Stephen's Time Capsule: Looks and Locks within Stephen's Board
It's that time of the year where Stephen has to step away for a little bit. Let's have some fun with it!
Stephen’s Time Capsule
Those who have known me for a while know that due to the nature of my day job, there are times of the year that I have to step away from the scene for a little while. It’s just an unfortunate thing that I have to do to support my family. While I’ll definitely miss spending time with my wife, Brianna, and our four children, I’m also a sicko. I’m going to miss the film dives, prospect progressions, and narratives that come along with the ramp-up for the draft cycle. It just sucks.
BUT let’s not focus on the sad part! Let’s have some fun with this! On the latest episode of Draft Sickos, Maxwell and I closed out the show with our usual “One for the Road” segment. In that segment, I gave out some quick hits, takes, and overarching thoughts for this class and the one to follow. I had so much fun doing that, that I would like to do some long-form writing based on my board. We’ll take a look at where I have some prospects, some quick hits and predictions on them, and also how I think this class will evolve while I’m gone—hence, the time capsule theme.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Tier One (Potential Top Picks)
Players: Ja’Kobe Walter, Alex Sarr, Stephon Castle, and Nikola Topic
I want to lead this off with a little filibustering. First, this will encompass my Top 110 prospects. You No Ceiling Plus subscribers will have access to my entire board—which is over 250 players. Secondly, I love tiers. I feel like it can be a little arbitrary to simply slap a number next to a player—especially when you see so many players within the same neighborhood talent-wise. Lastly, these tiers are relative to the players within the class—not a standard tier formula that travels class-to-class (I enjoy having tiers with players in them).
With that being said, I have four prospects that I strongly believe could be selected with the top pick in this class. Moreso than normal, I am of the mindset that the prospect that goes first in the 2024 NBA Draft will be more influenced by the team that lands the pick.
Ja’Kobe Walter: Walter is all over the place on boards, but I am a big fan of the way he can score from all over the court. He’s been an effective shooter from deep, and has balanced it with a very solid free throw rate. It feels like Cam Whitmore has passed the passing scrutiny baton to Ja’Kobe, but similarly to how I felt about Cam, I do think Walter will be a solid passer. He’s been pretty decent on defense—something to be expected with Baylor products—which further boosts his stock. Looking at some of the teams that figure to be at the top of the Draft Lottery, there aren’t many that couldn’t use what Ja’Kobe brings to the table.
Alex Sarr: Sarr came into this season as a top favorite to contend for the first pick in 2024. Recent history shows that malleable bigs like Victor Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren, and Evan Mobley are all worthy of being taken with a Top 3 pick. Standing at over seven feet tall, Sarr fits that same archetype. What the best version of Alex looks like is a floor spacer and lob threat on the offensive end while being one of the premier defensive roamers—a la Jaren Jackson Jr. Several of teams that project to have a real chance to land the first pick next season already have a big man in place, which does somewhat limit the likelihood that Alex could be the top pick. Should teams like Washington or Chicago land a Top 3 pick, it would be easy to imagine Alex being taken in that range.
Stephon Castle: Castle may be a bit of a “hot take” to those who may not have watched these prospects prior to this season. Beyond him not being ranked this highly among most outlets, the fact that he began the draft cycle with an injury has already put him behind the power curve. Even with all of this, there is still plenty to be excited about for the young guard. What makes him intriguing is the poise that he plays with while also being listed at 6’6”. With the success of players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyrese Haliburton, it is enticing to add these tools-y playmakers with their height-of-eye advantage. Playing at UConn will allow Stephon to showcase his bevy of playmaking moves on a grander scale. His offensive numbers will need time to work themselves out, but Castle is showing some dog on the defensive end already. There are several teams at the bottom of the NBA standings that could use a larger playmaker, scorer, and capable defender, and Castle could definitely fit that bill.
