year. Things didn’t quite go as I’d hoped, but I still have hope—largely because Reed didn’t get to show much of what appealed to me, and he did better than expected in the areas where I had concerns.
One thing did carry over, and that’s the fact that Reed is a physical force. He looks like a defensive lineman in a basketball uniform. His 14.5 OREB% is an outstanding mark. He’s a high-level glass cleaner with soft hands and the ability to clear out space using his frame. This raw power shows up on offense, too. You absolutely cannot put a smaller player on Reed, because he will do the basketball equivalent of shoving them in a locker. He’s tough around the basket and goes up harder than almost anyone.
Going back to the pre-college tape, I had some concerns about Reed because he wasn’t a big-time leaper, and he could be heavy on his feet. Playing for Mokan Elite on the grassroots circuit, Felix Okpara had to be relied upon to protect the rim because of Reed’s deficiencies around the basket. Despite Reed’s massive size, he only registered seven blocks in nine games tracked by Synergy. While he isn’t Jaren Jackson Jr. in terms of mobility, he definitely improved from an athleticism standpoint. His BLK% of 7.3 during his freshman season for the Wolverines was actually a strong mark for a big man prospect.
While he’s still not a pogo-stick jumper, Reed successfully swats shots for a few reasons. The first is that his recognition and feel for the game are exemplary. He pays attention, and he has the smarts to grasp what’s happening the instant it starts to happen, or even before it starts to happen. There’s no delay where he registers, and then acts—he just acts right away. This feel also played a part in his high-for-a-big STL% of 2.4. Back to the shot-blocking, though. The second thing that pops is his motor. Reed wants to make plays on the ball, and even at his size, he’ll haul butt in transition to get back on defense.
Lastly, his body makes it difficult for smaller players to get good angles against him at the bucket. If you try to play through his chest, he’ll swallow you up. This leads to players trying to lob the ball over him, and he’s been able to elevate out of his slide well. He’s fluid through his feet, knees, and hips, so when he’s going from lateral to vertical, he doesn’t miss a beat. That movement skill set also prevents him from being toast on an island. He won’t be a big you want to switch a ton, but he’ll be able to show at the level consistently and effectively.
What I find most intriguing about Reed, and why I feel more confident predicting a breakout for him, is that he actually has a good track record in the areas where he struggled. What I liked about Reed in high school was his offensive skill. He could sling passes out of the post or from the top of the key. Reed was a willing shooter, too, with a pretty stroke from behind the three-point line. Seeing him take a three as a transition trailer or pop-man after leveling someone with one of his brutal screens wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.
Obviously, seeing a 1-to-10 assist-to-turnover ratio is frightening, as is a 40% mark from the free-throw line. But we’ve seen Reed succeed in these areas before! Part of the low assist totals was his role, as he was entirely a play finisher this past season. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see Reed get back on the horse in this respect.
I actually have Tarris Reed Jr. in my Top 60 to start the year. At his best, you can squint and see Jonas Valanciunas—a large, nasty competitor with baby soft touch. There are real impediments to success in his way. Maybe the passing stuff was only really applicable at lower levels, and the speed of the college game prevents it from scaling up. Perhaps his touch from the outside isn’t as legitimate as it seemed in high school. With a bigger role, perhaps he won’t be able to keep up the same level of energy on defense, and he isn’t who he looked like on that end last year. But I doubt all of that. I see a massive human being who can move and thinks the game at a high level. The work he did on his body and defense is beyond encouraging. While Michigan may have significantly less talent than last season, that presents Reed with a massive opportunity. Don’t be surprised if we get a “best-of-both-worlds” season where Reed finds himself in serious draft conversations.
Jevon Porter, 6’11”, Pepperdine
Ranked 82nd in the class of 2022 by 247Sports
2022-2023 Stats: 28.4 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.8 TOV, 0.9 SPG, 0.9 BPG
Shooting Splits: 48.5/35.1/70.6
What’s Different Now?
While Jevon Porter received the most playing time on this list, his opportunities should be even more plentiful this coming season. Two of Pepperdine’s top four scorers departed—Max Lewis to the NBA, and Mike Mitchell Jr. to Minnesota. That alone should give Porter an opportunity to bolster his counting stats and show off more of his on-ball arsenal. Additionally, with fellow big men Carson Basham and Jan Zidek transferring out, Porter will be able to play the five more and should face less competition for his minutes as a whole.
What are you selling here?
Do you like tall guys who can shoot and get their own buckets? That’s Jevon Porter.
