The McDonald’s All-American Game is a great way to get an early view at which players will be the top names in the NBA Draft pool about 18 months from now. A year ago, for example, the top names in the 2016 McDonald’s All-American Game included De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Markelle Fultz and, of course, Lonzo Ball. Not coincidentally, those six players are expected to be the first six players selected in this June’s draft. This really is a “Coming soon to NBA arenas near you” situation.
March Madness has told us everything we need to know about most of these players, but those who follow the year’s marquee high school exhibition can get an early look at these future superstars. ‘Tis better to enter the NCAA season knowing which players to watch than to enter it ignorant and blind, right?
So who are this year’s Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox? There are plenty of exciting young players in this year’s event, and since the festivities start on Monday with the POWERADE® Jam Fest, now is an excellent time to provide a primer laying out this year’s most thrilling young stars.
Michael Porter, Jr., SF, Missouri – We detailed Porter’s situation last week, though since then, both Porter and his father Michael Porter, Sr. have made it known that they’ll be spending their next 12 months at the University of Missouri. Porter, Sr. will work as an assistant coach under Cuonzo Martin, while the son will offer his elite talents to a Mizzou squad that isn’t typically considered a top destination for five-star recruits. Porter’s younger brother Jontay, currently a Class of 2018 prospect, could even reclassify and join him there, making the Tigers one of the more interesting teams to watch ahead of the 2017-2018 college season.
Porter is huge for a swingman at 6’10”, and that elite size combined with his inhuman 7’9” wingspan and ability to score from all over the floor, including from deep, makes him the kind of player NBA scouts already are drooling over. First, though, he’ll start his college career at Mizzou, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to shine there as the team’s best player by a mile.
Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona – This year’s other top prospect is Ayton, ranked #1 in the nation by both 247 Sports and Scouts.com, and it makes sense considering his combination of size of skills. At 7-foot-1, he’s the only seven-footer in ESPN’s Top 50 prospects, but he’s not your typical center. Ayton defends and hauls in rebounds like a typical center, but he’s incredibly athletic for his size and can shoot like a guard. He’s the quintessential “stretch five” in the Myles Turner mold, which helps explain why scouts are so excited about him. He doesn’t carry the narrative heft of Porter, but there’s a lot to be said for a no-nonsense big man who balls out without any of the accompanying drama. Hype is great, but so is good, old-fashioned blue collar balling.
Mohamed Bamba, C, Undecided – “Mo Bamba” is just one of those names that sounds like it’s destined for great things, if only because it’s impossible to forget. Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant also boasted oddly wonderful names that screamed for memorable careers, and Bamba has the same sort of vibe. Thankfully, it’s not all in the name. He’s pretty good, too, aided by his 6-foot-11 frame and 7-foot-8 wingspan. Bamba, who scored a 30 on his ACT, was this year’s SLAM High School Diary kid, and he’s almost as good a writer as he is a ball player. Cerebral and wiry, Bamba excels with more than just raw talent, which is a big part of what makes his star so bright. He hasn’t committed to a school yet, but has offers from some heavy hitters including Duke and Kentucky, among others. Wherever he ends up, he’ll be incredibly coachable and will block a metric ton of opposing players’ shots.
Wendell Carter, Jr., PF, Duke – Where last year’s elite high school players were guards, this year’s crop is more centered around big men, and Carter is yet another good one among them. Duke pretty clearly has needed a more assertive presence in the paint over the course of the last few seasons, and adding Carter immediately helps to remedy that. The 6-foot-10 big man is one of the rare high school prospects who already looks big enough and strong enough to play in the NBA. He and Bamba, for example, are essentially the same height, but Carter’s got 40 pounds of extra muscle on his body. He doesn’t have quite the range of a modern stretch four, but he’s got a mature arsenal of post moves and is great on the block with both hands. He may even still be growing, and he’s definitely still getting used to using his size, which means his best days are still in front of him.
Trevon Duval, PG, Undecided – This year’s top point guard prospect, Duval hasn’t yet decided where he’ll be playing next year, but it seems as though most expect him to join Carter at Duke. Arizona, Baylor, Kansas and Seton Hill still are in the mix, as well, but whoever lands this talented kid out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL is going to end up with 2017’s elite floor general. He’s exactly the kind of point guard that sees massive success in today’s NBA. He creates well for himself and gets to the rim fairly easily, and he’s already built like a pro player. Defensively, he’s also very good, which means his only real “weakness” is his pull-up jumpshot. That’s something players improve as they work their way up the ranks, however, so even that isn’t all that big a buzzkill. Knowing how much NBA teams value great playmaking guards these days, and considering how much Duval stands out in this recruiting class, he easily could find himself among the elite draft prospects in 2018.
Collin Sexton, SG, Alabama – In the state of Alabama, where there are no professional sports teams, it’s easy to get excited about the prospects of the University of Alabama’s football and basketball teams, all of which explains why the state is so excited about the eventuality of top-ten prospect Collin Sexton making his way to ‘Bama to hoop next season. At 6-foot-3, he’s a little undersized for a two-guard, but positional lines have blurred considerably in basketball over the course of the last few years and all that matters now is that Sexton is this year’s elite perimeter scorer. He’s the kind of kid who dropped 35+ points with relative consistency in high school and is expected to be just as special at the college level. He’s got to be one of the Vegas favorites to win the MVP of the McDonald’s exhibition, and he absolutely will garner the attention of pro scouts, despite his height.
Kevin Knox, SF, Undecided – While it’s never fun for high school players to head into All-American exhibition season without a college chosen—mostly because that’s literally all journalists seem to want to talk about when this is the case—Knox doesn’t have much choice considering his list of finalists and his particular skillset. This year’s Mr. Basketball in Florida is torn between a handful of schools, with both Duke and North Carolina at the top of his list. Considering he’d step in for Jayson Tatum at Duke or Justin Jackson at North Carolina, it makes sense for him to be sure one or both of those guys actually is heading to the NBA before making a decision. Whichever school gets Knox will end up with a fairly prototypical small forward, albeit one known for his work ethic and flexibility defensively. He’ll be great at either school and absolutely will be on NBA radars all next season.
There are 24 high school players slated to take part in the McDonald’s All-American festivities this week, but these are the most-hyped among them. If you want to head into next college season knowing exactly which future NBA players to keep your eyes on, this is a great place to start, just like Ball, Fultz and Fox proved themselves worthy of that attention a year ago.
The McDonald’s All-American Game will air this Tuesday at 7:00 pm ET on ESPN, so tune in to catch college basketball’s future stars, because they’re probably only a year-and-a-half away from being the NBA’s top draft prospects.
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