Nikola Topic: Adding more to a pretty intriguing international class, Nikola Topic already feels like a name that has been in the conversation since the jump. But he wasn’t a preseason projection at all. Topic hit the ground running for Mega and skyrocketed up boards in the early going. His age (will be 18 on draft night) combined with production is unmatched to this point, and has to be taken into consideration. While his shot hasn’t been consistent from deep, Nikola has demonstrated consistent touch and court awareness beyond his years. There are legitimate concerns regarding his defense—which has played a factor in me not having him #1 on my personal board—but we need to remember that he is very young playing in a pro league. His exposure to playing against professional scorers as a teenager could quietly be accelerating his defensive development. There is a conversation to be had that Nikola has proven himself more than any of the other candidates, which goes back to my initial point that fit is going to be more of a factor in the top pick more than usual.
Tier Two (Top 10 Contenders)
Players: Ryan Dunn, Cody Williams, Isaiah Collier, Zaccharie Risacher, Carlton Carrington, Robert Dillingham, Reed Sheppard, Donovan Clingan, Justin Edwards, Trey Alexander, Ron Holland, and Dalton Knecht
This is where I could understand why people feel some type of way about this draft class. There were four players that I listed previously that I think should be in contention for the top selection. There are twelve players listed in this second tier that I believe have a legitimate case to be taken in the Top 10 in the 2024 draft.
I’ll put this out now, but not each one of these players will be individually broken down here or in the following tiers.
Isaiah Collier: This is the name that I’m sure will get scrutinized the most on this list, as Collier came into the season with a ton of buzz and is still mentioned among the best players in the class. Let me just start by saying: I get it. But what I have a hard time with is saying a player who has questions about their motor should be a top pick. This could be a blind spot for me as a scout. Anthony Edwards had similar knocks, and he was not the top player on my board then. Collier does have similar efficiency numbers to Edwards as well. Isaiah also has a worse assist-to-turnover ratio than Anthony. He is also a worse defender. Rucker sums up the scout on Collier beautifully when he states that the highs are very high, but the lows are rough. The athleticism is very real—a trait that has translated for prospects as of late. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes in the Top 4, I just don’t feel comfortable taking him there. Top 10? That makes more sense to me.
Cody Williams: Cody could be ranked as high as #4 on my board, and I gave him real consideration for my first tier. Unfortunately, he sustained an injury that could take him out for about a month. I liked Cody in the preseason for a lot of the same reasons I wrote on why Castle could be the top pick in the draft. His size and feel are so encouraging, but he is also showing the ability to play more physically than his physique would lead one to think. He plays off of the ball well and has mixed it up on the glass, too. I can’t help but think teams will look at the way his brother, Jalen Williams, has bulked up and believe Cody may be able to get significantly stronger. Jumbo creators are always going to get more love among front offices and typically outperform expectations based on where they are selected.
Rob Dillingham: One of a couple of Kentucky prospects that have taken the draft community by storm, Dillingham could be a realistic Top 10 pick in this class. Rob is showing a lot in terms of playmaking while playing off Reed Sheppard. He isn’t one of the aforementioned jumbo creators, but Dillingham is one of the quickest players in this class and has just as much feel to his game as his larger peers. In just 23 minutes per game, Rob is hitting over 51% from deep on more than four attempts. These numbers translate to almost 10 threes per 100 possessions. He’s also putting up a steals percentage of almost four. Kentucky has gotten Reed to buy into more of a facilitator role, but he’s also shown off the potent scoring ability that we saw at OTE. The blend of shiftiness and feel reminds me of some of the more dynamic “undersized” guards that have found success in the NBA.
Ryan Dunn: I have Dunn #5 on my board, but I totally understand the reservations about not having him this high. He can’t shoot—or, at least, hasn’t proven he can. That one skill is enough to tank a player’s value more than anything else for a non-big man. I get that. However, Dunn is one of the most efficient offensive players in college hoops. He is in the 99th percentile in cutting at the time of writing this, averaging 1.9 points per possession in that play type. He is also one of the most talented defensive prospects in recent history—not just in this class. I feel like capturing a player that could be one of the better defensive players in the NBA could be worth a Top 10 pick. Adding the fact that Dunn has some offensive know-how in his game—and has the ability to improve offensively within an NBA structure—you could have one of the best players in the class. I’m buying.
