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NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Zion Williamson remains No. 1 overall pick

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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:

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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.

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.

But we’re doing it anyway!

A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them. 

So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

3. DUKE

  • WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
  • WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey

4. KANSAS

  • WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson, Quintin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna, Isaac McBride, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

5. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

6. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, Fresh Kimble, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Fresh Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Malik Williams

7. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith

8. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

9. TEXAS TECH

  • WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew, Andrei Savrasov
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Deshawn Corprew, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke

10. FLORIDA

  • WHO’S GONE: KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, DeAundre Ballard
  • WHO’S BACK: Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Dontay Bassett, Isaiah Stokes
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Kerry Blackshear Jr.

11. GONZAGA

  • WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
  • WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Ryan Woolridge, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev

12. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

13. NORTH CAROLINA

  • WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

14. UTAH STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
  • WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta

15. OREGON

  • WHO’S GONE: Paul White, Louis King, Ehab Amin, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol, Victor Bailey
  • WHO’S BACK: Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Francis Okoro
  • WHO’S COMING IN: N’Faly Dante, C.J. Walker, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Addison Patterson, Chris Duarte, Lok Wur, Chandler Lawson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Shakur Juiston

16. ARIZONA

  • WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph
  • WHO’S BACK: Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Terry Armstrong, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter

17. SAINT MARY’S

  • WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry

18. XAVIER

  • WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
  • WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones

19. LSU

  • WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Trendon Watford, James Bishop
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Trendon Watford, Emmitt Williams

20. BAYLOR

  • WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
  • WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler, Jared Butler, Devonte Bandoo, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillespie, Matthew Mayer
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jordan Turner, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, Mario Kegler, Tristan Clark

21. MEMPHIS

  • WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
  • WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

22. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke
  • WHO’S BACK: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Isaac Okoro, Anfernee McLemore

23. TENNESSEE

  • WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, Derrick Walker Jr, D.J. Burns
  • WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons., John Fulkerson, Jalen Johnson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Olivier Nkamoua, Davonte Gaines
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

24. VCU

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
  • WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva

25. OHIO STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson

JUST MISSED

DAVIDSON

  • WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
  • WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowicz, Bates Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic

CREIGHTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
  • WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson

WASHINGTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Dominic Green
  • WHO’S BACK: Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels, Quade Green, Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quade Green, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart

COLORADO

  • WHO’S GONE: Namon Wright
  • WHO’S BACK: McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert, Evan Battey, Shane Gatling, Daylen Kountz
  • WHO’S COMING IN: No one
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: McKinley Wright IV, Shane Gatling, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert

MARQUETTE

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, Joseph Chartouny
  • WHO’S BACK: Markus Howard, Theo John, Sacar Anim, Ed Morrow, Jamal Cain
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Koby McEwen, Symir Torrence, Jayce Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Markus Howard, Koby McEwen, Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey, Theo John

Ex-Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves acquitted in sex assault case

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FLINT, Mich. — A jury acquitted former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves Tuesday on charges alleging he sexually assaulted a woman in a motel room four years ago.

The verdict announced in a Genesee County courtroom in Cleaves’ hometown of Flint came after a nearly-two week trial that included the testimony of the Mount Morris woman, who told jurors that she had wanted to leave the motel room but Cleaves continued to force himself on her.

Evidence against Cleaves included a video that prosecutors contended showed the woman pulling away from Cleaves. Prosecutors argued she tried twice to escape from the motel room.

Cleaves did not testify. One of his attorneys, Frank Manley, said Cleaves had consensual sex with the woman who was in the motel room “of her own free will” after a charity golf tournament and visit to a bar. Cleaves’ attorneys told jurors that the woman lied about what happened because she felt guilty about cheating on her boyfriend.

The 41-year-old Cleaves was acquitted on all charges, including unlawful imprisonment and assault with intent to commit criminal sexual penetration. He had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison had he been convicted.

Cleaves has long denied the allegations, saying in a March 2016 tweet that he was “innocent and the allegations are without merit.”

