The college basketball season has passed the midway point. Conference play is in full swing, and March Madness is less than seven weeks away. It has been a crazy season so far, with no team establishing itself as the clear-cut favorite to win the NCAA championship, and at the same time, no player has established himself as the clear-cut favorite to be the top overall pick in the NBA Draft. In this article, I will discuss some of the prospects that have seen their stock dramatically change since the season began in early November.
Onyeka Okongwu (USC) – The 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward began the season just outside the top 100 on the Hoops Prospects Draft Board, but the freshman, who just turned 19 in December, has climbed all the way to 18th in our latest rankings. Okongwu has dominated around the basket this season, rebounding, blocking shots, and efficiently scoring on cuts, rolls, put-backs, and post-ups. So far this season, he has made 62.3 percent of his shots (14th in Division I), is averaging 17.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game (6th in Division I), and ranks at the 97th percentile for points per possession (1.15) in Division I. Okongwu has a way to go as a jump shooter, but has shown promise inside 17 feet and from the foul line (73 percent).
Isaac Okoro (Auburn) – No player has seen his stock rise as much as Okoro’s. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound freshman forward came to Auburn as the 36th ranked recruit in the RSCI Rankings, and he started the season outside the top 200 on the HP Draft Board. Now, he is our 21st ranked prospect, despite a lack of stellar statistics. Okoro is an all-around contributor, who plays with energy and excels on the defensive end. His excellent combination of athleticism, strength, and size allow him to effectively defend at multiple positions, which makes him extremely valuable at the next level. The 19-year-old is a superior one-on-one defender due to his ability to quickly change direction and stay in front of his man – he currently ranks at the 88th percentile for points allowed per possession in isolation. Offensively, he is far more effective going to the basket at this point, displaying the ability to finish with either hand and to power through contact. He has struggled as a jump shooter (25 percent from deep), but his mechanics do not appear to be broken, and he has flashed the ability to shoot off the bounce.
Cassius Stanley (Duke) – While Vernon Carey and Tre Jones are Duke’s two most valuable players this season, Stanley, a 6-foot-6 freshman, likely has the most pro potential of any Blue Devil. The 20-year-old wing has exceptional athleticism, and has produced on both ends of the court, ranking at the 89th percentile for points per possession (PPP) and ranking at the 84th percentile for PPP allowed. He currently has solid shooting splits (.503/.378/.721) and has shown the ability to score at all three levels. Down the stretch, he could solidify himself as a first-round pick if he can be more consistent scoring off the bounce.
Zeke Nnaji (Arizona) – Entering the season, Nnaji was not nearly as hyped as his fellow Wildcat freshmen, point guard Nico Mannion and wing Josh Green, but to date, the 6-foot-11 power forward has been Arizona’s most productive player. Nnaji is averaging 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, with excellent shooting splits (.653/.333/.793). He currently ranks 9th in Division I for field goal percentage, and ranks at the 97th percentile for points per possession. He does the vast majority of his scoring around the basket, but he has displayed promise as a standing jump shooter, making 44 percent of his shots. The biggest concerns are his lack of shot blocking (1.0 per game) and his poor assist-turnover ratio of 0.30.
Devin Vassell (Florida State) – In Coach Leonard Hamilton’s system, which typically involves using at least 10 players each game, it is not easy for any FSU player to stand out statistically, but Vassell’s freshman metrics were outstanding, landing him just outside the HP top 100 at the start of the season. Now, in the midst of a stellar sophomore season, the 6-foot-7 athletic wing is in position to be no worse than a second-round pick this June. He is a three-level scorer, who excels in transition and is also very good at creating his own shot. On the season, he is averaging 1.078 point per possession (93rd percentile) with shooting splits of .495/.391/.736. He also has an excellent assist-turnover ratio for a wing (1.94), and on the defensive end, he is averaging nearly four combined steals and blocks per 40 minutes.
Daniel Oturu (Minnesota) – Oturu had a fine freshman season, but this year, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound center has taken his game to another level, averaging 19.7 points, 11.3 rebounds (8th in Division I), and 2.6 blocks per game, with shooting splits of .588/.297/.682. He currently ranks second in the Big Ten with a PER of 30.2, which is nearly ten points higher than last season. He does most of his damage in the paint, but he has the ability to put the ball on the floor for more than one dribble. He also displays a solid shooting stroke, though he has made just 31.8 percent of his jumpers this season. One of the more encouraging aspects of Oturu’s game is his ability to defend on the perimeter. He has held up very well this season when defending jump shooters and isolation plays.
Abdoulaye N’doye (Cholet) – The 22-year-old French combo guard has been on the HP Draft Board for three years due to his athleticism, fluidity, size (6-foot-7), and wingspan (7-foot-3). However, it wasn’t until this season that he blossomed. Playing against high-level competition in the French Jeep Elite League, he is averaging 11.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per game, with excellent shooting splits (.534/.419/.761). N’doye will be automatically entered in the 2020 NBA Draft due to his age, and at worst, he appears to be a lock to be selected in the second round.
