Although there are no college hoops to watch, basketball hasn’t totally stopped, as we saw this week when Georgia freshman star and top prospect Anthony Edwards declared for the NBA Draft. He is one of several top college stars who will make the move to the pros. So to fill the time you’d normally spend double-checking your bracket, check out 10 NBA Draft prospects who should be on your radar.
Anthony Edwards | Georgia
Edwards was the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft before the year began, and even after an up-and-down season with a woeful Georgia team (5-13 in the SEC), he’s maintaining his top position. Edwards scored 19.2 points per game on inefficient shooting, but he’s at the top of the board because he’s a super-athlete. He’s 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he looks more like a defensive end than a shooting guard. The problem is that he still relies on his athleticism too much. He has the speed and the hops to get any shot he wants, but they are often terrible. The hope is that he can turn into a Victor Oladipo type at the NBA level, and at 18, he has plenty of time to master the pick-and-roll and improve his outside shot and on defense. But he probably won’t be good as a rookie, and like what was done with Oladipo, the team that drafts Edwards will need to wait for his basketball skills to catch up to his athletic potential.
Obi Toppin | Dayton
Toppin is the likely Player of the Year after putting up big numbers for the best Dayton Flyers team ever — they went 29-2 and won their last 20 games. Toppin averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds and shot 63 percent from the field. It's a versatile offensive player who shoots 39 percent from three-point range while leading the nation in dunks. Oh, he can pass, too. What are the knocks on Toppin? He’s already 22, and at 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, he isn’t quite as big as you’d like for a guy who might play minutes at center. He might not have as much upside as Edwards, but he’s perfect for a lottery team that needs a stretch big man and wants to win right away — perhaps the Golden State Warriors?
LaMelo Ball | NBL in Australia
The case for taking Ball No. 1 is simple: He’s easily the best passer in the draft, and he has the potential to be one of the best passers in the whole league. Ball shut down his season in Australia early after a foot injury, but he’d already established that he could throw any kind of pass he wanted with either hand. At 6-foot-8, the 18-year-old easily sees over the defense, rarely turns the ball over and anticipates plays like a veteran. And just like his brother Lonzo, his biggest weakness is his ugly jumper (LaMelo shot 25 percent from three). The hope is that NBA coaching can fix his bad fundamentals on both ends and let his basketball genius shine. After all, Lonzo’s ugly shot improved from 30 percent to 38 percent on threes after three years. He needs a team willing to wait on him, but Ball has a chance to be truly special — as long as his dad is banned from the home arena.
Cole Anthony | North Carolina
Greg Anthony’s son hurt his knee and missed half of a disastrous season for North Carolina, which lost seven of nine games without him. Anthony turned the ball over too much and displayed bad decision-making, but he also averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and four assists on a team where he was clearly the best player. He’d look a lot better on a team with other weapons to pass to or draw defensive attention. His three-point percentage (35%) and 75 percent FT percentage indicate he could be a legitimate shooter at the next level. Anthony’s a risk, but he could make a team that needs a point guard happy — maybe even his dad’s old team: the Knicks.
James Wiseman | Memphis
By looks alone, Wiseman seems like he should be the top pick. He stands 6-foot-11 and weighs 250 pounds, with a massive 7-foot-5 wingspan. But his game is still unrefined. In his three games for Memphis, Wiseman’s strengths and weaknesses were on full display, as he made spectacular blocks but got lost on defense. He dribbled well for a big man but often settled for fallaway jumpers. He’s a great athlete and a prospect you can dream on, but the problem for Wiseman is that many of the worst teams just filled their holes at center. So he may drop in the lottery, even though he’s clearly a long-term project.
Isaac Okoro | Auburn
In his freshman year at Auburn, Okoro was already a defensive prodigy and a big part of the reason the Tigers went 25-6. He’s 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds and a tenacious, strong defender. More than that, he’s a great teammate, playing like a veteran glue guy despite being a freshman. What’s the downside? His jumper is rough, he’s not great at handling the ball and most of his offense comes from smart cuts and crashing the boards. But even if the jumper never comes around, he’s still a useful player with a sixth sense for making timely plays. If he does learn to shoot, Okoro becomes a better, less dirty version of Bruce Bowen.
Tyrese Haliburton | Iowa State
Haliburton is the prospect in this draft who most divides analytics people and scouts. The Iowa State guard’s numbers are impressive — 15.2 points, 6.5 assists, 5.9 rebounds, shooting 41.9 percent from distance and over 50 percent overall. His true shooting percentage was 63.3, he averaged 3.8 steals and blocked almost a shot a game, huge for a guard. But scouts don’t like that he’s skinny (6-foot-5 and 175 pounds), he struggles going left and his release is slow on his jumper. Scouts might quibble with Haliburton’s fundamentals, but it’s impossible to quibble with his results. The most likely outcome to this conflict is that Haliburton drops to the late lottery, and some team gets a huge steal.
Deni Avdija | Maccabi Tel Aviv
Avdija is a 6-foot-9 forward from Maccabi Tel Aviv, and a two-time Israeli League champion and last year’s MVP at the FIBA Under-20 Championship. A role player on that team, Avdija was adept at moving without the ball and finding open teammates. He has the dribble moves to get to the basket and the size to score down low, and though his shot is awkward, he made more and more of his jumpers as the year went on. Whether Avdija can hit outside shots (and free throws) will determine if he’s a quality starter, but he’s a good enough team defender that he should play meaningful minutes as a rookie, and he’s the best international player in the draft.
Tyrese Maxey | Kentucky
Maxey is a freshman guard who broke out as a scorer at the end of the year for Kentucky. He’s a strong defender and another guy in this draft built like a football player. The knock on Maxey at the start of the year was his inconsistency, but he scored in double digits in eight of his last nine games. Maxey’s outside shot isn’t there yet, but his floaters are great. He’s the perfect backcourt complement to a scoring guard who struggles defensively. Maxey can guard the best scorer, and handle the ball without embarrassing himself. He may go higher than you’d expect, as the high lottery is full of teams that have exactly that type of guard.
Killian Hayes | Europe
Hayes is a 6-foot-5 combo guard who weighs 215 pounds, which is great size for a player who won’t turn 19 until July. His father played professionally in Europe, which is how Hayes played for “ratiopharm Ulm” in Germany instead of a U.S. college program. He had a good year, dramatically upping his scoring in February. He isn’t the greatest athlete — Hayes reportedly has a “lack of burst” on his first move — but he excels at creating his own shot and has great court vision. Hayes is young and also big for his position, and he plays better with the ball in his hands, which is why he compares himself to another lefty, James Harden. We haven’t seen him hit outside shots consistently or sell fouls aggressively enough to call him the Le Barbe, but someone is about to get a steal in Hayes.
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