This is the fourth update of a mock draft that we have done on College Basketball Talk this year, and the last one we’re doing before the draft lottery.
This mock will be different than other mocks, mind you. We’re not as much projecting who is going to be picked where — that is impossible to do right now, as the lottery won’t happen for another week and the NBA changed their lottery rules to flatten out the odds of who gets the first pick — as much as take a look at where, in a vacuum, a player should be picked.
With that in mind, one of the objectives of this mock will be to take a deeper dive into a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the mock each and every time we update. This isn’t meant to be just a place to rank prospects, the goal is to open up the floor for some discussion about the players that need the most discussing.
Oh, and one other note: We’re only talking about the college kids here. I could sit here and pretend like I know something about Sekou Doumbouya beyond what I Googled and found on YouTube, but the truth is I don’t know a damn thing about him.
I’ll stick to what I know for now.
And that is these prospects:
1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
There really is no argument to make for taking anyone other than Zion with the No. 1 overall pick this year, regardless of who ends up winning the lottery.
Let’s start with this: He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 boards, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 68 percent from the field this season. That hasn’t happened since at least the 1992-93 season, and that’s the cut off because that is as far back as Basketball Reference’s database will go. His PER of 40.8 obliterated the previous record of 36.9, which was set by a guy that played at High Point, not a player in the ACC. Perhaps the most important thing to note here is that Zion ended up shooting 33.8 percent from three. That was on just 71 attempts, but he got better from distance throughout the season.
Strictly as a player, I think he’s the best prospect to enter the NBA since Anthony Davis largely due to the fact that I think the NBA game — with the space the deeper three-point line and teammates that can actually make shots creates — will make Zion nearly impossible to guard off the dribble.
But you’re not just drafting the player. You’re drafting the brand. He’ll sell tickets. He’ll sell jerseys. He’ll boost the organization’s social media following. There’s a generation of humans all over the globe that will become a fan of the team that drafts him simply because of his presence the same way that you see kids in New Jersey wearing PSG kits because Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on in the squad.
You don’t pass on that if you’re not trying to get fired.
2. JA MORANT, Murray State
Morant’s dynamic athleticism combined with his lethal passing ability is what makes him such an intriguing player in this day and age in the NBA. He’ll be able to get up and down the floor as fast as anyone. He can make pinpoint passes off the dribble with either hand. He really reads the floor well. He understands how defenses are going to be playing him. The IQ is there.
The question with Morant, what will determine whether or not he hits his ceiling is two-fold: For starters, he needs to add some strength to his frame. His explosiveness is out of this world, but finishing over defenders in the OVC is different than trying to finish over players in the NBA. He also needs to become a better shooter. He showed some flashes of being able to step behind a screen and make a defender pay for going under it, but he’s not quite doing that at an NBA level yet.
3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
I’ve come around on R.J. Barrett as a prospect even though I still think there are some real flaws in his game. I do think he’s a bit too left-hand dominant. His shot selection bordered on selfish, although he did start to make better reads and better passes down the stretch of the season. The jumper was not great this year, and I do wonder if he has the athleticism to be able to play the position he’s going to want to play in the NBA.
But he was also the first high major player to average better than 22 points, seven boards and four assists in 27 years. He did it as a freshman in the ACC. Anfernee Hardaway did it as a sophomore in the GMWC.
The production is there. So is the mindset, and more than anything, that’s what has me back on the Barrett bandwagon. After speaking with people close to the Duke program and close to Barrett, I’m willing to make the bet on the human being finding a way to figure it out. He’ll put in the work. He’ll fix what’s wrong in his game. He’s wired the way that players like Kawhi Leonard and Kobe Bryant are. I’m not saying that he is going to end up being as good as those two, but I do think that he’ll make the absolute most out of his potential.
And in this draft, that’s enough to make you arguably the second-best prospect in the draft.
4. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
I am the leader of the De’Andre Hunter bandwagon, and anyone that watched the final 25 minutes of the national title game should be able to fully understand why. For my money, Hunter is the best one-on-one defender in this draft. Tony Bennett would use him to guard an opponent’s best player, regardless of position. In one game against North Carolina, Hunter went from defending Coby White on the perimeter to chasing Cam Johnson around screens to hanging with Luke Maye in the post. He’s just an absolute monster on that end.
