By: Ethan Zakarin
With college basketball conference play heating up, the standouts who will hear
their names called by Adam Silver have made themselves known to the basketball-focused world.
It would be hard to find a basketball observer – let alone any sports fan, who is unfamiliar with the name and highlight reel of Zion Williamson, yet many
say the high flyer from South Carolina may not even be the best prospect on his own
team (I still think he is).
Follow me as I take a look at the Top 5 current college basketball players who will join the NBA ranks next season.
5. Cam Reddish
The 6’ 8” forward is the least talked about of the Duke trio of super freshman, but if
this were a normal year, it’s likely the buzz around Reddish would be significantly
Reddish is more skilled than both RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson: his smooth,
methodical style, tight handle, and ability to get to his spots compare favorably to
Paul George. He’s shown that he can perform against the best of the best, as he
opened the year with 22 points (including 7-7 from the free throw line) against then
#2 Kentucky, as well as a 23-point performance against #11 Florida State which
included a number of big shots, in addition to a game winning three ball.
However, questions about Reddish persist, most notably about his motor and aggressiveness; questions that have followed the Pennsylvania native since high school. He’s disappeared in games this season, such as a five-point effort against Hartford where he went 2-12 from the field, as well as a three-point game against Eastern Michigan which Reddish only attempted five shots.
Fortunately for Reddish, as ACC play heats up and we get into March Madness, opportunities for him to correct his faults in front of NBA eyes will only increase.
4. Romeo Langford
One of the more intriguing long term propsects in the draft, Langford has been in the
spotlight for awhile now, after spending his high school basketball career as one of
the most highly touted prospects to emerge from the Hoosier state in a long time.
His career at Indiana so far has been rock solid, as he’s currently averaging 17 points,
6 rebounds, and 2 assists, and clearly is a gifted scorer. He’s been a beacon of
consistency for an Indiana team that has really struggled in conference play, which
is impressive for a freshman in the Big Ten. Despite his athleticism and finishing
ability around the basket, his three point shooting woes are a cause for concern
among front offices thinking about drafting Langford.
Shooting 21 percent from the three point line is a cause for concern, and the three point line won’t be getting any closer in the NBA. The bottom line is Langford has enough tools to get him drafted in the top five, but needs to show an improved outside shot to rise up the draft board.
3. RJ Barrett
Barrett came into the season as the most popular #1 overall pick, and while his play
hasn’t caused his stock to dramatically fall, most observers no longer predict the
Canadian point guard to be the first player off of the board in June.
Barrett’s ability to score is without question. He’s 11th in the country in scoring, and one of only two players in the top 15 to come from a major conference. An issue for Barrett,
however, has been what it takes for him to get there, as evidenced by an 8-30
performance in a home loss against Syracuse. His average of four assists per game
seems fine, but with the amount of time the ball is in his hands on offense, and the
wealth of talent around him at Duke, NBA scouts likely are looking for this number
to be a bit higher. In addition, his 3-point percentage of 31 is another clear area of his
game that could use improvement.
Despite his flaws though, Barrett’s ability to get to the basket and use his strong, physical frame to his advantage is something that will keep his name called early on draft night, no matter what.
2. Zion Williamson
A name almost all sports fans are familiar with, Zion Williamson has been a
SportsCenter staple even before his days at Cameron Indoor Stadium began. Scouts
struggle to compare the 6’ 7”, 285 pound freak of nature to anyone, but from a
physical standpoint, LeBron James doesn’t seem like a bad place to start. He’s known
for his ability to finish plays explosively, but he has wowed so far this year with his
skilled footwork in the post and handle in traffic, both which enable him to create
space to gather and explode using his legendary leaping ability to find a good angle
This figures to translate very well to the NBA with an even more spaced out
floor. His ability as a passer has been better than expected, as he didn’t have enough
weapons around him to move off the ball in high school. Questions remain about his
shooting ability (he’s currently a 27 percent 3-point shooter), but Williamson has shown
so far that he’s a surefire immediate impact player at the next level.
1. Ja Morant
One of the biggest stories of this college basketball season, Murray State point guard
Ja Morant has exploded up draft boards with a combination of explosive athleticism,
scoring prowess, and playmaking ability. While his Russell Westbrook like speed
and explosion in the fast break have mesmerized fans and lit up highlight reels,
Morant’s ability to find his teammates for buckets have impressed NBA front offices
He’s no stranger to putting up big numbers scoring the ball; he’s averaging
24.1 points a game and has scored 34 and 40 in conference games, and leads the
country with 10.5 assists per game, easily eclipsing the next best finisher (Kai Toews
of UNCW with 7.8 assists per game).
Morant’s ability as both a scorer and a passer make him too remarkable of a talent for any team to pass up on, and I believe the next few months of college basketball will only reinforce this.