Few big men, especially his age, have the shot-making capabilities that Jevon Porter possesses. While his shooting motion may not be the fastest, it is unbelievably consistent, looking the same off the catch every time. That repeatability produced great results, as Porter hit 38.6% of his catch-and-shoot threes last season, per Synergy. While his pull-up game from deep isn’t there yet, he uses his length well to finish over opponents in the mid-range. He hit 41.7% of his two-point dribble jumpers on 36 attempts last year. That’s an efficient mark for anyone, but especially for a 4/5 on higher volume.
Though he can be a little too perimeter-oriented at times, he also has soft touch around the basket, giving him genuine three-level scoring upside. Occasionally, he’ll bully a smaller player inside for an easy bucket. When he is on the perimeter, he does show a bit of playmaking upside. His handle is tight for his position, and he has a few counter moves to help him generate better looks for himself. Though his assist rate of 5.6% was troublingly low, he has moments where he’ll make the extra pass, delivering the ball quickly and accurately to his teammates.
Defensively, he’s a mixed bag. He’ll miss rim rotations, leave his feet too often on pump fakes, or tune out of the ball. At 220 pounds, he’s prone to getting pushed around on the interior. However, there’s still reason for optimism. Porter knows how to use his length well, and his 1.8 STL% is a nice mark for a player his size. He’s got some mobility and fluidity to him, so he’s not an easy isolation target. Though his block rate was low, Porter does get off the floor pretty easily. The hope is that, with more minutes at the five spot, some of his defensive shortcomings can be rounded into form. Given his size and ability to move, he has upside on this side of the ball.
There are some games where Jevon Porter is frustrating to watch. His offensive game will go quiet, he won’t rebound as well as he should, or he’ll have too many defensive lapses. He’s wonderfully efficient on putbacks, but his offensive rebound rate wasn’t where it should be. He’s capable of guarding a lot of different players, but he’s often lost off the ball. Porter excels at making tough shots, but he resorts to taking them when a pass would make more sense. But when he’s on, man, he’s fun to watch. Year Two at Pepperdine should be about finding ways to stay consistent in terms of his work rate and engagement on both ends of the floor. Porter can do a lot of things other guys his size can’t do. If he plays with a high motor and works some things out on the defensive end, he could turn himself into a draftable player. For now, he’s more of a “wait and see” guy for me, but I’ll be checking in on him early in the season.
Rylan Griffen, 6’6”, Alabama
Ranked 38th in the class of 2022 via RSCI
2022-2023 Stats: 15.7 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.8 TOV, 0.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Shooting Splits: 36.5/30.1/73.3
What’s Different Now?
There’s been significant turnover within the Alabama program. Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney, Charles Bediako, Jaden Bradley, Nimari Burnett, Noah Gurley, and Jahvon Quinerly are all gone. Using one of the most advanced analytical models known to humanity, “total points,” that’s seven out of their top nine guys from last year’s team that are out of the picture. To be fair, the Crimson Tide restocked in the transfer portal, bringing in proven producers like Aaron Estrada, Latrell Wrightsell Jr., and Grant Nelson. Still, a roster shakeup creates new opportunities. There is no entitlement to a role, and everything must be earned. This opens a window for Rylan Griffen’s breakout.
What are you selling here?
At 6’6”, Rylan Griffen is long, quick, and has real bounce as a one-footed leaper. These tools showed up most on the defensive end last season. His DBPM of 3.9 was one of the better marks in the country for a high-major freshman. Griffen’s length, ability to slide, and the ease with which he jumps make him a tough player to get around when he guards the ball. Even when players get him to their side or behind them, he’s still able to get into their shot, whether it be with a block or a significant contest. He’s good with hands, getting in on the rock at the point of attack or as a helper executing a sneaky dig. As Griffen continues to fill out his frame, he should be an absolute handful for guards at the professional level.
Obviously, one could look at Griffen’s scoring efficiency and say, “there’s a lot of work to do here.” While that’s not entirely wrong, Griffen was actually more efficient in conference play, posting shooting splits of 40.4/34.8/75.0 in SEC play. That type of improvement against an increased level of competition is encouraging. Additionally, he was quite good as an outside scorer in the halfcourt. Per Synergy, he made 36.8% of his catch-and-shoot threes and 40% of his pull-up threes in that setting. Alabama’s up-and-down playstyle does mean that his transition issues aren’t a non-factor, but the fact that he can get it done when the game slows down is meaningful. Griffen was also a 47.4% mid-range pull-up shooter on the Adidas circuit, so his off-the-dribble prowess isn’t brand new.
