We are in the midst of one of the most exciting NBA off-seasons in recent memory.
With a number of huge moves in free agency, as well as the Kyrie Irving saga, which just recently ended in his signing with the Celtics, it is also important to remember that this year’s NBA draft class could be one of the most talented in over a decade.
With that being said, it is never too early to look ahead to next year’s draft, as many teams will be attempting to position themselves to land one of top picks throughout next season. Here are ten NCAA prospects to keep an eye on as the upcoming season plays out.
10. Jaylen Hands – Point Guard, UCLA
Entering his freshman season as the nineteenth-overall prospect in the ESPN 100, Jaylen Hands has the tools to make an immediate impact for the Bruins. A stark contrast to Trae Young, Hands’ strongest asset is his ability to jump straight over his defenders off of one or two feet, while having a deadly step-back jump shot in his back pocket.
Combined with his incredible speed, Hands fits the John Wall, Russell Westbrook and, more recently, De’Aaron Fox mold of point guard, who looks to accelerate past his defender in the open court and get to the rim as often as possible. Seeing as Lonzo Ball was extremely successful in transition just last season at UCLA, everything points to Jaylen Hands making waves in the NCAA landscape next year.
9. Gary Trent Jr. – Shooting Guard, Duke
From Apple Valley, Minnesota, comes Gary Trent Jr., the coldest shooter in the upcoming freshman class.
With seemingly unlimited range from all areas of the floor, Trent Jr. will shine in Coach K’s offense. His game is not limited to just shooting, however, as Trent Jr. is one of the stronger guards in the entire class. He frequently uses his strength to go straight through smaller defenders, negating his relatively weak handle, and finishes with a slam. His shooting ability, and his strength, will make Trent Jr. an intriguing “three-and-D” prospect in next year’s draft.
8. Luka Doncic – Point Guard, Real Madrid (Spain) via Slovenia
It wouldn’t be an NBA Draft preview without a European prospect, and Luka Doncic has the potential to be the best player in this class. Signing his first pro contract at just thirteen, Doncic, now eighteen, is no stranger to the spotlight.
At six-foot-eight, Doncic is as tall as some power forwards in the NBA. Despite his freakish size for a point guard, Doncic’s handle is strong for a player his age, and he uses his combination of size and skill to get wherever he wants on the floor. Doncic is also an adept passer, who routinely gets out in transition to throw lobs and no-look passes to his teammates. His superior height and wingspan will also make him a dangerous defender in the NBA, as well.
7. Wendell Carter – Power Forward, Duke
The second Duke freshman to be featured on this list, Wendell Carter resembles an all-pro linebacker with post-moves. In today’s world of basketball, most big men play a more finesse style, relying on face-up jumpers and pick-and-pops to get their shots.
Carter is a throwback. He relentlessly attacks the rim for put-backs, and is not afraid to throw his two-hundred-and-fifty-pound frame around underneath the hoop. His athletic ability is further displayed in his tendency to run the floor, with and without the ball. Carter’s handle is pretty basic, yet he uses it effectively in the open floor. At this point, Carter is showing shades of a young Blake Griffin, and it will be interesting to see if his game evolves in a similar way.
6. Mo Bamba – Center, Texas
Jay Bilas is going to pass out when he sees Mo Bamba. With a nine-and-a-half-foot standing reach (!!!), Bamba’s wingspan is already longer than any player in the NBA. A defining feature for big men in this era, his incredible reach will make him a valuable target for lob passes, as well as his unlimited defensive potential.
Admittedly, Bamba’s skill set is raw in most other aspects outside of blocking shots and catching lobs, but his jump shot does require some attention from the defense, as he has shown an ability to hit open shots from as far out as three point territory. Bamba has the potential to be a DeAndre Jordan clone if he continues to progress defensively, and for some teams that would be worth a top-three pick.
5. Trevon Duval – Point Guard, Duke
Let’s get this over with, because I’m tired of talking about how sick Duke is going to be next year. The third top-ten prospect that the Blue Devils have reeled in for next season is Trevon Duval, and he is a special talent.
