NBA teams who nail the rookie draft often do so through a combination of extensive research on a player, gut instinct, and sheer luck. Sometimes, a prospect like Anthony Davis defies all expectations to become sure-fire first picks. But more often than not, the Draft becomes a hit-or-miss proposition. No amount of research, evaluation, and discussion can make up for a player’s true ceiling as a basketball player.
Fortunately, the rest of us don’t have to worry about the pressures of nailing a draft pick. For us, the appeal of collegiate players rest on their potential to become superstars of the game, regardless of which team they end up in.
We’ve pulled the tapes on some of today’s brightest college basketball stars. You might recognize some of the names on this list because of the hype they’ve been generating. Others, you may not. But rest assured, you’ll be hearing more about them in the coming weeks and months. Who knows, one of these players might even catch on enough to have his own local-based fan page. Shout out to Lonzo Ball Nation Philippines!
Current Comp: David Robinson
Exaggerated Comp: David Robinson with a mean streak
Is Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton the next coming of David Robinson? Or is he more like Patrick Ewing? The comps coming in for this brushing 7-foot cyborg are titillating, and he’s more than backed it up in his first season with the Wildcats. In so many words, Dayton is a dominant specimen. He’s not the kind of athletic freak that Giannis Antetokounmpo is, but his talent speaks to his potential to become a generational big.
Aston possesses that rare blend of ferocity and fluidity. He’s a terror on the post, but has range that extends to the three-point line. He’s also shown flashes of being an adept ball-handler for his size, a rarity even in today’s unicorn-rampant NBA. It’s not far off to say that Ayton has the complete package as far as modern bigs go, and if you’re a fan of a team who needs a can’t-miss center, you’re going to need to watch out Ayton for the remainder of the college season.
Current Comp: Steph Curry
Exaggerated Comp: Better than Steph Curry (Put down the pitchforks, Warriors fans!)
When we mentioned prospects that have been getting hyped up to the heavens, we’re referring to Oklahoma’s Trae Young. You’ve probably seen, heard, or read of him too. Trae Young is the second-coming of Steph Curry, a guy with limitless range who also possesses elite playmaking skills. If anything, Young hasn’t done anything to dismiss the Curry comparisons because the kid is lighting up college basketball the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, Curry was dropping 30 a night for Davidson a decade ago. As it stands, Young leads college basketball in scoring with an average of just under 30 points a game. He’s also tops in assists, dishing dimes left and right to the tune of 10 per game. Guess how many guys have done that in history? If you guessed “zero,” give yourselves a pat on the pack because it’s never been done before!
If there’s a knock on Young, it’s his frame. The slithery point guard from Oklahoma stands at a wet 6’2” and weighs just shy of 180 pounds. It’s easy to dismiss Young’s physical stature by pointing at Curry, who himself is no big at just 6’3”. But Curry is a proven commodity in the NBA. Young will have to prove that he can take licks from the league’s bruisers to answer any doubts about his size. If he can do that, watch out, because the kid is electrifying.
Marvin Bagley III
Current Comp: Chris Bosh
Exaggerated Comp: A more muscular version of Chris Bosh
If you want a prototypical power forward with the skill set that can excel in today’s space-and-pace NBA, Duke’s Marvin Bagley Jr. should be in your radar. He’s not dominating in the manner Ayton is, but Bagley has a far more advanced overall game that can immediately translate in the league. He’s 6’11" frame is something you can’t teach, and at 235 pounds, he’s already built into his body unlike, say, Brandon Ingram.
Physical features aside, Bagley’s biggest strength is the fluidity in his game. At his age, he already possesses an array of moves that extend to the top of the key. He can bring the ball down and use his strength to get to the basket or, at the very least, leverage contact from defenders. He’s also shown the ability to be active even when he doesn’t have the ball. He has the strength to slash to the basket unimpeded and he boxes out well for rebounds. It’s tempting to look at Bagley now and think of him as a bigger and more muscular version of Chris Bosh. In some ways, the comparison isn’t too far-fetched, especially if he spends the rest of his season with Duke improving his shooting.
Michael Porter, Jr.
Current Comp: A taller Tracy McGrady
Exaggerated Comp: The next Kevin Durant
If we had made this list four months ago, Missouri’s Michael Porter’s name would be at the top. Regarded as the can’t-miss prospect of this draft class, Porter’s season was derailed when he opted to have back surgery in November. It’s unclear how long he’s going to be out, but it’s safe to say that we won’t see him in action for at least another month or two.
We do know that Porter is a scorer of the highest order. His combination of size, skill, shooting, and athleticism is unmatched by any player in college basketball. He can literally shoot from anywhere. He finishes well in transition, can absorb contact, and even move without the ball in and around screens in the mold of J.J. Redick. If there was a player in college basketball you’d bet on to one day lead the NBA in scoring, it’s him.
The only question mark surrounding Porter is how much his back injury has stagnated his growth. It’s one thing to pick a prospect that injured his ankle in the college ranks. It’s a scarier proposition to pick a prospect who’s coming off of back surgery.
Current Comp: Joe Johnson
Exaggerated Comp: A better Steve Smith
Before everybody came aboard the Trae Young bandwagon, everyone was riding pretty on the shoulders of Luka Doncic. The 6’8” shooting guard from Slovenia has become the toast over in Europe as the next can’t-miss prospect from the region. He’s versatility is his biggest strength. Despite his size, Doncic is a playmaker par excellence. He can act as a team’s lead guard and orchestrate a half court offense. He’s fluid in transition too and is capable of making a dizzying array of highlight reel passes to his teammates. Doncic has also proven himself to have a mature offensive game. He doesn’t have the quickest first step, but his build and savviness with the ball helps him absorb contact without disrupting his balance.
The downside to Doncic is the level of competition he faces in Europe and how much adjustment he’s going to have to make when the gets to the NBA. Don’t sleep on the kid, though, because he’s a baller.