His assist-to-turnover numbers were scary for a guard, but at the grassroots and high school levels, he showed that he can be an effective setup man for his teammates. At Alabama, he simply hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunity to show off that side of his game. Last year, he played alongside a slew of other on-ball creators. Still, he was awesome in his pick-and-roll possessions. Per Synergy, Griffen ranked in the 92nd percentile on those play types when including passes. When operating out of ball screens, he’ll blend his burst with pace, changing speeds and keeping opponents on their toes. He’s a capable live dribble passer with his right hand. His eyes for the corner and roll man stand out. Occasionally, he’ll fit the ball through a tight window, which always raises my eyebrows. Plus, the threat of his pull-up always keeps his defender honest.
Griffen isn’t a perfect prospect, and his inefficiency last season is probably a limiting factor in his hype. Given that he’s still on the skinny side, he doesn’t quite have an NBA-ready body yet. While he’s a good outside scorer in the halfcourt, he’s never been a great finisher at the rim in that same context, and his frame likely plays a role in that. Still, young players tend to get stronger. Add in his quickness, leaping ability, shot-making ability, and steady passing vision, and there’s a lot to like. The fact that Alabama has a bunch of talent, particularly at the guard positions, could eat into Griffen’s opportunities yet again. Still, when I look at that roster on paper, there’s a real argument to be made that he’s their most talented player. The areas where he needs to improve are all the ones that tend to be improved upon by breakout players—scoring efficiency, playmaking, and physicality. Heck, he even got better in these areas throughout last season while playing in a loaded SEC! For that reason, I’m buying a Rylan Griffen breakout. Give me Griffen in the Top 60 to start the year.
Roddy Gayle Jr., 6’4”, Ohio State
Ranked 53rd in the class of 2022 via RSCI
2022-2023 Stats: 16.3 MPG, 4.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.8 TOV, 0.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Shooting Splits: 44.0/42.9/81.0
What’s Different Now?
With Brice Sensabaugh, Justice Sueing, and Sean McNeil off to the professional ranks, Ohio State is down three of their top five scorers from last season. In particular, Sensabaugh and Sueing’s ability to get tough buckets made them important players for the Buckeyes. Freshman guard Bruce Thorton had a strong season as a table-setter, Felix Okpara could take a step forward, and the hope is that incoming transfer Jamison Battle can rebound after a shaky senior campaign at Minnesota. Taison Chatman, Devin Royal, and Scotty Middleton are all highly touted freshmen. Still, the go-to, late-clock scorer role is open for the taking. Roddy Gayle Jr. might be that guy.
What are you selling here?
Gayle is tougher than a two-dollar steak that was cut along the grain. At 210 pounds, he’s able to bring a high level of physicality on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he uses his mass to get to the bucket. He’s more than a brute, though. Gayle has a solid handle and clever footwork, and he’s great at using his pump fake against the last line of defense on the interior. Per Synergy, almost 30% of his halfcourt shots came at the basket, and he converted an outstanding 62.9% of those attempts.
He’s not just a driver, either. While the volume was low positionally speaking (5.2 3FG attempts per 100 possessions), Gayle can get it done from deep. He went 42.9% from long range last season. Per Synergy, he hit that same mark on threes whether they were off the catch or off the dribble. This pull-up game, paired with his finishing, led to him ranking in Synergy’s 91st percentile on pick-and-roll possessions including passes. When he hunts his, everything really kicks into gear. In the final game of his season, he lit up Purdue for five threes, all of which came in the first half. That’s the Gayle I want to see more often. If he can be a more willing shooter and maintain a reasonably efficient clip, it will further open up his potent attacking arsenal.
Gayle can be a handful on defense. When he throws his chest on a guy, he’s hard to drive through. Add in his solid abilities as a lateral mover, and he’s able to really smother opposing guards on the perimeter. His bulk should also help him cover bigger players at the next level. Gayle posted a tremendous 2.3 BLK% last year, largely stemming from his instincts around the basket. When players go up for a lazy putback or get too locked into a post move, Gayle loves to sneak in and reject them.
There are two obstacles for Gayle. The first is his passing. While he has flashes, Gayle is also prone to forcing the ball through non-existent windows. He’s not that tall or long, so he will likely be slotted as a two-guard at the next level. Given that fact, he’ll need to make improvements as a decision-maker. Not many players at that position stick in the NBA without a solid level of playmaking balance to their game. The other issue is his point-of-attack defense. His footwork can get sloppy, and he doesn’t always work as hard as he should to get around screens. When he’s locked in, I like him a lot, he just needs to be more consistent.