Dalton Knecht: If I’m buying Ryan Dunn for having a clear, NBA-level skill, there has to be some consistency in how I feel about Dalton Knecht. Look, let’s skip the “more than a shooter” discussion. Also, we can move past the “sneaky athlete” label. Dalton is a flat-out hooper. He has great size at 6’6” (he looks every bit of that listed height) and can jump with the best of them. He has great touch on his jumper, and he can get that shot off in a number of ways. Knecht possesses a solid handle, which helps when he is chased off the line. He can pull up from mid range, run off pin downs, can operate in DHOs—all of the things NBA wings have to do to make a rotation. The defense has to get better, and Dalton knows that. That is why he committed to Tennessee. The incremental improvements that have been taken should be enough to please NBA teams, and could make him worthy of a Top 10 pick as a lights-out shooter.
Risacher is a real dude—a great combination of size and skill. Carrington is a little thin, but I like his upside and vision. I’ve discussed Reed a lot—very productive. Clingan may still be getting back into shape after some foot injuries; I still like him. Trey’s season needs to be evaluated based on his on-ball improvements; we’ve seen what he looks like off ball. Edwards and Holland have struggled and need to turn things around, but I’m just not ready to completely burn the ships yet.
Tier Three (Could Be Late-Lottery Picks, but I don’t think much higher)
Players: Tyler Smith, Adem Bona, Pacome Dadiet, Kyle Filipowski, Kobe Johnson, Kevin McCullar Jr., Aaron Bradshaw, Trevon Brazile, Bobi Klintman, and Matas Buzelis
I understand that I am listing more players than there are spots available, but that’s what I love about doing a “tiers” format—it shows how close some of the talents are. This format shows how close I believe players 14-26 on my boards are in terms of talent. Again, it gives me an understanding as to why some people may be so out on this class.
Pacome Dadiet: I truly believe that Dadiet could be this draft’s lightning rod, meaning he could be the prospect that shoots up boards late in the process. Not very many outlets wrote about him prior to this cycle—let alone include him on their boards or mocks in the preseason. Now, Pacome’s name is starting to be sprinkled in. It’s my belief that the scouting community can be behind on an international player’s stock compared to NBA teams. If we are suddenly seeing Dadiet’s name pop up, people are talking—and they should be! Pacome has real three-level scoring ability. His arms are long enough to tie his shoes while standing up straight (forgive my hyperbole). He is very young (turns 19 in July), and is putting up good numbers in a pro league. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes to Portland, OKC, or San Antonio with one of their second lottery picks.
Aaron Bradshaw: After less than a handful of games, I am already very intrigued with the potential of Bradshaw—and I was not “in” on him before the cycle. Aaron has shown some potential as big who can run the entire court with a creative playmaker. His first jump is very bouncy, but I like what I have seen on the second jump. His defense will need to catch up, but I like some of the instincts he’s shown already. He needs to get stronger. Like, he really needs to fill out. I believe that will come in time. I don’t have him in my lottery but should a team feel the need to add a big man, and Sarr and Clingan are off the board, it wouldn’t shock me if Bradshaw goes late in the lottery.
Tyler Smith: If there is one player that is right on the edge of my lottery—and I’ve had him on both sides of it—it is Tyler Smith. Some people look at this as an indictment against this class and the Ignite, but Smith has looked like the best prospect on his team. Another success story for OTE, Smith was a top recruit coming out of high school but lost a lot of love—perhaps falling victim to the unnecessary stigma that surrounds that league. He is an NBA athlete with a good frame that is shooting over 40% from deep on an NBA-sized court. He runs the floor well, attacks the glass, and is finishing through contact. Not to mention he gets to the rim with relative ease—averaging two dunks per game. At 6’11”, Tyler has some positional versatility that he can bring to an NBA frontcourt, and he’s still very young (just turned 19).
Bobi Klintman: I was in on Bobi last year after the “Swede Freak” took the second half of the college season by storm. After receiving what was reported as draftable reviews, Klintman decided to bet on himself and try to improve his draft stock. Making the jump to the NBL and playing for the Cairns, Bobi didn’t have the loudest pop while there was no college basketball, but he has made steady improvements to his game. The defense has actually been very impressive, as has been his improved strength. Klintman’s vision captivated the attention of many scouts while playing for Wake Forest last season, and he has continued to show impressive flashes for his team. With a lot of attention surrounding the college prospects this time of year, scouts who are continuing to do their homework on the Next Stars in Australia could be mightily rewarded with Bobi come draft night.
