Every year there are a few players in college basketball who start the season relatively off the radar as NBA draft prospects who end up being taken in the first round of the NBA Draft, or at least end up in discussions. I like to have a little fun each preseason and look for guys who I think are ranked too low on most of the draft coverage and have the potential to emerge as legitimate draft prospects during the season.
Two years ago, I had Victor Oladipo and Tim Hardaway, Jr pegged as top 20 prospects going into the season when neither was ranked in the top 100 on any of the major draft sites. Last season I went deeper and picked out 7 players that weren’t in the top 50 in any of those sites that I thought all had the potential to be first rounders. I ended up hitting on 4 of the 7 with Rodney Hood, Nik Stauskas, KJ McDaniels, and Shabazz Napier all going in the first round, while whiffing badly on my other three, as Przemek Karnowski, AJ Hammons, and Olivier Hanlan all failed to breakout as prospects.
This is a fun exercise that I like to do, and it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. While I may pat myself on the back a bit when some of my projections turn out well (there was no bigger fan of Klay Thompson’s NBA potential in his sophomore and junior season than me), I understand that I’ll be wrong on many of these too (Matt Bouldin was a favorite of mine one year) .
With all of that being said, here are some of the returning college basketball players who I think have the potential to breakout as NBA draft prospects during the 2014-2015 season… and I wish I could’ve put RJ Hunter on here, who I was really high on last season, but it looks like everybody is onto him now.
*One thing to note is that I haven’t gotten a good enough look at the incoming freshman class yet (or most International guys) to come up with any overall prospect rankings. I’m only working off of the returning college players.
- Monte Morris, Iowa St – Morris is nowhere to be found on most draft lists. The sophomore was barely a top 100 recruit coming out of high school and played alongside DeAndre Kane last season, who was one of the top players in all of college basketball and did most of the creating for Iowa State from the guard spots, while Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang also got opportunities to exploit mismatches and make plays from the frontcourt spots. This season Morris should be handed the keys to the offense, and I think we’ll see how talented he really is. With a creative coach in Fred Hoiberg, and other offensive weapons in Niang and UNLV transfer Bryce DeJean Jones, Iowa State should be a very dangerous team and a lot of fun to watch, but it should all start with Morris. If you watched him closely last season, he showed that he has a really nice overall package for a point guard from a physical and skill standpoint. He’s 6′2″ with what appears to be solid length, and he has good jets with the ball and lateral quickness on the defensive end. On top of that, he knows how to change speeds, he has great vision and instincts, he takes care of the ball, and he can shoot fluidly off the catch or off the dribble with NBA range. For Morris, he’s going to get to play a much larger role than last season, and he has all of the opportunity to show that he’s ready for the challenge. It may seem like a ridiculous statement at this point with his current lack of draft buzz, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being the top point guard prospect in all of college basketball this season (though he won’t surpass Emmanuel Mudiay, who is playing professionally in China). I may turn out to be totally overdoing it here, but I really like Morris and think he’s poised for a breakout season.
- Jabari Bird, California – I’m not really sure what’s going on with the lack of love around Bird as a prospect. He was a highly touted recruit, he started off his freshman year strong, had some injury issues in middle, and he finished really strong in 3 NIT games, averaging almost 17 PPG on 19-29 from the field and 5-10 from 3-point range. Bird looks the part of an NBA wing at 6′6″ with smooth athleticism and a great looking shooting stroke. He knows how to create separation to get off his jumper, and he’s comfortable spotting up, running off screens, or shooting off the dribble. Sure, he could play harder on defense, take better shots, and make better decisions, but that should come in time, and he has all of the tools to project as an NBA rotation player on the wing, and possibly even a starter, depending on how he develops. I think he’s solidly a 2015 first rounder and one of the top returning prospects in all of college basketball. continue reading »