Let’s take a look at what could be another eventful year in college and professional hoops.
LaVar Ball’s Return to Relevance
2018 was a relatively quiet year for the most publicly outspoken parent in American basketball. With his oldest son Lonzo having an underwhelming (for LaVar’s predictions), yet solid rookie season, Lamelo settling back into high school, and LiAngelo returning back to irrelevance, there wasn’t as much attention on LaVar. But BBB fans, don’t worry; he will be back in the headlines in 2019. After claiming that Lamelo never got paid in Lithuania, there is going to be an anticipated face-off between the NCAA and Lamelo/LaVar regarding his eligibility.
As of now, Lamelo has set his sight on a number of blue blood schools, though there hasn’t been a lot of public comments from coaches to reciprocate the interest. If eligible, coaches and athletic departments will still have to weigh the costs of a media circus against the benefit of featuring a 5-star level point guard. Expect tensions to be high as the decision approaches. My guess: The blue bloods avoid the drama and some mid-to-upper major takes the calculated risk for a one-year rental of a gifted playmaker.
Year of the Redhead Hoopers?
Brian Scalabrine. Matt Bonner. Oftentimes basketball players with red hair are celebrated more for their hair color than their talent. But this year, we will see a number of redhead players starring in key roles, gaining fans for their game. 5-Star recruit Nico Mannion is headed to Arizona in the fall where his confidence and offensive creativity could reenergize the program hit hardest by FBI probes. I’d expect him to be a lottery pick in the 2020 draft. Then there’s Kevin Huerter, a player I felt was a lot more talented than he was perceived to be at Maryland. Now in a starting role with the Hawks, he is showing off that outside touch (38.1% from three) and two-way versatility that has a staying power in the league. And we can’t forget Donte DiVincenzo, who had a huge 2018. He’s been bouncing between the G-League and the upstart Bucks but should see his role expand as he gets to full health. The future of redhead basketball players is bright.
Breakout CBB Players
Second Half of This Season
- Nassir Little (North Carolina, Freshman SF) – The likely top-five pick in June hasn’t found his rhythm in a bench role. Look for that comfort level to grow exponentially throughout conference play as he allows his effort on the defensive end to ignite his gifts on the other side.
- Quentin Grimes (Kansas, Freshman SG) – Another McDonald’s All-American who has struggled to find consistency on the offensive end. His playmaking and toughness are earning him that starting spot despite the streaky outside shooting. This looks like your typical example of a freshman hitting his stride in the second half of the year.
- Makai Mason (Baylor, Senior PG) – Mason, a former Yale standout who pushed Duke to the edge a few years ago in the NCAA Tournament, is the key to Baylor reaching the NCAA Tournament. Many college basketball fans forgot about him. Watch out for the Bears if Mason finds his stroke.
- Jahvon Quinerly (Villanova, Freshman PG) – After barely sniffing the floor for the first eight games and an Instagram post about regretting his choice, the shifty guard has received 25 and 17 minutes over the last two games. As the best passer on the team, he could open up some things for a solid team trending up.
- Jordan Tucker (Butler, Sophomore F) – Five games in after transferring from Duke, and Tucker already looks ready to be a difference maker in the Big East. He is long-range sniper shooting 45.5 percent from three and pulling down 13.0 rebounds per 40 minutes. I would expect his minutes to only go up as he gets back into game shape.
- Nicolas Claxton (Georgia, Sophomore PF) – Claxton has taken an immense step in his sophomore year, playing more on the perimeter. 6-foot-11 players aren’t supposed to be able to handle the ball and make plays like Claxton. Averaging a solid 13.3 points and 10.2 rebounds, he should become a household name sooner rather than later.
- Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State, Freshman PG) – For a guy who wasn’t a highly touted high school player, Haliburton looks more than ready to challenge for a spot on the All-Big 12 Freshman team. Shooting about 45 percent from three with 4.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.1 steals, there isn’t much to knock. With a couple of backcourt departures, a big bump in usage should come.