Matas Buzelis: This is the one prospect in this current range that I feel the most uneasy about. Matas is a player who has the size and feel that NBA teams want in a theoretical jumbo creator. Buzelis came into this cycle with some very prominent talent evaluators projecting him as high as the number one prospect in the class. Matas kind of underwhelmed in the areas he was highly regarded in during the Ignite vs. Perth Wildcats game, but there were also some good moments of defense—something believed to be a weakness. Injuries have also hampered the start to his season but since returning, Buzelis has helped the Ignite win more games. The impact on winning might be too much to pass up—not to mention Matas is rumored to be anywhere from 6’8” to 6’10” in height. While I’m not for the Franz Wagner comps, there may be some Hedo Turkoglu in his game. Maybe I should move him up?…
Adem Bona seems like he is destined to play strong minutes for many NBA teams. Kyle Filipowski has gotten better with his movements, particularly on offense. I worry about his defense. Kobe Johnson seems like a prototypical 3-and-D player with good passing chops. Kevin McCullar Jr. has taken a huge leap in his playmaking and seems like the type of player that will win minutes with effort. Trevon Brazile has bounced back well from his injury and is looking like a nice combo forward.
Tier Four (Great Value Firsts)
Players: Alex Karaban, PJ Hall, Tyrese Proctor, Alex Toohey, Malik Mack, Otega Oweh, Kel’el Ware, Dillon Jones, Yves Missi, Tristen Newton, Tyler Kolek, Wooga Poplar, Izan Almansa, and Riley Kugel
At this point of the season, it would be foolish to rule out anyone but should some performances continue to be regularly occurring, it wouldn’t shock me to see any of the prospects in this tier to be taken in the first round. Some of the players could provide significant return—especially on teams with established rosters. These guys could be rotational mainstays and fan favorites while playing a clearly defined role with a good team.
PJ Hall: PJ has kind of grown as a sweetheart among draft circles lately, and it’s easy to see why. He tested the water last season and seemed to have fans. Coming back to improve has paid off, with Hall showing off shooting, passing, and good touch around the rim con a very consistent basis. One thing that has quietly translated well to the NBA is the skilled big man. We all know that Nikola Jokic is the standard bearer for that player type, but we’ve seen Domantas Sabonis and Alperen Sengun hit as well. This isn’t to say that Hall is that level of player, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t going to produce just because he might not be All-NBA (or emerging talent like Sengun). What PJ brings could be more valuable in the late first than another 3-and-D or backup point guard projection.
Malik Mack: One thing that I have discussed ad nauseam this cycle—well, two things—are:
Would I rather bet on production and lose, or be correct on the low hit rate for small guards and ignore production?
Where is the line that divides really good college guards and NBA guards?
I’m still working through those questions, but I think they are fair to ask. Mack is a true freshman who is putting up 20 PPG—and he’s done it against teams like Indiana and Boston College, on top of fun conference games. He’s proving to be a reliable floor spacer and solid passer as well. I could see Mack coming back for another season, but I also think he’s skilled enough to be taken in the late first.
Otega Oweh: Athleticism is proving to be fairly transferable to the NBA in the past couple of draft classes, and Otega Oweh is an athlete at a bare minimum. Beyond fun athleticism, he’s a nasty defender. He’s posting a block percentage over 2% and a steal percentage over 4%. He’s a good rebounder, and cutter, and he has shot the ball well from deep—albeit on low volume. His turnover numbers are a tad high, but nothing about it feels permanent. Otega has the potential to come in and be a stopper and transition threat, with enough supplementary skills to be a long-time pro.
Tristen Newton: Truth be told, I don’t have Newton in my first round numerically. BUT, I could certainly see him being a guy that hits the ground running on a good team. Newton has had one triple-double on the season, but has had four games with five or more rebounds and assists—and has only had one game scoring under double digits. After shooting over 36% from deep last season, Newton is hovering around 35% on this season. He is a very intelligent player that can be trusted to make the correct decision with the ball, which has led some of the No Ceilings team feeling like he could be the Andrew Nembhard of this class.
