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NBA AM: Ranking the Top Young Cores

Which NBA teams have assembled the best young cores? Ben Dowsett ranks the league’s up-and-coming squads.

Ben Dowsett

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Part of the mass appeal of the NBA is its cyclical nature. The postseason begins in a couple weeks, showcasing the league’s elite, but the calendar year has hardly stopped for the 14 teams on the outside looking in. Eliminated teams become free to make personnel moves even as the playoffs wear on, and the ever-vital NBA Draft takes place just days after a champion is finally crowned. Before anyone knows it, eyes will once again be looking ahead to the future.

With that in mind, before we reach playoff time, here’s a nod to the franchises – a few of whom will still be playing in late April – who have put themselves in the best position for sustained runs over the next half-decade or more. Let’s take a look at the top young cores in the NBA.

Our list will stop at five, meaning many potentially qualified situations will be left out. A brief look at some of those who didn’t make the cut (others weren’t even quite worthy of a runner-up list, including groups like Brooklyn and Phoenix who are incredibly devoid of overall future assets).

Honorable Mentions

New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis’ presence alone likely would have qualified the Pels for a top-five spot in these rankings a year ago, but a campaign from hell has set the franchise back. Davis is shut down for the year, trying to finally catch up with maladies plaguing him for years, and New Orleans has been so thoroughly decimated by injuries that assessing them realistically is virtually impossible. Jrue Holiday, another clearly injury-prone player, is their only other young-ish piece with a positive outlook if he can stay on the court, and while Davis’ potential still gets them in the conversation, the prospects are much bleaker than they once looked.

Orlando Magic: The right guys making leaps could easily see the Magic threaten for a spot in the top five on this list next season. In Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja and Elfrid Payton, Orlando has a deep core that will have a chance to blossom together. None is quite a blue-chip superstar in the making, but all five have significant potential, with Gordon and Hezonja’s ceilings still mostly untapped and potentially very high.

Los Angeles Lakers: Putting aside ludicrous team turmoil, the Lakers do have a solid core including D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr. A completely untenable organizational situation could shake things up in a hurry, and even if not, Los Angeles will need to add at least one more name to compete with the big boys in terms of core potential.

Philadelphia 76ers: The league’s most rampant tanking has yielded a number of high picks, but only lukewarm results. It’s tough to gauge whether any members of the current roster outside Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid are truly part of the long-term core, and each of these guys has their own set of questions. Overseas star Dario Saric may or may not be in the NBA soon. The 76ers have a war chest of picks still upcoming, but until these turn into actual prospects with bright futures, they can’t crack the top five.

New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis is a great start, but they have a long way to go. Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway might be the only other worthwhile future pieces on the current team, and neither is exactly blowing anyone away. Whether the Knicks will have the patience to rebuild fully remains to be seen.

Boston Celtics: There’s a temptation to put Boston on the list due to their unmatched stockpile of picks and movable contracts, but this doesn’t really qualify as a “core.” Boston absolutely could acquire a young centerpiece with their assets, but until that time they don’t really qualify. They could just as easily use those picks to add a veteran and speed up their rebuild. With that said, this is a very good team with a terrific head coach in Brad Stevens (as I recently wrote).

Alright, onto the true contenders.

  1. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are in something of an interesting place. Their young core is supplemented by three guys in Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried who don’t really fit within the same age timeline, but also have clearly defined roles on the current team. It’s tough to imagine more than one of them playing a major role when this group is truly contending, though, so we’ll consider their young foundation separately.

They’re not exactly lacking in that department, to be fair. Savvy drafting and a bit of trade poaching have put GM Tim Connelly in a fantastic position, with pieces at nearly every position: Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay and sophomore Gary Harris in the backcourt, Will Barton (sneakily obtained in the Arron Afflalo trade that also netted Denver a first-round pick) as a swingman of sorts, and a triumvirate of talented young bigs in Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne. The Nuggets lack that superstar, yes, and it feels unlikely any of these names outside perhaps Mudiay could reach that perch, but they have capable, high-ceiling guys up and down the roster.

They don’t get credit for it for the same reasons as Boston and Philly, but the Nuggets are also incredibly well-positioned draft-wise on top of an already-impressive collection of talent. Denver is a favorite to be in possession of three first-round picks in the 2016 draft as of this writing: Their own (which they have the right to swap with the Knicks, if New York’s is more favorable), Portland’s (will convey unless the Blazers tumble out of the playoffs, which is highly unlikely) and Houston’s (again, assuming the Rockets don’t miss the playoffs).

They’re unlikely to grab a fourth that was possible earlier in the season – a Memphis first-rounder, but that pick becomes only top-five protected in 2017 and 2018, making it possible the Nuggets are owed yet another lottery pick in the near future. They don’t owe anyone a single first-round pick moving forward, and their flexibility might top any team in the league outside of Boston.

They still have to capitalize on that potential, but they have a strong group already in place even if things don’t go perfectly. This could be the last year the Nuggets rank even this low on this list.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers have a similarly deep collection of young talent. Mason Plumlee, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh are all in their third NBA season or earlier, each with varying degrees of potential still left.

