Sharife Cooper, Auburn
The number five-point guard in his class, Cooper lived up to the billing with his play at Auburn, at least on paper. He averaged over 20 points per game, while adding 8.1 assists per game, good for second nationally if he played enough games to qualify. However, the 6’0 guard only played in 12 games, while shooting just 39% from the field and an atrocious 23% from three. In addition, Cooper is not much of a defender, and his short stature raises even more questions about his defensive competence and potential. He will only be able to defend point guards, limiting his versatility, and will certainly struggle against taller point guards. There is no doubt that Cooper can pass, but his scoring, despite the high average this season, is still a question mark at the NBA level. Can he be a real threat against better and faster defenders when they are forcing him out of the paint and giving him three-point chances? Is Cooper going to gain playing time if he can’t score inside with much bigger defenders, or if he can’t knock down open triples? While there are certainly positives to Cooper’s game, there are even more questions. It’s hard to understand the projection of Cooper in the mid to late first when he is an undersized point guard that struggles in key areas of defending and shooting. Combine that with a lack of college development, and a team could be looking at drafting a player that will ultimately need a change of scenery before making it. Point guards are essentially unplayable without a three-point shot, that is just the way the modern NBA is built. If the freshman can improve, his stellar passing and quickness should help him become a reliable bench piece. If he can’t, he will be relegated to a bench warmer. The upside for Cooper simply isn’t there relative to his very low floor, and even more so in the first round. Sebastian Telfair had similar hype entering the draft but turned out to be too small and too much of a defensive liability to cut it as an NBA starter. Cooper can be a successful pro, but the early lottery hype seemed to create unrealistic expectations.
Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky
Another big-name freshman from an SEC school, Jackson is another player projected to go too soon in the draft. The 6’10 big man struggled to contribute, averaging just 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. He doesn’t have a polished post game or jump shot and will likely be only scoring on transition chances or the pick and roll. Jackson is not a terrific rebounder despite his size and won’t haul in many boards against stiffer competition at the next level. He can’t stretch the floor and missed both of his three-point attempts this season. The main value he brings in on defense, where he blocks almost three shots per contest. However, blocked shots and rim running can be found late in the second round, rather than in the first. Charles Bassey and Neemias Queta provide both of those talents in spades, despite going most likely a full round later. Jackson’s youth and free throw percentage point to potential improvement, but that is still a gamble for someone who showed such little offensive skill this year. Without a tangible offensive skill and a nose for rebounds, Jackson doesn’t won’t anything productive for an NBA offense. You can’t teach his size and athleticism, but those attributes didn’t help him be an effective player for the Wildcats, so why would they for an NBA team? He might be a productive center in the future, but as three-point shooting and speed take precedence, Jackson doesn’t fit, and should be avoided in the first round.
Chris Duarte, Oregon
One of the hottest names among draft risers is Duarte. The 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic had a sensational season for the Ducks, averaging 17.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists while shooting 53% from the field and 42% from three. He capped off the year by being named an AP third team All American and winning the Pac-12 Player of the Year Award. Teams like the Lakers and Knicks are reportedly even trying to move into the lottery to select the 6’6 shooting guard. Duarte played very well, and is certainly a tremendous shooter, but he isn’t worth a trade-up or even a lottery selection. He was playing against kids 4-6 years younger than him, who have had so much less time to develop as basketball players. Add in his lack of athleticism and burst, and he will most likely be a 3-And-D player. While those are still hot commodities in the NBA, you want lottery picks to have more upside than a 24-year-old shooter. He also had 2.3 turnovers per game, highlighting that he won’t be a primary ball handler in the NBA, and will be more of a spot up shooter than passer. Duarte has one of the dependable floors in the class because his shooting will translate to every NBA court. His defense and inside scoring could both falter as he starts playing much better athletes who are his age and older. Playing against teenagers, Duarte was able to dominate, against adults, the NBA could be a much different story. Moreover, Duarte really didn’t have a standout season until this year. Are his substantial improvements attributable to his age advantage? Duarte has a chance to be the top senior off the board over Davion Mitchell and Corey Kispert, but one has to wonder if teams are losing perspective considering his age.
Alperin Sengun, Beşiktaş
The 6’9, 19-year-old Turkish phenom could go as high as top 10. A high scoring bigman for Beşiktaş of the Turkish Super League, Sengun averaged over 19 points per game while hauling in over nine boards per game. Just a point and a rebound away from a 20-point double-double as a teenager playing against seasoned professionals sounds encouraging enough to have scouts take a much closer look. The numbers don’t show the full story for the Turkish star. He shot just 19% from deep this season, an appalling number, even for a big. Sengun also is not much of an athlete, creating concern if he can be even a competent defender at the NBA level. His lack of quickness and athleticism could also cause problems creating separation on shots and while getting to the rim. Without the threat of a quality three-point shot, it will be even more challenging to get to his spots on the floor. A young, high scoring forward who can rebound well and shows flashes of shooting is incredibly exciting. Teams should pump the brakes before they get too excited, as Sengun could have a tough time recreating similar success from his lone season in the Turkish Super League. Sengun is young and shows a lot of determination so there’s a lot of optimism about what he can become, particularly in the right system. But he appears to be a guy riding a wave of unrealistic hype.
Day'Ron Sharpe, North Carolina
Sharpe has a wide range of potential draft slots, ranging from the late first round to mid second round. The freshman Tar Heel did not post great numbers in his lone season in Chapel Hill, scoring less than ten points and pulling in 7.6 rebounds a game. The 6’10, 265-pound center is not a threat to score outside the paint. He has a 0 three-point percentage and a 50.5 free throw percentage. His lack of shooting touch craters his ceiling, as post scorers and throw back bigs have become less and less valuable. Despite his strength and size, Payne is not a good defensive rebounder, pulling in less than four per game. He is the premier offensive rebounder of the class, but the lack of defensive boards is more concerning. Payne is not great at boxing out and can look lost while hunting the defensive boards. He has turned the ball over more than he has assisted and is close to an offensive vacuum. Despite his towering frame, he is not a good shot blocker, rejecting less than one shot per contest. A big man who can’t shoot, block shots, or grab defensive rebounds is someone to be extremely wary of, especially earlier in the draft. Add on that Sharpe is quite slow, and you have a recipe for disaster. His lack of speed will make him unable to guard the perimeter and leave him exposed trying to defend pick and rolls. He is a good vertical athlete, and great on the offensive glass, but those skills shouldn’t be worth a first round selection. Teams need to focus on the lack of scoring, shooting, defending and defensive rebounding when considering drafting the throwback big from North Carolina.