Wooga Poplar: The dialogue that surrounds Wooga is pretty divisive. There were several people who believed he was a draftable prospect last season in a “better” class, but it seems as if Poplar has flown under the radar. He’s shooting 50/50/88 on the season (at the time of writing this) and has made some incremental improvements on the defensive end. His size could be a bit of a detractor, as he is listed at 6’5” but it remains to be seen if that is favorable or factual. There is also a lot of discussion on the player type Wooga is, and how translatable it is, but he does have the production and athleticism that could translate.
Alex Karaban could be the best shooter in this class and has great size at 6’8”. Tyrese Proctor isn’t necessarily my favorite player, but I could understand him being taken late first due to the speed and vision. Alex Toohey gained a ton of steam before the season started but has cooled off. I really like the movement, hustle, and shooting protection. Kel’el Ware has improved a ton at Indiana this season and might be the best overall big man in this class. That alone could get him a first round grade. Dillon Jones has been the engine behind Weber State over the past few seasons, which has inhibited any off-ball projections for him translating to the NBA. Even still, Jones has been a reliable, multi-faceted forward for years. Yves Missi is a very raw but tools-y big man prospect that can rim-run and protect the basket—could be a malleable player teams could get excited about. Tyler Kolek blurs the line between good college guard and NBA player for me, but I do acknowledge the production is insane. Izan Almansa has had one of the steepest declines of any prospect in the class. He does have solid touch around the rim but does have motor concerns. Riley Kugel is sort of hanging on by a thread here for me. The efficiency has taken a hit this year with more mouths to feed, but he has improved on defense. The second half of the season could be huge for a player like him.
Tier Five (Strong Second Rounders)
Players: DJ Wagner, Zach Edey, Bronny James, Harrison Ingram, Matthew Cleveland, Dillon Mitchell, Jamir Watkins, Walter Clayton Jr., Tidjane Salaun, Elliot Cadeau, Javian McCollum, AJ Johnson, Donovan Dent, Jared McCain, Ajay Mitchell, Scotty Middleton, Melvin Ajinca, Kam Jones, Milan Momcilovic, and Ariel Hukporti
Second round projections are always fun. Many upperclassmen will generally fall into this range for a few reasons. There is the safety aspect of their game. Sometimes older prospects will give their last big swing in development as they approach the “now or never” stage of their playing career. Then there is the curiosity of who will actually declare (which I want to dive into with the next tier).
Jamir Watkins: If I had to pick one player out of this group to thrust into the tier above, it would be Jamir. Even then, that range could end up being too low by the end of this season. If scouts really buy into the notion that “there’s always one late-season riser” we should strongly consider Watkins for a couple of reasons:
It’s almost never who consensus would guess.
He fits the bill.
Jamir is an athletic 6’7” forward who is shooting 47/36/72 on the season. He has a very solid assist-to-turnover ratio while grading favorably in every single basic and advanced statistical category. He has a very functional handle and puts good pressure on the rim. I think I feel myself moving him up my board as I type this…
Javian McCollum: Javian is a name that you’re probably familiar with by now. Once the pride of Siena, McCollum made the move to Oklahoma and hasn’t missed a beat. While he is scoring one less point per game, all of his shooting metrics have improved while facing stiff competition. In a three guard rotation, Javian’s assist numbers have taken a slight step back, but his turnover numbers are significantly better. To dispel any pending questions, he is not related to CJ McCollum, but there are some similarities to their game. McCollum can shoot off of the bounce or catch, and can generate looks for others.
Matthew Cleveland: Cleveland was once a highly regarded prospect coming into the 2021-2022 season. Playing at Florida State, Matthew didn’t live up to the lofty expectations placed on him by following up the Scottie Barnes season. He didn’t move far after entering the transfer portal, as Cleveland took his talents to “The U.” Simplifying his role, Miami has allowed Matthew to score a career-high in points per game while attempting the fewest shots per game in his collegiate career. He’s also recording a career-high in steals percentage, along with maintaining a high blocks percentage. Oh, and he is shooting over 40% from deep—continuing to build on the +17% in three-point percentage improvement he made between his freshman and sophomore seasons. I could easily see a team picking him up, should Cleveland be happy with being a second rounder.
