The college basketball regular season is coming to a close, and soon enough the madness will begin. Over the last few months, freshman stars like Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton and Trae Young have gained valuable experience playing against higher tier players, and have shown that they are more than ready to play at the highest level, the NBA. They have each dominated their respective conferences and all have legitimate cases to win player of the year, but who deserves to be drafted first overall?
DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
DeAndre Ayton has been an absolute monster for Arizona this year. The 7’1 freshman has averaged 20 points per game along with 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He has reached double figures in all but two games this year and has recorded 19 double-doubles. While the university and Ayton are currently dealing with a scandal surrounding a $100k bonus for him to sign with Arizona, his future looks set to make him much more than that. Ayton is a lock for a top three pick and will make an immediate impact in the NBA. His size and athleticism combined with his touch around the rim and potential to continue developing range make him a mouthwatering option to NBA GMs.
Luka Doncic, SF, Real Madrid
Luka Doncic is this year’s international gem. The Slovenian forward will be 19 tomorrow and has been playing professionally since 2015. With a LeBron-type skill-set, Doncic has averaged 16 points 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game playing in a top European league, all in just 25 minutes per night. He can score from anywhere on the court, but has room to improve his percentage from deep, again, similar to LeBron. Of all the young talent in this draft, Doncic should be able to transition the smoothest to the NBA. His experience against grown men in Europe makes him another player that will be a difference maker from opening night onwards. The world may not know his name yet, but Doncic will be a star in this league soon enough.
Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke
Bagley was the top recruit in the nation last year and has backed it up on the court all season long. The 6’11 forward has limitless offensive game, shooting 60% from the field and a solid 35% clip from three, albeit on limited attempts. Like Ayton, Bagley is a walking double-double. His 21 points and 11 rebounds per game come seemingly effortlessly, and playing on Duke’s loaded roster perhaps makes it even more impressive. While scouts may worry about his defense, that can always be trained and taught, and Bagley has the body to be a defensive force. His size and wingspan alone is enough to deter opponents from trying to attack the rim, and with the help of the best coaching minds in basketball Bagley will be more than capable of defending at a high level. If he can continue to explode over the course of a tournament run from Duke, Bagley may do enough to earn himself the honor of being drafted number one.
Michael Porter Jr, SF, Missouri
You may be wondering, who is Michael Porter Jr, why haven’t I heard of him? That is because Porter underwent back surgery and has played just two minutes in his freshman season for the Tigers. He is a combo forward who can handle the ball at 6’10 and while scouts may worry about injuries, if he is able to stay healthy going forwards Porter is sure to be a star. He was the number two recruit behind Bagley entering this season but unless he returns for postseason play, draft scouts will have to weigh his potential against his injuries. I’d side with his potential, and if you disagree maybe give him a Google to check out some tapes.
Jaren Jackson Jr, PF, Michigan State
Jackson may have the least eye-popping stats of these prospects upon first glance, but there are numbers there that tell a deeper story. The 6’11 freshman averages 12 points and 6 rebounds per game for the Spartans while sophomore Miles Bridges boasts better statlines. Nonetheless, Jackson is the higher ranked prospect of the two because of his potential. He shoots 54% from the field and a ridiculous 43% from three, and averages over three blocks in just 22 minutes per night. The 19 year old will undoubtedly be a lottery selection this summer, but with a big postseason can he make the jump up the draft boards and go number one?
Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
This year’s darling of college basketball has drawn Steph Curry comparisons for months now. With limitless range and absurd court vision, Trae Young may be the toughest player to defend on the perimeter in the NCAA. While he and Oklahoma are currently going through a tough slump, there is already more than enough evidence built up to lock Young in as a lottery pick. He leads division one in scoring and assists with 28 and 9 per game and has had some eye-popping individual performances. The only downfalls to Young are his size and athleticism. Young is listed as 6’2 but is likely more like 6’ tall, and he is not a big dunker by any means. What he lacks in size and strength though, he makes up in craftiness. As defenses have honed in on him over the year, Young continues to find ways to create for his teammates or find spots to get off his shot. He likely will not go first overall, but do not be surprised if in a few years we look back and say maybe he should have.