Gayle is a bit of a tough nut to crack, making him more of a “watchlist” guy for me rather than someone I’m throwing on my board. On one hand, it’s easy to see Bruce Thronton taking a big step, and the offense simply running through him. I’m bullish on Scotty Middleton’s shot-making prowess, and that, paired with his defensive capabilities, makes him an easier roster fit. There are a lot of people vying for the role that Gayle will need to break out. On the other hand, the game tends to slow down for guys in their second year. Gayle already has a number of ways to score efficiently. If he can find the open man and be more judicious with his passing, while also keying in on defense, there’s a lot to like. I’m not sold on Gayle just yet, but he has a real chance to get into the mix in 2024.
Dylan Andrews, 6’2”, UCLA
Ranked 41st in the class of 2022 via RSCI
2022-2023 Stats: 10.9 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.5 TOV, 0.3 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Shooting Splits: 43.0/31.7/66.7
What’s Different Now?
The UCLA roster will be significantly different this coming season. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Jaylen Clark are off to the NBA. Sharpshooter David Singleton graduated. Perhaps most importantly for Dylan Andrews’s stock, Tyger Campbell has entered the professional ranks, continuing his passing wizardry in France’s top pro league. While Campbell’s NBA prospects weren’t outstanding due to his small size, he was one of the best point guards in college basketball for the past few years. During the pre-draft process, a few players disclosed to me that they thought he had more of a shot than he was getting credit for because of how difficult he was to read. Given his prowess, the UCLA offense often ran through Campbell, and he was on the floor a lot. For Andrews, that made it difficult to see the floor. Freshmen tend to be less consistent and reliable than their older peers, so despite Andrews’ highly touted status, UCLA relied on Campbell, and that diminished his opportunities. Now, Andrews looks like the favorite to take over that role.
What are you selling here?
While this may sound lofty given the praise I just heaped onto Campbell, there are some similar flashes within Andrews’ game. Just like Campbell, he can play low to the ground, make good passes, and avoid mistakes. He’ll toy with ball screens to manipulate the defense. As a freshman, he posted a near 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and graded out in the 85th percentile on pick-and-roll possessions including passes, per Synergy. In particular, Andrews showed off excellent lob chemistry with Adem Bona and a propensity for threading needles with pocket passes.
To continue the similarities to Campbell, Andrews also has a nice mid-range pull-up game. He connected on 44.1% of his pull-up twos in the halfcourt this past season. Again, like Campbell, he wasn’t a great three-point shooter as a freshman (Andrews was 31.7%, Campbell was 26.7%), but the strong mid-range game gives room for encouragement. Additionally, Andrews made 39.1% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot triples, so if nothing else, teams can’t just ignore him on the perimeter. His past results inspire more hope. During his senior season at AZ Compass Prep, Andrews hit 42.6% of his threes, per Synergy.
At this point, you may be wondering, “why are you talking about a guy as a potential NBA prospect when you’re comparing him to a dude who’s playing in France?” That’s where there’s a key distinction—Andrews is both taller and a much better athlete than Tyger Campbell. He jumps higher, he moves a lot quicker, and he brings a competitive nastiness on the defensive end of the floor. As the NBA grows larger, speed, physicality, and the ability to guard the ball are increasingly important skills for guards. Andrews’ burst and toughness make it easier for him to get to his spots on offense while also making him tougher to pick on defensively.
Andrews does a great job of covering ball screens. He always fights to get around the pick. When he gets clipped, he still manages to stay connected. Still, most times, he uses his quickness and slither to avoid the screen while still staying in front of his man. Per Synergy, opponents turned it over 22.7% of the time in pick-and-rolls with Andrews covering the ball-handler, thanks to his tenacity and fast hands. Andrews plays his opponent tight, and when switched onto bigger players, he gives it everything he has in him. His ability to spring for contests helps, too. Nothing is going to come easy against him.
This one is a tough nut to crack for me, in part because UCLA has an odd, fascinating roster this season. They bring in loads of international talent and heaps of size. Still, nothing is for certain. Given how steady and trustworthy Andrews is an operator, and how well he’s able to set up Adem Bona, he should see a more prominent role this coming season. Even if he does break out, though, the NBA’s preferences for larger initiators could stunt Andrews’s draft stock should he want to enter the draft next year. Regardless, I’d anticipate Andrews getting to that sort of level eventually. He’s capable of doing the things NBA teams ask point guards to do, and he has the athleticism and motor to get over the hump that holds other prospects back. He’s a likely a longer-term play, but start taking notes now.
