Reminder: in keeping with the theme of this site (and given the hoops I’ve actually watched extensively), this board is Division I college-only. That means no Sekou Doumbouya, no Goga Bitadze, no Jalen Lecque, etc.
12. Grant Williams, Forward, Tennessee
11. P.J. Washington, Forward, Kentucky
After dueling for SEC Player of the Year honors this season, Washington and Williams combine to kick off Tier 3 of my Big Board. I’m not crazy about either player’s ceiling, but they both strike me as high-floor forwards with a strong likelihood of being extremely useful contributors on successful teams. For many teams in the lottery, they’d much rather take a swing at an organization-altering talent, but there really aren’t many big upside bets remaining, so I’ll take the “elite complementary player” potential that these two offer. If you need evidence that they’re similar players, look no further than Washington’s #5 statistical comp on KenPom as a sophomore:
Williams had an odd shooting experience this year: he bricked away on a small sample of threes, but he was cash from the free throw line on a colossal volume (82% on 263 attempts), which is why many are projecting his shooting to expand beyond the NBA three-point line. I’m skeptical, at least early in his career, considering how big of a leap he would need to make there, but he’s proven to be a tireless worker, so I would not be surprised. He’s a versatile forward who should be able to guard multiple positions, punish switches in the post, and make plays with the ball in his hands as a tertiary offensive option, the ideal complementary piece next to more ball-dominant scorers.
I was captain of the SS PJ Can’t Shoot after his 8/20 brickfest doomed the Wildcats in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but he had a kind of “opposite” year from Williams: his stroke actually looked decent from deep this year (42% on 78 3FGA), although the free throw line was still a bugaboo (66%). Still though, the development and added confidence was obvious, and when paired with everything else he does well – rebound on both ends, pass (especially to fellow bigs), draw contact, defend – he becomes an extremely attractive prospect. His handle/dribble creation isn’t tremendous, but he has more than enough juice to attack sloppy closeouts and slower big men.
10. Jaxson Hayes, Big, Texas
Hayes is a true “late bloomer,” both in literal and figurative sense. A five-inch growth spurt before his senior year of high school transformed him from an unskilled, athletic wing into a vertically dangerous force in the paint. He was one of the best finishers in the country (73% inside the arc), primarily playing the role of dive man and drop-off outlet in the dunker spot. His free throw shooting (74%) teases some possible shooting upside, and his mobility could portend some switchability, even onto quicker guards. He’s still quite raw, though, as shown by his almost complete black hole status on offense (only eight assists the entire year). It will take some time for the skill to come along, but he should be a solid rim presence immediately, and if he figures out the mental side, look out.
9. Darius Garland, Guard, Vanderbilt
I strongly believe that Garland is benefitting from his freshman year injury, avoiding the scrutiny that would have come from playing for a disappointing Vanderbilt squad (just ask Simi Shittu). It’s entirely possible the Commodores would not have been as terrible had he been healthy, but it’s also possible scouts would have seen more of his flaws (high-level playmaking, lack of size) and picked him apart. He currently has the “allure of the unknown,” in the same way that someone like Hami Diallo did before opting to play an entire year at Kentucky. Garland still has plenty of upside based on his smooth jumper, advanced pull-up game, and high basketball IQ, but he’s also ended up fourth on some big boards simply due to there not being enough game tape to dissect.
8. Romeo Langford, Wing, Indiana
Incredibly highly touted out of high school as the local hero come to rescue the Indiana program from mediocrity, Langford did not quite live up to that elite billing. The Hoosiers had a disastrous January and February, and while Langford was reasonably effective, his perimeter jumper utterly failed him: he hit just 34/125 (27%) from deep for the year, often showing utter refusal to take open shots. There’s a clear explanation for those woes, though: he played all season with a torn thumb ligament on his shooting hand, and it speaks well of his character that he was willing to risk his own draft stock to suit up through that. (Quick aside: I tore the ulnar collateral ligament in my shooting hand thumb during college, as well, and I feel Romeo’s pain. It’s playable, but it’s agony of the thumb gets bent the wrong way, and it affects your grip and follow-through. The surgery/rehab wasn’t ideal, either). Langford’s older highlights show a smooth release, and I’m hopeful that can come back with an offseason to heal.
