The Best NBA Prospects in College Basketball This Year

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We’re about to be full swing in the NBA season and college isn’t that far behind. So with that all going on, what would be a better time to talk about some of the best prospects in college basketball this season? This is also part of a ‘list’ series that I plan on running for previews as people love arguing rankings and who is being slept on, etc.

Considering just about every NBA team associated with Barstool has a chance for a top pick this year, it’s worth noting the top of this draft is extremely loaded. You could argue the top-7/8 in the 2018 Draft has more talent than the 2017, although the 2017 class was much deeper. As always with these things there is some fluidity as the season goes on. There will be injuries. There will be busts. There will be breakout guys. There will obviously be no Luka Doncic on this list as this is just college basketball. Doncic is 100% in the race for the No. 1 overall spot as I have him as my No. 3 prospect right now. I’m also avoiding calling players ‘center’ or ‘small forward’ because that’s simply not a thing anymore. We’ll be calling these guys point, wing, stretch or post instead. Some of these breakdowns are mine and some are from scouts that I’ve talked to.

1. Marvin Bagley – Duke, Stretch  

Freshman, 6’11”, 234 lbs, 18 years old 

I absolutely love Bagley’s game and think he has the potential to be an absolute star in the NBA at an early age. He’s already an excellent rebounder and finisher as he averaged about 28/14 during the Nike EYBL season. He’s an excellent athlete, known for dunking and blocking shots, but he has the ability to step out and shoot. His form isn’t terrible, though he is an inconsistent outside shooter, something that you want to see improve during his year at Duke. He’s quite polished in the post though. He has a nice drop stop and can beat you off the dribble. He looks pretty smooth in attacking off the bounce, part of that is being left-handed, which just makes everything look smoother, while some of it is just being an incredible athlete. Bagley prefers to get out in transition where he can take advantage of his athleticism as opposed to the slowed down half court game. His numbers may be a little down this year simply due to Duke’s roster. He won’t be the go-to option on offense as that should be Grayson and depending on how K wants to use his bench is how he’ll scheme defensively. He does an excellent job of attacking to draw fouls and gets to the free throw line at a great rate. If he can improve his shooting to be more consistent he’ll be the favorite to go No. 1.

2. Michael Porter Jr. – Missouri, Stretch

Freshman, 6’10”, 213lbs, 19 years old 

Porter is going to draw the lazy comparison to Kevin Durant this year because of his build and style of play. He has the height, a wingspan of 7’0″ and can really shoot the ball. He’s absolutely excellent at attacking off the bounce to the midrange game with an excellent pull up from 15 feet out. He’s almost automatic from the free throw line as he shots 86% from there last year for his high school team and does a good job of getting to the line. A lot of this is due to his ability to play out on the wing and draw a mismatch against a slower four. He is an excellent athlete – not to the strength of Bagley – but moves well, can jump and protect the rim due to that on defense. He does need to add some strength as he’s sort of that tweener from being a stretch player to a true wing. Missouri will get him the ball quite a bit as he will be the go-to guy on offense this year. I’m curious to see how he scores when he struggles to shoot though. He needs to develop a little more of a post up game, which should come with the strength.

3. DeAndre Ayton – Arizona, Post 

Freshman, 7’0″, 260 lbs, 19 years old

I know this may be shocking to hear, but teams really like guys with 7’6″ wingspans, that are versatile on offense and can protect the rim defensively. Ayton does like to play in the post, although he can be a little more polished with his drop steps and hook shots. He prefers to go to a fadeaway, which he’s excellent at, but at his size and strength you’d like to see him use more moves going to the hoop. He’s also skilled enough to step out the 3-point line and has decent form on his shot, especially for a guy his size. What I really like about Ayton though is he’s smart enough to play to his strengths. He doesn’t settle for the jumper, instead uses it as a weapon. He attacks the glass and has no problem being a role player. He should be one of the better rebounders in the country this year and playing alongside Allonzo Trier will take some pressure off of him offensively. Look for him to be used in the high pick and pop game, letting him attack on switches or slower bigs.

4. Mo Bamba – Texas, Post

Freshman, 7’0″, 215 lbs, 19 years old 

When you talk about guys who can just absolutely dominate a game from the defensive side of the ball, Mo Bamba is on that shortlist. He’s 7’0″ with a 7’9″ wingspan and excellent timing when it comes to jumping and blocking shots. On top of that he’s still incredibly agile with good footwork where he can both show or switch on ball screens. Throw in his length for there and he’ll have no problem sticking with guards at the college level. The question is just how polished is he when it comes to the offensive side of the ball as he simply beats people by being bigger than them right now. He’s a decent rebounder, but can be better, something to keep an eye on when it comes to playing guys at the college level. When he does catch the ball in the post he likes to go to a hook shot, which he has a nice touch on. If Texas is smart they will play the havoc defense that we’re used to seeing from Shaka, letting Bamba be a menace defensively and get out and run on the offensive side of the ball.