- Cole Anthony (Undecided, High School PG) – Anthony is one of the most mature high school players, also blessed with easy athleticism and a sky-high IQ. Now playing for Oak Hill, he is a triple-double threat every night. He has the ability to transform a program with his unselfishness and take-over ability. Anthony will be must-watch TV in the fall.
- Nico Mannion (Arizona, High School PG)/Josh Green (Arizona, High School SG) – This will be the most exciting backcourt in America next year. Green and Mannion are good friends and played AAU together in the past. Both also happen to be 5-star prospects that can put up points in a hurry. Mannion, like Anthony, is an entertaining floor general (more on this to come). Green is a springy slasher that should punish some rims on the fastbreak in Tuscon.
- Bryan Antoine (Villanova, High School SG) – Freshmen typically don’t play a ton at Villanova (see Quinerly). But players like Phil Booth and Joe Cremo will graduate, leaving a gaping hole at the guard spot. Antoine can create his own shot and has the type of aggressiveness to shine early in his career. We might be looking at one of the first one-and-done players in Jay Wright’s tenure.
- James Wiseman (Memphis, High School C) – Wiseman is the top-ranked player according to the ESPN Top 100. The big lefty changes ends quickly, defends on the inside, and demands double-teams on the block. Penny Hardaway’s turnaround effort at Memphis could be accelerated with Wiseman’s arrival.
- Other Breakout Players: Tristan Clark (Baylor, Sophomore PF), Teddy Allen (Wichita State, Sophomore F), James Akinjo/Mac McClung (Georgetown, Freshmen Guards), Paul Scruggs (Xavier, Sophomore G), John Mooney (Notre Dame, Junior PF), Joe Wieskamp (Iowa, Freshman SG), A.J. Turner (Northwestern, Junior SF), Nathan Reuvers (Wisconsin, Sophomore PF/C), Saban Lee (Vanderbilt, Sophomore G), Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama, Freshman PG), C.J. Elleby (Washington State, Freshman SF)
Breakout NBA Players
- Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics, SF) – This is less of a breakout and more of a comeback prediction. He is quietly right around his pre-injury numbers everywhere outside of his scoring. Due to the depth of the C’s, don’t expect him to start scoring 20 a night. But that efficiency will creep back up.
- Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG) – Yes, Markelle Fultz. He is going to be reevaluated next week and will be back on the court before the year is over. At this point, it would be foolish to trade a player with All-Star upside without seeing him at full health. Fultz will get the last laugh.
- Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG) – DSJ is having a solid season, but it is an adjustment sharing ball-handling duties with Luka Doncic. More consistent outside shooting (which is already much improved) and timely cutting will boost his offensive production. His defense has taken monumental steps, to the point where he is becoming a consistent pest defending the ball. That Dallas backcourt is set up to be one of the best in the NBA for years to come.
- Michael Porter Jr. (Denver Nuggets, SF/PF) – Based purely on talent, Porter was a top-5 player in the 2018 draft. Reports are that Porter’s jumper is looking much improved, so it’s only a matter of time before he adds another dimension to the Nuggets.
- Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies, PF) – Already averaging 13.4 points and 1.6 blocks, Jackson Jr. is a defensive stopgap and he won’t turn 20 until September. Marc Gasol could be dealt at the deadline or leave in free agency, opening up things up for JJ to become the top frontcourt option in Memphis.
- Mo Bamba (Orlando Magic, C) – Similar to Jackson Jr., Bamba could see his usage take a sizeable jump if the current starting center, Nikola Vucevic, is gone by this time next year. His shot-blocking is special, but some more work exposing mismatches on the inside could spell doom for defenders next season.
