It’s Getting Drafty In Here: NBA Prospects Who Have Impressed So Far

There’s a little danger in looking ahead to the NBA Draft a little too soon. Here’s what ESPN’s Chad Ford had to say about D’Angelo Russell on November 6, 2014 (and no, it doesn’t look like Chad went back and edited this one like he’s been accused of).

A number of scouts think Russell could be a sleeper in this draft. Although he was ranked No. 13 overall in the ESPN 100 as a high school senior, he was the top-ranked shooting guard, and he’s starting on a team in desperate need of scoring. Russell has the talent to live up to the hype. He has deep range on his jumper, and has the floor vision and passing skills to play some point. He needs to get stronger, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the lottery by midseason if he takes over this Buckeyes squad.

There’s a pretty big jump from “wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the lottery” to where Russell landed, the second overall pick. If you learned midseason last year that a team would select Russell with Jahlil Okafor on the board, you’d either say “Well the Sixers do have too many big men…” or “Oh no, why did they do that?”.

That’s not to say Russell didn’t earn it. He proved himself to be worthy of a top 3 selection, beginning as early as last holiday season.

Drawing conclusions about a player from a third of a season is dangerous, unless done carefully and with the right frame of reference. So let’s do that. Here’s the guys who have shown the flashes early on to help them climb draft boards before next June.

(Quick sidenote: I chose not to cover the top two prospects in next summer’s draft, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. A lot has been written and said about both, much of it from me. I’m still waiting to see both in the rigors of conference play, but for now Simmons looks really good and Ingram looks almost as good. But for now, let’s focus on some of the lesser talked about prospects, who you should be watching more of.)

Jakob Poeltl

Utah, Center

First things first: Jakob is “YA-cub” and Poeltl rhymes with “turtle”.

With that out of the way, Poeltl has been a monster on the block for the Utes this season. He gained a reported 30 pounds over the summer, but it hasn’t slowed him down at all. All of his perfectly polished post moves still look quicker than they should for a guy Poeltl’s size, and he’s capable of finishing with some explosion:

I was among the contingent that thought Poeltl would have some difficulty assimilating to life without point guard extraordinaire Delon Wright. That hasn’t been the case:

poeltl utahIn only a modest uptick in minutes, he’s nearly doubled his scoring and increased his blocks, assists, and rebounds. That absurd 71% shooting leads the nation, and he’s doing it on almost 10 shots per game.

The most impressive thing about Poeltl may be his defense. He’s protecting the rim, blocking shots, and for the most part, doing so without fouling. Against Duke, he came up with a set of crucial blocks that helped Utah to the win. In that game, Poeltl was unstoppable, notching 19 points and 14 rebounds in 28 minutes.

The ability to play both sides of the floor at a high level, and the agility to change ends faster than most bigs his size, makes Poeltl such an exciting prospect at the next level.

His offensive rating this season: 133.3.

His defensive rating: 93.4.

If you aren’t familiar with those stats, let me tell you, those are both reaaaally good.

Kris Dunn

Providence, Guard

Dunn has been an absolute killer so far for the Friars this season. He’s looked like Dwyane Wade, but with point guard skills and court vision. Not a dash or sprinkle of court vision, like, next level, A+ passing. His assist rate leads the nation at 49.4 percent, meaning when Dunn is on the floor, if one of his teammates’ scores, it’s a coin flip as to whether or not Dunn assisted on the bucket.

via Winslow Townson (USA TODAY Sports Images)
via Winslow Townson (USA TODAY Sports Images)

He also happens to be 2nd in the nation in steal percentage, swiping the ball on 6 percent of his defensive possessions. That leads all Big East players, with no other player above 4 percent. 2nd place JaJuan Johnson (3.96%) is as close to Dunn as he is to 31st place, Phil Booth. Translation: KRIS DUNN IS REALLY GOOD AT STEALING THE BALL FROM OTHER TEAMS. (Loyal Shane McNichol readers will note that I already quoted an abridged version of these stats in my latest Rush the Court post, but the gap has grown and gotten even more impressive. I’ll probably keep tabs on it all season.)

The key with NBA prospects is how they play against top competition. Providence’s schedule hasn’t been too strong yet, with only two games against the KenPom top 50. Here’s how Dunn fared in those contests:

Arizona: 19 points on 7-9 FG, 8 assists, 2 steals

Michigan State (while battling a stomach flu): 21 points, 7 assists.

He’ll get some more chances soon with Villanova, Butler, and Xavier all on the docket twice for the Friars.

Jamal Murray

Kentucky, Guard

Some people have started to sour on the once highly heralded recruit. He leads the SEC in turnovers, but he’s a freshman who’s played a top 100 schedule thus far. It’s something to keep an eye on, but let’s be serious. He’s 18 years old and scoring 17 per game.

Oh, and he can do this:

Murray’s not only playing and a new level in a new system like every other freshman, but he’s playing with two other point guards on a regular basis. Until the Wildcats can figure that situation out, there will be some bumps in the road. The important thing is watching the skills Murray has and is developing for the NBA.

Jaylen Brown

California, Guard/Forward

jay brown

You know how car companies just update their models for the new year and some people will just trade in a 2012 Altima for a 2015 Altima? Draft prospects can feel the same way sometimes.

Stanley Johnson was the 2015 model.

Jaylen Brown is the 2016 model.

(Justise Winslow was the 2015 special luxury edition…I’ll admit, the haircut is a small part of it).

“Hey wow it’s still super athletic, plays great defense, and can get to the rim! I mean, it still can’t shoot, but that’s ok, look at that athleticism!”

And yes, the features change from year to year. Brown can get his own shot easier, while Johnson’s jumper was more developed. It also helped that Johnson got to play with veterans like Rhondae Hollis-Jefferson, TJ McConnell, Jed York, and Brandon Ashley. Cal is a mismash of talent and chaos that makes evaluating Brown even more difficult. Like Murray, when watching Cal, look for what Brown can and cannot do at this level, despite the situation around him.

**

Header Image via Julie Jacobson/AP.

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

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