Milan Momcilovic: If you had told me that there was going to be a freshman forward on Iowa State to make noise this season, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all. If you would have told me it was Momcilovic, I would have been a little more apprehensive. There are some obviously some flaws to his game if I have Milan projected as a second rounder, but this guy is an absolute l-a-s-e-r! He is shooting just under ten three-pointers per 100 possessions, while converting on over 46% percent of them. Not only is Momcilovic hitting threes, but he is hitting tough shots from good distance. He is listed at 6’8” and looks every bit of it, which could give him some solid offensive versatility. I have defensive concerns, his rebounding numbers aren’t fantastic, and he doesn’t really move the ball, but the shooting is NBA level. He might give it another season to improve some areas of concerns, but a team would certainly take his NBA-level shooting in the second if he would be there.
Zach Edey is a player who has been consistent on both ends of the floor for years. He won’t space the floor but will screen, rebound, and protect the rim at a decent level. I’ve discussed Harrison Ingram a good bit recently; I buy him and his improved shooting. Dillon Mitchell has developed some shooting touch—which has improved his draft stock. He is an elite athlete who loves to do the dirty work. Walter Clayton Jr. transferring up to Florida has led to some decreased numbers, but nothing too significant that worries me. He is another guard who has a nice handle and good, repeatable shot. Ajay Mitchell has been a gradual riser up my board, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he goes up a tier. He is shooting well this season on low volume (about 20% swing from similar volume last season) and has good assist-to-turnover numbers. His scoring comes from a number of spots on the floor, and he can organize an offense.
Kam Jones is a guy that I just buy his tough shot-making being translatable. What differentiates Kam over other guards is we are seeing what it looks like when he is asked to play off others. Melvin Ajinca hasn’t lived up to where I projected, but he is still hitting about 38% of his shots from deep. He isn’t doing much on the ball, but I think his floor spacing at his size (listed at 6’7”) in a pro league is worth a second rounder. Ariel Hukporti has been a prospect since I began scouting and is actually hitting on his potential. Hukporti is moving well, finishing at the rim, and is showing he can be solid on defense. DJ Wagner, Tidjane Salaun, Bronny James, Elliot Cadeau, AJ Johnson, Donovan Dent, Jared McCain, and Scotty Middleton all could qualify for the tier below (which I don’t look at as a “demotion”), but there are more aspects of their game that I could see catching on, and may actually swing up the other direction.
Tier Six (Do They Want To Go In the Second Round This Year?)
Players: Aday Mara, Garwey Dual, Caleb Foster, MacKenzie Mgbako, Coen Carr, Omaha Biliew, Elmarko Jackson, Ezra Ausar, Roddy Gayle Jr., Kylan Boswell, Trentyn Flowers, Adou Thiero, Wesley Cardet Jr., KJ Lewis, and Judah Mintz
This grouping of players is what makes a big board and/or mock draft so difficult. These freshmen and sophomores are clearly talented but are having a tough time separating themselves from the pack. There is no doubt that NBA teams would likely take a swing on a number of these players in the second round, but would any of these prospects want to go in that range? It is hard to imagine based on preseason projections/situations that most of these players would want to go in the second, but that is what intel is for. We’ve seen examples in this class that there is nothing wrong with building up reps and improving draft stocks. These players have mucked up my board and rankings and should they decide to return, they could really open things up for players in the next tier.
Garwey Dual: Dual is the type of player that has a lot of feel on defense. He just has a habit of being a pest on that end. On offense, Garwey has some tools to succeed, but there just isn’t a clearly defined role or a level of consistency that I feel comfortable in drafting in a respectable grade that I assume he would want this season. One thing I have clung to this season (that I should have realized with a player like Omaha Biliew) is: players that are going to be strong defensively with some questions on offense typically take two seasons to hit. Garwey fits that bill to me.
Ezra Ausar: Ausar isn’t a freshman, but he is such a raw player that I equate him similarly to the freshmen in this class. Ausar is just a force on the floor. Standing at about 6’8” and 240 pounds, Ezra can bully his way to get anywhere he wants. Defensively, I genuinely feel as if he can guard four positions. The shooting is worrisome, but I don’t find it as detrimental for a player that isn’t going to be reliant to play outside. He also crashes the glass efficiently. With the strength, rebounding, and defense being at the pro level—as well as him being able to grow into a garbage man on offense—I could see a team being entertained with him in the second round.
