We’re a little over halfway through both the 2019-2020 NBA and NCAA seasons, and with that milestone hit, an update on the NBA’s next talent infusion seems in order. This will be a far briefer breakdown than either my preseason or final offerings, so for thorough reports on many of the players listed, revisit my preseason board here.
Coming into this college season, my impression of the 2020 class was rather negative, and three months of basketball have only magnified that. My top two prospects from the preseason, Anthony Edwards and Cole Anthony, have underwhelmed as the anchors of the class. While Edwards retains the #1 spot on my board, my view of the Georgia guard is as a comfortably below average #1 pick as opposed to a more positive stance coming into the year.
Otherwise, the season has confirmed my expectations of a class rich in initiator and wing depth, representing a strong opportunity for good teams aiming to shore up their rotations with cost-controlled pieces. But on the whole, the class is dull and uninspiring, often leaving me with no choice but to watch high school film to satisfy my itch for superstar prospects.
With that said, let’s take a quick look at some notable risers and fallers:
Cole Anthony: Faller
Right now, Cole Anthony is the toughest and most consequential eval in the class. Coming into the year, he seemed the favorite to be the #1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, and probably an average to slightly above average one at that, but the nine games the freshman guard played for UNC before having surgery on a torn meniscus were disastrous.
Anthony’s typical decision-making issues cropped up. He had moments of brilliance as a team defender, but was still far too prone to off-ball lapses and issues with containment on-ball. Most concerning, however, was Anthony’s complete lack of burst:
What I wrote about Cole Anthony's burst before the season: "I actually consider this to be a relative weak point for Cole." Getting close to upgrading that to a major weakness pic.twitter.com/vnhj6EHnh3— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) November 30, 2019
Now, Anthony did play on a torn meniscus, but his burst has always been a concern for me, and it massively underwhelmed in early-season games before the injury, too. In his nine games, Anthony attempted shots at the rim on just 17.9% of his half court possessions and scored 0.571 points per possession, good for 2nd percentile among all players in college basketball, per Synergy.
Yet, Anthony showcased some of what made him a special prospect coming into the year:
Cole Anthony struggled immensely to start his UNC career, but his pull-up game was still outlier good pic.twitter.com/ddPKwayxpi— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) December 31, 2019
While so much of his game seemingly deserted him, Anthony’s pull-up game never did, as he posted 1.0 PPP on half court pull-ups (85th percentile), per Synergy.
Anthony is slated to return from injury soon, and his performance down the stretch is doubtlessly the most important data left to be collected on the 2020 draft. If Anthony can prove the burst concerns are overstated, his pre-college rim frequency and efficiency return, his decision-making impresses (though he deserves slack here due to a truly horrid supporting cast), he could quickly re-emerge as the no-doubt #1 prospect in the class.
Killian Hayes: Riser
Prior to this season, I was deeply concerned about Killian Hayes as a defender and self-creator. I still harbor doubts about Hayes’s viability creating in late-clock situations—his burst is nonexistent, he generally plays very upright, and his handle is not deceptive or controlled enough to compensate—but he’s also an excellent basketball player with serious scalability.
Hayes was already an impactful team defender off the ball due to his size and intelligence, but he’s made enormous strides at the point of attack this season:
Tracked down an old compilation of Killian Hayes on-ball defense clips. First 55 seconds is last year with Cholet, rest is from the first Ulm game I've seen. Seems to have improved a ton. Much more balanced and in a stance, tighter around screens, more capable stopping abruptly pic.twitter.com/pzrPxVHdYP— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) December 20, 2019
He’ll actually get into a stance and slide now. His screen navigation has progressed from abysmal to notably good. Adding proficiency on the ball to his already exceptional team defense has elevated Hayes’s defensive projection from middling to arguably most compelling in the class among initiators.
Offensively, the big change for Hayes is shooting. Always an elite free throw shooter, he’s now taking a high volume of pull-up jumpers:
Another Killian Hayes stepback 3s. Last year, shot 15/51 on halfcourt pull-up jumpers in 35 games. At 25/61 in 23 games this year. The pull-up game coming around means everything for Hayes realizing his primary upside pic.twitter.com/JO7LzAA8Ef— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) December 20, 2019
Because of my qualms with Hayes as a self-creator and associated trepidation about his ability to compromise defenses enough to act on his sensational live dribble passing, I can’t quite buy into truly game-changing outcomes for him. However, I adore watching Hayes play and see him as a piece that should slide very nicely into various team constructs.
Patrick Williams: Riser
Off AAU film, my impression of Patrick Williams was remarkably unremarkable. I distinctly remember Williams as the highly regarded recruit I found most invisible. He wasn’t bad—there were plenty of those—he was just there. Boy, was I wrong.
