ABOUT a month ago I did a piece on the best players to watch in College for people who were following an underachieving NBA squad. While the season still looks bleak for Magic, Kings, Hawks and Mavericks fans, the stars of the future can be witnessed dominating the NCAA on a nightly basis. These rankings are essentially a mock draft* without specifying the teams making the pick taking a ‘best player on the board’ approach. These lucky 15 standouts crack the first list.
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*MICHAEL Porter (Missouri) remains off the list because of his injury, but if it were draft night he would be an undeniable top-5 pick.
15. Troy Brown (Oregon, G/F, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.1 APG
AS is expected for a college freshman Brown has had ups and downs in his first half of the season. After recently stinking it up against two ranked opponents some are selling their stock on the Oregon point-forward stating he may benefit from a second year in college. He is still in the first-round mix and has all the tools to be a good pro baller, even if he hasn’t put them together yet.
14. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky, G, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 12.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.2 APG
NOT many would have Gilgeous-Alexander ranked this high. Lately, the freshman Wildcat has been on a tear putting up 15.7 points in his last seven outings. At 6’6″ he has shown an ability to defend both guards and wings on the perimeter, averaging nearly two steals a game. The next fortnight will tell us whether this has been a lucky run or a theme that’s here to stay.
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13. Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky, G, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 13.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.6 APG
IN transition Diallo is a nightmare, using his God given athleticism to the best of his ability. In the half-court, he is much more of a question mark. He is shooting over 35% from deep, yet I still can’t fully trust his jumper. Diallo does seem to have found more consistency and is trending in the right direction, two things that will see him make a push at being a lottery pick once he declares for the draft.
12. Bruce Brown (Miami, G, Sophomore)
2017-18 Stats: 11.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.8 APG
THERE isn’t a lot on the court that Brown can’t do. He rebounds at a terrific rate for a guard, is very versatile on defense and is a terrific playmaker on offense. The big question mark surrounds his shooting, with his field goal (41.0%), 3-point (25.0%) and free throw (63.2%) numbers all taking a step backwards this season. The walking triple-double needs to improve those percentages if he wants to climb the rankings.
11. Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 9.4 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG
IT’S been a rough start to the season for Williams and his stock has dipped as a result. He hasn’t taken an extra step in his development, even if his defensive upside at athleticism have still been on display. Still, blocking over four shots per 40 minutes and averaging a near double-double Williams can re-write the story surrounding him in the second half of the season.
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10. Miles Bridges (Michigan State, F, Sophomore)
2017-18 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.1 APG
THANKS to the frontcourt talent on the Spartans roster, Bridges has been forced to play on the wing more, which isn’t his natural position. Returning to school has all but confirmed his strengths (explosiveness, ability to run the floor) and weaknesses (inconsistent jumper, creating off the dribble) for better or worse. It’s unlikely that he finds himself pushing deeper into the top-10, but he and Michigan State loom as a real threat come March.
9. Wendell Carter (Duke, F/C, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 13.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 BPG
WHILE everyone focuses on another Duke big man (more from him soon) Wendell Carter has quietly played his way into being a lottery pick. Not quite an explosive ‘above the rim’ guy, Carter has displayed his versatility on offense, with the ability to stretch all the way out to the perimeter where he makes over 45% of his shots. Somewhat forgotten in the talented Duke line-up, he has fit perfectly into a supporting role and shows enough upside to warrant being a top-10 draft pick.
8. Mikal Bridges (Villanova, G/F, Junior)
2017-18 Stats: 17.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.1 APG
YOUR typical 3-and-D player, Bridges seems set to be a great two-way player. Having taken a step in his development each season prior, Bridges has taken a leap this season, becoming an impressive spot-up shooter and defender for the nation’s top-ranked team. He looms as a talented role-player in the big leagues, with a wide range of skills that should translate straight to the pros.
7. Kevin Knox (Kentucky, F, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 14.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.7 APG
KNOX is one of my favourite players in this draft class and at just 18 years old there’s no telling what he can become. By no means is he a finished product and as a result, there are games where he struggles and can go missing. The proud owner of a unique blend of skills, Knox can boost his stock some more with some consistency in the back half of the year. If he does so then a team could find a franchise player outside the top-5.
6. Jaren Jackson Jr (Michigan State, F, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 11.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.3 BPG
ANOTHER young phenom climbing up draft boards is Michigan State teen Jaren Jackson Jr. Early on he struggled to find his place on the court, but still managed to block a high number of shots. Recently Jackson has found his groove and scored in double-digits for eight straight games. Words like upside and potential spring to mind when describing the Spartans defensive standout and he could be a uniquely valuable big man in the NBA.
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5. Collin Sexton (Alabama, G, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 19.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.4 APG
SEXTON is going to be a problem in the NBA. Thanks to Alabama’s struggles he doesn’t stand out in the upper echelon of draft prospects like Bagley or Ayton. He still remains one of the most aggressive scorers in college basketball and there’s no denying he has heart and is a ferocious competitor. A valiant defender, Sexton could find himself a top-5 pick if the right team comes calling.
4. Mohamed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 11.9 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 4.5 BPG
A modern-day DeAndre Jordan, Mohamed Bamba is an intimidating force facing brave enough to drive the paint. Growing each day in confidence, Bamba is starting to take over games, and while his offensive skill-set is limited, he is shown signs of becoming a decent post scorer. On defense, he is second in the nation for blocked shots and has shown a valuable ability to switch out onto perimeter guys. Don’t be scared off by his skinny frame, Bamba looms as a future force.
3. Trae Young (Oklahoma, G, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 29.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 9.8 APG
I’LL admit it, I might be a hater and I’m happy to die on that hill. By no means do I think Trae Young is trash, clearly leading the nation in scoring and assists is no fluke. I haven’t bought into the No. 1 pick discussion yet though. Possessing limitless range on offense, the Steph Curry comparisons are fair and it’s clear that he can get to the free throw line when his shot isn’t dropping. A clear favourite for the National Player of the Year award, there’s no telling what else Young can do to close out the season as he tries to silence the doubters (myself included).
2. Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 22.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 1.7 APG
YOU can understand why NBA teams are considering full-on tank mode when you watch Marvin Bagley play. One of the best rebounders in the nation, Bagley has also shown off his ability to handle the rock and shoot jump shots from as far out as the 3-point line. In fact, Bagley’s 22/11 averages (one of only 15 players to ever put up such numbers) are coming at a rate that could see him become a collegiate immortal. A franchise-altering big man doesn’t come around every year.
1. Deandre Ayton (Arizona, C, Freshman)
2017-18 Stats: 20.2 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG
EVERYTIME Ayton plays it literally looks like a man playing boys. He is so dominant it’s scary. His freakish physical attributes and well-polished offensive game are a rare mix for someone so young, and there’s no denying that he will change one lucky franchise’s fortunes when he is drafted. At this point in time, I don’t have any prospect better than him (sorry Doncic) and the way he is playing it’s going to be tough to mount a case against him. Whoever owns the No. 1 pick come draft night will find it hard to pass on someone shapes as the complete package.
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