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College Basketball Preseason Top 25

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The college basketball season has come and gone, meaning that it is officially time for us to start looking forward to next year. 

And what better way is there to do that than by publishing a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25!

DISCLAIMER: We don’t know about all of the NBA Draft decisions yet. Not even close. So if you see a * next to player’s name, it is because we are taking a guess — some more educated than others — on what he is going to be doing this spring.

Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.

Here is the top 25:

1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS

  • Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
  • Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
  • Projected starting lineup: Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike

Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Devon Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into next year.

2. GONZAGA BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
  • Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie

I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer addition of Clarke and a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.

3. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones
  • Who do they add: Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans
  • Projected starting lineup: Immanuel Quickly, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, P.J. Washington, Reid Travis

As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, even if they aren’t going to be able to shoot for another year. The question is going to be whether or not these freshmen can all come together, because there is only one player on the roster that has more than one year of college experience.

4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS

  • Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
  • Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
  • Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier

The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door, and it appears as if Bolden will be back for another season. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.

5. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman
  • Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
  • Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider

Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing a pair of potential first round picks in DiVincenzo, who was the MOP of the Final Four and Spellman. As we noted here, Spellman is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels.

6. NEVADA WOLF PACK

  • Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke
  • Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Ehab Amin, Jordan Brown
  • Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown

Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem. But this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season. This is the best Nevada team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.

7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

  • Who’s gone: James Daniel III
  • Who do they add: No one
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams

Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable pieces at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.

(Eric Espada/Getty Images)

8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

  • Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
  • Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
  • Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt

I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.

9. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Shaun Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade

This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

  • Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
  • Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
  • Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye

Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball next season that is better than Luke Maye?

11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES

  • Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
  • Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
  • Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear

The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.

12. AUBURN TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Davion Mitchell, Mustapha Heron, DeSean Murray
  • Who do they add: Samir Doughty
  • Projected starting lineup: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley

Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.

13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

  • Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
  • Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
  • Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman

I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better?

14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

  • Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
  • Who do they add: Devin Vassell
  • Projected starting lineup: Trent Forrest, M.J. Walker, Terance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele, Phil Cofer

I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning would be key, as would finding another point guard on the transfer market to replace C.J. Walker, who left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.

15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS

  • Who’s gone: No one
  • Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
  • Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado

I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.

16. OREGON DUCKS

  • Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
  • Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
  • Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol

For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and Ihe’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

17. UCLA BRUINS

  • Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman
  • Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
  • Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown

This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. Odds seem pretty good that he’ll have every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes will be on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12.

18. TCU HORNED FROGS

  • Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
  • Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
  • Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel

Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch.

19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

  • Who’s gone: Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
  • Who do they add: Chris Mack, Steve Enoch, Christian Cunningham
  • Projected starting lineup: Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams

How good of a coach do you think that Mack is? Because that is what this really comes down to. Even though the Cardinals lose Adel along with Spalding to the draft, there is enough talent on this roster to make an NCAA tournament — I think the evidence of that is that if the Cardinals hadn’t lost a fluke game to Virginia they would have been in the tournament last season. And all due respect to David Padgett, Mack is a better coach than he is right now.

20. WEST VIRGINIA

  • Who’s gone: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, D’Angelo Hunter
  • Who do they add: Jordan McCabe, Derek Culver, Trey Doomes, Andrew Gordon
  • Projected starting lineup: Beetle Bolden, Brandon Knapper, Lamont West, Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate

West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, I’m trusting that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.

21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK

  • Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
  • Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
  • Projected starting lineup: Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson, Torin Dorn, C.J. Bryce, Derek Funderburk

Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

22. LSU Tigers

  • Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
  • Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
  • Projected starting lineup: Tremont Waters, Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams

LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.

23. CLEMSON TIGERS

  • Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
  • Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
  • Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, AJ Oliver, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas

With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.

24. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

  • Who’s gone: Moe Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, Jaaron Simmons
  • Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
  • Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske

Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.

25. SYRACUSE ORANGE

  • Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
  • Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Robert Braswell, Eli Hughes
  • Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu

The Orange have no depth and very little perimeter shooting this side of Buddy Boeheim, but with Tyus Battle back in the fold, I think this Orange team will be able to scrape together enough ugly, grind-it-out wins to be in and around the top 25 all season.

THE FIVE THAT JUST MISSED:

26. Xavier
27. Maryland
28. Indiana
29. Purdue
30. Florida

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.