Williams is now among my favorite players in the class. He’s enormous, strong, highly intelligent as a help defender, and flashes off-the-dribble shot-making and passing:
Patrick Williams side PnR, rises up over the contest for the mid-range make. Not high volume, but Williams is 12/21 on halfcourt pull-ups this year (1.19 PPP, 95th percentile) pic.twitter.com/jNhaAjh5Zx— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) January 20, 2020
Williams is a dominant help defender around the rim, where he can both contest with verticality and pick up highlight blocks—he’s sporting a 7% block rate on the season.
Questions certainly abound for Williams. His movement is really odd and clunky, which is problematic for perimeter containment but may also be a symptom of some muscle imbalance in his legs. While his free throw percentage is elite, and he flashes serious shot-making. His shot remains a major swing skill for Williams. He’s not perfect, but Williams is anything but unremarkable.
Oscar Tshiebwe: Faller
I still like Oscar Tshiebwe, but he’s disappointed in a couple key areas. Tshiebwe simply isn’t an overpowering vertical athlete, and he’s proven to be a distinctly below-the-rim player at West Virginia. He’s also been a total black hole, averaging 0.4 assists and 2.1 turnovers per contest.
It’s not fair to say Tshiebwe’s struggled defensively, because he’s still been quite good, but he hasn’t been as dominant as hoped:
Oscar Tshiebwe displaying his mobility, but the jumpiness that's plagued him all game finally comes back to bite him pic.twitter.com/ryCjYw021L— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) January 11, 2020
Oscar Tshiebwe deters Dotson's drive, recovers, takes the lane away from Garrett, then pins the eventual shot and secures the board pic.twitter.com/HkQIFJaln3— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) January 5, 2020
Oscar remains so high for me on account of that mobility. He’s this hulking brute, a truly dominant rebounder, but he’s outlier agile. He can slide, change directions, run at warp speed in a straight line. At this point, it’s hard to see offense ever being anything but a negative for Tshiebwe, but his work on the glass in conjunction with imposing interior defense and outlier mobility continues to be an attractive package.
Matthew Hurt: Faller
Matthew Hurt playing college basketball is essentially an interpretative dance in which the bigger, stronger bullies shove the scrawny nerd in a locker. He’s manhandled on the glass, neutralized as an interior defender, and bumped off his spots when trying to do anything but shoot catch jumpers.
Intelligence was not the only sell for Hurt as a defender, as he appeared exceptionally mobile at lower levels, too. Unfortunately, I think his lateral mobility is worse than expected, which is a real problem given his lack of length for recovery. Nonetheless, Hurt has the intelligence to make plays as a help defender:
Happy to see Matthew Hurt making an impact early on defense here, awesome awareness rotating down for the big block: pic.twitter.com/wUv5xfxZ99— Ben Pfeifer (@Ben_Pfeifer_) January 15, 2020
More importantly, Hurt’s shooting has been sensational this season. At 43.2% on 6.9 3-point attempts per 40 minutes and 77.3% from the free throw line, he’s more than fulfilling lofty expectations.
As we’ve increasingly seen college shooting specialists find success in the NBA, the appeal of a 6’9” sharpshooter with legitimate ancillary skills is considerable. If he comes out this year, returns on the early years of Hurt’s rookie contract may not be great, but he remains a worthwhile developmental piece, even if he’s not been the wing scorer I hoped.
DJ Carton: Riser
DJ Carton is incredibly shifty with excellent stop/start, strong, owns a distinct bounciness, is a deceptive passer, and impacts defensively at the point of attack and as a help defender:
Just a pretty creation sequence from DJ Carton. His stop/start and burst are impressive, and he has a fun bounciness to his game pic.twitter.com/kidwlErDlt— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) December 31, 2019
He’s not a non-shooter, but the effectiveness of Carton’s pull-up will most assuredly determine his fortunes as an NBA initiator. If a team thinks it can iron out Carton’s shot as he burns a year of his rookie deal in the G-League, he’d be a very worthwhile gamble.
I’ve mentioned this year’s initiator depth, and Carton is the best representation of the value proposition offered by that depth. Though the 2021 class is far, far superior to 2020, it is lacking in lead guard depth. Should Carton return to Ohio State for his sophomore season, it’s very easy to envision him rising well out of his current range. If a team is as enamored with him as I am, a promise in the late first to entice him to enter the draft could prove prescient.
Terrence Shannon Jr.: Riser
I have Terrence Shannon Jr. as Texas Tech’s second-best prospect after Jahmi’us Ramsey, but the margin between them is negligible. Shannon has nuclear hops, flashes fairly impressive passing reads, and makes monstrous plays as a help defender:
Nice dump off by Terrence Shannon pic.twitter.com/yfpjgl2iuA— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) December 13, 2019
Nice rim rotation by Terrence Shannon, but you see how left dominant he is. Everything is with the left pic.twitter.com/6l0kGiwY0e— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) December 14, 2019
Shannon seems highly unlikely to depart Texas Tech after just one season, but he could conceivably be a dribble-pass-shoot wing, and those are both cherished and not easy to come by in today’s NBA. Add to that some signs of creation chops, and you have a prospect who’s most certainly still flying under too many radars.