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Is Duke a great team that’s figuring things out or a bad team that’s been clutch?

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I think it’s time for us to have a conversation about No. 1 Duke.

The Blue Devils are, rightfully, the No. 1 team in the country.

They are undefeated on the season with wins over Michigan State, Florida and Texas as well as Wednesday night’s victory over Indiana in a raucous and rowdy Assembly Hall.

They’re 9-0 on the season, and two of the guys on their roster are going to be in the mix for All-American, if not National Player of the Year, come season’s end.

And yet, if you’ve watched these games, you’ve probably come away feeling a little unsure about this team. After all, they looked like the No. 1 team in the country for all of about 20 minutes during the PK-80, when they erased a 16-point second half deficit against Texas and a 17-point second half deficit against Florida.

They never really looked like a title challenger against Indiana, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, and it took an out-of-body experience from Grayson Allen for the Blue Devils to put away Michigan State.

I was joined by myself on Thursday to talk through everything Duke, from the travel to the defense to how much you can trust a team that seems to only win games late.

ME: In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue against just how impressive Duke’s wins are. Florida is a Final Four team. Michigan State can win a national title. Texas has shown second weekend upside. I don’t care how bad Indiana will be this season, getting a win in that arena and in that atmosphere in the first true road game for a team where eight of the nine rotation players are either freshmen or seldomly-used sophomores is not easy to do.

But the way Duke went about getting those wins is a major red flag. How can you trust a team that consistently digs themselves a hole? How can you trust a team that hasn’t proven they can defend for 40 minutes? It’s great that they’ve been able to flip a switch and turn into their best selves with five minutes left, but why can’t Coach K get them to play like that for 40 minutes instead of five minutes?

ALSO ME: Those are valid concerns, and I’m not sure that there is anyone saying they aren’t. But what you have to remember with this group is that they are young. They are inexperienced. There are some issues with depth that have yet to be addressed. Sometimes it takes freshmen a while to learn how to play at the college level and that’s what we’re seeing with Duke, except that they aren’t losing games while doing, at least not yet. Of course they’re not a finished product three weeks into the season, so I’m more pleased about the fact that they have guys that can find a way to win even when things aren’t going right than I am worried about how freshmen look like freshmen.

ME AGAIN: But have the freshmen really looked like freshmen? The four in the starting lineup are all averaging at least 12.8 points. Marvin Bagley III is putting up 22 and 11. Wendell Carter, the “other” freshman big man, is putting up 13 points, nine boards and 2.3 blocks a night. Trevon Duval is averaging 13 points and six assists despite the fact that he cannot shoot. Even Gary Trent Jr., who has probably had the most underwhelming start of any of the four, has made a habit of making critical, winning plays.

So who actually looks like a freshmen?

HELLO. IT’S ME: All of them, once you get past the counting stats.

BACK TO THE FIRST ME: So Marvin Bagley III, National Player of the Year front runner, is playing like a freshman? Are you off your meds?

ME NO. 2: Yes, but that’s neither here nor there.

Bagley has been dominant, there is no question about that, but acting like he’s played flawless basketball is kind of silly. He gets worn out during games, although some of that has to do with how hard Duke rides him. He was exhausted for long stretches against Indiana and decided that getting back in transition defense was optional. That’s what freshmen do. Veterans either get back or sub themselves out to get a breather.

And he’s not alone there. Duke’s man-to-man defense is a mess. Their zone isn’t all that much better. KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric ranks Duke as the nation’s 46th-best defense, but that isn’t telling the whole story. KenPom’s formula is still using some predictive elements from last season’s team, and if you look at Duke’s raw defensive numbers, they ranks 102nd in points-per-possession allowed. They don’t force turnovers and they don’t get defensive rebounds. That combination is less-than-ideal, and it’s the biggest reason the Blue Devils keep putting together these slow starts.

They can’t get stops. It happens with freshmen-laden teams.

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ORIGINAL ME: And what is it about the way that Duke has defended over the course of the last four or five seasons that leads you to believe that they are going to be able to figure this thing out by the time March rolls around? Only once since 2011 has Duke finished as a top 25 defense, according to KenPom, and that came the year that they won the national title, when they entered the ACC tournament as a defense ranked outside the top 60.

