NBA Draft stock watch: Jared McCain, Donovan Clingan up; Reed Sheppard and others down – The Athletic

By John HollingerMar 27, 2024

Well, that was a journey.

In 16 days, I went to 31 games in five different cities, mostly focusing on the key college prospects likely to be in the upcoming draft. While I didn’t get in-person eyes on everyone this year (sorry, Baylor), I’ve now seen the vast majority of the key players with my own eyes, and most of them more than once.

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There is a lot to unpack, both literally and figuratively. I have notes from the Arizona–USC regular-season battle, from the ACC and SEC tournaments and from NCAA Tournament games in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. Here are the players I saw in person in the last two weeks who did the most to impact their draft stock, for better or worse:

Stock Up

Jared McCain, 6-3 freshman SG, Duke

One of the questions I took into conference tournament week was about McCain’s shooting. Not whether he could shoot, exactly, but just at what level. At 6-3 and playing mostly off the ball, the selling point on McCain had to be that he could be a CJ McCollum-type shooter to justify a top-20 spot on a draft board.

My eye test probably wasn’t helped by the first time I saw him, during arguably his worst game of the season in an upset loss to Georgia Tech, where his 3-of-10 shooting included a one-handed Steve Nash layup attempt that went over the backboard entirely.

McCain, however, showed out this past weekend, first scoring 15 points on nine shots as Duke crushed Vermont in the first round, then adding an electric second-round performance against James Madison on Sunday. McCain made his first six 3-point attempts before halftime and had the seventh one back-rim out. He also weaved in some pick-and-roll playmaking that included a fancy dime for a dunk and a driving left-handed finish in the lane en route to 30 points, five rebounds and nary a turnover.

McCain’s full-season numbers are now 41.5 percent from 3 and 86.8 percent from the line; his 3-point volume is on the high side (10.7 per 100 in ACC play) but also not epic, as he’s not a guy who comes flying off pindowns and firing from whatever platform is available. His damage mostly comes with his feet set, where he has a smooth, repeatable and quick release. One other small thing: Though only 6-3, McCain had 11 rebounds over the weekend. His season rebound rate of 9.4 percent is pretty impressive for a player of his size.

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Kyle Filipowski, 7-0 sophomore PF/C, Duke

Fit questions at the next level still dog Filipowski, where the concern is that he’s a classic big who isn’t quite big enough to play center and not quite mobile or skilled enough to play the four. We’ll get a better feel for the former when he goes up against Houston in the Sweet 16.

Defensively, however, those worries on the perimeter may be overdone. Filipowski showed himself to be a switch-capable player against Vermont and James Madison. He finished the weekend with four blocks and four steals, and in both games the opposition stopped testing him and pursued other scoring routes instead.

Filipowski also dominated the Vermont game despite taking only one shot, repeatedly finding the open man out of the instant double-teams he faced on the block and finishing with 12 rebounds and four assists. He started the James Madison game the same way, picking out McCain for an open 3 on the first trip to set up his big night and finishing with another four assists. We still want to see a more threatening perimeter game from him — he’s at 34.6 percent from the year and just 66.7 percent from the line — but he’s, at worst, a top-20 player in this draft.

Kyle Filipowski starts to push the ball up the court during Duke’s second-round game against James Madison. (Robert Deutsch / USA Today)

Stephon Castle, 6-6 freshman SG, Connecticut

The thing that stood out about Castle was the misery he inflicted on Northwestern star guard Boo Buie in the second round, picking him up full court, denying easy catches and chasing him around screens to contest shots as a trailer. Yes, it helped that he had Godzilla behind him (see below), but Buie missed his first 10 shots and finished 2 of 15 as UConn crushed the Wildcats.

Castle isn’t asked to take on a big offensive role but reads the game well and is very effective in transition; when his number was called on a half-court pick-and-roll, he jailed the defender then dropped in a nice left-handed finish for an and-1. On one other notable play, he turned down an entry pass to big man Donovan Clingan to wait for a cutting teammate to present himself, knowing that teammate would have a better angle for a high-low that eventually yielded an easy bucket for the big man.

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Castle’s shooting, however, is still a question mark; he’s only made 17 of his 61 3-point attempts this season. He has too much guide hand on the ball on his jumper and a tendency to lean sideways as he gets into his motion. But those flaws look fairly correctable, and he doesn’t need to shoot like Kyle Korver to make an impact in the league. Overall, the weekend cemented my thought that he can be a high-ceiling NBA wing.
 
