The lead guard position is the deepest in college basketball this season, but wings aren’t all that far behind.
And I have a theory on that.
One of the most valuable positions in the NBA these days are wings that can defend everyone from a point guard to a power forward and are capable of knocking down an open three. Throw in the ability to attack a close out off the dribble and the willingness to play within a system, and you understand why a guy like Trevor Ariza’s NBA career is spanning into a second decade. The trickle-down effect here is that guys like Jaron Blossomgame or Josh Jackson or O.G. Anunoby focus on developing the perimeter skills necessary to be able to space the floor, making them more valuable at the professional level in the long-term.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it and this just happens to be a year where there are a lot of talented players at this position. Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of guys on this list that will spend a lot of time in the NBA.
Before we dive into the top 20 wings in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.
1. Josh Jackson, Kansas: I don’t think it’s crazy to compare Josh Jackson to Andrew Wiggins. They’re both supremely-athletic, 6-foot-8 wings that will play a critical role on a Kansas team that has the talent to win a national title. The difference between them? The comparison isn’t perfect – Jackson is more polished as a scorer and a passer while Wiggins was a more athletic, raw talent – but here’s the major point that needs to be made: Wiggins wasn’t ready to play a alpha-dog role that he was forced into. Jackson is, but he won’t be asked to, not with the veterans on the KU roster.
Wiggins has a negative rep from his time at Kansas, but he averaged 17.7 points and was the best perimeter defender in the country on a team that very easily could have made the Final Four had Joel Embiid stayed healthy. He was damn good, and Josh Jackson has a chance to be better.
2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart’s ability to guard different positions and attack the glass on both ends of the floor made him the most valuable piece that Villanova had on their roster last season. It’s impossible to over-value how good he fits on that team. His NBA potential is a question mark, however, the same way that Buddy Hield’s was heading into last season. Can Hart make the same kind of jump that Hield did?
3. Jayson Tatum, Duke: Now that we know his foot injury is not something serious we can move on discussing Tatum as the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. There are been rave reviews about Tatum coming out of the Duke camp during the preseason. He is, essentially, a 6-foot-9 kid with a shooting guard’s skill-set. Think Brandon Ingram, only more fluid and more skilled with less hair and less tattoos.
4. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks was a tough guy for us to rank on this list. When healthy, he’s an awesome college player that is a perfect fit for Oregon’s offense. He’s a guy that could average upwards of 20 points on a top five team. He’s a first-team all-american. But … he’s got this foot issue that will likely keep him out for the start of the season, and if you know anything about foot issues, they don’t necessarily just go away. His health may be the single biggest x-factor in college hoops this side of Harry Giles III.
5. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame is the most under-appreciated player in college basketball. He can guard anyone outside of the nation’s best low-post scorers. He averaged 18.7 points for a slow-paced Clemson team. He shot 44.6 percent from three on more than 100 threes attempted. But he plays for Clemson, so no one notices him. Trust me. You should take notice.
6. O.G. Anunoby, Indiana: Anunoby is a tough player to rank on a list like this for a couple reasons. He’s a potential breakout star that didn’t post great numbers last season. His value lies in his ability to play a role more than his ability to score 20 in the Big Ten. He may be a better NBA prospect than a college player. But he’s also a 6-foot-8 defensive menace that can guard four positions, hit threes, get to the offensive glass and beat people off the dribble.
7. Malcolm Hill, Illinois: If Blossomgame is the most under-appreciated player in the country, Hill isn’t all that far behind. He’s what we like to call a bucket-getter. He can score in the post. He can score on the perimeter. He hits threes. He beats people off the dribble. He’s got a jab series. He can hit step-backs. He is a great college scorer.
8. Miles Bridges, Michigan State: There may not be a better athlete is college basketball than Miles Bridges. He’s a freak to the point that I may demand to see a birth certificate if I’m to believe that he isn’t from outer space. The concern with Bridges is going to be his ability to score. Michigan State desperately needs a go-to guy, so Bridges will have the chance to show what he can do offensively. It also means he’ll risk being exposed.
