Much like in today’s NBA, the talent of this year’s crop of shooting guards available is down. It is not as strong as other positons available, or in recent years. It has one star candidate in Crostian Mario Hezonja, the youngest prospect in the draft and a player with real intrigue as a shooter in Devin Booker and a number of prospects with a chance to be solid contributors. As many as five SGs figure to get into the first round. Although it’s not as talent laden as many drafts, some sleepers could also come out of the second round.
1. Mario Hezonja – International
Hezonja has garnered a lot of attention as the most talented guard prospect from Europe, possibly ever, and is finally ready to make the jump over the pond to the NBA level. He is an Internaional player who spent time this season with FC Barcelona playing in the ACB and Euroleague. While his averages of 7.7 points and 2 boards per game aren’t the usual stats of a player ranked this high, Hezonja was playing against professionals. He has all of the physical tools and upside that is needed of a high level NBA prospect. When watching Hezonja play, the first thing that catches your eye is his elite athleticism. He is a springy wing prospect with the ability to finish high above the rim. He’ll be a great player in transition at the next level. While his offensive game still needs some work, Hezonja is a gifted shooter whether spotting up, coming off of screens or creating space off the dribble. He shot close to 40% from distance in Euroleague and has NBA range. He’s a legit 6’7 and can really play either wing position (just turned 20 in February).
While there are some questions floating around about his attitude and ability to play within himself, get others involved and make the right decisions with the ball consistently, he is without a doubt one of the better Euro prospects we’ve seen in recent years and has two words that NBA scouts love at his current age…athleticism and potential. All signs point to him coming over to the League next year, so this won’t be a draft and stash situation as it currently stands. Virtually every team in the lottery has had conversations about drafting Hezonja with teams like the Lakers who sit at #2 showing interest. He’ll likely slot somewhere in the 5-8 range, but whoever takes a chance on this Croatian native will be getting a guy that can come in and contribute right away.
2. Devin Booker – Kentucky
Booker had an extremely quiet Freshman campaign with the Wildcats. He was by far the team’s best shooter from long range and was arguably their most important player during conference play. He surprised some people with his decision to leave Lexington after just one season but his draft prospects are fairly high with his late lottery grade. He’s still raw from an overall offensive standpoint but his shooting touch and range are probably the best in this draft class. He’s got perfect size for the SG position at the next level and has the tools to be an effective defender with some work. He is effective in transition but struggles to create shots for himself and/or for his teammates off the dribble.
Like most Freshmen, Booker’s season was marred by inconsistency. He had a very up and down season with the Wildcats that saw him hit a wall late in the season and see his production trail off. Still, he shot close to 50% from the field and was deadly from behind the line knocking them down at a 41% clip. He helped himself out a lot at the combine, in particular with his measurements as he showed he was a legit 6’6 in shoes with a suprising wingspan and finished atop the two guards in the lane agility test. He’ll likely need time to develop before he can give teams consistent production at the next level but he has the basketball IQ and skill set to play the position at a high level.
3. Rashad Vaughn – UNLV
You’ll be hard pressed to find another player that has helped himself out more during the draft process (workouts, combine, interviews, etc) than Vaughn. Much like Booker, he surprised a lot of people when he declared for the draft after only one year at UNLV. He had some pretty gaudy stats for the Rebels this season averaging over 17 points and close to 5 boards per game but he did a lot of his damage against lesser competition and struggled when playing teams with better athletes on the wing like Kansas and Stanford, although he gave Arizona a run for their money in late December. He was on pace for one of the better freshman campaigns in the country until a torn meniscus cost him all of February and March. But he has rebounded from the injury and has really looked the part in front of scouts, coaches and GM’s of late.
He’s a natural scorer and scores points in bunches. While not as great of a shooter as Booker, he is definitely one of the best pure shooters in this draft class. His usage rate was pretty high at UNLV and he is not bashful and can get caught up in looking for his shot too often as evidenced by his lackluster 1.6 assists per game average. His ball handling skills will need some work. There are some injury concerns that could affect his stock on draft night but he has the size and shooting ability to make it at the next level.