Coen Carr: If athleticism is a skill that translates, Carr has it in spades. If you want to see some spectacular dunks, Carr has them in spades. There are some very apparent holes in his game—particularly on the offensive end. He hasn’t attempted a single three-pointer in nine games played. That isn’t helping his stock considering there were questions on the shot anyway. He’s listed between 6’5” to 6’6” but there is strong belief that he is actually shorter than that. Despite all of those things, Coen has been a good rebounder for his height and position, has very high steal and block percentages, and puts ridiculous pressure on the rim. I also love the fact that he is even getting minutes for Coach Izzo—a tough feat for many freshmen.
Elmarko Jackson: I came into this season with skepticism about Elmarko Jackson. There were several smart people within the basketball space who had Jackson very high within their first round. I wasn’t sure how he and Harris Jr. were going to share the sugar. While there have been some flashes and performances to be encouraged by, the consistency hasn’t been there for Jackson. The efficiency numbers aren’t great, but I think much of the reason has to do with a lack of establishing a rhythm. I strongly believe that there are teams that would want to take Elmarko in the second—maybe even early second round territory—but I’m not sure if he would rather wait to be the guard for Kansas next season.
Aday Mara feels far away from being able to contribute to an NBA team. His defense and movement may be too much for his passing ability and soft touch around the rim to overcome. Caleb Foster has played decently well for Duke this season. He’s proven to be a shooter on low volume, despite the poor free throw numbers. I’m not sure if he has any juice inside the line and he has poor rebounding numbers. How much of that is due to role? MacKenzie Mgbako is starting to string together some consistent performances against Harvard, Maryland, Michigan, and Auburn. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him climb up boards, but I still have some reservations. His shooting is still questionable, and he has very low “blunks” (block + dunk) number—with one combined blunk in nine games. Omaha Biliew just isn’t ready. There are flashes of what I thought made him a Top 7 prospect for me in the preseason. I’m really looking forward to a strong sophomore season. I sometimes find it difficult to explain why I have Roddy Gayle Jr. in the range that I do. He isn’t a lead guard, but probably needs to be at his size. He can shoot the lights out of the ball, though. He’s getting to the rim at a good clip, too. Would he want to be a second rounder? I would imagine him making a strong run next season.
Kylan Boswell is another guard who is having a good season this year. He is very strong and is a good passer and shooter. I do worry about his lack of rim pressure and how almost ground-bound he seems to be. I love Trentyn Flowers, and believe he is a future NBA player, but I think how up-and-down his NBL season has started has put him behind a few other guards in the class. His shot is starting to come along, which is helping, and he is playing more off of the ball. Adou Thiero is a crazy athlete who plays basketball like a strong safety—and I mean that in the best of ways. He has a high propensity to break up plays from all over the court. He is the type of player that I’m not sure will have a clearly defined position, but I don’t know if he needs one. He needs to improve his shot and decision-making skills to help answer questions. There may be no prospect as under-discussed as Wesley Cardet Jr. He’s putting up almost 19 PPG, 5 RPG, and over 2.5 APG. He’s shooting 49/37/66 from the floor too. Playing for Chicago State seems to be delaying his relevancy within the draft space, which is a real shame because he has a real shot to make the league. KJ Lewis could be a player who experiences a rise similar to former Arizona Wildcat Dalen Terry. He is very strong and athletic positionally. He is putting crazy pressure on the rim and is doing some very impressive things on defense. The amount of energy he is exerting on defense has led to high fouls, but it may be worth weighing that less critically if he were the full-time lead guard. The shooting may just be low-volume issues. Judah Mintz seems to have addressed concerns that came about last season regarding his efficiency. He is over +13% in three-point efficiency, and has improved from the line and the court overall. Playing fewer minutes with more help, Judah is scoring, passing, putting more pressure on the rim, and racking up more steals now compared to his freshman season. There are just so many guards campaigning hard this season.