OTHER ME: That certainly is a concern, but since the season started, tell me when Coach K has actually had a chance to regroup and find a way to fix what ails Duke.

I’ll wait.

They played nine games in 19 days. They’ve traveled to Chicago. They played three games in four days in Portland — including a title game that ended at 1 a.m. ET Monday morning — before heading to Bloomington for a Wednesday tip in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. When have they had the time to get on their practice court and solve their problems? They haven’t.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that these kids have been run into the ground by now. Bagley played at last 38 minutes in each of the last three games. Allen played all 40 minutes in the last two games and like would have against Texas if he didn’t get into foul trouble. Duval has topped 35 minutes in each of the last four games. Other than Carter, who seems to be physically incapable of staying out of foul trouble, Trent is the starter getting the most rest and he’s still clocked more than 33 minutes a night over the course of the last four games.

I just don’t think you can truly judge them until they’re back onto a relatively normal schedule.

FIRST ME: I get that, but if the issue really was that they were exhausted, wouldn’t that mean that Duke died at the end of these hard-fought, competitive games? If their legs are shot, explain this stat: In the final five minutes (and overtime) of Duke’s last three games, the Blue Devils have held Texas, Florida and Indiana to a combined 5-for-25 shooting and outscored them 56-19.

At the end of games.

At the end of an insane two weeks of travel.

After their best players have played 30-35 minutes already that night.

And you’re going to try and tell me that the reason they start slow is that they are too tired? It’s too early to have started drinking.

(Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

FINAL ME: It’s never too early for that, but no, that’s not what I’m saying.

My point is that the way Duke’s first three weeks have played out makes it difficult to truly get a grasp on who they are. Maybe they are a bad defensive team that has been bailed out by the fact that their front line is utterly unstoppable. Maybe they’re a good defensive team that just has to spent a couple of days at practice tweaking what clearly hasn’t been working to date. We don’t actually have an answer yet.

And we won’t until their schedule normalizes.

But at the end of the day, this is a team with two potential all-americans, five or six potential NBA players and a 9-0 record with four impressive wins that they didn’t necessarily play well enough to get.

If they can overcome adversity while still trying to figure things out, if they’re learning lessons without taking losses, the only thing I keep asking myself is what this team will be if and when they do put it all together?

Scary, that’s what.

ME: Whatever. You’re still an idiot.

Providence freshman David Duke Jr. takes flight in Italy

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Having reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last five seasons, the Providence basketball program has begun its preparations for a run at a sixth straight appearance in Italy.

Ed Cooley’s team, which beat the Varese All-Stars by a final score of 113-46 on Thursday, was back in action Saturday with the Adriatic Sea Dragons serving as the opposition. And during one sequence freshman guard David Duke Jr., part of a highly-anticipated recruiting class, showed exactly why so many have been high on the Providence native since he made his commitment to stay home.

Duke stole a pass in the backcourt and then took off towards the basket, with a backpedaling defender serving as “resistance.” The end result was a lesson in what can happen when you wind up underneath the basket, and the man with the ball is a high-level finisher.

Much is expected from Providence’s four-member freshman class, but there’s plenty to expect from the returnees as well. Alpha Diallo is one of the Big East’s best wing talents, and contributors such as Kalif Young, Nate Watson and Makai Ashton-Langford appear poised to take a step forward in 2018-19.

Add in the return of Emmitt Holt, whose minutes are being limited in Italy after an abdominal issue sidelined him for all of last season, and Providence has the tools needed to not only make another NCAA tournament appearance but contend in the Big East as well.

R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson combine for 59 in Duke win

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Two days removed from a win over Ryerson in the first of three exhibition games the team will play in Canada, Duke took on the University of Toronto Friday afternoon in Mississauga, Ontario. And as was the case Wednesday, prized freshmen R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson led the way in the Blue Devils’ 96-60 victory.

Barrett, who scored 34 points against McGill, tallied 35 on Friday while Williamson added another 24. Duke finished the game with three double-digit scorers as Joey Baker, who’s also a freshman, added 11 off the bench.

Duke hasn’t been able to use its full roster in Canada, as freshmen Cam Reddish and Tre Jones are both being held out due to health concerns. Reddish is nursing a groin strain, while Jones is recovering from a hip injury suffered before he arrived at Duke. The Blue Devils were down another rotation player Friday, as guard Alex O’Connell suffered a broken orbital bone during Wednesday’s game.

