November marks the start of the second season for basketball fans: the beginning of the college season. With it comes many surprises as 351 different teams over 32 conferences duke (get it…) it out for Conference Championships and a trip to the Big Dance in March. Among it will be players that will cause intrigue and great story lines for various reasons: extreme talent, surprising returnees and sons of over-boastful fathers.
TFPP has recently completed its pre-college season first round big board. You can view it here.
With so many players gracing the college hardwood, and so many surprises no doubt in store, we make it a little easier by taking a look at eight players that should prove to be prime viewing this college season, as they should feature quite heavily on the night of the 2018 NBA Draft.
The Race to the First Overall Pick
Physical profile: 6’11 and 210lbs with a 7’0 1/2″ wingspan
Pro position: PF/ C
TFPP Mock Position: 2
Plays a little like: An Unrefined Anthony Davis
In what was an unsurprising move, the favorite for the first overall pick in 2019 re-classified to this school year and agreed to attend Duke University, instantly propelling him into the discussion for the first overall pick for 2018. Bagley III is a physically elite basketball prospect. He stands at 6’11, with a frame that should promote the addition of the muscle needed to compete to the NBA and jump-out-of-the-gym explosiveness. That is combined with demonstrated flashes of a versatile skill set, which includes a great ability in catch-and-finish situations around the rim, high impact rebounding, the ability to put the ball on the floor and nice shooting mechanics (albeit without great shooting percentages). Marvin Bagley III is the Venus de Milo of NBA prospects, amazing as is, but what he could be when complete could mean an all time great.
Physical profile: 6’10 and 214lbs with a 7’0 wingspan.
Pro position: SF
TFPP Mock Position: 3
Plays a little like: Kevin Durant’s scoring in the body of a rich mans Danilo Gallinari.
For most draft experts, MPJ has the inside run at the first overall pick for 2018 after overtaking DeAndre Ayton with an impressive Senior High School year. Porter Jr. has that greater-than-required height for a wing prospect which always raises scouts’ eyebrows. Yet, Porter Jr. is more than that. He’s a highly skilled ball player with an equally high basketball IQ, and has demonstrated an array of offensive moves that allows him to score in almost any area of the floor. Porter Jr. is an extremely fluid athlete, but lacks the blow-by-your-man-whenever explosiveness of the NBA’s best wing scorers. It’s that small flaw which projects him as a player somewhere between Kevin Durant and Danilo Gallinari. The major question for MPJ will be how attending Missouri – a traditionally mid-tier team in the SEC Conference – will impact his draft stock. The SEC will be competitive this year, with Kentucky, Florida and Texas A&M all set to field talented teams. It is always a risk to see an elite talent play in an elite Conference without support, as the opposition can throw everything at that talent. In recent years thankfully, both Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz were in similar situations, and it didn’t impact their draft stock at all. Whether it will with Porter Jr. will be interesting to see.
Physical profile: 7’0 and 243lbs with a 7’5 wingspan
Pro position: C
TFPP Mock Position: 4
Plays a little like: Less skillful Karl-Anthony Towns
For much of his High School tenure, DeAndre Ayton was the consensus number one recruit in the United States. Then, Michael Porter Jr.’s rise coincided with D.A. having a lower than expected output as a Senior. He doesn’t seem to be focused at all times, especially defensively, but his size as a genuine 7 footer with a 7’5 wingspan hints at tantalizing defensive potential. Like Bagely III, he has shown a little bit of everything offensively at the High School level, including the three ball. If Bagley III is the Venus de Milo of NBA prospect, Ayton is an incomplete Da Vinci masterpiece. The signs of future beauty are there, just unfinished. He could be the next Joel Embiid/ Karl-Anthony Towns do-it-all 7 footer, but he could equally be the next Meyers Leonard.
The Surprising Sophomores
Physical profile: 6’6 and 226lbs with a 6’8 3/4″ wingspan.
Pro position: SF/PF
TFPP Mock Position: 6
Plays a little like: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a better jump shot.
