Testing Your Patience
Just how patient can you be? The 2024 NBA Draft class is going to make you find out.
The concept of time is constantly finding new ways to teach us lessons.
When things are going great, time seems to flash by. Minutes turn into seconds. Weeks fly by like a stock car racing in the Daytona 500. We suddenly have a desire for time to slow down, so we can relish in the moment of having a surge of positivity.
Then there’s the other side of the fence. When things are challenging, time can seem like an eternity. We look to escape. Taking on obstacles with the hope that clearer times lay ahead.
Rare moments in time will present one of the biggest tests for us. Just how patient can you be?
If you’ve been following No Ceilings closely over the years, you should know my personal motto when it comes to evaluating prospects and young basketball talent.
“Sometimes…it just takes time.”
While we are all anxious to have results delivered in a rapid fashion, basketball (and life) doesn’t always work out that way. The game of basketball requires patience. A select number of teenagers and young individuals have been grinding their entire youthful lives to get to the Mecca of their basketball careers.
After suddenly swimming in a pond, these players are about to be thrown into an ocean. With that, those same individuals are about to become an investment by NBA organizations. Not only are they entering one of the best basketball leagues in the world, but they are also being handed one of the biggest checks of their lives.
I once asked an NBA coach about a young player who was struggling to find their groove in the league. This player was a former Top 5 pick who just couldn’t get things rolling. “What’s the issue? Anything going on behind the scenes?”
The response I got was something that has always stuck with me throughout my time as a scout. “Grew up with no father figure in a bad environment and suddenly became a millionaire overnight…how would you have handled that situation at 19 years old?”
It was a mic drop of an answer, and it’s something that we all need to realize when we want these young players to hit the ground running early on in their basketball careers.
Recently, I just became a father. It was an incredible experience, something that has immediately made me a student of time. As I reached out to friends who have been in a similar situation, one common advice came across my plate. “Enjoy it, because time will fly by, and you’ll be wanting things to slow down.”
It’s only been a couple of weeks, but that statement is starting to hit home like a hammer. Being a father has taught me early on that the concept of time must be reinvented. My level of patience has been reinvented. Because of that, I’ve started to wonder if that same realization can be applied to the 2024 NBA draft class.
There’s been plenty of skepticism about this upcoming draft class. It’s as wide-open as ever, with no sure-fire prospect cementing themselves as the “alpha” in this class. You’ll find that if you start to surf the web for big board rankings, you might struggle to find any board that looks similar.
This is the year to stick to your guns. If you’ve done your homework, this is the year to bang the table for “your guys.”
But is this the year for all of us to challenge ourselves to be open-minded? One of the biggest rules that draft evaluators love to lean on is drafting for BPA or Best Player Available. Regardless of your feelings or desire for a team to attack a “need” in the draft, the concept of BPA has always seemed to be a lifeline of safety.
Is this the year in which we challenge that theory? Is this the year in which teams should throw the “rule book” out the window and simply attack a player who could project safety?
No prospect is safe. There are too many obstacles and situations that can present challenges for a player to have a perfect transition to the NBA level. But when it comes to the 2024 class, there could be a desire to target players who present higher floors compared to their upside.
The 2024 Class
The Race for #1
The race for the top selection is as open as ever when it comes to the 2024 NBA Draft. We’ve never seen anything like this in recent memory. The draft is always, and will always be, about fit. This year, that sentence is going to hit home harder than ever. Whoever ends up with the top selection on the night of the lottery could move the needle in a direction for a specific player.
Plenty have pointed in the direction of Perth Wildcats big man Alexandre Sarr as the early favorite to be one of the first names off the board. Sarr is an intriguing talent at 7’1” with impressive athleticism and mobility on the court. He’s a lengthy thin-framed big with tremendous upside on the defensive side of the ball. But still, there are plenty of questions about the offensive role moving forward. While a team like the Detroit Pistons is positioned to be the top overall pick, does adding a player like Sarr make sense at #1?
While plenty are going to say that a team could simply move down, that concept could be challenged this year. Which player will teams want to move up for? It takes two to tango, and teams could be cautious about giving up assets in a year of uncertainty.
That brings international guard Nikola Topic into the conversation, who is now playing with Crvena Zvezda aka “Red Star.” Topic impressed throughout the first half of the year while playing with Mega MIS and has been sidelined with an injury. The playmaking and feel for the game with Topic has been sensational. Questions about the athleticism, defensive potential, and outside shooting will come into question.