While those absences have given Barrett and Williamson even more opportunities to shine with the basketball in their hands, it also opens the door for other players to make a positive impression on Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the coaching staff. On Friday it was Baker who took advantage, with Antonio Vrankovic (eight points, eight rebounds) and Jack White (six points, five assists) being two other players who performed well off the bench.

Duke wraps up its trip with a game against McGill Sunday afternoon in Montreal.

Video credit: FrankieVision

North Carolina’s Seventh Woods serves up vicious poster in The Bahamas

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While arch rival Duke is currently north of the border, playing three exhibition games in Canada as it gets prepared for the upcoming season, North Carolina has been in The Bahamas. Friday night the Tar Heels took on the Bahamas All-Stars, and despite some issues with turnovers Roy Williams’ squad picked up the win by a 112-91 final score.

The game’s best highlight came in the final seconds, as junior point guard Seventh Woods drove the lane and threw down an incredible one-handed dunk. Woods’ landing wasn’t great, as he was knocked off-balance while in mid-air, but he was fine health-wise.

Woods, who finished the game with 11 points, three assists and four turnovers, will be a key player for North Carolina this season. North Carolina has to account for the loss of its two best playmakers from last year’s group in Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, making the development of players such as Woods and freshman Coby White critical with regards to the Tar Heels’ hopes both within the ACC and nationally.

Woods missed 17 games last season due to a broken bone in his right foot, and he played sparingly once healthy, so these in-game opportunities are big for him regardless of the level of competition. It should be noted that the Bahamas All-Stars beat North Carolina four years ago, with a young Deandre Ayton starring for the home team.

As a team North Carolina turned the ball over 27 times Friday night, and taking better care of the basketball will be a point of emphasis for the Tar Heels in their second and final exhibition game of the trip Saturday afternoon.

Video credits: 10th Year Seniors, Inside Carolina

Five takeaways from our Reranking Recruiting Classes series

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Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve rolled out a series re-ranking the eight recruiting classes from 2007-2014.

It was a fun project to put together, in part because of the trip down memory lane that came with a number of the players we discussed, but also because it is interesting to take another look at these rankings once the players involved have reached — or approached — their peak years.

Here are five things that we learned while reranking the recruiting classes:

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

PLAYING, AND STAYING, IN THE NBA IS AN EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT THING TO DO

I knew this before diving into this project, but rolling through each and every one of those eight recruiting classes reinforced the simple fact that having an NBA career is a damn-near impossible dream for many, if not most, basketball players.

On average, there were a couple of all-stars in each of these classes. Once you got outside of the top ten, however, it was difficult to find players that spent their career as starters. By the back-end of the 20s, you were digging through players that spent most of their career on the end of an NBA bench when they weren’t bouncing around between Europe and the G League.

It doesn’t exactly work out this way, but there are roughly 25 five-star recruits in each recruiting class with is roughly the same numbers of kids from each recruiting class that end up getting more than just a cup of coffee in the league.

That doesn’t mean that the guys on the fringes of the NBA are bad basketball players.

It’s quite the opposite actually.

I wrote a long story on Nigel Williams-Goss earlier this summer. He was identified as an elite talent way back in middle school. He was the first four-year player at Findlay Prep, one of high school basketball’s powerhouse programs. He won two high school national titles. He made all of the all-american teams and played in all of the all-american games as a senior. He was all-Pac-12 at Washington before transferring to Gonzaga where, as a senior, he was a first-team All-American on a team that might have won the national title had he not rolled his ankle in the national title game.

And, after getting picked 55th in the 2017 NBA Draft, Williams-Goss went out and had a monster, nearly-unprecedented season with Partizan, a storied basketball club in Serbia that is known for producing NBA talent. His rights are still owned by the Utah Jazz, but even that wasn’t enough to get him a guaranteed spot on their roster, which is why he will be playing for Olympiacos in Greece next season.

He’ll be paid very well and he’ll play in the Euroleague, which might be the best basketball league in the world outside of the NBA.

But it’s not the NBA.

And it should be proof of just how difficult it is to get there.