9. Trevon Blueitt, Xavier: Edmond Sumner is the guy that has been getting all the hype this season, which is why it may surprise you to find out that Bluiett was actually Xavier’s leading scorer last season. He’s not as athletic as some of the other wings on this list, but he is a terrific shooter that can defend bigger players.
10. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson is a tantalizing prospect because of his height, his length and his touch in the lane. The issue is that he hasn’t consistently shown the ability to take over games at the college level. With Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson gone, it’s Jackson’s time.
11. Kris Jenkins, Villanova: You’re going to remember Jenkins as the guy that made the national title-winning shot last April. You should also remember him as a sniper from three whose ability to defend bigger players was why Villanova was able to create so much space and so many mismatches offensively.
12. Deng Adel, Louisville: By the end of the year, this may be too low for Adel. He struggled with injuries last season, but people in and around the program rave about how good he’s been behind closed doors. Will that show through on the Yum! Center floor this season?
13. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State:
14. V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: Beachem is a guy that deserves to get more attention than he’s gotten in his career. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 sniper that will be playing the Pat Connaughton/Tim Abromaitis role in Notre Dame’s offense. Don’t be surprised when he’s averaging 18 points and shooting 43 percent from three at the end of the year.
15. Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin was Butler’s most dangerous scorer last year, and with the amount of talent that the Bulldogs lost to graduation, don’t be surprised to see him lead the Big East in scoring this season.
16. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: This will seem low for a player with Hayes’ profile and a preseason Big Ten Player of the Year nomination this fall. It will also seem low if he shoots better than 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three, like he did last season.
17. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has averaged 13 points, 4.5 boards, 3.0 assists and more than a steal per game in his three years at South Carolina. At some point he is going to get the respect he deserves as one of the best players in the SEC.
18. Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington: One of the most talented mid-major players in the country, Hervey was drawing attention from NBA scouts when he tore his ACL last winter.
19. Andrew White, Syracuse: White is one of the best volume shooters in the country, and he’ll join Syracuse to play the role vacated by Malachi Richardson. The question is whether White will be able to accept being the third or fourth option offensively.
20. Isaac Hamilton, UCLA: No one talks about Hamilton when talking about UCLA, but he averaged 16.8 points for the Bruins as a junior.
The off-guard spot is the weakest position in college basketball this season. For comparison’s sake, the No. 20 lead guard in the list we released yesterday was Davidson’s Jack Gibbs, who ranked 62nd in our top 100 players list.
For off-guards, only 16 were ranked in our top 100, meaning the final four in this list didn’t crack that list. Why is this the case? Is it because the best scoring guards in basketball are trying to mold themselves after the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose as opposed to, say, Kobe? Is it because the emphasis on court-spacing has turned the off-guard spot into a spot-up shooter’s role? Or is this just a random year where the two-guards just aren’t all that good?
As interesting as that discussion would be, it’s a different conversation for a different day.
Before we dive into the top 20 off-guards in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.
1. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen is our pick as the Preseason National Player of the Year, so why wouldn’t he be ranked as the best player in what will likely end up being the weakest position in the sport this season? I’ve mentioned this over and over again, but it’s impressive enough that it deserves repeating: As a sophomore, Allen became the first high major player to ever average 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while notching a 61.6 true shooting percentage.
To get an idea of how dominant those numbers are, think about it like this: Damian Lillard, a No. 6 pick in the NBA Draft and currently a top ten point guard in the NBA, is one of the six players since 1993 to put up those numbers, and Lillard did it while playing at Weber State. Allen did it in the ACC.
2. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk will be one of the most entertaining players in the country this season. He’s a human-hightlight reel athletically that can go off for 30 points on any given night. The key for him is consistency and efficiency. Can he avoid the 2-for-18 games he was prone to in high school? And will playing on a team that is stocked with talent force him to improve on his shot selection? He’s a pretty good shooter when he takes good shots.
3. Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster is going to be one of the most interesting players to watch this season. As a freshman at Kansas State in 2013-14, Foster averaged 15.5 points for an NCAA tournament team. He looked like he was destined to be a star in the Big 12, but then a falling out with the program led to a transfer which led to last year’s redshirt season. Now eligible at Creighton, will he return to the form he his first year in college?
4. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey has all the skills needed to be able to thrive in the Swing Offense that Dana Altman runs. He’s a talented scorer and an above-average shooter that excels with the ball in his hands. Joseph Young averaged 20 points as a senior with the Ducks, and it would not be surprising to see Dorsey put up similar numbers as long as Dillon Brooks is out with his foot injury.
5. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Based on what Mitchell did last season, this may seem like a bit of a stretch. He averaged just 7.4 points. But considering that Louisville graduated their starting backcourt, and factoring in just how good Mitchell was in flashes down the stretch of the season, it’s a decent bet that he will develop into an all-ACC player this year. He’s precisely the kind of guard that thrives in Rick Pitino’s system.
6. Allonzo Trier, Arizona: Trier is the leading returning scorer for Arizona and spent last season as the one guy on the roster that was able to create a shot for himself. That won’t be the case this year, not with Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons in the mix, but he’ll likely still be the best perimeter weapon on an Arizona team that’s good enough to compete for a Pac-12 title.
7. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: The key with Matthews is going to be his health. He’s coming off of a torn ACL that torpedoed the 2015-16 season after just 10 minutes. When he’s healthy, he’s arguably the best player in the Atlantic 10.
8. James Blackmon, Indiana: Another guy coming off of a knee injury, Blackmon was one of the nation’s best freshman shooters, averaging 15.7 points in his first season in Bloomington. Last year, Indiana made their run to a Big Ten title after he hurt his knee and missed the season. Where will he fit in with this year’s Hoosier group?
9. Mikal Bridges, Villanova: Bridges is an intriguing prospect because of his length, his athleticism and his versatility defensively. That’s precisely the kind of role that he can excel in with the Wildcats. The big question is offensively. What kind of improvement will he make this season?
10. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State: Part of the reason that Malik Newman, a top ten recruit in the Class of 2015, decided to transfer out of Mississippi State was that people realized that Quinndary Weatherspoon was actually the better freshman guard on the roster.
11. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard gets overlooked because Duke has so much talent on their roster this season, but if he was on any other team in the ACC we’d be talking about him as a guy that could average 15 points and that has the potential to be an all-league player.
12. Peter Jok, Iowa: Jok averaged 16.1 points on a good Iowa team last season. Playing on a rebuilding Iowa team this year, don’t be surprised to see him lead the Big Ten in scoring.
13. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney is one of the better ball-handlers on this list. He had some impressive moments as a freshman, but with Ben Simmons off to the NBA, Blakeney will be asked to carry a heavier load offensively this year. Will he be able to handle it?
14. Elijah Brown, New Mexico: Brown averaged 22 points and three assists for the Lobos last season. The son of NBA head coach Mike Brown, Elijah will have a chance to better those numbers this season.
15. Nick Emery, BYU: Emery’s reputation went national last season when he was caught on camera throwing a punch at Brandon Taylor of in-state rival Utah. Don’t let that mask his ability. It wasn’t a fluke that Emery, the younger brother of former Cougar Jackson Emery, averaged 16.2 points as a freshman.
16. Marcus Evans, Rice: Evans was a monster for the Owls as a freshman, averaging 21.4 points for a team that finished in the middle of the pack of a mediocre Conference USA. But Evans is better than simply being a high-volume scorer in a bad league.
17. Jabari Bird, Cal: Bird’s minutes will open up with Jordan Mathews off to Gonzaga for his senior year. Bird has always had potential for the Bears but he has yet to live up to that potential on the floor.
18. Eron Harris, Michigan State: Someone is going to have to score point for Michigan State this season, and Harris is a fifth-year senior that once averaged 17.8 points for West Virginia. Can he do what Bryn Forbes did last season?
19. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin has had an up-and-down career with the Wolverines, but assuming that he and Derrick Walton both find a way to remain healthy all year long, he should have a big senior season.
20. Kevaughn Allen, Florida: Allen looked awesome at times as a freshman. He also went through stretches were he looked like, well, a freshmen. He’s a big-time athlete and an explosive scorer that should thrive in Mike White’s uptempo system.