But is this the year when teams should lean on how a player can impact instead of trying to dream of a superstar all-around talent? What we know about Topic is impressive. He’s a crafty floor general at 6’7” with sensational playmaking ability. Topic stresses patience on the court and can weave his way through traffic to find lanes. Is that simply enough for teams to target him as a piece to add to the puzzle?
Then there’s a pair of wildcards that are starting to cement themselves in this class. Baylor freshman Ja’Kobe Walter has the tools to be an offensive bucket-getting machine on the perimeter. While Walter needs to showcase some consistency and playmaking upside, he’s one of the top offensive threats in this class. Teams could start to get intrigued with the raw upside of Colorado freshman Cody Williams. A raw ball of clay, Williams looks to be ahead of where some might have expected early on and is oozing with tremendous long-term upside. Could another strong stretch of games get Williams’s needle trending up as a dark horse for #1?
France is Here
If there’s anything to start getting excited about when it comes to the 2024 NBA draft class, it’s the international class. Sure, there’s been plenty of intrigue about Serbian-born guard Nikola Topic (above). But we all need to start paying serious attention to the talent that has been developing in France.
After Victor Wembanyama was selected first overall last year, many considered him the next potential superstar to come from overseas. While no prospect in this class will be in the same conversation when it comes to potential, there are some legit pieces that should intrigue NBA teams.
Let’s start with Zaccharie Risacher, who has been playing for JL Bourg this year. Risacher has been a name that has been buzzing in scouting worlds for years. At 6’9”, the talented forward has been one of the top names to keep an eye on moving forward. Before the Nike Hoop Summit, many believed that Risacher could be a potential Top 5 pick in this year’s class. Seeing him in person, it didn’t take long to see the intrigue. After a disappointing week, followed by an uneventful showing in FIBA, Risacher looked to be trending as a “hopeful” first-round selection.
But, as the theme of this entire piece, time and patience is everything. Risacher took his talents to JL Bourg for the 2023-24 season and he’s looked like a COMPLETELY different human. Previously with FIBA, Risacher looked timid and uncomfortable with his role on the court. With Bourg, it’s been the opposite. Risacher has been possessed on the court, playing with swagger and a bit of anger. He’s shown the desire to attack the glass and go full-court before finishing with nastiness. Pairing that with his defensive versatility and legit outside shooting, there’s something seriously cooking here.
Why can’t Risacher be the top overall pick in the 2024 NBA draft class? Per 36 minutes, Risacher is averaging 17.7 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 52.4/47.5/68.5 on 5.0 3PA per game. It’s a question that requires much more emphasis.
But Risacher isn’t the only French-born prospect making noise. Insert 6’10” forward Tidjane Salaun, who has been playing for Cholet Basket this year. Salaun has been tremendous and could become one of the biggest “swing for the fences” prospects in this class. He’s a giant on the court who doesn’t understand how to play with his motor not on overdrive. When you watch the tape throughout the year, you can start to notice that Salaun is starting to understand how to be impactful without the ball in his hands. The outside shooting has been a great development, and he’s starting to look like a scary talent who is just scratching the surface.
Finally, Pacome Dadiet deserves to get some more spotlight as a potential “diamond in the rough.” After watching Dadiet at Basketball Without Borders, I found myself intrigued with his ability to be a serious talent. He’s been playing limited minutes with Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany) this year. It seems as if each time Dadiet gets on the court, he’s showcasing his upside to be unleashed. He’s playing just 13.9 minutes per game but is averaging 5.8 points on splits of 50/34/75. There are serious tools and intrigue when it comes to Dadiet, especially given the fact he will still be 18 years old on draft night.
G League Ignite Questions
There have been plenty of rising questions when it comes to the G League Ignite and their talented roster of incoming prospects. Many predicted that the Ignite could have as many as two players selected in the Top 5 of the 2024 NBA draft class. As of now, that thought process looks to be trending in the wrong direction. But there’s still plenty of time, and we’ve seen just how quickly things can start to change in recent years.
Let’s start out with Ron Holland. Coming into the 2023-24 season, Holland was viewed by many as a potential candidate for the first overall selection. After some ups and downs, Holland is now looking like a name that can be projected somewhere in the Top 10. But when you ask around, there’s still plenty that are intrigued with the talent of Holland. He’s currently averaging 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 45.6% from the field and 21.4% from three-point range.
Personally, I continue to see Holland as a player who could thrive with the right fit. He’s got the tools to be an exciting connecting piece, especially if a team already has their offensive focal points in place. But Holland is also averaging 3.2 turnovers per game, something that is going to need to be monitored moving forward.
