Last Spring, our crew at The Basketball Writers dove into NBA Draft coverage head-first.
With in-depth positional breakdowns and scouting reports on each player’s strengths and areas of improvement, our aim was to shift the conversation towards identifying where each prospect fits best and what to expect from them early in their careers. Written analysis, which accompanied the videos, provided narrative to what the film illuminated:
I’m a big believer in film from the college level and also believe you can draw false conclusions by pegging players too high or too low before they consistently play against high-level competition.
Highlight tapes are one thing—they show the strengths of a player either in low-organized, open-floor AAU or against inferior competition at the high school level. However, the meat and potatoes prospect coverage I value occurs from October to March during the collegiate and international seasons.
With that being said, here is a look at the ten prospects who have caught my eye as top players on a draft board. Some are surprise candidates, others are in line with other consensus outlets, but all should have a high impact on the court for their teams this upcoming season.
10. TYRESE MAXEY – PG, KENTUCKY
A 6’3″ point guard with tremendous physical gifts, Tyrese Maxey of Kentucky has plenty of room to rise up this list if he shows any consistency playmaking for others in the lane.
Right now, he rates out as a very good “3-and-D” type of guard. He gets his feet set and shoots well off movement, which is dangerous since he’s so speedy. He’s also phenomenal with angles and has an ability to cut off the driving lanes of other elite athletes. With the NBA three-point arc now present in college, we’ll find out right away if Maxey’s shooting is legitimate.
Maxey is one of those guys who will be utilized in a way that doesn’t bring out every strength of his. He’ll pair with Ashton Hagans in the backcourt at Kentucky under John Calipari, so his shooting prowess is more important to their offensive production than his driving. He’ll also be asked to guard the 2 more than the point of attack.
Don’t let that dissuade from the fact Maxey is fairly complete offensively for his position and has many similar traits to some of the better defensive point guards like Jrue Holiday and Eric Bledsoe.
9. Oscar Tshiebwe – ATH, West Virginia
Calling Tshiebwe a monster athlete is a compliment to monsters everywhere.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to watch two of his games in person. His insane athleticism, chiseled frame and high motor all make him a name to watch.
Tshiebwe gets the label of being “raw” due to how he relies on his athleticism and doesn’t have the most polished perimeter game. But in the snippets I’ve seen, Tshiebwe has better control of the ball than most who stand 6’9″, especially in the open floor. He’s flashed some insane passes and made heady plays. He’s farther ahead than the label of “raw” might indicate.
Playing closer to his high school by signing with West Virginia, Big Oscar will be tested by the diverse defenses and size within the Big 12. In a press system with up-tempo play, he’ll be able to get out in transition where he’s a beast. Look for everything else in the half-court, though. How he defends the 5 and plays bigger than his height will be indicative of how scouts feel comfortable imagining his NBA role.
8. Jaden McDaniels – F, Washington
Silky smooth, McDaniels is the prototype for the modern wing superstar. He needs to add strength and too often defaults to one-on-one play, but he can easily sharpen those skills at Washington. He’ll be the alpha within their offense and is a nightmare matchup in the Pac-12.
As an aside, the Huskies should be great this year: they have two top-ten recruits coming in, with McDaniels and LaLumiere’s Isaiah Stewart anchoring the middle. Their combined length and athleticism, in the Mike Hopkins 2-3 zone he copied from Syracuse, will make the Huskies a dark horse contender on the national scene.
Due to his ability to create and score, McDaniels is the top pro prospect for Hopkins. He’ll need to show a consistent three-point shot in order to deserve top-eight draft pick hype, however.
He’s already so good at finishing with craft and burst, uses his length and frame so well and will undoubtedly add strength. Hopefully, after seeing how Matisse Thybulle has played early in his NBA career, we’ll stop doubting the NBA translation of super athletes who played exclusively in a 2-3 zone during college.
7. RJ Hampton – CG, Australia
A highly-touted recruit out of high school, RJ Hampton opted to go to New Zealand and play in the NBL instead of pursuing a collegiate career. The NBL is a high-caliber league, but scouts still haven’t figured out exactly how success there should translate to the NBA.
There’s no doubt that Hampton can score and that he’s best with the ball in his hands. Perhaps, he felt a setting like the one provided by the New Zealand Breakers will allow him to showcase those skills better than a top program in the NCAA.
With size and strength, Hampton could be an elite guard and focal point of an offense. He still needs to work on his deceleration, which is an elite skill for larger guards like him so they avoid charges. Hampton will be used in ball screens quite a bit, so he’ll be an easy prospect to peg for how his game translates once he’s drafted.
6. James Wiseman – P, Memphis
The lefty pogo stick has lofty aspirations at Memphis under Penny Hardaway: Hardaway is promising National Championships while Wiseman is under consideration for the top pick in the draft.
Wiseman certainly looks the part. He’s bouncy with a 7’6″ wingspan and has demonstrated some range to three. Consider me skeptical of his range, something brought to light by FanSided’s Jackson Frank. I’m not one for hit pieces, but those takeaways about his shooting and playmaking limit his upside to a certain extent, and the onus is on him to prove he’s going to be better in those areas.