Duval, similarly to his future teammate Gary Trent Jr., is exceptionally strong for a guard, and uses his strength to his advantage on both ends of the floor. His handle is at its best in the open floor, as he is able to keep moving at full speed while changing direction; in the half-court, he has the ball on a string, and frequently puts defenders on the floor with his ability to go either direction off the dribble. Duval is also not afraid to create contact at the rim, and has become known for dunking on anyone in front of him in transition.
The trifecta of Duval, Carter and Trent Jr. should all be top-ten picks in next year’s draft, and will pose a major threat to every team in the NCAA.
4. DeAndre Ayton – Center, Arizona
Athletic enough to jump over you and chase down smaller players in transition, yet smooth enough to face-up and hit jump shots from distance, DeAndre Ayton’s game resembles Amare Stoudemire’s to some extent. His potential is only limited by how hard he is willing to work on his game, as his skillset in the post in relatively limited to overpowering his opponent. This will work in college, but NBA centers will not allow him to get to the hoop as easily.
His shooting ability at seven feet tall is unrivaled in this class and is reminiscent of Arizona’s center from last season, Lauri Markkanen. However, Ayton’s strength and leaping ability make him a much more intriguing defensive prospect, and a more versatile offensive weapon.
3. Collin Sexton – Point Guard, Alabama
Collin Sexton represents everything that is fun about basketball. He is loud, he is arrogant and he can score fifty on any given night. Sexton’s biggest strength, and maybe his biggest weakness as well, is his competitiveness, which motivates him to drop forty in a game in which the crowd chants “overrated” at him, but also gets him into trouble when he becomes too focused on embarrassing his defender. I suppose the best way to describe Sexton would be to call him a showman; no matter how the game goes, the crowd will be entertained the entire time.
He has very few weaknesses in his game, as he competes on both ends of the floor and possesses freakish athleticism for a point guard. Sexton has no fear of the big moment or a hostile crowd, and loves taking big shots. He is adept at shooting from range off the dribble, and his diverse layup package allows him to finish difficult shots around the rim. By going to a school like Alabama, Sexton will be able to step right into a dominant role on the team and showcase his ability to score at will.
2. Marvin Bagley – Power Forward, Duke
Duke is cheating.
After originally being the number-one recruit in 2018’s high school graduating class, Marvin Bagley has reclassified into 2017’s class, and committed to play at Duke next season. As the fourth top-ten recruit for the Blue Devils, on top of a returning Grayson Allen, Bagley will have to compete with multiple high-profile players for touches next season.
In a similar situation to some of the Kentucky teams of recent years, Bagley’s stats may not fully represent his talent after the upcoming season. However, his varied skillset has drawn comparisons to Chris Bosh when he was in high school. The comparisons are warranted, as his ability to stretch the floor is bolstered by his impressive handles and athleticism that allow him to get to the rim at will. In transition, he shines while handling the basketball, as he sees the floor very well for a big man.
Playing with so much talent, as well as learning from one of the best coaches in basketball history, will allow Bagley’s game to progress even further next season at Duke.
1. Michael Porter Jr. – Small Forward/Power Forward, Missouri
This is the best prospect since LeBron. Sounds like an exaggeration, right? Run through every number-one prospect since 2003 and I can point to a weakness in their game, while the same cannot be said for Michael Porter Jr. He can actually do everything on a basketball court at an elite level. Standing nearly seven feet tall, Porter Jr. runs the floor like a guard, and can handle like one, too.
His jump shot is just as accurate off the dribble as it is when he is set. His insane athletic ability allows him to take off from anywhere inside the paint and finish at the rim with either hand, and also allows him to be a force defensively, matching up with guards and big men. People argue that the NBA is a “guard” league currently, but I disagree. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis point to the NBA becoming a league in which seven footers with guard skills run the show, and Porter Jr. fits that mold perfectly.
He is the reason that teams will be tanking next season, and do you want to know the fun part? The Celtics are in possession of the Nets’ first round pick for next year, so they will likely have a chance to add him to an already stacked roster.