His teammate, Matas Buzelis, has also had some intriguing flashes throughout the year. The vibe on Buzelis changes depending on who you ask around the league. Some continue to be intrigued with the upside. Others find themselves lower on the lack of creation and versatility offensively.
Buzelis came into the year as a potentially dangerous floor spacing asset with great size. However, he’s averaging 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in his first 17 games while shooting 44.4% from the field and 25.8% from three-point range. If the outside shot can start to come around, then Buzelis should start to see his stock heat up.
Embracing the Floor
Is this the year in which teams start to attack “floor” compared to “upside and potential” for prospects? Our own Tyler Metcalf wrote an awesome piece about the concept of Production vs Potential previously. It’s something that needs to be focused on moving forward, especially with the 2024 class.
There’s an assortment of players in this class that could intrigue teams with their “lack” of questions moving forward. Kansas Jayhawks senior guard Kevin McCullar Jr. has had a sensational year. Often viewed as a game-winning type of talent who makes his impact on the defensive side of the ball, McCullar has become a go-to scoring option for the Jayhawks this year. He’s averaging 19.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 36.8% from three. Could teams be convinced by the intangibles and growth to consider McCullar earlier in the lottery than some might expect?
Purdue Boilermakers big man Zach Edey has been one of the most dominant big men in college basketball over the years. While some might not agree with it, Edey has started to cement himself as a first-round pick in this class. It could simply be that teams aren’t overthinking the upside. At some point in this draft, teams are going to be willing to gamble on the potential of Edey being a contributing piece in their rotation. The question remains, at what point of the draft is that gamble worth the roll of the dice? Edey has looked much better this year, and he is having another stellar season. He’s averaging 22.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Put it this way, do you think your team could use Edey in their rotation?
Other players such as Dalton Knecht (Tennessee), Dillon Jones (Weber State), Tristan da Silva (Colorado), and Tyler Smith (G League Ignite) might not be oozing with upside. But teams are going to know exactly what they are getting when evaluating those players. Because of that, those players all could find themselves continuing to trickle up boards in NBA circles.
Don’t Rule Out International Upside
There’s been a plethora of talent in this upcoming draft class that has required creativity. It starts overseas with the NBL, as plenty of prospects have intrigued with their upside. The NBL continues to be a league on the rise in the basketball world. Over the years, we’ve seen an assortment of young talent take their abilities to Australia with the hope of developing their game ahead of the NBA jump.
That hasn’t always resulted in “exciting” results, especially if you find yourself box score watching. While players like Alex Sarr (Perth Wildcats) are showing promising flashes on a more consistent basis, there are some other names that are struggling to earn consistent minutes.
Despite that realization, some names continue to buzz when you ask around NBA sources. Those names look to have more fans than you might expect when browsing around the web. Trentyn Flowers had a roller coaster of a start to the 2023-24 NBL season. After initially committing to Louisville, Flowers decided to head overseas and play for the Adelaide 36ers. After an initial point guard experiment went the wrong way, Flowers has started to showcase some flashes in a different role. Despite underwhelming stats, there are still plenty of fans when it comes to his upside. The 6’9” wing is averaging 5.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.0 minutes.
We’ve seen just how rapidly things can change when it comes to the evaluation of a prospect overseas. Ousmane Dieng was having a nightmare first half of the NBL season as a prospect before finding his groove and skyrocketing up boards. Eventually, Dieng would find himself being selected in the lottery.
It could be an outlier, but it’s important to stress patience, especially with this class. AJ Johnson is the wildcard to keep an eye on throughout the year. The talent is tremendous, and Johnson has some flashes of brilliance on the court. It’s been in limited minutes, but Johnson has been a familiar name in scouting circles over the years. After initially committing to Texas, Johnson decided to head overseas and play with the Illawarra Hawks this year. The recently turned 19-year-old is averaging just 2.9 points per game in 8.9 minutes.
Are We Underestimating The Potential?
Every NBA draft cycle brings us surprises. That’s why time can be a valuable thing. We suddenly get an unexpected development to bring joy to our eyes. That unexpected development has been taking place in Lexington, Kentucky this year.
Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham have cemented themselves as potential lottery picks for the 2024 class. There’s plenty that want to point out some of the obvious questions when it comes to both Sheppard and Dillingham. Those questions surround their potential impact at the next level.
What do we know about the duo of talented freshman guards? They are both a bit undersized for the “modern” NBA guard. But they both continue to dazzle with their ability to impact the game in limited minutes.
