A year ago, I detailed a number of players I thought were a year or two away from becoming serious NBA prospects (view here). I will revisit the list from last season and add new players based on what I have seen so far.
Revisiting Last Year’s Prospects
Last Year’s “One-Year Away” (Expected to be drafted in 2019 Draft)
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Sophomore SG, Virginia Tech)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Alexander-Walker (17.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.0 apg) looks every bit like a complete player worthy of a mid-first round pick. He is more aggressive looking for his shot, setting up his teammates with accuracy, and thriving as the clear go-to scorer for the Hokies. Expect this to be Alexander-Walker’s last season in Blacksburg before stepping into a role as a solid two-way player off some NBA team’s bench.
Mike Daum (Senior PF, South Dakota State)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Still an All-American caliber player putting up his casual 25 and 10, Daum is primed for a three-peat as Summit Player of the Year. He is who he is and by returning, he will head into the draft as one of the top seniors in the 2019 class. I would look for Daum to be a back-end first-rounder to somewhere in the mid-second round.
Bruno Fernando (Sophomore C, Maryland)
Last Year I Said: “Despite his physical maturity, there are still plenty of areas of growth over the next year to grow his stock. … five-star big Jalen Smith is coming to complement him next year. The scouts will be all over Maryland next year.”
Outlook: Scouts are in fact locked into the frontcourt combo of Fernando and Smith. Playing with a skilled four man has allowed Fernando (14.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.4 rpg) to really excel on the inside playing off of each other. I don’t know how, but he looks in even better shape than last year, especially moving laterally. There is a lot more ball-handling from Fernando, leading to some careless turnovers. It’s nice to see that he is trying to work a different layer into his game. Mid-to-late first-round is still the range where I think he’s going in the 2019 draft.
Dan Gafford (Sophomore C, Arkansas)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Bobby Portis in his sophomore season at Arkansas: 17.5 ppg and 8.9 rpg. Gafford this year: 18.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg. Gafford is stronger, smarter, and more polished down low. He is a bona-fide lottery pick if he keeps up this play through SEC play.
Rui Hachimura (Junior PF, Gonzaga)
Last Year I Said: “All the tools are there for Hachimura to develop into the mobile face-up big that the NBA is increasingly looking for.”
Outlook: Hachimura (22.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 50.0% 3PT) has exploded onto the scene this season and will likely be an All-American. The game has slowed down for him, he is becoming more comfortable with the language improving his communication, and he is scoring from all three levels at a good clip. Hachimura seems to be improving every day. It’s not often juniors are talked about as high-upside, but the ceiling is high for a guy that should be the first lottery pick from Japan.
Kevin Huerter (SG, Atlanta Hawks)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Huerter went into the pre-draft process with expectations of getting some solid feedback. He opened a lot of eyes at the combine, showing a max vertical of 38” and good lateral quickness. All of which led to him being selected 19th overall by the Hawks, where he has already worked his way into a starter role.
V.J. King (Junior SF, Louisville)
Last Year I Said: “This is assuming Deng Adel departs for the NBA after this year. If so, King would be the guy next year.”
Outlook: So Deng Adel did leave, but King has been far from “the guy”. He is getting decent burn (20.0 mpg) but is shooting just 17.6% from three. There is still time to turn it around, but it doesn’t look like King will be the featured piece that I expected with Mack as the new coach.
Brandon Randolph (Sophomore SG, Arizona)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Randolph is taking advantage of all of the lost scoring from a year ago, putting up 17.1 points a game to this point. His slashing and shooting ability are shining right now. On a young team, he has been thrust into a leadership role. Whether or not he declares for the draft will come down to how well he can produce against Pac-12 competition when he’s the focus of scouting reports.
Last Year’s “Two-Years Away” (Expected to be drafted in 2020 Draft)
Emmanuel Akot (Sophomore SF, Arizona)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Akot is getting solid minutes, but he has yet to crack double-digits in a game. This is a big developmental year for him, so it will be interesting to see if he gains any rhythm heading into conference play. With 5-stars Nico Mannion and Josh Green coming next year, and Brandon Randolph potentially returning, the opportunities for Akot to make an impact won’t increase.
Kostas Antetokounmpo (PF, Dallas Mavericks)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Well, Kostas is still a project, but he decided to enter the draft where he was taken with the last pick and traded to Dallas. They have a phenomenal developmental system which should make the most of the Greek Freak’s younger brother.
Jalek Felton (G, Slovenia)
Last Year I Said: “By 2019-2020, Felton should be seasoned in running a team and feeling that balance between attacking and distributing.”
Outlook: This was a huge miss. Felton ended up withdrawing from North Carolina after being suspended by the school for an investigation. I don’t know the cause of the suspension, so I won’t speculate. All I know is Felton signed to play with Union Olimpija, the same team as Luka Samanic, the second-best international prospect for the 2019 draft. Hopefully Felton can have a great career wherever he chooses to play.
