1. Patrick Williams, Florida State
Williams is very likely to hear his name called in the first seven picks of the draft, and has been mentioned as high as 4 in recent days. Having turned 19 just a few months ago, Williams is a highly intriguing prospect whose stock has risen significantly in recent months, despite that he did not start at FSU this season. Standing at 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan, Williams fits the mold of the prototypical NBA forward with his elite athleticism, strong frame, and perimeter shooting ability. Defensively, he’s already an incredible difference-maker on that end of the floor. A lot of guys at his age with his physical abilities are merely spoken of as having defensive potential, but he’s already a versatile, physical defender who can stay in front of guys on the perimeter, defend on the block, and contribute a high quantity of stocks.
At the very least, picking Williams likely gives you a solid supporting player who can defend both forward spots and hit 3’s. But what scouts sometimes question is if he will really assert himself as a player at the next level and create a lot of scoring opportunities for himself on a consistent basis. Additionally, his rebounding rate is far from stellar for a guy who projects to potentially play a lot of the 4. He only averaged about 7 rebounds per 40 minutes in college. All in all, he has a lot of upside, but might be more of a long-term project than a lot of the guys you will see in the top 10 as he wasn’t a HUGE difference-maker in his freshman year at Florida State. But his combination of size, athleticism, and shooting ability is what NBA scouts covet at the forward position and his versatility is likely to slot him in the mid-lottery of this draft.
2. Deni Avdija, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Any list of small forwards in this draft class is going to feature Deni Avdija at or near the top. In an era of fast-paced, high octane offense, Avdija is a natural playmaker with a basketball savvy beyond his years. At 6’8”, he has excellent size for a guy who is very comfortable playing on the perimeter, and his basketball IQ and vision are strengths to his game. Though no one would compare Avdija to Luka Doncic in terms of play style or ability, just as we saw Doncic join the NBA fresh off a Euroleague MVP season, Avdija was the MVP of the Israeli League at age 19, and though the Israeli League may not be comparable to the Euroleague, it’s encouraging to see Avdija dominate in a league filled with former Division I stars and veteran international players.
Though Avdija lacks elite run/jump athleticism, he has the physical tools to be effective at the 2, 3, and 4, and can do a little bit of everything on the floor, from handling the ball, distributing, getting inside, posting up, and shooting, although his shooting is still far from elite. Defensively, he has a decent amount of length and works his tail off, but doesn’t have the lateral quickness to be much more than serviceable at best. His right hand dominance makes him a bit predictable offensively at this stage in his career, even if he’s a threat to drive, pass or shoot. But ultimately, we have in Avdija a young (doesn’t turn 20 til January) prospect who brings a high degree of playmaking and basketball IQ to the table and should be able to make his impact in a variety of ways. He’s an excellent facilitator in the pick-and-roll, he’s already shown he can be a high-impact player against grown men even though he is far from his physical peak, and he’s got the talent to potentially get looks even in the top 3 of this very unpredictable draft.
3. Saddiq Bey, Villanova
Expected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, Bey looks to be another one of Jay Wright’s Villanova guys who can come into the league and be a solid contributor right away. We saw him connect on an eye-popping 45% of his 5.6 3’s per game last season, and at 6’8” with a wingspan in the neighborhood of 7’0”, he will likely be able to play either forward position. In addition to his shooting stroke and physical tools, he’s a high motor, physical player who can defend multiple positions. In a league where the need for solid 3-and-d guys who can stand in the corner and on the wing and space the floor for ball-handlers has never been higher, Bey projects as someone who could easily fit that mold for whoever ends up with him.
While he’s unlikely to become the focal point of an NBA offense, Bey is just a well-rounded, polished player. For better or worse, he’s probably pretty closer to the peak of his development than a lot of guys in this draft, but any team looking to be competitive now will probably be able to find an immediate role for him. Some scouts are wary of his three-point percentage as his jumpshot is a little flat and may lose a lot of potency from NBA distance. But the combination of range and physical tools make him one of the safer picks in the mid-first range.
4. Jaden McDaniels, Washington
McDaniels certainly looks the part of an NBA forward. He’s a long lanky 6’10” 20-year-old with a 7-foot wingspan who runs well and looks very smooth on the floor. But we have seen his stock drop a bit this year due. The physical package is undeniably mouth-watering, but in addition, he has a nice-looking shot and hit on about 34% of his 3’s in his final season at Washington. With McDaniels, however, we still have a very young, unpolished prospect who was inconsistent and had a questionable motor at Washington. With all of his physical gifts, you would like to see him play more assertively, finishing at the rim efficiently rather than settling for long 2’s. He also turned the ball over more than 3 times per game at Washington. McDaniels is very much an upside guy. There are a lot of rough edges and inconsistencies but if he can put it all together and mature (once again, he’s only 20), then he can be a very solid NBA player.
