Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress keeps tabs on the key prospects and storylines shaping the NBA draft.
Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
Point guard/shooting guard/small forward
Although not yet old enough to be draft-eligible until 2018, NBA personnel have been making the trek to Madrid to watch one of the biggest phenoms to emerge in European basketball in quite some time.
Doncic showed how far ahead of his age group he is this week by scoring 17 points in 19 minutes on just six field-goal attempts in a Euroleague win against Milan. Eyebrows were raised when Real Madrid paid a significant buyout in 2012 to secure the rights of the then-12-year-old Doncic from his Slovenian team, but it apparently knew what it was doing.
Only one other 17-year-old in Euroleague history (dating to 2000) was able to secure a rotation spot at such a young age: Ricky Rubio in 2007. Doncic is blowing Rubio’s production out of the water thus far, thanks to his superior size, frame, perimeter shooting ability and equally impressive feel for the game. While it’s easy to fall in love with Doncic’s ball-handling, creativity, ability to play all three backcourt positions, and the confidence at a young age, it was a pair of spectacular blocks, showing unexpected timing and quickness off his feet, that left the strongest impression against Milan.
Doncic is making a strong case to be considered the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, and it will be interesting to see what kind of improvement he makes next year for Real Madrid in the ACB and Euroleague.
Josh Jackson, Kansas
NBA general managers flocked to Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday to watch a rare non-conference late-January game between two of the most talented teams in college basketball. Despite Kentucky starting five McDonald’s All-Americans, it was Jackson – the Jayhawks’ lone McDonald’s All-American – who stole the show in the 79-73 Jayhawks victory with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals.
One of the things NBA personnel like about Jackson is his fearlessness. He was in attack mode all game against Kentucky, making plays defensively and on the glass, while also demonstrating an extremely high basketball IQ by creating for his teammates. His jumper is hardly a thing of beauty, but he’s been finding a way to make shots lately, hitting eight of his last 14 3-point attempts and bringing his 3-point percentage up to 33 percent.
Although it’s difficult to project Jackson as the sort of go-to scoring presence a franchise might want from a top-three pick – he also turns 20 next week, which makes him much older than most freshmen in this class – he does so many different things that NBA front offices are beginning to view him as an Andre Iguodala-type who helps win games with his versatility and competitiveness.
John Collins, Wake Forest
The ACC is the most loaded conference in college basketball, with seven teams in the latest AP Top 25 and nine prospects ranked in the first round of the DraftExpress mock draft.
Despite the conference having numerous big-name upperclassmen and McDonald’s All-Americans, the most prolific scorer (at 28 points per 40 minutes) and most productive player (34.3 player efficiency rating) is the unheralded 19-year-old big man.
Collins has proven to be nearly unguardable lately, racking up 91 points in 108 minutes over his last four games while shooting 72 percent from the floor. The only thing holding him back has been his inability to stay out of foul trouble, which proved costly in narrow losses to Syracuse and Duke last week.
Collins has to work on his defensive fundamentals, ability to guard pick-and-rolls, and passing ability, but it’s difficult to find a player his size with excellent hands, touch, footwork and scoring instincts. He turned 19 in September and is one of the youngest sophomores in college basketball – younger even than many freshmen projected to get drafted.
To maximize his draft stock, Collins will need to show his production can translate into wins. Wake Forest is just 3-6 in ACC play and will struggle to make the NCAA Tournament if it don’t turn things around quickly, which could force Collins to consider waiting for the 2018 NBA draft.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Louisville won its last two ACC games by a combined 80 points, thanks in large part to 57 total points from Mitchell.
With starting point guard Quentin Snider out with a hip injury, NBA scouts have been able to see Mitchell play with the ball in his hands, and the results have been encouraging. He’s looked very unselfish making the extra pass and getting others involved off the pick-and-roll, and his jump shot has been falling more consistently (12-of-18 on 3-pointers the last two games).
The appeal with Mitchell is easy to see: He’s a superior athlete with an NBA frame, and he has long arms, lockdown defensive potential and outstanding intangibles off the floor. Improving his playmaking and perimeter shooting were the biggest keys to rising as a prospect, and he has a great chance to cement himself as a first-round pick in this year’s draft.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier
6-5, redshirt sophomore
On Sunday evening, Sumner was gliding all over the Madison Square Garden floor during a win over St. John’s, getting to wherever he wanted on the floor. Unfortunately, a strong drive and awkward landing caused Sumner to tear the ACL in his left knee, ending his season and likely any hopes of being drafted in the first round this year.
Sumner was in the midst of an up-and-down season, being hampered by a nagging shoulder injury, an inconsistent jump shot and rough decision-making skills. While his production was often lagging behind his talent level in his third year of college, it was assumed that a strong showing in pre-draft workouts could have cemented him as a first-round prospect in what appears to be a loaded point-guard class. Sumner’s injury will likely force him to return to school, unless he’s content being a second-round pick and two-way contract player rehabbing in the NBA Development League.
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