5. Miles Bridges – Michigan State, Stretch

Sophomore, 6’7″, 225 lbs, 19 years old 

ridges is the only freshman in the 25 year history of sports-reference.com to put up 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. Those are outrageous numbers. He’ll be used a couple different ways this year as Izzo can run him at the 3 or 4 spot depending what he wants his lineup to do. When he’s running the 4 spot it’s almost unfair at the college level. He’s too quick and athletic for other 4s and when he’s at the 3 he’s smart enough to look to post them up. I want to see him get better at taking care of the ball and attacking other threes, from the wing. He was a consistent shooter last year at about 39% from three. If he shoots like that again he’s easily a top-6 prospect. I’m still shocked to see him in college as he would have been a lottery pick last year.

6. Collin Sexton – Alabama, Point 

Freshman, 6’2″, 183lbs, 18 years old 

He’s one of my favorite players in college basketball this year. Sexton is an absolute terror on the court,e specially when you get him out in open space. He has good length at 6’5″ from the guard spot and is an excellent athlete. He can jump off two feet and more importantly is one of the best players in the country this year when it comes to changing speed. He is more of a scoring guard, something we’re starting to see more of from the point guard position at the NBA. However, like most of those guys Sexton is still a willing passer, like we saw during the All-American game circuit. He’s an inconsistent shooter, something that needs to improve this year, but similar to how we saw De’Aaron Fox last year, I don’t know how many guys in the country can stay in front of him or keep him out of the lane. I’m curious to see if Avery Johnson lets the team play uptempo, a style that Sexton prefers, compared to his normal grind it out offense. The one positive that scouts will take away is he shot 85% from the free throw line during the Nike EYBL season, so his jumper isn’t completely broken. Defensively he’s going to get up in your shorts. He likes to get in a stance and does an excellent job sliding instead of reaching.

7. Jaren Jackson – Michigan State, Post

Freshman, 6’11”, 240lbs, 18 years old 

Another one of the post players, who is an excellent athlete and has the ability to step out and shoot the ball. He’s a lefty big that gets to play under Tom Izzo – something that usually bumps people up a few spots because of the development process that comes under Izzo. He’s 6’11” with a 7’4″ wingspan and while he still can add some pounds and muscle, he has the ability to guard a couple different positions. He has excellent footwork when it comes to switching on screens and also protects the rim incredibly well. While he can step out and shoot the ball, his form isn’t the best. He has a weird hitch and stance, which causes inconsistencies. What he can do though is attack off the bounce and create his own shot, something that most bigs aren’t able to do. Throw in that he’s one of the youngest guys in the class and that gives teams an extra year with him.

8. Robert Williams – Texas A&M, Post

Sophomore, 6’9″, 237 lbs, 20 years old

Williams is coming off a year where he put up 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game as a freshman at Texas A&M. Similar to Miles Bridges he was expected to be a lottery pick and decided to return for his sophomore year. He finished 15th in the country with a 10.6% block rate and 38th in the country with a 13.6 offensive rebounding percentage. That shows he has excellent timing/jumping/ability to get into space. He’s extremely athletic and can truly jump out of the gym. Last year Texas A&M would try to get him into space by bringing up for a high ball screen or having him cut from the opposite side to let him use that strength. He’s still becoming more polished on the offensive side of the ball. He has a quick move right now, just in terms of taking a power dribble and trying to finish through contact or using his jumping ability to finish over others.

9. Bruce Brown – Miami, Wing 

Sophomore, 6’3″, 200 lbs, 21 years old 

I think Brown is absolutely going to break out this year. He’s an excellent two-way player as he averaged 12 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game last year. He has the ability to play both on or off the ball due his strength of attacking off the bounce. He likes to slash through the lane as he shot just 35% from the 3-point line last year – a number that I’d like to see jump up to 38% this year. He’s much better at catch and shooting from the 3-point line than he is off the dribble, which is another reason he can play off the ball. Brown was at his best last year out in transition, scoring 1.16 points per possession, but his offensive sets were balanced, with him in pick and roll sets just 217 possessions.

10. Trevon Duval – Duke, Point

Freshman, 6’3″, 191lbs, 19 years old 

He has the measurements that NBA scouts love in a point. He has good size at 6’3″ and even better length with a 6’9″ wingspan. That allows him to play bully ball with other guards as he also weighs 195 lbs. Combine that with his athleticism and he’s a matchup nightmare, something that we’ll see him take advantage of at Duke. K likes to run that 4-out offense, leaving a ton of room in the paint for slash and kicks. Duval will look to take advantage of that by slashing to finish and using his size to shoot over other guards. Duke could be very good defensively this year with him pressuring guards and Bagley backing him up at the rim, but again, that depends what scheme K wants to run. He is still a little inconsistent shooting the ball and with his decision-making, something that should be worked on this year. At times he can try to make the extra fancy pass instead of just making the simple one. There’s not a lot of depth at the guard position for Duke this year, so the ball will be in Duval’s hands quite a bit. He should challenge Sexton for the top guard spot.