Still, though, there’s a lot to be encouraged by. He was superb finishing at the rim (66% per The Stepien’s shot charts), showing the innate touch that cannot be taught. He got into the lane almost at will despite the lack of a truly threatening jump shot and drew a ton of contact once he got there. And his lengthy frame allowed him to get his hands on the ball frequently, although his effort and off-ball awareness dipped too often for a player of his caliber. If he’s able to get fully healthy and have the jumper re-emerge, he has enough primary wing scorer equity to take a shot on him in the lottery.
7. De’Andre Hunter, Wing/Forward, Virginia
It’s hard not to love De’Andre Hunter, particularly after he helped lock down first ever Virginia’s national championship (a personal tip of the cap, Mr. Hunter). He’s a lockdown defender (except when Carsen Edwards goes bananas from 30+ feet), he has a solid shooting motion and numbers to back it up (42% from deep on 160 college attempts), and the comparisons of his on-court demeanor to Kawhi (read: stoic assassin) are not unfounded. He vaulted from ultra-reliable sixth man to bona fide star in his second season, and his two-way talents should make him a perfect fit alongside a team already sporting a possible star.
He’d be up a tier if I had more confidence in his ceiling. Playing alongside skilled guards in Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, as well as being ensconced in Tony Bennett’s mover-blocker offense, Hunter had very few opportunities to show off his playmaking abilities, and that uncertainty makes it hard to project him as more than an elite second or third banana even in his best case scenarios. He did get more chances in isolation and post ups as a sophomore, though, and his efficiency there means he should, at the very least, be able to punish switches and smaller defenders. And there’s also a chance some latent play-making skills emerge with greater freedom, as well.
6. Coby White, Guard, North Carolina
White is a dynamic guard with some size, showing the confidence to fill it up at all three levels in Roy Williams’s secondary break offense. Perhaps most telling about White was how he immediately asserted himself as the alpha for a team returning All-ACC Luke Maye and deadeye shooter Cam Johnson, crucially stepping in at point guard for a team that had nearly every other piece figured out. And there was nothing more fun than when White would split a ball screen:
He's not long and his decision-making can be erratic at times if he is to become a full-time point guard, but his pull-up game and ceiling as a scorer make him a worthy lottery pick.
5. Jarrett Culver, Wing, Texas Tech
Culver’s leap from “role playing wing” on an Elite Eight team to “primary initiator” for a national runner-up was pretty remarkable. He took on significant playmaking duties in isolation and especially pick-and-roll. Our pal Chris Stone at Sporting News visualized it nicely in this chart, showing how significantly the creation-type plays increased from year to year:
He did well in that role, too, more than doubling his assist total and showing advanced vision to beat rotations and hit open shooters. The issue for Culver, though, is his own shot. It completely abandoned him through the second half of the year, knocking down a paltry 24.7% from deep in conference play and 22.5% in six NCAA Tournament games. His hitchy form supports his streakiness (he was 38.2% his freshman year on mostly spot up chances), and it will likely continue to plague him until he smooths out his release.
Culver is also an excellent defender, with nearly a 6’10 wingspan and excellent instincts. It also helps that he just spent two years learning from Beard, a defensive mastermind who should have players well-prepared for NBA schemes. He should contribute immediately on this end, and as a slasher and smart passer on offense, but his ceiling won’t truly be realized until his shooting comes along.