The trial itself came after a long legal battle that started in late 2016 when a district judge dismissed the charges, saying that there were a number of factors that suggested “something else was going on” between Cleaves and the woman.

But in 2017, the charges were reinstated after the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal that contended the judge had abused her “discretion of power” in dismissing the charges. Then last year, the Michigan Supreme Court refused to review that decision, clearing the way for the trial.

Cleaves is a revered figure in Michigan, an integral part of a Michigan State team that won the national championship in 2000 before his six-year NBA career.

And on Tuesday, sitting in a courtroom was another reminder of that team: Coach Tom Izzo. Izzo told The Detroit News that he did not know the details about the allegations against his former star player but wanted to be in the courtroom to support Cleaves as he would “any of my guys.”

Mick Cronin lands first five-star recruit at UCLA

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Less than 24 hours after cutting his list to five schools, five-star point guard Daishen Nix committed to UCLA.

Nix is a 6-foot-5 point guard from Alaska that’s currently playing his high school ball in Las Vegas. He’s known for his court vision and elite basketball IQ with a developing jumper and a feel for the game that cannot be taught. He ranks as a top 15 prospect, according to 247 Sports.

He was Mick Cronin’s top target at the point guard spot, and Cronin landed him. That’s notable, because one of the concerns that people had about UCLA’s decision to hire Cronin was whether or not a coach known for his toughness, his intensity and his team’s propensity for being defense first would adjust to playing at California’s flagship program, where tempo is a must and defense has been, for the last half-decade, optional.

And while it remains to be seen how the team and program will adjust to his coaching style – I will have a story coming on that later this week – at the very least, Cronin has proven that he can dip his toe in the west coast recruiting waters and get a player that he prioritized.

Who are the best basketball prospects that have yet to play in the NBA?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, Pro Basketball Talk will be rolling out a project that we have been working on for the last month: Ranking the top 50 players five years from now.

Players ranked 46-50 were unveiled today.

You can find that list here.

In the meantime, since it is relevant, here at College Basketball Talk we are going to take a look at the guys that, in 2024, may actually deserve a spot on a top 50 players list that you may not know about just yet.

So without further ado, here are the ten best prospects that have yet to play a game in the professional ranks.

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1. Emoni Bates, Class of 2022

Bates is the shoe-in at No. 1 on this list. Over the years I’ve gotten to know quite a few of the scouts that do recruiting rankings and cover the sport at the high school level. These guys have been in the business for a long time – some for decades – and every single one of them rave about Bates in a way that you don’t often see players get talked about. One called him the best freshman he’s ever scouted. One called him as good as any prospect that he’s scouted in more than 20 years in the business. One called him the best prospect in high school hoops, which is exactly where I have him on this list. Personally, I think that he’s the closest thing that we’ve seen to Kevin Durant since Kevin Durant.

I wrote a story on Bates from Peach Jam back in July, and one of the things that I made sure to note in that story is the danger that comes with this level of hype at this age. Many of the things that are being said about Bates were said about Renardo Sidney at the same age, and we know how that turned out. Part of the reason I’m a little less-hesitant to make such proclamations with Bates is that he has an alpha mentality and competitive streak that you don’t see all that often. So not only does he have the physical tools as a super-skilled, 6-foot-9 scorer with range out to the NBA three-point line, but once he gets on the court, he’s an a–hole in all of the best ways.

2. Cade Cunningham, Class of 2020

Cunningham is tailor-made for modern basketball. He’s a 6-foot-7, 220 pound point forward. He’s a tough, physical and athletic wing that, two years ago, made the transition to playing the point full time. He has the savvy, the maturity and the polish of an NBA veteran. He doesn’t have the highlight reel athleticism of guys like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, but he has the kind of functional athleticism that will allow him to split the defense, avoid the charge, absorb the contact and finish in traffic. He was the MVP of the EYBL circuit this past season, and if he continues to improve his shooting stroke, there’s a very real chance that he gets picked with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft.

I think the best way to phrase it is this: He will likely be the first player to ever get compared to Luka Doncic, and I’m not sure how much more complimentary you can get.

