Some players could benefit greatly from waiting another year or two before entering the draft in 2019 or 2020. Though a number of these guys have a serious chance to be selected in this year’s draft if they leave, waiting a year or two could give them the chance to shine in a larger role for NBA scouts.
One Year Away
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Freshman SG, Virginia Tech)
Virginia Tech is an upperclassmen-driven team, with the exception being Alexander-Walker. The highly touted recruit is just what Buzz Williams expected, providing a smooth inside-out game to go along with versatility on the defensive end. You’ll see in the highlight video how he almost glides around the court using his length like an experienced wing player. As one of only three players to start every game so far, Alexander-Walker is already getting the time to show NBA scouts a complete, efficient game. With Justin Bibbs graduating and the Canadian getting another summer to improve his body, there will be ample opportunities to demand first-round attention next year.
Mike Daum (Junior PF, South Dakota State)
Daum is one of the few guys on this list that isn’t likely to have his role grow anymore next year, mainly because he is already a borderline All-American. His production has actually regressed, which says a lot about his efficiency considering he has a .466/.408/.800 line right now. Once a chubby true freshman, Daum has transformed himself into a solid bodied face-up weapon that has NBA skills. The reigning Summit Player of the Year has long arms that complement his 6-foot-9 frame and make it easy for him to score over length. He’s not much of an impact player on the defensive side, but he can manufacture offense from all three levels in perimeter isolations, post-ups, and the screen game.
Bruno Fernando (Freshman C, Maryland)
For a freshman, Fernando is a physical freak. He could easily pass for 25 years old with his developed upper body and strong legs. Before the season, few would have anticipated the immediate impact that he’s had, averaging 10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in a little under 20 minutes a game. He finishes with power and is an intimidator in the paint. Despite his physical maturity, there are still plenty of areas of growth over the next year to grow his stock. With the news of Justin Jackson’s injury, he will likely return and five-star big Jalen Smith is coming to complement him next year. The scouts will be all over Maryland next year.
Dan Gafford (Freshman C, Arkansas)
I was expecting Gafford to fill a big hole in the middle and he has done so effortlessly. He only gets about 20 minutes a game but comes in and instantly puts his footprint on the game. His activity leads to a lot of easy buckets, fouls, and often and-ones. At 6’11 and a lean 234 pounds, Gafford is built to be a modern five-man in the NBA. Shooting 65.8% from the field, he has the effectiveness from 15-feet and in to make up for a restricted range. Gafford may already be worth an investment in this year’s draft, but with Arkansas graduating their top three scorers, he will get all of the touches to have a Bobby Portis impact next year.
Rui Hachimura (Sophomore PF, Gonzaga)
A breakout summer for Hachimura playing for Japan opened a lot of eyes for his potential. Standing at 6-foot-8, he is a springy forward that gets up and down the floor like a wing. With so much frontcourt depth, he has been limited to an extent in terms of playing time, but signs are starting to point up for Hachimura heading into conference play. Over the last two games, he’s averaging 16 points and shooting 67% from the year. Though his three-point shooting has been inconsistent, his soft touch is showing with his 94% free throw shooting. All the tools are there for Hachimura to develop into the mobile face-up big that the NBA is increasingly looking for. Johnathan Williams graduating will create more evaluation time, though Zag bigs in the past have been selected high after having complementary roles.
Kevin Huerter (Sophomore SG, Maryland)
Similar to Fernando, Huerter could benefit from the swarm of scouts coming next year to look at Justin Jackson and Jalen Smith. To me, Huerter is one of the most underrated NBA prospects in the country and hopefully people will appreciate him more with Jackson’s absence. At a legit 6-foot-7, he has superior size and length for an NBA two-guard. He’s still got a ways to go with his physical strength, but the all-around impact is there on a nightly basis. Averaging 13.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists a game while shooting a blistering 47% from three. His ticket is definitely his shooting ability, as you’ll see in the video. Huerter is more than comfortable pulling up from beyond NBA range with ease. A point guard in high school, he has solid passing instincts and knows how to snap the ball around. With continued success this year and a summer putting on some more strength, Huerter will start creating more buzz around the NBA.
V.J. King (Sophomore SF, Louisville)
The formula for Louisville perimeter players has been fairly steady over the last 6 or 7 years. Learn from the elders and take your leap once they leave. This is assuming Deng Adel departs for the NBA after this year. If so, King would be the guy next year. Heralded since he was a middle schooler, King is a wiry wing with a scorer’s mentality. He is averaging a modest 9.1 points on 44% shooting from three. Watch how easily he gets his shot off. For a sophomore, he already can make tough, contested shots off the dribble. If he can consistently commit to the defensive side, he could be a value pick in the 2019 draft.
Brandon Randolph (Freshman SG, Arizona)
Outside of DeAndre Ayton, Randolph is the best NBA prospect in Arizona’s freshman class. He has garnered some praise for his athleticism and outside shooting. Randolph is starting to carve out a role as the scorer off the bench with Rawle Alkins back in the lineup. I fully expect Alkins and Alonzo Trier to go pro, leaving a gaping hole for a team without any wing recruits coming in. Randolph is a high IQ player that will only get better with time and already looks like an NBA-caliber athlete. The Wildcats will need Randolph to make that big sophomore jump.
Two Years Away
Emmanuel Akot (Freshman SF, Arizona)
In the same space as Randolph, Akot will have ample opportunity to maximize on seemingly limitless talent. I know he’s looked really out of place for the Wildcats, but remember that he left high school early and did enough to earn a starting spot on opening day. Since then there has been a clear level of discomfort for the athletic 6-foot-8 point forward. All he needs is some time, which is why I expect an entry after his junior year. He has the pull-up game, three-point shot, playmaking, and size to be a solid NBA player. This video is of one of his better games, and you see Akot (#24) showing his versatility starting from 0:30.