Donovan Clingan, 7-2 sophomore C, Connecticut

“Cling Kong” blocked eight shots on Sunday — at least, that was the official count — and had fans behind us guffawing when he moved his feet on the perimeter and pinned this shot by Northwestern’s Ryan Langborg against the top of the backboard. (Also, check out the dime by our guy Castle at the end.)

In person, Clingan looks every bit of 7-2. In his two tournament games, he grabbed 22 rebounds in 47 minutes, shot 14 of 18 from the field and even had two steals. He hasn’t made a 3 this season and is only at 55.6 percent from the line, but before games, you’ll see him comfortably shoot long, on-target jump shots.

More importantly, his defensive movement and end-to-end transition once again held up well. UConn is an unusually slow-tempo squad for such a dominant team (just 315th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo), but a potential Elite 8 matchup against a fast Illinois team would be the next big test for Clingan at this level.

N’Faly Dante, 7-0 senior C, Oregon

Do you realize how good a season this guy has had? Dante’s 30.7 PER ranked sixth among Power 6 players, and he did that without feasting on non-conference patsies for 10 games like everyone else does. Every one of the 22 games Dante played this season was against a Power 6 school.

I watched Dante score 23 points on nine shots against South Carolina in the first round in Pittsburgh; for an encore, he had 28 points and 20 rebounds in a double-overtime loss to Creighton in the next round. Dante also had 19 steals in the Ducks’ last seven games — not something you typically say about a 7-foot center — and finished the year shooting 69.5 percent from the floor, including a 12-of-12 outing against Colorado in the must-win Pac-12 title game to get the Ducks into the tournament.

There are minuses here. Dante will be 23 in October, has missed games with injuries in all five of his college seasons and has little feel for the types of dribble handoffs and high-post actions that NBA teams like to run. He gets dunks, but he’s more of a load-up powerhouse dunker than a true “vertical spacing” rim runner, and his shot-blocking rate isn’t Earth-shattering for a player of his ilk. Still, he was a hot prospect when he first came to Oregon, and his closing run this season likely regenerated some hope for him as either a late second-rounder or a two-way.

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Stock Down

Reed Sheppard, 6-3 freshman PG/SG, Kentucky

After singing Sheppard’s praises heading into the SEC tournament, I watched what were likely his last two games at Kentucky, and folks, that didn’t go real well. Sheppard had a good stat line in a loss to Texas A&M in the conference tournament (14 points on eight shots, four assists, two steals) and had several deflections, but at other points his defensive shortcomings were a bit more apparent.

He followed that one up with a baffling stinker in the Wildcats’ stunning first-round loss to 14th-seeded Oakland, often looking tentative and finishing with just two points in 26 minutes. He also struggled to stay with Oakland gunner Jack Gohlke around screens, although Kentucky’s defensive approach here also can fairly be questioned. Sheppard gets his hands on a ton of balls — he had two steals in each game and multiple other deflections — but his ability to stay solid on the non-turnover plays is still in question.

This game was an outlier at the low end, obviously, and now we’re into tape season. One of the key questions to go back and review through the video is to see Sheppard in one-on-one battles and assess how well his feet held up, and how much his lack of size and length might hold him back at the next level.

On the flip side, Sheppard’s lack of aggression on offense wasn’t completely out of the blue — he had remarkably few 2-point attempts all season. The question on tape is how much wiggle can he show to break defenses down as a full-time point guard at the next level, and how much was just the classic problem of John Calipari limiting elite guards?

Ryan Dunn, 6-8 sophomore SF/PF, Virginia

Dunn clearly can make an impact as a defender. For a non-center, his 10.4 percent block rate this season was absurdly good, and he’s a disruptor in the run of play with fast hands (3.1 percent steal rate in a conservative scheme). His ability to guard at the next level — I mean really guard — is not in question and could see him picked in the first round despite his offensive shortcomings.

As for that offense … yeah. Dunn steadily lost confidence in his shot this season, first in his 3s (which he stopped taking in late December), then at the line, then everywhere else. Over the final 14 games of the season, he took 17 free throws total and topped out at 10 points.

