As the start to college hoops draws nearer, I am going to breakdown some of the key NBA Draft prospects to keep an eye on throughout the season. Instead of doing the traditional five positions, players will be grouped into one of these four categories: lead guard, wing, forward and center.
Positionless basketball is now being implemented at every level and it is time we stopped looking at things through a dated lens. Even though this upcoming draft is not garnering the buzz last year’s did, there are quite a few prospects to get excited about.
To kick things off, here are some of the top lead guards to keep an eye on throughout the season. These are not necessarily the best guard prospects and they are certainly not ranked in order, but they are guys that I will be focusing on to start the year. Even though the wings are receiving the most attention, this group can be polarizing and produce some marquee players at the next level.
Quentin Grimes – Kansas Jayhawks – Freshman – 6-foot-5 – 200lbs
Grimes comes in as a heralded recruit from Texas and looks to be someone the Phog Allen faithful will remember for a long time. He is a fearless scorer with the ability to create shots for himself at a high level.
He gets separation because of his tremendous ability to handle the ball. Once he has separation, he gets inside the lane with ease because of his great positional size and body control. Grimes is crafty in finding ways to score and angles to attack a defense.
Quentin has also shown flashes to make plays for others and shoot the ball off the bounce. Among scouts, Grimes’ shooting and passing ability are the skills they will be keeping a close eye on. Defensively, he is big enough to guard wings and quick enough to guard faster guards, providing versatility.
While he has not shown a consistent jump shot, I am buying his ability to improve throughout the season. Grimes could be considered a wing prospect, and will likely spend time off the ball this season with the Jayhawks adding Charlie Brown and Devon Dotson, but his flashes of creativity and scoring off the dribble lead me to believe he can carry the burden of playing lead guard at the next level.
Kansas’ roster does not have many holes and Grimes could be a crucial factor for them to remain atop the Big 12.
Darius Garland – Vanderbilt Commodores – Freshman – 6-foot-3 – 170lbs
The Vanderbilt freshman sharpshooter is an intriguing prospect. He is a high level shooter with smooth mechanics while pulling up or shooting from a stand still.
Garland lacks ideal strength and size for an NBA guard, but he compensates by being crafty with a more refined skill set than most his age. Darius is smooth and in control because of his innate ‘feel’ for the game. The concerns come in when evaluating Garland because of his slight frame and lack of resistance to stronger or bigger opponents on the defensive end.
His frame also does not project for sustained success while attempting to finish in traffic or around the rim. Nevertheless, Garland’s advanced shooting and IQ make him a player who will prove critics wrong with his performances throughout the season. Garland won’t experience usage like Trae Young did at Oklahoma, but his ability to run an offense similarly to Young will be on display in Nashville.
Ashton Hagans – Kentucky Wildcats – Freshman – 6-foot-3 – 180lbs
Hagans is a younger player in this group because of his decision to reclassify and join Coach Cal’s loaded 2018 class. Ashton will split time with a few other players in Kentucky’s backcourt, especially running point, because of the surprising return of Quade Green, who was rumored to be considering a transfer.
Hagans is a dynamic athlete with the ability to get past initial defenders and get to the rim. He is also a blur in transition and can be deadly while surrounded by other high level athletes in Lexington. Hagans projects to be a good defensive prospect because of his athleticism and desire to play hard. Those are not the only things that make a good defender, but it is certainly a good base to build upon.
While he does not have a polished offensive arsenal like the aforementioned Garland, he does have the size and athleticism of an NBA guard. Hagans will rise through the rankings if he shows the ability to consistently knock down shots and get his teammates involved this season.
Carsen Edwards – Purdue Boilermakers – Junior – 6-foot – 200lbs
Carsen is such a fascinating NBA prospect. He is often looked at as just a great college player because of his size, but he will most assuredly find a role in the NBA because of how dynamic he is. Standing only 6-foot tall is not ideal for his transition to the next level, but he more than makes up for his physical limitations with how big he plays.
Edwards is not scared of any one, or any shot, at any time. Edwards is strong and has very good functional athleticism. With the ball, he can be explosive and create separation to set up his pull up jump shot with a quick release. He is a very good shooter, boasting above 40% last season on over 6 attempts per contest. Last year, he was asked to play off the ball and was the only guy Purdue could give the ball to in hopes of scoring an isolation basket.
With almost all of Purdue’s offensive production graduating from the program, Edwards will be the point of emphasis for opposing defenses. Going forward, Carsen would benefit by improving his finishing ability around the rim, adding a consistent floater, getting his teammates open looks, and being ultra-competitive on the defensive end.
Edwards does not have a ton of defensive versatility, but he is able to use his strength and quickness to help contain opposing point guards.
Luke-warm take: IF Purdue can have enough success as a team, Edwards will be on the shortlist for National Player of the Year.
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State Cylones – Sophomore – 6-foot-2 – 188lbs
Iowa State is counting on returning to form this season and the key cog in making that happen will be sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton.
Wigginton shot 40.1% from three on 5.5 attempts per game last year, proving he is a capable shot maker. Lindell is much better shooting off the catch compared to pulling up at this point, but he is able to gain separation for himself consistently and showcased his athleticism inside the lane.
A concern moving forward is his shooting percentage inside the arc, which was only slightly above 42% a season ago. Overall, I see a strong, athletic guard that packs a scoring punch who would benefit from improving upon his 2.8 assists per game mark from a year ago.
Lindell will have to improve his efficiency, but the tools are there for a player hoping to one day contribute to an NBA team.
Ja Morant – Murray State – Sophomore – 6-foot-3 – 175lbs
Morant is a prospect most people are unaware of, but that will likely change this season. He is a serious athlete who excels in an area most guards on this list do not, and that is finishing in traffic. Morant’s athleticism allows him to get past defenders and rise above taller ones to finish inside the lane.
The youngster also affects the game by being a great rebounder and passer, boasting over 6 assists and 6 rebounds per game a season ago. Although he does not play against premier competition night in and night out, Ja will have an opportunity to improve his draft stock once again as he becomes more of a focal point in the Racers offense with the departure of Jonathan Stark.
This list is not necessarily indicative of the top lead guard prospects at this juncture, but it is a group that will receive a lot of attention throughout the year, and could be divisive prospects come draft day.
Other names to watch out for as we near November 6th include: Coby White (North Carolina), Ky Bowman (Boston College), Devon Dotson (Kansas), D’Marcus Simonds (Georgia State), Jaylen Hands (UCLA) and Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s).
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