Wiseman’s draft standing is more about the current state of big men than his upside, which is lofty. Most teams only need one big; Wiseman isn’t going to be the most versatile seven-footer in the world and still has some refining to do.
This will be an important season for him at Memphis. But without an elite supporting cast, it’s hard to bank on him holding a top spot for much longer.
5. Nico Mannion – PG, Arizona
This guy exudes marketing prowess.
Italian-born and now coming to Arizona, Nico Mannion plays with the skill of a European star and the pace of an elite American athlete. He’s a tall point guard with a quick, compact and efficient three-point stroke. He’s got a great feel for when to go and when to kick it, plus the ability to make elite cross-court passes. Expect the Arizona Wildcats to ride him for offense this season—they’ll go as far as he takes them.
What makes Mannion such a fascinating pro is how he already commands offenses at such a young age. He’s a strong shooter and, with all the tools in his arsenal, he’ll be a highly coveted prospect moving forward. I’d be surprised if Mannion is not an All-American this season.
4. Jalen Smith – ATH, Maryland
Sometimes a stylistic shift is what brings out the best in a player.
By far the most controversial mention on this list, Jalen Smith cracks the top-four while being a lower first-round prospect on most every other preseason board. On its face, the skillset he owns is fascinating enough to deserve lottery attention: He’s an insane athlete at 6’10” who runs the floor better than almost any other big in this draft class. He rebounds and blocks shots, has a nice jump shot and knows how to play.
The context clues are why I expect Smith to take off this season. Maryland lost Bruno Fernando to the NBA, who was a tree that grew roots down by the left offensive block. Such a presence confined Smith to auxiliary duty, hi-lo passing and standing in the dunk box in the short corner. He still averaged 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds.
With Fernando gone, the offense will change a bit, and Smith will be the frontcourt focal point. Look for him to have a breakout season on a huge Maryland team with elite aspirations.
3. Deni Avdija – W, Israel
Long, lean and skilled, Deni Avdija is a name everyone should know. The MVP of the U20 European Championships this summer, Avdija burst onto the scene by showing a do-it-all wing game that carried Israel to some huge wins.
Standing 6’8″ with long arms, he’s an unbelievable ball handler and can get past any type of defender one-on-one. His sweet shooting stroke makes him impossible to crowd with smaller guards, and he’s great on the move. His finishing and shooting consistency aren’t elite yet, but he has shown enough in large spurts to deserve attention as a potential top-three prospect.
Avdija needs to improve his decision-making and strength in certain areas. There’s a lot of hope that, if he bulks up and performs well with Maccabi Tel Aviv, he can rate out as a plus-defender. He’s already a very good weak-side shot-blocker, but that role at Maccabi Tel Aviv is always interesting to watch. He barely played one at all last year on a club that usually prefers veterans and is well established as one of the best in the world.
How will his lack of exposure over the next nine months paint the picture for his draft stock in this 2019 class?
One thing is for sure: the polarizing personality of Avdija will ensure he stays in focus and will be (for better or for worse) in the spotlight.
2. Cole Anthony – PG, North Carolina
Cole Anthony controls the game better than any point guard in this class, perhaps with the exception of his Tobacco Road rival in Tre Jones. A smooth operator with great handles and a silky jumper, Anthony doesn’t overpower anyone with athleticism.
Instead, he uses it to explode when he needs to change a gear at the rim.
There’s no doubt that Anthony can score, particularly in the mid-range and at times from three, but the scoring prowess is not what makes him an exciting recruit. He is a gifted passer and an excellent rebounder. In every sense of the word, he is a traditional point guard, a throwback to those greats that take more joy in doing the little things to orchestrate the team and set their teammates up for success.
At North Carolina and under Roy Williams, Anthony will be given the keys from day one to a transition-based, high-octane attack. The Carolina Break utilizes ball screens and a combination of actions, all of which will showcase the diverse skills Anthony has and how he can impact the game for the better.
Cole plays with the same IQ of his father, current NBA analyst and former pro Greg Anthony. That pedigree won’t be overlooked as he will have every opportunity to turn heads and throw lobs with the Tar Heels.
1. Anthony Edwards – CG, Georgia
The frontrunner top pick in 2020, no player in this class combines athleticism and three-level scoring quite like Anthony Edwards.
He’s a load of a driver and has that extraordinarily rare second gear to keep elevating as he hits contact. Edwards is a great shooter and has improved over the last few years as a decision-maker. He stands at 6’5″ and is a sturdy body, so he could be one of the most difficult covers in college basketball. Any team that plays him at the 1 or 2 has an instant power advantage without sacrificing shooting or playmaking.
That’s rare as well and makes Edwards a top ten pick.
He’s so much smarter and craftier of a passer than he gets credit, though. If he’s able to show that in a pro-style spread attack under Tom Crean at Georgia, there will be little to deny Edwards as the first name called by Adam Silver in June.
Adam is a TBW staff writer and college basketball coach at Dickinson College. He loves watching for offensive schemes while specializing in individual skill development, shooting technique and coach-speak. Born in New Hampshire, Adam grew up as a Celtics fan but now claims to just love “good basketball”, which does not include mid-range jumpers.