James Wiseman (Elsa/Getty Images)

3. James Wiseman, Memphis

4. Evan Mobley, Class of 2020

I’m listing these two together because they really are quite similar prospects. Both stand 7-foot. Both have the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow them to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. Both of them are capable defenders with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And both of them are skilled enough where they have the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens.

Now, there are some differences. Wiseman, at this point, is probably more physically developed – he is a year older – while Mobley, at 6-foot-11 and 200 pounds, is going to have to make the absolute most of the meal plan USC gets him on. Mobley, on the other hand, seems to be more accepting of the fact that he’s destined to be a five in the NBA while Wiseman, in the words of one NBA draftnik, “thinks he’s Giannis when in reality he’s a lot closer to Myles Turner.”

There is nothing wrong with being Myles Turner. He just turned 23 years old and he is coming off of a season where he averaged 13.3 points, 7.2 boards and an NBA-best 2.7 blocks while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s really good. But he also knows what he is and what he isn’t, and he isn’t Giannis.

5. Jonathan Kuminga, Class of 2021

Kuminga is a super-explosive, 6-foot-8 wing that is just now starting to figure out how good he has the chance to be. He has all the physical tools that you want out of a wing – height, length, athleticism, versatility – and he has shown that he is willing and able to defend multiple positions. The big thing with him in the long-term is going to be how well his jumpshot develops, and if that comes along, his upside is as high as anyone on this list. I do think it’s worth noting that at Peach Jam, he was in the same group as Terrence Clarke and Patrick Baldwin Jr. and justified his spot on this list.

6. Jalen Green, Class of 2020

Green has all the makings of a future top five pick. At 6-foot-5, he’s a naturally gifted scorer that makes the game look easy. He’s at his best when he’s slashing to the bucket, where he can finish above the rim and also has a shiftiness about him in the lane. He’s a capable ball-handler and passer, but he’s going to make his money as a bucket-getter. If his jumper catches up to the rest of his game, look out.

7. Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Edwards is a big time scorer and athlete that has the ideal physical tools for a combo-guard. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-5 with length and explosive athleticism. His game is well-rounded. He’s a good shooter that can also operate in ball-screens, create for his teammates and shoot off the dribble. In theory, he’s an ideal fit for a sport that is becoming more and more reliant on scorers that can create in isolation with shooters spacing the court. Part of the reason he stayed home to play for Georgia is that Tom Crean coached both Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade in college, and those two are what Edwards has the potential to be at the next level.

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8. Cole Anthony, North Carolina

Anthony is going to get a lot of hype heading into the 2020 draft. Beyond the simple fact that he is the son of UNLV legend and NBA journeyman Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony is headed to North Carolina, where Roy Williams is going to slot him into the same role that he used Coby White in last year. He is going to get a lot of shots, he’s going to score a lot of points and he’s going to have a lot of highlight reel plays in the process. My big question with Cole longterm is that I’m not convinced that he is big enough to play off the ball, I’m not sure he is a natural point guard and I don’t know if he is quite good enough to be allowed to play the way he has throughout his career at the NBA level. There is definitely some potential here, but I think the fit at the NBA level makes more sense with Green and Edwards than it does with Anthony.

RISING SON: Cole Anthony remains grounded while following his father’s footsteps

9. Terrence Clarke, Class of 2021

Clarke is a wiry-strong, 6-foot-6 off-guard from Boston that has the potential to be the No. 1 pick in whatever draft he ends up in. (There’s a chance he can reclassify into 2020.) He’s an explosive athlete that can finish in traffic while also displaying a high-level feel for the game. He’s an improving shooter that can create off the bounce in isolation, and his court vision and passing gives him the upside of having some positional versatility down the road.

10. Patrick Baldwin Jr., Class of 2021

As one coach at a top ten program told me this summer, Patrick Baldwin Jr. “is the best shooting big man I’ve ever scouted.” Still just heading into his junior year in high school, Baldwin recently went through a growth spurt that saw him sprout up to 6-foot-10. He needs to add some strength and weight to his frame (what 16 year old doesn’t?) but that size and shooting ability is not something that we see all that often. The big question for Baldwin is how well the rest of his game develops. Is he simply a pick-and-pop five, or will he continue to develop a floor game and the physical tools that will allow him to be a plus-defender in the NBA?