Miles Bridges surprisingly turned down a likely spot in the 2017 NBA Draft lottery, and instead is returning to Tom Izzo’s Spartan squad as a Sophomore. That is almost unheard of in modern times, and as Ivan Rabb proved last season, it is an extremely risky decision if you don’t improve from the season prior. Last year, our player comparison for Bridges was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a better jump shot. This year, to truly be in contention for a top 10 selection come draft time, he will have to move towards a Kawhi Leonard type. Essentially, this requires an enhanced ability to create offensively for himself, and continue to improve his long range shooting whilst still maintaining his defensive and rebounding production. Michigan State are currently ranked second in both the AP and USA Today Polls, and Bridges will be key to maintaining such a high ranking throughout the season.
Physical profile: 6’9 and 237lbs with a 7’4 wingspan
Pro position: PF/ C
TFPP Mock Position: 8
Plays a little like: A Poor Man’s Blake Griffin
Similar to Bridges, Robert Williams would have potentially been a lottery pick if he had entered the 2017 NBA Draft. Unlike Bridges however, heading back to Texas A&M for his Sophomore year was the best decision, providing Williams with a great opportunity to refine his quite raw skill set and play a more prominent role than the 17 starts and 25 minutes a game he was provided in his Freshman season. Williams has all the physical traits – height at 6’9, insane length, explosiveness and a powerfully built body – to prevail at the NBA level. What makes Williams a tantalizing prospect is the ability to rim-run and rebound, along with the small and infrequent demonstrations of an intriguing offensive game. He has shown the workings of a nice mid-range jump shot, and some offensive development in the low post. If he can develop and become more consistent in these areas, and develop a long-range jump shot, he could be a player in the mold of a (less athletic) Blake Griffin.
Physical profile: 6’7 and 200lbs with a 6’9 1/2″ wingspan
Pro position: SG/ SF
TFPP Mock Position: Not Ranked
Plays a little like: Trevor Ariza in his early career
Right now, we have Deng Adel as Mr. Unlucky; selected 31st in the draft after testing the waters last year. With last year’s Louisville stud Donovan Mitchell having departed for the NBA, Adel is the highest scorer to return to the Cardinals, and will likely slot into the Shooting Guard spot. It’s hard to predict Louisville’s year after former Head Coach Rick Pitino was let go after the Adidas scandal, but if Adel can be a highly productive 3&D guy in the college game, he could easily force himself into the first round as a guy who can guard three positions and knock down open shots, similar to Ariza or former Tar Heel Justin Jackson, whose improvement and production as a Junior is something Adel can look to emulate.
Best Players on Intriguing Teams
Physical profile: 6’2 and 183lbs with a 6’6 1/2 wingspan
Pro position: PG
TFPP Mock Position: 7
Plays a little like: A Kentucky era Eric Bledsoe
The 2018 Draft Class projects to be a very thin one for Point Guard depth. Outside of Euro-stud – and our projected first overall pick – Luka Doncic (a Point Forward), Collin Sexton is the likely next best Point Guard taken. Sexton is quick-as-lightning, and can score at all three levels (the rim, mid-range and the long ball). The biggest questions around his game are his decision making and leadership. He has yet to consistently demonstrate the attributes of a ‘true’ Point Guard, attributes that are mandatory for all franchise leading Point Guards. He has also demonstrated moments of immaturity. A good player comparison is a Eric Bledsloe/ De’Aaron Fox mix. Being the main guy at Alabama – a decent team in a better-than-decent Conference – could see the making of Sexton into a franchise caliber Point Guard. It could equally see him struggle.
Physical profile: 6’8 and 225lbs with a 7’2 wingpsan
Pro position: SF/ Stretch PF
TFPP Mock Position: 23
Plays a little like: Jonah Bolden/ Mo Harkless/ Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Three of Gonzaga’s most important players last season – Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnwoski and Zach Collins – left, creating large holes that need to be filled. Rui Hachimura only saw 4.6 minutes a game as a Freshman, but if his FIBA Under 19 Tournament is anything to go by, Hachimura is ready to fill that void. Hachimura finished second in points (behind RJ Barrett, the likely top pick in the 2019 draft) and third in rebounds per game. He projects as a combo Forward in the NBA, with concerns over lack of lateral quickness to stay in front of Small Forwards, and lack of strength to bang with the Power Forward’s. If he can become a more consistent shooter and become a stronger ball handler, Hachimura could become Gonzaga’s go-to man this season, and see his name called in the first round of the 2018 draft.
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