Rayshaun Hammonds (Sophomore SF, Georgia)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: With a youthful team, Hammonds is the leading scorer at 14.4 points a game. He is shooting 40% on about two threes a game and averaging 6.4 rebounds a game. Hammonds looks more like a small-ball four than a three. He plays so hard while he’s on the court, but I would like to see him in a little better shape to stay on the floor for longer stretches. 2020 still looks like the most realistic year to declare.
D.J. Harvey (Sophomore SF, Notre Dame)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Harvey (10.4 ppg) is still gaining full form after extended time off following knee surgery. He’s been more aggressive lately, getting to the rim and shooting his pull-up with confidence. Right now he is a proficient mid-range scorer, but his three-point shooting hasn’t caught up. The good news is that his long-range shot still looks good (1:15 of highlight clip). The Irish will return the majority of their contributors next year. By then, Harvey could emerge as the top option.
Sam Hauser (Junior G/F, Marquette)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: I still like Hauser’s profile as a versatile floor spacer. His three-point shooting is down about ten percent, but that still has him at 38.5%. You’d think that would be a big detriment to his stock considering shooting is his ticket. I’ve actually been impressed with his improved physicality on both ends. He is doing everything that made him the team MVP a year ago, albeit with the responsibility to create more offense for himself. His brother, Joey, is the real deal and I would be shocked if Sam didn’t return next year given his current stock and chance to go deep next year. He’s in this highlight clip at 0:11, 1:30, and 2:08.
Nathan Knight (Junior PF, William & Mary)
Last Year I Said: “Knight 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.”
Outlook: Knight is having a near identical statistical season to last year. Once they get into conference play, that should increase a bit. What’s important is that he hasn’t regressed and he is doing this with more teams aware of how much he can dominate a game. 2020 is still the year I expect him to stay in the draft, even if he tests the waters this summer.
Kezie Okpala (Sophomore SF, Stanford)
Last Year I Said: “By his junior year, he should have the physical and skill development necessary to let NBA teams know he is for real.”
Outlook: I was under the impression that Reid Travis would return, but his departure to Kentucky was a blessing in disguise for Okpala’s growth. He had the look of an NBA wing last year and now has shown the skills that made him a highly-touted recruit. Teams are putting all their attention on Okpala and he is still efficiently picking defenses apart, averaging 17.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 2.0 apg while shooting 47.6% from three. He is a matchup problem with his handle and scoring capabilities. NBA teams are not going to need to wait until his junior year to take notice.
Nate Reuvers (Sophomore PF, Wisconsin)
Last Year I Said: “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.”
Outlook: Reuvers hasn’t been consistently involved on offense to this point. Still, he has made an impact as a top-level shot-blocker and has stretched the court with his threat as a shooter. He is averaging 7.2 points, 1.9 blocks, and is shooting 40.9% from three. Fouls and physicality are still an issue, but Reuvers put on 25 pounds over the offseason. His strides in the weight room, as a ball-handler and post scorer, and with his shooting consistency hint towards a player that could be special in the Big Ten next year once Ethan Happ is gone.
Brandon Clarke (Junior, PF Gonzaga)
Clarke (16.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.4 bpg) is the most impactful transfer for the top-ranked team in the country. Of all the guys on this list, he is the one most ready to play in the NBA right now. A springy, rangy athlete, the San Jose State transfer can dominate the game without having any plays run for him. He is a switchable defender on the perimeter and a premier shot-blocker on the inside, despite standing at only 6-foot-8. He attacks the rim with power and has a frame that should continue to fill out to aid his play style. Few players in the country play with a consistent sense of urgency on both ends. Even without much shooting range, Clarke has NBA-level athleticism, defensive ability, and finishing prowess. Playing on a top-ranked team, Clarke will have constant exposure from NBA personnel.
Jaxson Hayes (Freshman, PF/C Texas)
Hayes has been one of the most surprising prospects in the country this year. With the frontcourt experience at Texas, many thought he might struggle to find minutes in his freshmen year. But so far, the Cincinnati native looks like the most promising player on the team. At 6’11, his energy and activity are infectious, starring in that rim-running, shot-blocking role that is coveted in the NBA today. In 20.4 minutes, he is averaging 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. Nationally, he ranks sixth in block percentage and fifth in defensive plus-minus. He should continue to add strength over the next year while working on his rudimentary post game and defensive discipline. His value as a roll man and paint protector may already be enough for some NBA teams to give him a late-first round look.
Zach Norvell (Sophomore, SG Gonzaga)
Norvell is a guy that is wired to score. He burst on the scene last year with a number of big shots late last year after redshirting as a freshman. The lefty guard is really starting to develop as a playmaker as well, looking like he spent plenty of time working on his pick-and-roll offense. As odd as it sounds, Norvell is averaging a quiet 18.1 points a game on 38.5% shooting from three. He’s not that explosive off the bounce but he is a fiery competitor. Now he may settle for a lot of jumpers, but he continues to shoot at such a high clip. His ticket is definitely his ability to create and make shots. Depending on how the back-end of the season goes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Norvell enter his name into the draft to at least test the waters.