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

LASTING IN THE LEAGUE IS ALL ABOUT THE ROLE YOU CAN PLAY

A few years back, I was grabbing a beer with a longtime scout that was working for an NBA team, and we got to talking about the differences in evaluating high school players for the college level and college players for the NBA game. The biggest difference, he said, was that with high school players, you try and predict what the player can be as he continues to grow into his body and develop his game.

You think about the big picture.

But at the NBA level, scouting is in the details. What role can that player have for our team? What can he do at an NBA level? Will he be willing to accept that he is just a glue guy that is going to be asked to only do the things he can do at an NBA level? Does he have the positional size to be able to defend?

Because the truth is this: There are a lot of players that are not in the NBA that are “NBA players”, that are good enough to be deserving of a roster spot somewhere in the most competitive league on earth.

Actually getting one of those spots, however, depends on whether or not you fit into exactly what a team is looking for. Just being able to score 20 points in an NBA game isn’t enough, because unless you are one of the absolute best scorers on the planet, you aren’t going to be good enough in the NBA.

Take Andre Roberson, for example. He was unranked as a high school senior and never averaged more than 11.6 points at Colorado, but he’s been a starter in the NBA for five years and is now heading into the second year of a $30 million contract because he can rebound and he can defend and he is perfectly willing to do nothing but rebound and defend.

Is he a better basketball player than, say, Reggie Bullock, who was a top ten prospect coming out of high school? If you were playing pickup, would you ever pick him over, say, Jerian Grant, who was an all-american at Notre Dame?

Probably not.

But he’s likely going to end up making more money and playing more NBA games than both of those guys combined in his career.

The complicating factor in all of this is …

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

 

… THE NBA IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR

The way that basketball is played today is totally different from the way that it was played even just four years ago, and the result is that players that were, at one point in time, thought to be can’t-miss talents are on the verge of being out of the NBA.

Let’s call this the Jahlil Okafor Phenomenon.

Okafor was a high school superstar in the city of Chicago. He ended up going to Duke, where he teamed up with the likes of Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen as freshmen to win the 2015 national title. He would go on to be the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft — behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D’angelo Russell — before averaged 17.4 points and 7.0 boards as a rookie with the 76ers.

That was the 2015-16 season.

By October of 2017, Okafor was demanding a trade out of Philly because the Sixers had decided not to pick up the option on the fourth-year of his rookie deal, which is almost unheard-of for a player picked as high as he was picked. Granted, there are some off-the-court issues involved here, but the biggest problem that Okafor faced is that the game had passed him by. He was a dominant low-post scorer that couldn’t make threes with limited range that defended on the perimeter like he was wearing cement blocks for shoes.

Philly also had a guy by the name of Joel Embiid on the roster, but it’s telling that Okafor was traded for, essentially, a second round pick and that after half a season in Brooklyn, he signed for a minimum deal in New Orleans.

Four years after looking like he would be the next Tim Duncan and three years after averaging 17.4 points and 7.0 boards as a 19-year old, Jahlil Okafor is Just A Guy.

And it’s not just Okafor, either.

As of today, the position that every team in the NBA is looking for is the big, versatile wing that can defend in space, are switchable and can make threes. Everyone wants the next Trevor Ariza. The O.G. Anunoby’s of the world are in high-demand. It’s why someone like Jaren Jackson Jr. can be looked at as a better prospect than Marvin Bagley III by really smart basketball people.

That’s because the last thing that everyone in the NBA was trying to find — players than can defend the rim on one end of the floor and that can space the court on the other end — were rendered somewhat obsolete by the Golden State Warriors putting together two playmakers that can do both of those things (Draymond Green and Kevin Durant). As valuable as the likes of the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka and the like are, if they can’t handle the constant switching that is required these days, they become a liability.

And all that is happening because the NBA has become increasingly more reliant on ball-screens this decade.

The ever-changing landscape of the NBA combined with NBA teams that are drafting players that need two or three or four years of development means that the goalposts are constantly moving.

Think about it like this: Is there any chance in hell that Clint Capela would drop all the way to 25th in the 2014 NBA Draft if NBA teams knew that in three years the only way to hope to compete with the Warriors would be to have a rim-running, shot-blocking center than can switch out onto point guards?

(Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

IF YOU MAKE THE NBA, YOU LIVED UP TO THE HYPE

After working through this project, I’d hazard to guess that somewhere around 60 or 70 percent of a player’s success in the NBA has to do with the organization that they land with and the circumstances that they are put in while there.

For some guys, the stars align and they get their chance to shine. Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell have NBA Championship rings — and a likely future in the league — because they ended up being the perfect fit for what the Warriors were looking for. For other guys, they wind up in an organization — like the Spurs, like the Celtics — that prioritizes and excels in player development. For others, they get drafted by the Kings or the Knicks and are all-but guaranteed to be cursed, regardless of how good they actually are.

Does that mean they are “better” than other guys that don’t get their shot?

Not necessarily. It just means they took advantage of their chance when they got it.

To be fair, there are varying degrees of this — it’s hard not to argue that someone like Josh Selby or Byron Mullens was a bust — but given everything that I just said, if a player gets to the NBA and hangs around for a while, they made it, in my mind. Shabazz Muhammad’s career has been a disappointment relative to the expectations he had in high school, but he averaged 13.5 points one season and just signed with Milwaukee, meaning he is heading into his sixth season in the NBA.

He made it.

FOR THE MOST PART, THE GUYS DOING THE RANKINGS DO FINE

No one is ever going to be perfect when making projections, particularly when your projections involve guessing how a 17-year old will react to getting millions and millions of dollars when he turns 19.

They’re ranking a kid’s personality as much as you are their basketball ability, and I don’t know how many scouts there are with psychology degrees.

Some of the biggest busts we found in this project (Josh Selby, Cliff Alexander, Mullens) were ranked high despite their red flags. Some of the biggest misses (Russell Westbrook, C.J. McCollum) had growth spurts while in college, while others (Steph Curry, Paul George, Damian Lillard) were overlooked by recruiters, not just people doing rankings.

It’s an inexact science by definition.

And that makes it a hard job.

But for the most part, the guys that look like the best players in the class at 17 years old often end up being among the best players when they reach the NBA.

Re-ranking the 2014 recruiting class

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July’s live recruiting period, the last of its kind, just finished up, meaning that the Class of 2019 have fully had a chance to prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country.

Scholarships were earned and rankings were justified over the course of those three weekends, but scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being.

Ask Steph Curry.

Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2007-2014, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2013, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

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1. Karl-Anthony Towns (5)

Everyone knew Towns was a stud before he joined Kentucky, but his one year in college basketball revealed that he was potentially a future franchise NBA player. Towns averaged just 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in John Calipari’s platoon system, but he still went No. 1 in the 2015 draft, was the Rookie of the Year and a first-time All Star this past season. His numbers dipped last season, but it’s clear he’s the best player from his recruiting class.

2. Devin Booker (29)

In the last two years Booker has become the face of the the Phoenix Suns. He averaged a career-best 24.9 points while shooting 43.2 percent from the floor and 383.3 percent from 3-point range. That led him to sign an extension with the Suns this summer that will pay him more than $27 million next season and nearly $36 million in the final year of the deal in 2023-24. Not bad for a guy who barely averaged double-digits with Kentucky as a freshman.

3. Myles Turner (9)

The 6-foot-11 center put up pedestrian numbers in his single season at Texas, but he’s become the cornerstone of Indiana’s plans in a post-Paul George world. He’s averaged 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game over his career, but his work with Team USA has really turned heads. He’s also begun shooting – and making – 3s, going from shooting 21.4 percent as a rookie to 35.7 percent last year.

4. Domantas Sabonis (UR)

Sabonis being unranked in the 2014 class is a technicality more than anything as a foreign prospect as Rivals did peg him as a four-star prospect, but the son of the Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis should have been slotted higher. His Gonzaga career included averaging a double-double as a sophomore, and he’s shown great strides as a pro. Since coming over to Indiana in the Paul George trade, he’s averaged 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

5. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (6)

After being drafted 15th overall in 2015, Oubre looked like he was headed for bust territory when he averaged 3.7 points as a rookie and 6.3 points in Year 2, but his third year in the NBA produced vastly improved results, with 11.8 points and 4.5 rebounds along with 1.2 assists per game as his role with the Wizards expanded. Most importantly, though, he got in one of the NBA’s better fights last year.

