The college football season might have just started, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about the college basketball season. And that means we have to start contemplating about the 2019 NBA Draft and the likely lottery picks we’ll see in it.
That, of course is 14 guys, but here we’re going to talk about five of them who could prove to be the most intriguing come June. The first player on this list is going to be one of the most exciting and possibly one of the most polarizing players in all of college basketball.
Duke forward Zion Williamson is known for his insane athletic and dunking abilities. He was one of the top recruits in the 2018 class and joins a couple other top-10 guys in Durham. However, while he might be a total freak athletically, there are plenty parts of his game he has to fix up before he gets drafted next year and the journey to the next draft should be a winding one for him.
He will have to prove that he can be a good shooter, even if it’s only as a set shooter. That’s not something you’ll see in his highlight tapes, as it’s all dunks, coast-to-coast takes and dribble drives.
His weight may also scare some teams, being his 6-foot-7 and285 pounds frame, but his recent play in Canada — as part of some exhibition play — should highlight how he’s in perfectly fine shape. While he did hit a few threes on the northern tour, it did not look pretty and it was terribly consistent.
Williamson also has a tendency to try to overpower his opponents, which has worked so far and will probably continue to work at the collegiate level. However, that won’t exactly fly at the NBA level since a lot of those guys are athletic freaks in their own right.
He will need to show he can do more than simply be overly physical and bully people to get to the rim. He’ll also need to show a consistent energy on defense, as that has been a problem for him at times.
The Maryland big man had a solid enough freshman season and even considered jumping to the big leagues last year. He decided against it though, and returned for his sophomore season this year. He averaged a shade over 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game while Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter were mostly running the show.
This season should be Fernando’s time to shine as Maryland will have some freshman guards to break in with Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins.
Fernando got his buckets mostly on putbacks and dunks last season. That was almost enough for teams to take a flier on him in the 2018 NBA Draft, but he is going to have to show some improvement this season in a lot of areas of his game. He has to minimize turnovers, extend his range out to at least 15 feet and greatly improve his post up game as it is a bit raw right now. He’s been putting some work in during the offseason so we will see if it pays off.
As it stands now, Fernando will have to be much more consistent with his play and prove to be the same guy that was named an All-Big Ten Freshman.
He had a double-double in his last six games during last season, but of course the expectation will be for him to do that on an almost nightly basis — or as nightly as two games a week can get. Should the highlight/workout video turn out to be for real, and it translates to better play, expect Fernando’s breakout to be as an All-Big Ten first teamer and possibly a lottery pick.
That is not a typo. That is the real name of a player who will be out in Pac-12 country, as the 7-foot-2, 220-pound Oregon Ducks large human is absolutely one of the biggest guys in college basketball. Not only because of his stature, but because he was a major riser in the 2018 recruiting rankings, ending as the No. 4 overall recruit in the class after seemingly coming out of nowhere.
However, if you followed recruiting at all then you know the son of the legendary Manute Bol could be legit and even a top-five pick in 2019’s NBA Draft. That comes down to several factors, though, as you’ll read down below.
While Bol has the height to be a fantastic rim protector, he still has to fill out his frame a bit more than his dad did. He also has several question marks he will need to turn into some exclamation points this season for the Ducks as he teams up with fellow five-star recruit Louis King.
Will he keep his motor running throughout an entire game? Will he be able to put on the weight necessary to hold his own in the paint? Will he develop a post game? Will he not fall in love with the outside shot? There’s a lot of ifs surrounding Bol, but he’ll have an opportunity at the collegiate level to expunge his track record for being a bit lazy or not having the “fire” so many coaches want to see in a player.
The big man already has a solid shot and can step out to three-point range. Furthermore, at least at the collegiate level, his defensive deficiencies can be hidden in a good enough zone. He should be a help side monster, accruing blocks every game just by virtue of being insanely long, lanky and tall. If there was a stat for “altered shots” in a game, I would venture to say he would be the No. 1 or 2 guy even as a freshman.
I only hesitate to say he would be the top guy because Tacko Fall exists and is even taller than Bol right now.
The redshirt sophomore for Virginia was a huge piece to Virginia’s success last season and likely the reason they became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed. More accurately, it was the lack of Hunter in the lineup that likely led to the historic upset, as he broke his wrist in March right before the NCAA Tournament. He was likely the Cavaliers’ most valuable player despite only playing about 20 minutes a game.
The 6-foot-7, 222-pound forward has major offensive upside and potential, but is already a stalwart on defense. He had a 90.7 defensive rating last season — basically he only let people score 90 points for every 100 possessions played against him — and that’s hard to do even playing for a defense like Virginia’s. He can guard on the perimeter and he’s still strong enough to be in the post if the occasion calls for it.
His offense has shown flashes. He’s a good shooter from outside, albeit a bit of a reluctant one. He shot about 38 percent from beyond the arc, but attempted less than two of those a game. He did shoot 48.8 percent from the field overall too, which bodes well.
Hunter’s shot does project nicely to the next level, but he will have to make his release a bit quicker. And while he only scored about nine points a game, his per-40 numbers projected him to score twice as much (because math). He’s also a good slasher and is a solid catch-and-shoot player as well. He can finish through contact, can score in the post and score from the mid-range as well.
The Gonzaga product broke out last season as a redshirt sophomore, averaging 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in under 21 minutes of playing time per game. He will get a considerable bump in playing time with Jonathan Williams graduated.
However, he could be competing with Brandon Clarke, who redshirted last season and didn’t appear in any games. They could also end up playing together, along with Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins at the guard positions, with Killian Tillie manning the paint.
Hachimura is not a great shooter right now — he shot under 20 percent from the three-point line last season — but was efficient nonetheless with an overall shooting percentage of 56.8 percent last season. He has shown a knack for improvement, though, as his free throw percentage went up from about 54 percent to almost 80 percent last season. Should that trend continue from more than just the charity stripe, then Hachimura should be a trendy pick to go in the lottery come draft time in 2019.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward is a great rebounder, has an unrelenting motor and is a pretty good athlete. These are all things that point to great potential and upside for NBA front offices. If he proves to be even only a decent shooter this season he will likely go shooting up draft boards and could really impress people, especially if the Zags go deep in March.
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