Where they differ from the Nuggets, though, is in top-end talent. The combination of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as core foundational pieces separates Portland from other groups that have similar depth but lack the star power. Even if a couple of the supplementary pieces don’t quite pan out, the Blazers have the cushion of two elite shooters and playmakers to fall back on.

The Blazers also have a ton of cap space available and are a sneakily desirable destination, meaning they could make the leap from up-and-comers to true contenders in a big hurry with one or two signings this summer or thereafter. Their pick situation isn’t as robust as Denver’s, but they don’t owe any further first-rounders after likely sending this year’s mid-teens pick to the Nuggets. This team has made more noise than nearly anyone expected this season, and will be primed to take yet another big step next year if they have a productive summer.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

We’re likely picking nits from spots two to four, but the Bucks take the middle spot among this group. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker aren’t quite the sure thing Lillard is in Portland, but both are far younger with very high ceilings. Khris Middleton remains only 24 and locked into a long-term deal. John Henson and Michael Carter-Williams both likely have their best years ahead of them, and who knows what rookie Rashad Vaughn, just 19, could turn into.

Ceiling-obsessed folks could easily make a case for placing the Bucks behind only Minnesota for long-term outlook – if Giannis and Jabari check all their boxes, Middleton stays consistent and the rest of the roster fills out, this has the potential of a dominant future core. Both are still very raw at this point, though, and we all know the pitfalls of assuming development in particular areas before it actually takes place.

The 2016-17 season will be huge for parsing out exactly where the Bucks fit on this list for the long run. Antetokounmpo has made large strides this year, but still has work to do as the leader of an offense and the pressure will be on the group as a whole to get back to the postseason after a strange down year.

  1. Utah Jazz

Some might argue Utah’s true ceiling is lower than both of the previous two teams (more on this in a moment), but even if they’re right, what the Jazz have already accomplished combined with a still-growing foundation gets them the nod. The Jazz seem likely to make the 2016 playoffs despite an untimely rash of injuries to multiple starters, and better yet are doing so while fueled entirely by virtually the exact core they expect to compete with in the future.

In Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, Utah holds a three-man group clearly capable of competing at a playoff level already – and all 25 or younger. Rodney Hood, Alec Burks and Shelvin Mack have yet to reach 26 years old as well, with plenty of team control in the former two cases. And that doesn’t even count perhaps the team’s two highest-leverage pieces: Rookie Trey Lyles and injured sophomore Dante Exum.

These latter two make any conversation about ceilings interesting when comparing the Jazz alongside their rivals on this list. Exum might have the widest outcome range of any player named in this piece; his floor might not even be a backup point guard, while a true ceiling could see him among the game’s most valuable two-way guards – particularly defensively. Lyles is the exact sort of playmaking four the league is falling quickly in love with, a guy who could define the team’s flexibility between small and big lineups if he develops in the right ways (he’s already a bona fide stretch big at 20 years old).

Tack those two onto what the team already has going for them, and their best possible outcomes suddenly start to compare favorably with others above. A starting five of Exum-Hood-Hayward-Favors-Gobert was already succeeding last season. If supplemented by solid development from guys like Lyles, Burks and Mack, plus perhaps one or two savvy signings, why couldn’t this group reach huge heights? Like both teams directly behind them, the 2016-17 season will be a make-or-break year for their prospects.

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The top spot is far and away the easiest on this list. The Wolves, stocked with the most exciting prospect in nearly a half decade and a reasonably impressive group behind him, stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league for future potential.

Karl-Anthony Towns drives the wagon, of course. The first overall pick in 2015 is arguably already one of the top 25 players in the entire league, and is likely the most untradeable asset under 26 the league has seen in quite some time. His otherworldly skill set will make him a good fit with virtually any combination of players the Wolves place around him, making their drafting situation moving forward as simple as finding the best players available. He’s the only guy mentioned in this list (outside Davis in honorable mention) who could win multiple MVP awards without league-wide shock.

Opinions vary on the rest of the core, but even the lowest possible estimations are still carried over the finish line by Towns’ vast potential. Andrew Wiggins, 21, has been disappointing in some areas and hopeful in others; he at least can be a high-quality second or third option. Zach LaVine has made some real strides near the end of this season, with so much physical talent still left to harness. Whether Ricky Rubio still counts as part of the core probably depends on who you talk to, as does his value. Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng may not be sure-thing future pieces, but are developing well enough to stay in supporting roles if the chips fall correctly. Should Rubio end up elsewhere, the Wolves have Tyus Jones in place to man the point.

Even if a few of these pieces disappoint in the long run, Towns coming anywhere remotely close to his ceiling makes this team an automatic contender once he enters his prime. They’ll add another high lottery pick this upcoming draft, and don’t owe any major picks of their own. Rivals out West had better hope they don’t strike gold in the 2016 draft. Towns and the rest of this core paired with another true blue-chip guy would make Minnesota even more terrifying. The sky seems the limit for this group.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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