- Other Breakout Players: Jarret Allen (Brooklyn Nets, C), Kevin Huerter (Atlanta Hawks, SG/SF), Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets, G), Terry Rozier (Boston Celtics, PG), Zach Collins (Portland Trail Blazers, PF/C)
NBA Award Predictions
MVP – James Harden (Houston Rockets, G)
Contenders: Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Anthony Davis
Rookie of the Year – Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks, G)
Contenders: DeAndre Ayton, Trae Young
Defensive Player of the Year – Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans, PF)
Contenders: Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela
Sixth Man of the Year – Derrick Rose (Minnesota Timberwolves, PG)
Contenders: Lou Williams, Domantas Sabonis, Julius Randle, Spender Dinwiddie
Most Improved Player – Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors, Power Forward)
Contenders: Derrick Rose, Emmanuel Mudiay, Julius Randle
G Kyrie Irving
G Kemba Walker
F Giannis Antetokounmpo
F Kawhi Leonard
C Joel Embiid
Reserves: Victor Oladipo, Ben Simmons, Blake Griffin, Nikola Vucevic, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, Kyle Lowry
G Steph Curry
G James Harden
F LeBron James
F Kevin Durant
F Anthony Davis
Reserves: Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Paul George, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker
CBB National Award Predictions
National Player of the Year: Zion Williamson (Duke, Freshman PF)
First Team All-Americans
Zion Williamson (Duke, Freshman PF)
Carsen Edwards (Purdue, Junior G)
Grant Williams (Tennessee, Junior PF)
Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, Junior F)
Ethan Happ (Wisconsin, Senior PF)
Second Team All-Americans
Markus Howard (Marquette, Junior PG)
RJ Barrett (Duke, Freshman SF)
Dedric Lawson (Kansas, Junior PF)
Admiral Schofield (Tennessee, Senior F)
Kyle Guy (Virginia, Junior SG)
Third Team All-Americans
Cassius Winston (Michigan State, Junior PG)
Shamorie Ponds (Saint John’s, Junior PG)
Ignas Brazdeikis (Michigan, Freshman F)
Caleb Martin (Nevada, Senior SG)
Mike Daum (South Dakota State, Senior PF)
Where Will Top NBA Free Agents Land:
|Player:||Old Team:||Projected New Team:|
|Kent Bazemore||Atlanta Hawks||New Orleans Pelicans|
|Kyrie Irving||Boston Celtics||Boston Celtics|
|Terry Rozier||Boston Celtics||Phoenix Suns|
|Kemba Walker||Charlotte Hornets||Charlotte Hornets|
|DeAndre Jordan||Dallas Mavericks||Dallas Mavericks|
|Paul Milsap||Denver Nuggets||Philadelphia 76ers|
|Kevin Durant||Golden State Warriors||New York Knicks|
|Klay Thompson||Golden State Warriors||Golden State Warriors|
|DeMarcus Cousins||Golden State Warriors||Golden State Warriors|
|Marc Gasol||Memphis Grizzlies||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Hassan Whiteside||Miami Heat||Miami Heat|
|Goran Dragic||Miami Heat||Miami Heat|
|Eric Bledsoe||Milwaukee Bucks||Orlando Magic|
|Khris Middleton||Milwaukee Bucks||Milwaukee Bucks|
|Derrick Rose||Minnesota Timberwolves||Chicago Bulls|
|Julius Randle||New Orleans Pelicans||New Orleans Pelicans|
|Nikola Mirotic||New Orleans Pelicans||Dallas Mavericks|
|Enes Kanter||New York Knicks||Memphis Grizzlies|
|Kristaps Porzingiz||New York Knicks||New York Knicks|
|Nikola Vucevic||Orlando Magic||Brooklyn Nets|
|JJ Reddick||Philadelphia 76ers||Philadelphia 76ers|
|Kawhi Leonard||Toronto Raptors||Toronto Raptors|
|Jonas Valanciunas||Toronto Raptors||Atlanta Hawks|
|Danny Green||Toronto Raptors||Toronto Raptors|
|Ricky Rubio||Utah Jazz||Utah Jazz|