5. Jordan Nwora, Louisville
Nwora is one of the names on this list the casual college basketball fan would be most familiar with. A versatile scorer for the Cardinals the last two years, if you draft Nwora, you are hoping he can give you three-level scoring off the bench. A career 39% shooting from outside, Nwora is also a smooth finisher at the rim. He was a very solid perimeter defender in college, so the potential is there for him to be a prototypical 3-and-D guy in the second round, with a little more varied scoring profile to boot, but his athleticism numbers were very low among perimeter players at the combine. Ultimately, Nwora profiles as a long (6’10” wingspan), crafty scorer who can hold his own on both ends of the floor but his limited athleticism may make him a tweener forward who can’t earn minutes at either forward position.
6. Naji Marshall, Xavier
Marshall is a fascinating prospect out of Xavier. On a list full of guys who have potential as 3-and-D specialists, Marshall stands at 6’7” while boasting a 7’1” wingspan, and he also served as the primary ball-handler for Xavier and ran their offense. His ability to serve as a point forward with potential as an excellent perimeter defender given his length could make him enticing. However, his outside shooting is going to make or break him at the next level. He only connected on 29% of his 3’s last season. But his skillset is very unique, and he has a high motor as well, making him an interesting project-type player who could be a consistent jump shot away from making it at the next level.
7. Paul Eboua, Italy
This draft class isn’t as rich in international prospects as we have seen in recent years, but Eboua is one who is likely to hear his name called on draft night. He’s a physical specimen, standing at 6’7.5” but possessing a wingspan measured at 7’3.5” at the combine. He’s also an incredible athlete as no one else his size was posting the combine numbers he was. For Eboua, however, he’s still very young and very raw. The skillset is still limited and will need to be refined on both ends of the floor. He has potential as a shooter (his form looks very nice) and a defender (could potentially guard just about any position) but the 20 year old will likely take a few years to reach his peak. On upside alone, the intriguing Cameroonian will probably go in the mid-2nd round, but few players in this class appear to be more of a project.
8. Lamar Stevens, Penn State
On the other hand, Stevens is a polished, 4-year college player and what you see with him is more or less what you get. He’s versatile, showing the ability to bang inside and grab rebounds while also able to bring the ball up and take it to the hole. He projects as a particularly solid defender, with his solid 6’8” frame as well as his combine-leading lane agility time (and it wasn’t even close). The main factors that place Stevens solidly on the bubble of being selected are his age (he turned 23 in July) and his shooting ability. Stevens looked promising as an outside shooter as a freshman, connecting on 34% of his 3’s, but that number fell off a ton in the following three years. He left school as a career 28% shooting from outside, a number that indicates he has a long way to go to be able to keep the defense honest in the NBA. And when you’re a 3 (maybe an undersized 4), you have to be able to knock down those perimeter shots and space the floor. Stevens may be a lot closer to his ceiling than most of these guys, but if a team needs a savvy defender with a strong physical profile, Stevens may be their guy.
9. Joshua Hall, High School
Originally an NC State commit, the late bloomer (Hall didn’t receive much college interest until his senior year of high school), Hall decided to forego college basketball and focus on the draft for a year. Though this move is becoming more commonplace, the lack of college exposure makes him more of a question mark than a lot of similarly ranked players from his high school class. But what we do know is that Hall is a solid athlete who can play above the rim, he’s got good size at 6’7” with a 6’11” wingspan, which should allow him to potentially play at either forward spot, and he has shown promise as an outside shooter. It’s a tantalizing combination that makes me think there’s a decent chance someone takes a flier on him in the late 2nd. He’s still a little raw and can play somewhat passively at times, but in a few years, he just might have put it all together and become a force on both ends of the floor. He lacks lateral quickness (his lane agility time was among the combine’s lowest) and may not currently have the strength to guard bigger players, so there’s a chance he is stuck as a tweener forward, but Hall is only 20 and should at least get the chance to prove himself and develop in the G-League if he goes undrafted and chooses that route. One of the omre intriguing late round players for me but he could easily be unable to ever really contribute at the next level.
10. CJ Elleby, Washington State
As with many Pac-12 stars, Elleby probably isn’t someone who has been on the casual fans’ radar, but he has steadily produced at Washington State for two years now. A well-rounded, hard-working wing, Elleby fits the mold of a serviceable NBA wing. He can hit the 3 (37% in college), he’s a smart, tough, aggressive player, and he doesn’t turn 21 til June. Standing at only 6’7”, he’s an excellent rebounder for his position (7 per game last season) and defensively, he works hard to stay in front of his man and plays the passing lanes well. As with this whole group in the 5-10 range on this list, he’s likely to be a 2nd round pick if he gets selected at all, so there’s not heaps of upside, and this can be attributed to his limited physical profile (6’7” wingspan, average athletic measurements), but he’s a good shooter, he’s a hard worker, and he plays bigger than his size so there could be the makings here of a rotation wing at the next level.