6. Justise Winslow (12)

Winslow was the clear No. 3 in Duke’s formidable  freshmen trifecta as it won the 2015 NCAA tournament championship, but he’s arguably shown the most pro promise from the group despite missing the bulk of his second season with a torn labrum. He bounced back well last season  he averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists while playing in 68 games. This season, the last of Winslow’s rookie contract, will be a huge barometer in how the Heat view him as part of their future.

7. Trey Lyles (13)

Yet another member of the 38-0 Kentucky team, Lyles has been consistent if unspectacular in three years in the NBA, the first two with Utah and last year in Denver. The 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Lyles never has had a huge role – he hasn’t cracked 20 minutes per game – but averaged 9.9 points per game for the Nuggets last year along with 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He’s shot 43.5 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from 3-point range in his three pro seasons.

8. Emmanuel Mudiay (2)

Mudiay was thought to be in the mold of the modern point guard with his 6-foot-5 frame and athleticism, things haven’t quite worked out as planned for the Australian product. It started with his aborted collegiate career at SMU after eligibility questions pushed him overseas instead of the NCAA. He still went 7th overall in 2015 to the Nuggets, but later shipped to the Knicks for a pedestrian return. He’s seen his role and production decrease every season and would now look to be at a career crossroads.

9. Tyus Jones (7)

Jones was the floor general for Duke’s 2015 title, averaging 11.8 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game before being picked by his hometown NBA franchise, Minnesota. The Twin Cities native rode the bench for much of his first seasons, but emerged as a valuable reserve for the Timberwolves last season. He appeared in all 82 games and averaged a career-high 17.9 minutes per game. He hasn’t put up big numbers, but in the last season he seemed to cement his place in the NBA for the immediate future.

10. Jahlil Okafor (1)

Things started off well for the former Duke center, starting with that ‘15 national title and going third to Philadelphia in the draft before averaging 17.5 points per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor as a rookie, but things have deteriorated quickly and ferociously for Okafor. Joel Embiid’s emergence in Philly pushed Okafor to the fringes, and the relationship with the 76ers soured rapidly. There have also been injury and off-court issues. This season in Brooklyn could be make-or-break for Okafor.

11. Grayson Allen (27)

The first player yet to make the list who hasn’t played in the NBA yet, Allen had one of the most interesting and productive college careers in recent memory. He burst on to the scene for the Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament en route to the 2015 national championship as a freshman and then evolved into one of the most polarizing players in the country. He was an All-American, and is one of jsut five Duke players to register 1,900 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists in a career. He also was basically reviled by large swaths of the country. This summer he became a first-round draft pick and will begin his career with the Jazz.

D’Angelo Russell (AP Photo)

12. Kevon Looney (10)

Looney hasn’t put up big numbers during his pro career, but he does have a pair of World Championship rings thanks to the fact he was drafted by the most dominant team of the last three years, Golden State. Looney probably would be getting significantly more run on a lesser team, but he did show himself to be a valuable piece for the Warriors last year as they won their second-straight title and third in four years.

13. Stanley Johnson (3)

After averaging 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in his lone season with Arizona, Johnson was the 8th overall pick in 2015, but is squarely in bust danger zone. He’s never averaged more than 8.7 points or 4.2 rebounds per game and didn’t flash much more in an expanded role with the Pistons last year after coming off the bench in his first two seasons in the league.

14. D’Angelo Russell (18)

It speaks volumes that Russell is probably best known for his role in the breakup of teammate Nick Young and rapper Iggy Azalea (bet you didn’t expect to see that name in a college basketball post) than anything he’s done on the court. The No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, Russell has put up OK numbers on bad teams. He got traded to Brooklyn last summer after two years and one Snapchat controversy, and battled injury and ineffectiveness with the Nets.

15. Patrick McCaw (UR)

McCaw is in the same boat as Looney – not a lot in the way of stats, but he’s seen minutes in big moments thanks to being a second-round draft pick of the Golden State Warriors. The UNLV product has gone 2-for-2 in his NBA career in securing world championships, and he’s been a solid role player for a team dominated by superstars and future Hall of Famers.

16. Justin Jackson (11)

Jackson averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists as a junior for North Carolina’s 2017 national championship team before being drafted 15th overall last summer. He appeared in 68 games for the Kings,  averaging 6.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He struggled finding his shooting touch, making just 30.8 percent of his 3-pointers after shooting 37 percent from deep his last season as a Tar Heel.