I also think that he is a much better offensive weapon than he has shown, because I don’t think he quite realizes how good he is. Yes, he needs to continue to develop his handle and his ability to change directions, but I think that he has the physical tools to make all of that happens. He’s a knockdown shooter already, and with the space created by playing in the NBA game, he should be able to take advantage of his straight-line driving ability more than he could playing for Virginia.
His 3-and-D potential gives him such a high-floor, and the ceiling is there to be more.
5. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
All you need to know about Hunter’s ability on the defensive end is that he forced Culver into a 5-for-22 shooting performance in Culver’s biggest game of his career.
I’ve been on the Culver bandwagon for a long time. He has terrific size, he played two seasons in a college program that prioritizes defense above all else and he’s a much-improved passer that, at 6-foot-7, can operate ball-screens. He also just covers so much ground. He’s not super-explosive, but his strides are so long that he’s by you after one dribble.
This risk here is the perimeter shooting. He had a dreadful month of January shooting the ball, but Tech’s entire team did. I’m also concerned that his lack of burst will be a bigger issue in the NBA than it was in college, but I think that is worth the risk at No. 5 when, presumably, the other options are going to be guys coming off of knee injuries or the third-best player at Duke.
6. CAM REDDISH, Duke
Reddish is the most frustrating player in the country for me. From a talent perspective, I’m not sure that there is anyone outside of Zion that has more than him. He’s a 6-foot-8 multi-positional wing that can operate in ball-screens, can make threes and spent his youth playing as the lead guard both in high school and in AAU. He should be much better than he was this year, but between being on the floor with two ball-dominant players on a team that had little-to-no shooting other than him, some of his struggles are contextual.
I’ll still bet on his talent. Players with his skill level, his size and his athleticism don’t show up all that often. But drafting a 6-foot-8 player that shot 35.6 percent from inside the arc this high is never going to make anyone comfortable.
7. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt
Garland is so tough to get a read one because he only played a handful of games at the college level, but anyone that has watched Portland play in these playoffs should have a feel for what makes him so intriguing. Smaller lead guards — Dame Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Seth Curry — that can make threes, create shots for themselves and operate ball-screens at the level Garland is able to will always have a place in the NBA.
What makes Garland interesting is that I think the latter two, McCollum and Curry, provide a pretty good depiction of what his range is as a player. Throw in the fact that he is dealing with a knee injury, and there is some risk here.
8. JAXSON HAYES, Texas
Hayes has the potential to end up being the prototype center that NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, the mobility and athleticism to defend out on the perimeter and instincts that allow him to be an effective rim protector as well as a rim-running lob target and vertical spacer. He’s a project, and a pick for the longterm, but the improvement that he’s made as he’s continued to grow combined with the fact that he’s not even 19 years old yet — and even younger in basketball years — makes me really intrigued.
9. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga
Zion Williamson set the record for the best PER in college basketball history this season, but the 37.2 PER that Clarke posted this season would have set the record as well. He might be the best athlete in this draft, and for my money, he was one of the five-best players in all of college basketball this past season. He’s an elite defensive weapon that averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, and at 6-foot-8, he’s big enough to guard up and mobile enough to guard down at the next level. There is some upside with this pick given that Clarke is still very much a work in progress as a shooter, but he’ll be 23 before he ever plays in an NBA game and is more or less a finished product.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see him drop in the draft simply because I think he’s the kind of player that is better suited to finding a role on a good team than he is the kind of roll-the-dice upside pick the organizations that are perennially in lottery purgatory look for, but there may not be five guys from this draft that are more NBA-ready that Clarke is right now.
10. COBY WHITE, North Carolina
Coby White did not enter college basketball as the best freshman at North Carolina, but he certainly left his mark on this college hoops season. There really isn’t any other way to say it: Coby White is Buckets, Personified. He’s 6-foot-5 and unbelievably quick in transition, with the ability to stop on a dime and bury pull-ups out to the three-point line. He will score a lot of points in the NBA, and if he can continue to develop the play-making part of his game, there’s a chance that he could end up being an above-average starter in the league.
11. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
Hachimura is super-toolsy, and that is the kind of thing that is going to intrigue NBA teams. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and carries 240 pounds really, really well. He’s an explosive leaper with an impressive first step, which comes in handy because he is not a great shooter yet. He’s also not a great defender yet, although he did get better on that end of the floor as the season went on. He’s more raw that you want to see from a 21-year old, but considering the language barrier he worked through and the fact that he was never really challenged before he got to Gonzaga, it’s understandable.
12. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky
Washington was one of the most improved players in college basketball this past season, but he was frustratingly inconsistent. He had a six-week stretch where he was the best player in the country not named Zion Williamson, and spent the rest of the season making Kentucky fans wonder just where that superhuman had gone to. I think Washington is better playing in a complimentary role — he seems to thrive as a catch-and-shoot spacer and a post scorer than he does a guy you put into isolations — and I can see him having the kind of career that another Kentucky grad, Patrick Patterson, has had.
13. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina
I still think Little has a chance to be a really good pro because of the gifts that God gave him. He’s athletic and strong while standing 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He is the epitome of the versatility that NBA teams are looking for on the wing. Now all he has to do to learn to shoot and improve his feel for the game. There’s a reason that he looked his best in situations where the game got scattered.
14. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
I’m still on the Nickeil Alexander-Walker bandwagon. He’s big enough and long enough to guard both backcourt spots, he shot 38.3 percent from three this past season — a number that went down when, midway through the year, he had to slide over and play the point fulltime thanks to Justin Robinson’s mysterious injury — and he is a creative passer that can operate a ball-screen. I think he’s good enough to be a starter in the NBA one day not too far in the future.
15. TYLER HERRO, Kentucky
Herro does a lot of things that you want NBA guards to be able to do. He’s a really good shooter (better than the numbers he put up this season), he can play in the pick-and-roll, he can run off of screens and get shots up and he will play hard. He’s also a better defender than he probably gets credit for. You’re not drafting him to be an all-star, you’re drafting him to do a specific job, and he should be able to do that job well.
16. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana
The big question with Langford is whether or not you truly believe his dreadful shooting this past season — he finished his freshman year making just 27.2 percent of his threes — was a result of the thumb injury that he underwent surgery to fix. If you do, he’ll likely get picked higher than this because of his size, his length, his ability to defend and just how good he is at finishing around the rim. I’d not 100 percent convinced the shooting struggles were solely the injury.
17. CAM JOHNSON, North Carolina
Johnson is here because of his ability to shoot at 6-foot-8. His handle is not great, he doesn’t have a great frame and I do wonder who he is going to be able to guard in the NBA. But when you make upwards of 46 percent of your threes while shooting six per game, you are a guy that is going to be able to find someone to pay you NBA dollars. Ask Svi Mykhailiuk.
18. KEVIN PORTER JR., USC
There is a lot of risk involved with drafting Porter, who is an extremely talented scorer that is a decent bet to end up averaging 20 points at some point in his NBA career. I think where he gets picked will depend on how the interviewing process goes. He has some things that he needs to be able to answer for from his one season at USC — a mysterious leg injury kept him out for nearly half the season, and he was suspended while on a road trip to Oregon — but he is talented enough that someone is going to take a chance on him. He has the upside to be a top five player in this class, and if he ends up in an organization that will provide him with stability and a dose of professionalism, he could thrive.
19. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
Keldon Johnson is one of those guys that is good at a lot of things, but may not necessarily has one NBA skill. He’s not an elite athlete. His shooting dropped off in SEC play. He’s a straight-line driver and will give effort defensively but may not necessarily have the physical tools to shut-down NBA wings. If he can get quicker and become a more consistent shooter from three, there is a chance that he can be a useful role player in the league, but there are definitely some improvements that need to be made.
20. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
I love Grant Williams. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he has the strength and the length to guard up. He’s a very good rebounder and a super-smart passer that allowed Tennessee to run their offense through him. He’s also effective in the post and the kind of guy that is going to step up and make big plays in big moments. But I think the most important thing to note here is that his role needs context: He was not really allowed or encouraged to shoot at Tennessee, and I do believe he is going to be better in that area at the next level. I think you’re getting a 10-year pro with the potential to be a starter in the mid-to-late first round, and that is great value in my mind.
21. BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
Fernando is a big, physical and athletic five-man that has shown that he has more skill than we previously thought. He’s a much better passer this year than he was in the past, and he should be able to provide some rim protection at the NBA level. I don’t know that there is much of a ceiling here, but I do think that he can be a useful role player at the NBA level, especially if he ends up in an organization that will help develop him on the defensive side of the ball.
22. TY JEROME, Virginia
I think Jerome is a point guard in the Fred VanVleet/Jalen Brunson mold, meaning that what he lacks in high-end athleticism he makes up for in savvy, basketball IQ, leadership and shot-making. He’ll spend a decade as an elite backup point guard in the NBA.
23. KZ OKPALA, Stanford
I get why people really, really like Okpala. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and the ability to not only knockdown shots from the perimeter but create off the bounce as well. That’s the kind of think you look for in a first round pick. But it’s also worth noting that he dropped off a cliff in the final month of the season. There’s potential there, I’m just not convinced he can come in an impact an NBA game immediately.
24. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
I don’t know if Edwards will ever end up being a starter in the NBA, but I do know he will be able to score at the NBA level. I think the fact that he is just 6-foot and lacks the kind of playmaking instinct NBA point guards need relegates him to a role as a microwave scorer off the bench, but he can make a lot of money doing just that.
25. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova
Like many Villanova products before him, Paschall seems like he’ll fit seamlessly onto the roster of a playoff and contribute. He’s spent the last four years in a system that preaches positionless offense and switchability on defense, and with his size, athleticism and ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, he’s exactly what NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s almost 23 years old, so he’s more or less a finished product, but he’s good enough right now to play in an NBA rotation.
26. TALEN HORTON-TUCKER, Iowa State
Horton-Tucker is something of a roll of the dice, but he’s a risk worth taking late in the first round because he’s such an intriguing mix of physical tools, skills and youth. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Horton-Tucker should be able to slide between guarding twos and fours. He needs to get more consistent with his shooting stroke, but he can make jumpers off of the dribble. And he doesn’t turn 19 until November 25th, meaning that he is six months younger than Cole Anthony. He’s a dart throw and a few years away from contributing, but he’s unique enough that I think he can be effective.
27. MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State
Kabengele has the size, the length, the shot-making ability and the pedigree — he is related to Dikembe Mutumbo — to play as a small-ball center in the NBA. He does foul a bit too much, but I think he’s better at moving on the perimeter than he gets credit for. He was super-productive at Florida State despite being asked by Leonard Hamilton to come off the bench.
28. BOL BOL, Oregon
I understand the potential with Bol Bol. He’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-8 wingspan, he’s an elite shooter and he’s an elite shot-blocker. But he also has more red flags than Canada. There are very legitimate concerns about his work ethic and whether or not he actually loves basketball. There are very legitimate concerns about his strength and physicality, and whether or not he is actually a defensive liability despite his shot-blocking prowess — Serious question: Who can he guard in the NBA? And all of that was true before he suffered a foot injury this season. I’ll let someone else deal with that.
29. MATISSE THYBULLE, Washington
Thybulle put massive numbers as a defender playing in Washington’s 2-3, but there are some legitimate questions about just how well those numbers will translate to the NBA, where no one plays zone. I also wonder about just how good Thybulle will be offensively, but as a likely early second round pick, Thybulle is worth it.
30. DYLAN WINDLER, Belmont
I think Windler is super-interesting as a role player in the modern NBA. He can really, really shoot it, and while that’s more or less where his bread is going to be buttered, I do believe that he is better at doing the little things that he gets credit for. He can rebound, he can jump passing lanes, he makes the right reads. He was a superstar for Belmont in the OVC, but at his heart he’s built to be a role player. I can see him latching on for a number of years as a role player coming off the bench for a playoff team.