Kostas Antetokounmpo (Freshman F, Dayton)
The younger brother of the Greek Freak is still incredibly raw in his second year at Dayton. The redshirt freshman is flat out fast in transition for a 6-foot-10 player. His touch has shown in small glimpses this year, though he is still receiving only around 16 minutes this year. Antetokounmpo will need to work on defensive discipline, but he is blocking 1.5 shots a game and contesting much more effectively. He really looks like a project right now, which is why I think a couple years in a program built around toughness will be beneficial.
Jalek Felton (Freshman G, North Carolina)
The nephew of Carolina great and Thunder guard Raymond Felton, Jalek is not off to the start that he probably would have wanted. One bright spot is that he is shooting 46% from three. Even though he is turning the ball over a fair amount, I’m impressed with his downhill style of play and aggressiveness. I have no doubt that Felton will figure it out by the end of the year, as Roy Williams will continue to display confidence in his top recruit. I’d expect next year to be a feeling out period for Felton learning how to work as the full-time lead guard. By 2019-2020, Felton should be seasoned in running a team and feeling that balance between attacking and distributing.
Rayshaun Hammonds (Freshman SF, Georgia)
People outside of Georgia aren’t really talking much about Hammonds right now. The consensus top-50 recruit decided to stay in-state and has started every game thus far. A big, physical 6-foot-8 combo forward that is adept at scoring on the perimeter. He’s been setting up his teammates fairly well, averaging 1.8 assists to only one turnover. He does a nice job attacking to his strong left hand where he is tough to handle once he gets a step. Yante Maten will graduate in the summer and I would expect Hammonds to begin to take hold of the go-to scorer role by next October. I think he can get a little bit lighter on his feet to capitalize on his athleticism and be in a better shape to contain quicker wings at the next level. By the 2019 season, he will have the aid of 5-star junior point guard Ashton Hagans to work with.
D.J. Harvey (Freshman SF, Notre Dame)
In terms of long-term potential, Harvey is the best NBA prospect at Notre Dame. He’s got good size for a wing and can score in a wide variety of ways. You’ll see at 1:45 of this clip against DePaul where Harvey shows good footwork and hits a stepback with a hand in his face. Now it has been a bit of a struggle as of the last month or so, but the Irish will need Harvey to provide some shot creation in ACC against stiffer defenses. With all of the graduations coming up, the DeMatha grad is going to have a chance to make a name for himself next year as one of the top scoring options. I wouldn’t be shocked to see his current average of 5.5 points triple next year with the number of touches and his natural scoring ability. NBA teams already have a need for big wings that can score it, and Harvey should have rounded out his game by junior year.
Sam Hauser (Sophomore G/F, Marquette)
Dependability and consistency are traits that can make the difference in who teams select. Hauser showed that as one of the Big East’s top freshmen last year and managed to make a nice jump this season. Coming back with a stronger upper body and quicker feet, Marquette’s Swiss Army knife is averaging 14.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. He isn’t the type of athlete that jumps off the screen at you, but his feel is impressive on both ends. From guarding speedy point guards to physical bigs, Hauser has shown his defensive versatility so far. Outside of lacking superior athleticism, Hauser has the makings of a reliable 3-and-D player in the NBA if he keeps progressing. He is connecting on 3.1 threes a game on 49.4% shooting, up from 45.3% last year. Hauser will be joined next year by his brother Joey, a top-50 recruit, and I don’t know if he will be enough of a lock to leave after next year. So look for him to be one of the top seniors selected in the 2020 draft.
Nathan Knight (Sophomore PF, William & Mary)
Knight, #13 in the video, is a guy who came into the year as almost a mystery on NBA radars and is already drawing scouts to games halfway through the year. Averaging 18.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.6 blocks, the sophomore is the centerpiece of a solid William & Mary team. He is slimmer than he was last year, allowing him to maintain that high motor for longer periods. Knight can knock down jumpers out to the three-point line or pound the ball in the post. Without a whole lot of big games, I would expect him to stay until his eligibility is up. That will give him time to go into the 2020 NBA combine ready to turn some heads.
Kezie Okpala (Freshman SF, Stanford)
I got a video of Okpala in high school here because he’s only played in one game so far for the Cardinal due to some eligibility issues. As strange as it sounds, he looks taller than his 6-foot-8 listing, probably because of his freakishly long arms. He’s a menace on the defensive end because of it, getting in passing lanes and being a solid rim protector. Offensively he glides around the court, sees the floor like a point guard, and is a solid shot maker. Adding strength should be #1 on his summer goals. If Reid Travis returns like I expect him to, Okpala would likely enter next year as the third or fourth scoring option. By his junior year, he should have the physical and skill development necessary to let NBA teams know he is for real.
Nathan Reuvers (Freshman PF, Wisconsin)
Reuvers was close to redshirting this year, but I’m sure the Badgers are glad he didn’t. With all of the injuries, Wisconsin is in dire need of point production and that’s something the 6-foot-10 freshman provides. Reuvers is the prototypical Wisconsin big that’s lean, agile, and effective facing up. He’s rail thin right now, but he plays with the toughness to compensate and show his diverse set of skills. You can see the ball skills and athleticism in his drive and dunk earlier this year. Reuvers can handle the ball in space and shoot it from deep, but he still provides the rebounding and rim protection you want out of your big guy as seen by his 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. As the year goes on, he should get a larger role that should only continue to grow. Expect him to separate himself next year and create a dangerous combination with Ethan Happ. Once Happ leaves, which I anticipate being after next season, Reuvers will have the chemistry with his classmates and the improved strength to command NBA teams to take note.