4. Norman Powell – UCLA
Not many players take the route of Powell, playing four seasons and improving in all areas of his game in each of those seasons. He came in as a Freshman with a lot of holes in his game. First Team All-Pac12 for his senior season and one of the big reasons why UCLA didn’t fall off after losing Zach Lavine, Kyle Anderson, the Wear Brothers, and Jordan Adams left for the NBA after last season. Powell elevated his game into fringe first round status with his stellar play over the final month or two of the season. He is an exceptional athlete with great length. He isn’t the prototypical height for the NBA two guard position but his strength and length help offset that. The three guys higher on this list are knock down shooters, something that Powell is not. He’s more of a slashing two guard and a guy that likes to get to the rim. He took five free throws per game last season and is a guy who likes to attack the basket instead of floating around the perimeter.
He’s a solid defender with good foot speed and an ability to lock down players on the perimeter when putting forth the effort on that side of the ball. Much as the case with a lot of slashing guards, he turns the ball over at a high rate and lacks great vision. He doesn’t find open teammates as much as you would like for a guy who can get by his defender at such a high rate. His lack of a consistent three point shot will hinder his draft potential/ceiling as the NBA is transitioning to a more three point concentrated offensive game as judged by the "Final Four" teams in the NBA playoffs being some of the better shooting teams from long range in the league.
5. RJ Hunter – Georgia State
Living nearby and having seen Hunter play live and had the opportunity to discuss his potential with NBA scouts, he’s a player I’m very familiar with. The one constant with every scout I talked to was that he’s an elite level shooter, despite a down year statistically. He can come off screens, he has the size and length to rise up over most defenders and there isn’t a spot on the court that he doesn’t like. He has great length and is a sneaky athlete. He is great when he gets out in transition and has something that so many players are missing at his age. The clutch gene. Time and again he was counted on down the stretch, with Ryan Harrow out, to be the team’s go-to player and he put the team on his back every time. Most NBA scouts knew who Hunter was heading into the NCAA Tournament but his game winner that sent his Coach (and Dad) flying off his seat (literally) gave R.J. the media attention that he deserved after spending three seasons at Georgia State, a Sun Belt Conference school not necessarily known for their basketball program.
The knocks on Hunter are his lanky frame and his inability to take contact. He gets bumped off of his spots too much and when running off screens he gets knocked around which limits his ability to square his feet when rising up for his jump shot. He struggled to create shots for himself, which is apparent when you look at his shooting numbers on the season. And considering this was in a small division, his outlook for creating for himself in the NBA is that he will need a lot of time. He isn’t a great on ball defender and can get caught ball watching on defense. He doesn’t have the quickest feet and isn’t really a threat to take you off the dribble. He has a tendency to fall in love with his jump shot too much and can shoot his team out of a game just as quickly as he can shoot them into it. He’s a quiet kid but a leader both on and off the court. He is a Coach’s son so he has an extremely high basketball IQ. His stock has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride over the last year and a half but he could be one of the draft’s sleepers if he can put on some weight and refine his overall offensive game over the next couple of years.
6. Joseph Young – Oregon
Young has been packaged to NBA teams as a point guard in the draft process and may end up a combo, but at this point he’s more of a small 2 guard than anything. There is no doubting that Young is one of the most proven scorers in the NCAA over the last three seasons. He’s averaged over 18 points per game during that time span for both Houston and Oregon. He can play both guard positions and play them both effectively. He is a combo guard at its finest. He’s a great shooter with deadly range and the ability to score from almost anywhere on the court. In the tournament he was virtually indefensible, playing at an incredibly high level as a scorer.
His inability to fit a specific position will hurt him a little but he’s more than capable of defending both positions and with a little work on his handles and court vision he could really redefine himself as more of a point and probably make a better career for himself at the next level. 6’2 shooting guards don’t fair well in the league unless they are lock down defenders a la Avery Bradley. Extremely tough player with a high IQ and great feel for the game. Any team in need of instant offense off the bench would be wise to take a long look at Young early in the second round.