Marcus Bingham (Freshman, PF Michigan State)
There was a thought that Bingham might redshirt this season and work on his slight frame. Ultimately, the Spartans decided to keep Bingham eligible for games and have only used him in spot minutes to this point. Built in the mold of a modern stretch-four, Bingham is a long, agile, 6-foot-11 forward that wants to do damage facing up. He definitely needs to bulk up and do more work on the interior, but a coach like Tom Izzo will get the most out of a guy with as much talent as Bingham. At 0:44 of the clip from an exhibition game, you see Bingham’s pure stroke followed by a display of his athleticism on a put-back.
Leaky Black (Freshman, SF North Carolina)
The star recruiting class at North Carolina included Coby White, Nasir Little, and Black. White and Little could both be in the league at this time next year. It’s fair to say Black has been overlooked a bit, averaging 4.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. Don’t let those number fool you, Black is still going to be a dominant player for the Tar Heels. He is a lanky point forward that can run an offense if necessary. For a wing player, he has a really smooth, deliberate game that shines in transition. What will separate him, though, is his defensive prowess. Black can shut down all the spots on the perimeter, which can’t be said for most wing prospects. The overhaul in talent following this season should open the door for Black to become an All-ACC player that is a unique watch for evaluators.
Ayo Dosunmo (Freshman, PG Illinois)
A lot of expectations came with the commitment of Ayo as a five-star point guard. The pressure doesn’t seem to have affected his game, showing the smooth, heady skills that made him the top player in Illinois last year. He has plenty of experience playing in front of decision makers during his time with the Team USA youth team, so he’s not an unknown by any means. If he stays the course and improves on his already impressive stat line (12.0 ppg, 3.2 apg, 41.7% 3PT), there is a chance he could get some rave reviews as early as next summer. Though he’s not an overly explosive athlete, he is smart, has great size and length at 6-foot-5, and projects as a solid decision-maker in an NBA offense.
Talen Horton-Tucker (Freshman, SF Iowa State)
You look at Horton-Tucker and NBA player is probably not the first title that comes to mind. And yet, you watch him play and there isn’t a part of the game that he doesn’t affect. With Lindell Wigginton hurt, Horton-Tucker (15.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg) has been able to play a sort of quasi-Draymond Green role, making plays off the dribble, guarding multiple positions, and knocking down open shots. His three-point shooting has veered off a big of late, but he is still making 1.6 threes a game. He has a natural feel as a playmaker and uses his strength well on defense. It wouldn’t hurt to become a bit leaner and improve on his finishing against length to help his stock.
Filip Petrusev (Freshman, C Gonzaga)
Once again, Mark Few has the luxury of bringing a pro-level big off the bench. Petrusev has made the most of his chances, shooting 54.3% from the field, 35.7% from three, and putting up 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. That’s good for 23.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per 40 minutes. His footwork is already advanced for a teenager, showing patience and quick decision-making against double teams. For a near 7-footer, Petrusev is more than comfortable spacing the court and switching ends (as you would expect from a Gonzaga post player). His offensive efficiency and timing as a shot-blocker have shown in flashes. With the departures of Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, and Brandon Clarke coming over the next few years, look for the Serbian center to become the centerpiece of the Zags and the focus of NBA teams heading to Spokane.
Joe Wieskamp (Freshman, SG Iowa)
Iowa has not been a hotbed for NBA talent. Wieskamp was the top high school player in the state and was lauded by Fran McCaffery during the offseason. As a freshman, he is already a difference maker as a multi-faceted contributor. Wieskamp is a true two-guard at 6-foot-7 with long arms and a solid stroke from range. Right now, he is best spotting up or attacking off straight-line drives where he doesn’t shy away from contact and is explosive enough vertically to finish above the rim. He’s really got potential on the defensive end where his length and long strides should allow him to corral ball-handlers, especially as his upper body develops. Wieskamp (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 38.7% 3PT) is going to improve exponentially with experience and should start gaining some attention on the NBA level by next spring.
Aaron Wiggins (Freshman, SG Maryland)
There should be a lot of attention placed on Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith for the Terrapins. But let’s not take Wiggins for granted. He is the prototypical size for a wing at 6’6 and has one of the cleaner jump shots (2:22 of video) in the Big Ten. He is already averaging 27 minutes a game and averaging 10.2 points on a team with two NBA players on the inside and a scoring point guard in Anthony Cowan. On top of that, he is a disruptive defender on and off the ball with his long arms. He reminds me a lot of Trevor Ariza. That 3-and-D weapon is more valuable than ever.