Jared Butler (Baylor) – Before the season, Butler appeared to be a year or two away from turning pro, but he has emerged as the best player on a Baylor team that is ranked No. 1 in the country. The 20-year-old sophomore is also in the running to be named the Big 12 Player of the Year. He currently ranks among the top 10 in the conference for 3-point percentage (.388), free-throw percentage (.843), points per game (15.8), steal percentage (2.9), and player efficiency rating (PER of 22.2). The 6-foot-3 point guard is a pesky defender, but he truly excels as a jump shooter, either spotting up or off the dribble. He’s especially dangerous when handling in the pick and roll, averaging 1.0 PPP (92nd percentile). Lacking great size, he sometimes struggles at the rim, and doesn’t offer much as a rebounder or shot blocker. However, the biggest concern may be his lackluster assist-turnover ratio of 1.36.
Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) – At 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, Tshiebwe has a Zion-like build, and he is very athletic for his size. He runs the floor very well and is vertically explosive. He is also extremely strong and difficult to budge in the paint. The sophomore power forward excels as rebounder, averaging 9.4 boards per game (2nd in the Big 12). He is also a highly efficient scorer, making 60.1 percent of his shots and averaging 1.062 points per possession (91st percentile). The majority of his baskets come around the rim via post-ups, put-backs, and transition finishes. The rest of his game is rather raw, and he would likely benefit from another year at West Virginia. Areas that he needs to work on include passing, outside shooting, moving without the ball, and defensive awareness/timing.
Payton Pritchard (Oregon) – During his four years at Oregon, Pritchard has transformed from a solid college player to a national Player of the Year candidate and a legitimate pro prospect. The senior point guard is averaging 19.7 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game, with shooting splits .481/.408/.789, and he recently became the first player in Pac-12 history to record 1,500 points, 600 assists, and 500 rebounds in a career. Pritchard can score at all three levels, create his own shot, and shoot off the bounce, and at the same time, he is an effective playmaker for others. He is at his best in the pick and roll, averaging 1.03 points per possession (93rd percentile), and when factoring in assists, he is averaging 1.38 points-plus-assists per possession (96th percentile). The 22-year-old does lack size (6-foot-2) and is not a great defender, but he is a proven winner and floor general.
Saddiq Bey (Villanova) – Bey is a typical Nova player – not flashy, but efficient and fundamentally sound. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is versatile – able to play multiple positions on either end of the court. He is often used as a defensive stopper, assigned to guard much smaller players, such as Marquette’s Markus Howard, and at the same time, Bey can hold his own in the post. Offensively, Bey is not especially explosive or nifty with the ball in his hands, but he has been very productive in a variety of ways, ranging from handling in the pick and roll to scoring in the post. He is averaging 1.084 points per possession, which ranks at the 91st percentile, and he is dishing out 2.6 assists per game, with an assist-turnover ratio of 1.83. He has been at his best this season from deep, making 46.5 percent of his three-point attempts, which leads the Big East.
Honorable Mention: Other players who have seen their draft stock dramatically rise include Kaleb Wesson (Ohio State), Yam Madar (Tel Aviv), John Petty (Alabama), Landers Nolley (Virginia Tech), Romeo Weems (DePaul), Robert Woodard (Mississippi State), Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State), Nahziah Carter (Washington), Mason Jones (Arkansas), Michael Devoe (Georgia Tech), Luke Garza (Iowa), and Joel Ayayi (Gonzaga).
Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky) – Despite being a top-10 recruit and producing big numbers as a freshman, opinions have varied greatly on Bassey’s pro potential. The 6-foot-11, 230 pound center can be a beast in the paint and will make an occasional three, but his drive and athleticism have been questioned. In November, HP considered the 19-year-old to be a late first-round pick, but in the tenth game of the season, he suffered a season-ending injury – a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. With a recovery time of six-to-nine months, it’s very unlikely that Bassey could participate in pre-draft workouts, and it seems highly probable that he will return to Western Kentucky for another season.
Neemias Queta (Utah State) – At the start of the season, HP considered Queta to be a possible first-round pick, and there is still a chance that he could be drafted in June if he decides to leave school. Last year as a freshman, the 7-foot, 245-pound center emerged as a force around the basket for the Aggies, averaging 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, while making 61.4 percent of his shots and ranking at the 76th percentile for PPP. As a result, he was named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year and the MVC Defensive Player. This past summer, while playing for Portugal’s U20 national team, he suffered a dislocated kneecap, and that injury forced him to miss the first month of the season. Since returning, he clearly has yet to regain his form, and his rebounding and blocked shots stats have significantly declined. Queta would likely benefit from one more season at Utah State, developing a mid-range game, and working on his foot speed and defensive awareness, among other things.