Tier Seven (Making Cases to Be Drafted / Priority Undrafted Free Agents)
Players: Keshad Johnson, Keshon Gilbert, Tristan Da Silva, Josiah-Jordan James, Jaylon Tyson, Blake Hinson, Quinten Post, DaRon Holmes, Nae’Qwan Tomlin, Terrence Shannon Jr., Tyler Burton, Joel Soriano, KJ Adams Jr., Malik Reneau, Jarin Stevenson, Mark Mitchell, Oso Ighodaro, Hunter Sallis, Cam Spencer, Devin Carter, KJ Evans, Michael Ajayi, Clifford Omoruyi, Chase Ross, Johni Broome, Guillermo Diaz Graham, Aden Holloway, Zeke Mayo, Tre White, Teafale Lenard Jr., London Johnson, Terrance Arceneaux, and Baba Miller
Keshad Johnson: Keshad Johnson is gunning hard for a case to be taken higher than this tier. Should the aforementioned freshmen decide to take another season to get more developmental reps, players like Johnson are serious candidates to be drafted. Keshad is a freight train in the open floor. He is ridiculously strong and has shown a great ability to get his way to the rim at a high clip. He is rebounding at a high rate, has a combined block and steals percentage of almost seven, and has 18 dunks on the year. While his most frequented play type (Spot Up) is graded out as “below average” per Synergy, he ranks in at least the 70th percentile in everything else. His shot is starting to come around too.
Quinten Post: I recently interviewed Quinten Post, and I feel like he can legitimately stick in the NBA. He had a steady rise on my board, for a lot of the reasons Maxwell highlighted in his Spreadsheet Sleepers column. After testing the waters last year, Post has come back with a vengeance. Quinten has the ability to space the floor, block shots, make smart passes, and display some good driving ability at seven feet tall. He probably won’t be much of a switching big man, but he has shown some ability to defend smaller players on occasion. Like Keshad, Post could certainly benefit from a number of players returning to school (or other leagues) and see some time in the NBA.
Terrence Shannon Jr.: I am not here to tell you that I have Terrence Shannon Jr. in my Top 60, but I will say that there are a healthy number of people who do. I acknowledge the level of production that he has put up this season and because this draft is classified as “weak” that’s why I think people feel TSJ is “safe” to take in the first round. I do struggle with Terrence there, because he is so much of an on-ball guy. He’s not a big wing, which limits who he defends. He hasn’t proven to be a reliable shot-creator. His shooting numbers have improved this season, but the deep ball took a notable step backward last year. When evaluating TSJ as a role player, I don’t see a first round guy. Even though I wouldn’t take him in the second round, I would be understanding to the team selecting him in that range.
Baba Miller: Baba is enjoying more success this season after one of the more upsetting punishments the NCAA has administered in quite some time. He’s shooting over 48% from the floor, and is hitting 37% of his shots from deep. While Miller is hitting threes on decent volume (3 attempts per game), there are still concerns on his touch—he’s only shooting 33% from the FT line. He has gotten stronger, which has helped his rebounding numbers and defensive numbers become above average. The feel that I expected in his freshman season hasn’t been there, though, as he is negative in assist-to-turnovers and is averaging seven fouls per 100 possessions. Even though he is listed at nearly seven feet and has good athleticism, Baba has one dunk to date. Size and fluidity are hard to come by, so I could see a team taking a flyer on him but I would prefer another season of development.
I will not be breaking down the other 29 prospects listed above. Just know that they all have presented compelling cases to be in my Top 110 players and have a strong chance to be in the NBA to some degree—this year or otherwise.
With me having to take some leave of scouting for a little bit, I hope to see you all hold me accountable to my takes. I am very excited to see how much movement there will be from now until I return. As much as I pride myself in the work that I put in, I am aware that some of these takes will not age well. That’s what makes this both fun and a grind.
I would like to thank the entire No Ceilings family for continuing to allow my nonsense to be published on this platform. Of course, my family for giving me the time to commit to chasing a dream. I want to shout out AJ Storr, Trentyn Flowers, Adam Oumiddoch, Jayden Ross, Michael Ajayi, and Quinten Post for allowing me to interview them and help share their story. Most of all, I thank each and every one of you for your support, critique, and accountability that you provide. All of these groups give me the motivation to be the best I can possibly be in evaluating talent.
Until we meet again, this is Stephen Gillaspie signing off…
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