17. Dillon Brooks (UR)

Brooks is another player whose unranked status comes as a technicality. He was originally a four-star prospect in the Class of 2015, but reclassified to join Oregon a year sooner. After a solid freshman season, Brooks blossomed into one of the best players in the country that averaged 16.1 points in the Ducks’ Final Four season of 2017. Brooks was a second-round pick last season, but played in all 82 games and started 74 for the Grizzlies last season.

18. Tyler Ulis (21)

The 5-foot-10 point guard has carved out a successful, if nascent, NBA career after being picked in the second round following a breakout sophomore season with Kentucky in 2015-16. He’s started in 58 career games for the Suns, and has averaged 7.6 points, and 4.1 assists per game.

19. Chris McCullough (19)

McCullough finds himself on this list less for what he’s accomplished on the floor than his ability to spend the last three years on an NBA roster. The 6-foot-11 senior averaged 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in his one season with Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, and he has put up 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in 59 games over three years in the NBA. The Wizards declined his 2018-19 option last fall, and he’s currently unsigned for the upcoming year.

20. Chandler Hutchison (98)

Another player who has yet to don an NBA uniform, Hutchison was taken 22nd overall by the Bulls in June after a successful four-year career with Boise State. The 6-foot-7 wing became one of the nation’s premier players in his last two seasons with the Broncos, culminating in a senior campaign in which he averaged 20 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He’ll get a chance to see major minutes with a Bulls team whose roster remains in flux.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

21. Devonte Graham (36)

Remember when Graham was originally signed with Appalachian State? He’s come a long way since then. He had a brilliant four-year career with Kansas, playing alongside Frank Mason for the first three before running the show last season,  averaging 17.3 points, 4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game on the way to taking the Jayhawks to the Final Four. He was the fourth pick in the second round in June.

22. Mikal Bridges (95)

Bridges, who redshirted his first season on campus at Villanova, finds himself here after a huge junior season in which he averaged 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists to help the Wildcats win a second NCAA national championship in three years. He was drafted 10th overall in June by Philadelphia before being flipped to Phoenix.

23. Jakob Poeltl (UR)

Poetl came into his own as a sophomore at Utah, averaging 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds,  before being taken ninth in the 2016 draft. He played in all 82 games for the Raptors last season, but didn’t make much of a statistical dent. He recently was part of the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard north of the border and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio.

24. Rashad Vaughn (8)

Vaughn was one of the most sought after recruits in the country before the Minnesota native decided to commit to UNLV after spending a year in Las Vegas with Findlay Prep. He averaged 17.8 points for UNLV, but the Runnin’ Rebels failed to make the NCAA tournament in his sole season there. Things haven’t fared much better for him in the pros. He’s been buried on the bench and was relegated to signing two 10-day contracts with the Magic last year before being waived

25. Isaiah Whitehead (16)

The New York product averaged 18.2 points and 5.1 assists in his sophomore season at Seton Hall before being drafted 42ns overall by the Jazz in 2016. He started 26 games for Brooklyn in 2016-17, but played in just 16 games last season. This summer he was traded to Denver, which waived him in July.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

FIVE NOTABLES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE TOP 25

Cliff Alexander (4)

Alexander’s career struggled to get off the ground at Kansas, where he averaged less than 20 minutes per game and dealt with eligibility issues. He then became just the second former top-five recruit to go undrafted when he did not hear his named called in the 2015 draft. He played eight games for Portland that season, and hasn’t made an NBA appearance since.

Jevon Carter (UR)

The West Virginia senior become one of the nation’s premier defenders under Bob Huggins and became the second pick of the second round in June. He averaged 17.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game as a senior for the Mountaineers.

Caleb Martin (60), Mike Daum (UR), Reid Travis (44)

Redshirts have kept this trio in college heading into the 2018-19 season, but it’s not hard to envision an NBA future for all three of them. The most surprising story is Daum, who went from no-name recruit to All-American at South Dakota State and may have a chance in the NBA come June. Martin and Travis will both be looking to compete for national titles, Martin with a surging Nevada program and Travis at Kentucky after his transfer from Stanford.