THREE THAT JUST MISSED THIS LIST

Jaden McDaniels, Washington: McDaniels’ upside is as high as anyone on this list save for Bates and Cunningham. At 6-foot-10, he’s a skilled wing with a perimeter game and a developing shooting stroke. It’s not hard to watch him play and see what he can be if he continues to put in the work, but he has a ways to go to get there. He’s still just 190 pounds and, at this point, more of a prospect that a producer.

Paolo Banchero, Class of 2021: Banchero is a tough prospect to gauge the ceiling of. He’s already 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds with a frame that should easily be able to hold more muscle, but without the kind of physical tools that will set him apart from the field. I think it’s also fair to say that his best skill at this point is how well-rounded he is. Put another way, he’s one of those guys that can do everything well – he can shoot it, he can pass, he can beat bigger defenders facing up, he can hold his own defending the paint, etc. – with an exceedingly high basketball IQ. Put another way, outside of continuing to stretch out his shooting range, I’m not sure just how much better he’s going to end up getting.

Jalen Johnson, Class of 2020: Johnson’s biggest strength at this point is probably his basketball IQ and passing ability at this size. He’s a 6-foot-9 lefty with a complete skillset and the kind of floor vision at this size that will make you think Ben Simmons lost his Aussie accent. Already committed to Duke, Johnson will likely continue to generate buzz as his defense and perimeter stroke improve.

Michael Avennati makes court filing alleging Nike cleared payments to Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford

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Lawyers for Michael Avennati filed a court motion on Wednesday alleging that Nike approved under-the-table payments to Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford while they were still in high school.

The alleged offers, which were for $35,000 to Zion and $20,000 to Langford, were found in “text messages, emails and other documents fro 2016-17” and prove “Nike executives had arranged for and concealed payments, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and ‘handlers,'” the motion, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, alleged.

Specifically, the motion alleges that:

  • EYBL manager Jamal James texted EYBL director Carlton DeBose and Nike’s recruiting coordinator John Stovall asking if they would be “willing to do … whatever may be needed for the Zion/Romeo situations as well as the money we’re now going to do for the [redacted because he is still a minor] kid in Michigan.” Stovall responded “Langford – 20 Zion – 35 [unnamed minor] – 15”. Stovall added that it was a bad idea for the offer to be put into print.
  • DeBose said in a text message with an unnamed Kentucky assistach coach that the shoe company was “funneling payments to high school players through at least 10 different EYBL coaches.”
  • An EYBL coach told Nike executives he was concerned about the money being paid to players and their families because it won’t end well for Nike and innocent coaches “will be deemed guilty by association.”
  • DeBose told Nico Harrison, Nike’s VP of North America basketball operations, that he’s “willing to bet that 38 of the 40 teams in the EYBL had to pay a moderate to considerable ransom to families just to play in the EYBL.” He also said the arrangements are “being viewed as a contract” by the players and their families.
  • Another Nike executive, Rachel Baker, allegedly said she was worried about carrying cash through an airport.

All the quotes listed above are from the motion itself. It refers to emails and text messages, but they are not attached. The motion can be read in its entirety here.

The motion does not make clear whether or not the money was actually delivered. Both Zion and Langford played their final season of AAU basketball on the Adidas circuit. Langford’s father was the coach of the AAU program that his son played for.

“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion,” Nike said in a statement. “Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”

Avenatti was arrested in March and charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike by threatening to expose the way that the shoe company and its grassroots basketball league, the EYBL, funnel money to the elite high school players and their families. He threatened to hold a press conference at the start of the NCAA tournament announcing these allegations of misconduct.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Avennati represented Gary Franklin, who was the coach of the California Supreme at one point in time. Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol, Aaron Holiday, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill and Brandon McCoy were among the players that spent time on his roster. The motion to dismiss also contains allegations that Franklin was directed by DeBose to make payments to people associated with Ayton, Bol and McCoy, and that he submitted false invoices to Nike to disguise the payments as expenses for the 501(c3) he operated.