Kahlil Whitney (Kentucky) – Considered a potential lottery pick at the start of the season, it’s looking more and more that the 19-year-old forward will not be drafted in June. Of course, it’s uncertain that he will enter the draft. Whitney recently decided to leave Kentucky, and it’s unclear if he will transfer to another school or turn pro. Turning pro would appear to be unwise, given that he was unable to earn consistent minutes at UK due to poor play. The 6-foot-6 Whitney (7-foot wingspan) is an excellent athlete and a solid defender, but his offensive game is a work in progress. He finished his UK career with shooting splits of .371/.250/.435 and with an assist-turnover ratio of 0.53.
Josiah James (Tennessee) – A top-20 recruit, James was supposed to be one of the main reasons that the Volunteers would remain a factor this season, despite heavy losses due to graduation. Unfortunately, the 19-year-old freshman has not made a huge impact, struggling on both ends of the court at times. Slowed by a hip injury in the preseason, the 6-foot-6 combo guard came out of the gates slowly, and he has scored more than 10 points just five times in 20 games, with four of those games coming in January. It’s encouraging that he has elevated his game since point guard senior Lamonte Turner announced that he would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery in late December, but James’ 0-for-6, six-turnover performance on Saturday vs. Kansas shows that he still has a long way to go.
Wendell Moore (Duke) – A top-25 recruit, Moore was expected to have a major role on a Duke team that had to replace Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, among others. Unfortunately, the 18-year-old freshman suffered a broken bone in his right hand on January 4, and has yet to return to action. Even before the injury, the 6-foot-6 wing was not playing at an extremely high level, struggling with turnovers (TO% of 23.2) and overall offensive efficiency (23rd percentile for PPP). Moore did impress as a spot-up shooter, making 42.9 percent of his 3-point attempts, and as a passer, averaging 3.6 assists per 40 minutes, but the rest of his game was unspectacular. When he returns, which should be soon, he will have to compete for minutes with emerging sharpshooter Joey Baker and defensive standout Jordan Goldwire.
Markell Johnson (NC State) – The 6-foot-1 senior point guard recently fell out of the HP top 100, after beginning the season in the top 60. Quick and fast, Johnson is a dynamic playmaker, with great vision and ball skills. This season, he is averaging 6.5 assists per game, with an assist-turnover ratio of 2.02. At the same time, he is in the midst of a horrible shooting slump, shooting 39.9 percent from the field. From deep, he is making just 25.7 percent of his shots, after making more than 40 percent in the both of his previous seasons. He also is making less than 55 percent of his free throws, after making 74.7 percent last season. Such a dramatic drop-off in efficiency might indicate that Johnson is playing with an undisclosed injury – he has been bothered by back spasms at times. Also, he has always been known for taking shots that have a high degree of difficulty, and that might be the case more than ever – he has taken more than twice as many jumpers off the bounce than spot-up jumpers this season.
Bryan Antoine (Villanova) – A top-20 recruit and a potential future lottery pick, Antoine has not had a real chance to display his talents due to an injury and a deep Nova bench. The 6-foot-5 wing spent this past summer recovering from shoulder surgery, and did not make his college debut until November 21, when he played 19 minutes in a blowout win over Middle Tennessee. Since then, he has played a total of only 64 minutes. Despite barely playing this season, it’s not out of the question that Antoine would enter June’s draft, but he would likely go significantly higher following a productive sophomore season at Villanova.
Xavier Johnson (Pittsburgh) – After averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game last season, the 6-foot-3 point guard was named as an ACC All-Freshman selection, and he began this season seen as a potential second-round pick. Johnson, however, is experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump, making just 38.8 percent of his shots and averaging just 0.75 points per possession (23rd percentile). Overall, his numbers are very similar to last season, and he has not made the progress that was expected. He still commits too many turnovers (3.6 per game), struggles to finish around the basket, and plays with inconsistent effort on defense.
Kai Jones (Texas) – Jones was not a five-star recruit (50th overall), but he began the season among the top 100 on the HP Draft Board because we were intrigued by the freshman’s size, length, athleticism, and potential as a stretch four/five. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-11 big man is anything but big in terms of weight (212 pounds) and muscle, and Texas is loaded with other bigs. Jones has seen an increase in minutes of late due to injuries to forwards Kamaka Hepa and Gerald Liddell, but on the season, the freshman has exceeded 18 minutes of playing time in just one game this season. On a positive note, Jones is making 52.5 percent of his shots and averaging 3.6 blocks per 40 minutes.
Savion Flagg (Texas A&M) – The 6-foot-7 small forward is another player who has fallen out of the HP top 100; in fact, he is danger of falling out of the top 200 in the near future. The Aggies on the whole have struggled this season under new head coach Buzz Williams, mainly due to a lack of talent in a tough conference. Flagg is the most gifted player on the roster and a breakout junior season was expected, but his numbers have dipped in nearly all significant categories.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology and RealGM.com, and occasionally from Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.