College basketball season is just a few days away, and as part of our preview, we’ll be breaking down the NBA’s top potential conference players.
Our preseason coverage of draft prospects will be in line with the strategies revealed in our recent survey of NBA scouts and executives.
Initially, our goal will be to compile a list of potential candidates for the upcoming draft and sort them into five main categories: potential lottery candidates; potential candidates for the first round; potential candidates for the second round; potential candidates for the Portsmouth Invitational or G League Combine; and finally, prospects to keep an eye on for future years.
Players can move from one category to another as the season progresses, eventually leading to a ranking or a big board, just like the NBA front office does inside.
Potential Lottery Prospects
Cam Whitmore6-6, FR, F, Villanova
Whitmore’s national ascent began in the spring of 2021 as the world of grassroots basketball reopened after lockdown. Whitmore made an immediate impression with his combination of power and explosive power in his downhill attack style. He continued to climb the following year by participating in the McDonald’s All-American Game. It was in this setting, when many NBA scouts first saw him, that his draft prospect skyrocketed. Now it has become a trendy choice to participate in the top of the lottery. Although his physical strength is undeniable, there are still a variety of opinions about him. Villanova calls him 6ft 7in, but some scouts suggest he looks noticeably smaller in person. His shooting, although improved, is still questionable. As well as his other skills and perimeter instincts when he cannot impose his will physically. Of course, there are also questions about how his recent thumb injury will affect his first season. What’s undeniable is that he’s entering the Big East season in a league of his own in terms of his long-term NBA potential.
Potential prospects of the 1st round
Jordan Hawkins, 6-5, SO, W/G, Connecticut. Hawkins has been demonstrating extreme instruments since high school, and last year as a freshman showed some high-level flashes. This year he will have every opportunity to take a big step forward. He combines shooting potential, vertical athleticism and defensive advantage, but he needs to be more productive and efficient. Scouts will also be following the development of his handle to see if he can transform from more of a flanker into a legitimate defense. He has the tools to be versatile and multi-position defensively, but first he needs to build his body.
Andre Jackson, 6-6, JR, W, Connecticut – Jackson is an explosive athlete, dynamic open-court hitter, underrated passer and potentially very versatile defender. The only missing link is the shot, and it has been since he first appeared on the scene as a high school student. It looks like he will have the ball in his hands this year and show off his playing skills. If he succeeds and can simultaneously get the opposing defense to at least respect him off the ball, he can assert himself.
Colby Jones, 6-6, JR, W/G, Xavier – Jones began intriguing NBA scouts as a freshman, had a steady run as a sophomore last year, and played his best basketball during the NIT’s post-season run. He is reliable across the board, with a good perimeter size, strong build, and a swift approach to both ends. He is a solid passer, a very good rebounder and a quality defender who should be versatile in that regard. However, he is not a particularly dynamic creator, and so he designs as a complementary part, but he needs to be a more reliable spreader to fit this role.
Arthur Kaluma, 6-7, SO, F, Creighton-Kaluma enters his second season with great momentum after a strong freshman campaign and a successful summer with Uganda. He is a versatile quadruped who makes up for what he may lack in perfect size with a 7ft wingspan, robust build, and excellent ring hopping ability. He plays well for his size, has more shooting potential than his first-season percentages indicate, and is a very solid cover when you put it all together. The key for NBA raters is how far the shot develops and then whether it can show similar defensive versatility.
Potential prospects for the 2nd round
Trey Alexander, 6-4, SO, G, Creighton. He ended his rookie season on a high note, not only in terms of his overall scoring but also showing some potential as a major leading defenseman. There are plenty of reasons to be intrigued – positional size, playability, good pull-up play and a high enough free throw percentage to suggest that his three-point shooting should improve. This, and his ability to keep people up front defensively, are his swinging skills. If he continues to progress, he has upside potential in the first round, but maybe not this year.
Mark Armstrong, 6-2, FR, G, Villanova-Armstrong and Alexander are in the same position as they can both make it to the first round, but it probably won’t happen this year. In fact, Armstrong could very easily be included in the list of future prospects, but he is intriguing enough that many teams would like to see him announced, if only to take a chance with him outside the first round, when they have nothing to lose.
Manny Bates, 6-11, GR, C, Butler – NC State transfer missed last season with a shoulder injury in his first game of the year. His ability to defend the rim and be a cross threat is intriguing, and he can be shown enough in the team’s half-court offense to show even more goals. The concern is its effectiveness away from the paint, at both ends of the floor.
Ryan Kalkbrenner, 7-1, JR, C, Creighton — He made a significant jump between his rookie and sophomore seasons and was at his best in the final 12 games of the season. Kalkbrenner is a rim protector with a good understanding of how to keep upright. Although he is not very mobile defensively, he is a monster in the area of fall protection. On offense, there are rumors that he has expanded his range and will showcase his touch of the arc this year. Overall, he’s not as fluid as most NBA prospects, but he can be a very interesting player nonetheless.
Brandon Murray, 6-5, SO, W, Georgetown. This year’s LSU broadcast will be the offensive centerpiece for Georgetown and will provide an opportunity to showcase the full three-range arsenal we saw in high school and prep. While his net performance is bound to rebound, his NBA stocks will be just as much tied to his efficiency, conditioning and willingness to do all the little things it takes to become a valuable role player at the next level.
Kadari Richmond, 6-6, JR, G, Seton Hall — Talent has never been a problem for Richmond. He has a large positional size, impeccable intuition, ability to draw, vision of the field and defensive potential. However, its engine, reliability and overall stability prevented it from achieving its full potential. Heading to his third coach in so many years, if Shaheen Holloway maybe a leader to help him put it all together, NBA scouts will surely take notice.
Adam Sanogo, 6-9, JR, C, CT. He is the preseason player of the year in the East and one of the most dominant big men in college basketball with his inside scoring and rebounding. Unfortunately, he’s also one of those big men (and there are plenty of them in the college game this year) whose game doesn’t naturally carry over into the NBA due to his paint restrictions at both ends of the court.
Baylor Scheierman, 6-7, SR, W, Creighton – South Dakota transfer won Major League Junior Player of the Year and came to Creighton after being drafted in the NBA. The left-hander has a slightly unconventional game, but she is very skilled, smart and very cunning. His shots, passes, and mismatch-style play are all intriguing offensive weapons, but the question the NBA has is exactly what position he plays and, more importantly, defends.
PIT/G-League Unification Candidates
Noah Locke, 6-3, GR, G, Providence – Locke’s college career began with very high expectations as a former Top 50 recruit. He spent three years in Florida and was on the verge of establishing himself as the top shooter in his sophomore year before having a disappointing senior season in Louisville. He has the ability to take shots and the length to make his way to some opportunities after the season with a strong final campaign in Providence.
Justin Moore, 6-4, SR, G, Villanova – It remains to be seen exactly when he will return to the floor after suffering an Achilles injury last spring. The fact that he had an anterior cruciate ligament injury in high school will only further complicate the medical part of the NBA score. However, when he is healthy, he is one of the best returning two-way players in the conference.
KK Ndefo6-7, GR, F, Seton Hall – He was the darling of analysts at St. Peter’s last year, and so he’s becoming…