Let’s start off with Sheppard. He’s a prospect who has intrigued many since being named to the McDonald’s All-American game. Many believed that Sheppard would one day be suiting up at the NBA level. But not many expected Sheppard to become a one-and-done candidate. To further that, no one expected Sheppard to suddenly become a potential Top 10 pick candidate.
After a sizzling start to the year, many wondered how long it would take for the 6’3” guard to “cool off.” After 15 games, we continue to wait for Sheppard to come back down to earth. He’s everything NBA teams look for in a potential prospect. Sheppard makes winning plays on both sides of the floor at a high rate. He can shoot the crap out of the ball, and he’s got a sensational feel for the game. There are plenty of questions about what would Sheppard’s role be at the next level. Sheppard is currently averaging 12.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting a jaw-dropping 56.3% from the field and 54.1% from downtown. That presents us with a follow-up question…
What if he’s just a damn good basketball player?
While many might be fascinated by the obvious questions moving forward, Sheppard is quickly cementing himself as a player who is checking every box possible in just 26.5 minutes per game. Why can’t he have All-Star upside? Why can’t he continue to climb up into the Top 5 conversation?
His teammate Rob Dillingham has been extremely impressive as well this year. After spending last year with the Overtime Elite, Dillingham looked to be a potential microwave scoring threat for Kentucky as a freshman. But there have been some sensational strides of development with Dillingham’s game, which deserves some credit for the Kentucky staff.
Dillingham not only has the potential to take over a game with his scoring, but he’s started to showcase some legit playmaking chops. He’s averaging 14.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists while posting shooting splits of 47.2/42.2/77.8. Both of the Kentucky guards are soaring up boards, and both deserve to continue to get an increased spotlight on their games.
Glue Guys Galore?
While we always like to try and find the potential “stars” of each draft class, this year might present some challenges with that concept. There simply might not be a superstar in this class. But there could be a bundle of players who could insert a jolt into a team’s developing core.
Let’s start with UConn Huskies guard Stephon Castle. The 6’6” freshman continues to be one of my personal favorite “talents” in this class. Castle has the tools to be a dynamic two-way weapon in the backcourt. When asking around earlier this year, I wanted to find out what names were getting scouts and NBA personnel excited. Castle continued to be one of the first names mentioned.
That was during the time in which Castle was sidelined with an injury. It’s been a curious case when evaluating Castle. He’s one of the top overall talents in this class, but the lack of an outside shot has presented some hesitations. Castle showcased in high school that he had the potential to be a dangerous multi-level scoring option. But there’s been some hesitancy with his outside shot this year for UConn. In his last four games, Castle is averaging 13.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while posting shooting splits of 59.4/28.6/73.7. He’s checking a ton of boxes when it comes to his ability to impact the game and make winning plays. If the shot starts to come alive, he’s going to pick up some steam in a hurry.
Duke Blue Devils freshman Jared McCain continues to be a player I find myself high on. When it comes to the 2024 class, I believe that teams could simply look to try and make things easy. “Can this guy make an impact?” When it comes to McCain, I believe that the answer is an easy yes. McCain might not wow you with his production throughout the year. But he’s a heck of a piece on the court who understands how to help his team out. After a slow start to the year, McCain is averaging 15.8 points per game in his last eight games while shooting 42.9% from three. He could be a name that spends another year with Duke, but McCain could also intrigue teams looking for a potentially “safe” valued pick.
Oklahoma Sooners sophomore Otega Oweh continues to be a name that I believe could get plenty of intrigue in NBA front offices. The offensive game is developing, but Oweh is a pitbull on the court. He’s a physically imposing combo guard with a good frame who isn’t afraid to get in traffic and do the dirty work. But he’s not the only tough-minded potential “glue guy” who could surprise folks with their draft stock.
Marquette senior guard Tyler Kolek continues to be one of the most underrated guards in the country. While some might believe Kolek doesn’t ooze with potential, he could be a dream addition at some point in the first round for a team looking for depth in their rotation. The same could be said for Kolek’s teammate, Oso Ighodaro. At some point in this year’s draft, teams are going to be looking for players who can contribute if they can keep life “simple” early on. Kolek and Ighodaro could be right at the top of the list for that type of thinking. Don’t sleep on Clemson big man PJ Hall too, who is having a tremendous season.
In all, the 2024 class is going to present plenty of skepticism.
But as one NBA executive put it to me, “there’s talent in every class…now it’s time to find it.”