-I came into this cycle highly skeptical of Trentyn Flowers. This wasn’t helped after a rough start to his point guard experiment during the NBL Blitz. Since then, however, I’ve done some reassessing. He’s playing with a high work rate on offense and thoroughly embraced his new energy role in a 20-point outing against the Illawarra Hawks. There are still some things to clean up, particularly on defense, but I’m encouraged. Tune into all of our platforms, as my guy Stephen Gillaspie has something cooking on this front!
-Nikola Topic and Nikola Durisic aren’t the only ABA Liga players I’ve had my eyes on. Ivan Perasovic, a 6’7”, 21-year-old playing for KK Cibona, is pretty interesting. He’s an active cutter and loves to get in on the offensive glass. When he slashes with the ball, he gets low to the ground, and he keeps his head up for the open man. On defense, he’s able to move and stick with opponents. He’s got good feet, he’s unafraid when switched down, and he’s tough to shake. Scoring 13.4 PPG on 57.6/56.3/100 through seven games with good on-ball defense and passing feel? That’s exciting! He’s not perfect, though. On defense, his movement in space isn’t as good, and he displays non-committal, choppy closeouts and doesn’t cover ground as well as I’d hope. I’m also dubious about his jumper, as he has what can only be described as an “Uncle Shot.” You ever shoot hoops and have your least athletic uncle walk by, then ask for the ball, and shoot the strangest shot you’ve ever seen? That’s what Perasovic’s form looks like. His elbows are flared out like a frog’s legs as he launches it from just over the top of his head. The results have been good this year and last, but I’m having a hard time getting over how unconventional it looks. Still, that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective! See: Marion, Shawn. Where that shot settles in time will be interesting to monitor.
-Croatian prospect Krsevan Klarica intrigues me, too. At 19 years old, the 6’5” guard is still more of a longer-term proposition. Through four games in Liga ABA and A-1 Liga, he’s averaging 2.3 APG to 1.0 TOV. He’s got great vision and can always find the open man. Whether it’s a quick dart from a standstill or a crafty interior wrap-around, if someone has a clean look, Klarica will find them. He’s fast end to end and can get up off one foot, too. After going 37.5% from deep last year, he’s at 41.2% this year, shooting a super soft ball of the catch or when pulling up. His defense is what needs to come around. His lateral movement doesn’t compare to what he can do north-south, as he plays upright and crosses his feet too often when opponents drive on him. Directional changes give him fits and he’s prone to biting on fakes. If he gets to a good place on that end in time, and it’s possible given that he’s not a bad athlete, he could work his way into the draft mix at some point.
-Let’s hop over to France! First up, we’ve got Brice Dessert, a 6’11” big man for ADA Blois in France’s top pro league. And folks, there’s nothing sweet about Dessert when it comes to physicality (sorry, had to do it). He’s tough and loves to mix it up on the inside. He’s a strong finisher, but he has soft touch when he doesn’t have an easy dunk. Through seven games in which he’s only played 14.3 MPG, he’s posted a highly productive and ultra-efficient 8.1 PPG on 86.2% from the field. Defensively, he’s displayed some comfort showing at the level and switching. His feet aren’t out of this world, but he’s gotten a few blocks on smaller players in isolation because his length eats up so much space and his timing is sublime. An odd thing that stuck out film is that while he shoots right-handed, he loves to block shots with his left hand. There are skill concerns here, as Dessert rarely looks to pass, he’s a poor free-throw shooter, and his bullying style may not translate as well in the NBA. He’s not hypermobile or bouncy, and his block rate trails a player like Ismael Kamagate’s at a similar age quite significantly. If he becomes a more consistent rim protector and rounds out his offensive game, he might be a name to monitor more closely.
-Another name worth paying attention to is on that same team—Armel Traore. His name popped up quite a bit last cycle, as he previously played for Metropolitans92 alongside Victor Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly. The 20-year-old, 6’8” wing has an NBA body, and he plays like it. He’s a hard driver who eats up contact. His passing stands out too, as he can make quick decisions and whip it on a rope when he sees an open man. Defensively, he brings genuine versatility due to his size and agility. His jumper hasn’t been consistent, and he can still be turnover-prone at times, but with steady improvement, it’s easy to imagine NBA teams wanting to draft him come June. The track record on big athletes who defend and have good feel is a strong one, particularly if he can project to be an average outside shooter.