7. Pat Connaughton – Notre Dame
Connaughton all season long was Robin to Jerian Grant’s Batman and in no way did I think he would be getting looks over some of the guys below him on this list. Connaughton, a former baseball player, was known as more of a spot up shooter early in his career at Notre Dame but really burst onto the scene during his junior and senior seasons showing that he was much more than just a shooter. He averaged over 7 boards a game during that span which is a testament to his freakish athleticism that he showed off during the combine testing. He registered a 44 inch vertical, though it was likely a clerical error as his standing reach was off by 4 inches from his PIT measurement. Granted, a 40 inch vert is impressive as well.
Aside from his great shooting ability and his surprising athleticism, Connaughton doesn’t have the skill set that most GM’s and scouts are looking for. He’s not a good ball handler and he’s played a lot of forward in college so he would struggle on the perimeter defensively in the NBA. Probably one of the toughest and most gritty players in this class, Connaughton has a higher ceiling and would likely has a more promising career playing baseball but why not give basketball a shot and then weigh your options down the road. The baseball skills likely will not deteriorate over night.
8. Bryce Dejean-Jones – Iowa State
Unlike most of the guys on this list, Dejean-Jones’ biggest weakness is his jump shot. He’s not a knock down shooter and struggles with hitting anything outside of 15 feet with any kind of consistency. He’s a gifted slasher with a quick first step which is his bread and butter. He averaged over 10 points per game for a Top 25 Cyclones team last season but, as noted above, struggled to establish himself as a consistent option on a nightly basis. His minutes really tapered off down the stretch and into both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments. He’s got good size for the position and has the physical tools to be a decent role player provided he can become a more consistent threat from outside the arc.
He has bounced around during his college career thus leaving questions about his character and ability to stay out of trouble. He left UNLV for Iowa State and in early December he was again suspended, this time by Iowa State. Those are red flags for teams during the draft process and could mean that he’ll have to earn his way onto an NBA roster by way of the D-League if he can show he has matured and can handle the pressure that being a professional player brings. He’s got natural talent that should allow him to be an NBA player, if he can put the mental aspects together.
9. Chasson Randle – Stanford
Randle, like the aforementioned Joseph Young, is a smallish combo guard that scores like a shooting guard but has the size of a point guard. Both guys have a knack for putting the ball in the basket, neither are great shooters but have their moments and streaks, both seem to will their team to wins and do a little bit of everything on the court. Randle almost single handedly turned around Johnny Dawkins’ program at Stanford by giving him the type of elite scorer that he had lacked during his first few years with the school. Randle is limited in terms of his quickness and athleticism so it isn’t clear if his ability to score the ball will translate against longer, more athletic defenders in the NBA.
He’s a four year player who lacks upside and may have hit his ceiling as a basketball player. Much like Young, I think his best bet is to try and become that lock down defender and backup point guard type of player because there isn’t a lot of room for smallish scoring guards that can’t play the point at the next level. He’s a proven leader and is a smart player who makes good decisions with the basketball. He isn’t a high level draft prospect and likely will have to try and sign on as a free agent but he was a great college player and could always make it to the next level with some work.
10. Michael Frazier – Florida
Like the entire Gator’s basketball program, Frazier had a down year in 2014-2015. After making a name for himself as one of the top three point shooting threats in all of basketball during his sophomore season, Frazier’s inability to do anything else on the offensive end really showed as the team struggled to create offense last season. Frazier found it more difficult to find space without guys like Patric Young, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin on the floor and his numbers suffered. Injuries limited his time on the floor as well late in the season as the Gators floundered down the stretch, never recovering from a pedestrian start to conference play.
Frazier being the 10th best SG shows the lack of depth in this class. He is a knockdown shooter with decent athleticism and size for the position but he’s very one dimensional. He’s not known for his defensive prowess, doesn’t create very well for himself or others and relies too much on others to get him open looks. He has plenty of room to improve and is likely headed for Europe or the D-League. If he can improve on the other aspects of his game, namely defense, then he can make it to the NBA because there is always room for a shooter on an NBA roster. Look no further than James Jones.
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