4. Brandon Clarke, Forward/Big, Gonzaga
I’m still wrapped in a pretzel trying to figure out how Clarke was left off of several All-American teams last year, much less the first team. His insane vertical bounce and acute basketball instincts on both ends of the court made him one of the best players in the country, but the media’s romance with Rui Hachimura was too torrid an affair to overcome. No mind, though, as Clarke went about his business in peace, swatting opposing shots into oblivion and quietly morphing into an offensive monster: in 10 games against Tier A competition, Clarke had an absurd 129.5 offensive rating on 26.1% usage, finishing against size and hitting a few jumpers. His passing might be his most surprising attribute, as he made incisive reads that often led to easy baskets:
The primary drawbacks are that he’s old (22.7 at the time of the draft) and not long enough to play center for extended minutes (8’6” standing reach, 6’8.25” wingspan). His rapid development curve in his redshirt season and even during the year last year belies his age, though, and his insane timing and vertical pop (34” standing vertical, T-3rd at the combine) help make up for those flaws.
3. R.J. Barrett, Wing, Duke
2. Ja Morant, Guard, Murray St.
Outside of (redacted, spoiler, you’ll have to scroll down), these two have the most equity to be legitimate stars. That’s not to say some of the previously listed players cannot be (the mystery boxes of Bol and Garland come to mind), but their question marks further outweigh their upside. Barrett and Morant have the potential to be primary initiators on quality teams, and they both spent last season putting up eye-popping numbers, using their athletic gifts to dominate their competition.
They are productive in different ways, though. Barrett is a big wing who excels in transition and via his excellent first step, using his combination of size and quickness to get in the lane at will. His efficiency left something to be desired, though, often forcing his way into double-teams and excessive help, and his perimeter shooting has a long way to go before becoming a weapon that opponents have to respect. That never stopped him from shooting, though, which is part of the largest flaw of his game: his massive box score numbers often left me feeling cold, in a sense. It’s unfair to say he’ll be a “great stats, bad team” guy, but his splits when not playing alongside the best player in the sport are worth noting: 26.2ppg, 5.2apg, 8.2rpg (impressive, right?)…on 50/24/58 shooting splits, showing the glaring efficiency concerns that could be problematic when he’s asked to be the lone star.
Morant, on the other hand, is a “holy shit” vertical athlete whose passing vision and overall game really exploded this year with the graduation of last year’s Murray State alpha, Jonathan Stark. Morant led the country in assist rate by a wide margin, and the continued development of his shooting stroke (hit 82% of 259 free throws, 37% of 156 threes) just adds to his monstrous upside. His highlight reel dunks speak to his absurd athleticism (often a “knock” on small conference stars like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum), and that bounce plus his innate anticipation helped him generate “events” on defense at solid rates. Unfortunately, the rest of his defensive game has plenty of holes, but like Trae Young before him, it’s reasonable to assume that with his gargantuan offensive burden, he needed to preserve energy. The difference between him and Young, for me, is that Morant has the athletic and physical tools to become acceptable on that end, while Young will always be smaller.
1. Zion Williamson, Forward, Duke
I don’t have a lot to say about Zion that hasn’t already been said. He’s a completely ludicrous physical specimen, a 285-pound angry tank with rocket fuel in his calves, complete with passing vision and a competitive motor that never shuts off. He’s an absolute treat to watch, as his propensity for “holy shit!” plays rivals anyone I’ve seen at the college level. We at 3MW have completely re-designed how we do our “Top 100 Players” countdown after whiffing so badly on Zion last year – he was legitimately probably closer to being the 37th best basketball player on planet Earth than being #37 in college basketball. About the only negative thing I can say about Zion is that I know I’ll inevitably tire of his “arm at his sides” celebration, something I’ll dub the Straitjacket Flex (open to suggestions, though):
If that’s the worst I can say about him, he’s doing quite well, especially since he aligned himself with the dark witchcraft that possesses Duke. Okay, and I’m highly skeptical his flat dart throw of a jumper will extend out to the NBA line, but that’s a developmental hiccup, not a degenerative flaw. Congratulations to New Orleans fans, enjoy watching Zion for years to come as you crush jumbalaya and hurricanes, I can’t wait to visit for a game.