You can see why he might have been shy to unleash the jumper. Dunn’s shot is a wildly spinning moonball that occasionally splashes on target and sometimes lands … other places.

On the year, he shot 53.2 percent from the line, with the above miss against Colorado State thankfully coming long after most of America had changed channels. Playing in Virginia’s archaic movers-and-blockers system doesn’t help; he has looked threatening when he’s had chances to rim run but not anyplace else, and at 6-8, it’s hard to envision him as an NBA center. You can talk yourself into Herb Jones-type upside outcomes if the shot can be fixed, but what if it can’t be?

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D.J. Wagner, 6-3 freshman PG, Kentucky

So, how much is the “Calipari tax” worth to you? We’ve seen the coach make many talented guards look ordinary, so maybe that has to be priced into a Wagner evaluation. Nonetheless, he finished a very uninspiring freshman year with an 0-of-5 bagel in the upset loss to Oakland, completing the season with 47.2/29.2/76.6 shooting splits on 2s/3s/FTs. For a 6-3 guard, he also had a miniscule 3.9 percent rebound rate and few disruptive plays. There aren’t really any moments that make you rewind the tape and go, “Who was that?”

Wagner had some sweet left-handed finishes if you dig through the tape hard enough, and a kernel of thought emerged that maybe he was coming on when he put together three straight double-figure games at the end of the SEC season. But after watching him deliver 29 forgettable minutes against Texas A&M in the SEC tournament and then the Oakland game, it’s just hard to see a draftable player here.

Trey Alexander, 6-4 junior PG, Creighton

I watched Alexander in Creighton’s first-round win over Akron, and he was … fine? I guess? But fine doesn’t really do it when you’re a junior trying to get into the first round of the draft. I was bullish on Alexander as a top-22 guy a year ago, before he ultimately pulled out of the draft, and I think I might need to slow my roll and put him in the second round this time around.

Having an on-ball guard at 6-4 is a good place to start, and Alexander is very comfortable getting into pull-up jumpers going to either hand. He loves to snake pick-and-rolls and jail the defender before sidestepping into a jumper, but that needs to be a secondary goal, not the main event — he doesn’t generate many free throws or get to the rim much.

As a deep shooter, he’s just OK, shooting 35.4 percent for his career from 3. Maybe I’m seeing him on the wrong days, but he sure seems to miss to the sides unusually often, even on catch-and-shoots, and might need to hone his mechanics a little further to get himself squared up consistently.

The biggest reason to move him down, though, is that he just isn’t a whole lot better than the guy I saw a year ago, but he is a year older. There’s still a pathway to success as a dribble-pass-shoot combo guard threat here, but we need to see more progress. 

Trey Alexander launches a 3 against Oregon over the weekend. (Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

Mixed bags

Rob Dillingham, 6-2 freshman PG, Kentucky

I haven’t written a ton about Dillingham yet, partly because I’m still making up my mind on how I feel about him. Like Sheppard, he also was weirdly bad and tentative in the Oakland game, failing to make a 2-point basket in his 28 minutes and shooting 2 of 9 overall. On the other hand, he had 27 points and seven dimes in the loss to Texas A&M.

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Nevertheless, as with Sheppard, Dillingham is graded more harshly because he’s projected as a top-10 (or better) pick right now. He has obvious questions about his defensive value given his slight build with Trae Young-ish dimensions and the fact he wasn’t exactly a tiger at this end while at Kentucky.

Even against Oakland, however, there were moments that remined you of his offensive ceiling. For instance, that Justin Edwards 3 in the clip just below came off a sudden rifle of a one-handed pass crosscourt. Dillingham also has blow-by quickness that should become a lot more useful at the NBA level and also can get into his shot quickly and accurately when needed, hitting 44.4 percent from 3 on the season.

I still want to go back through the tape on Dillingham since I was constantly watching other guys at the same time — one issue with a team like Kentucky, where everybody is a prospect, is that you feel like you have to watch each of their games seven times — but my initial takeaway is that I don’t think these last two games did any lasting damage to his draft stock.

Justin Edwards, 6-8 freshman SF, Kentucky

The headline is that Edwards got rim-checked on a wide-open dunk during the Wildcats’ loss to Oakland. The cringe miss was worse because of the physical tell it contained: He needed to stop and gather off two feet rather than just fluidly power up off his right leg while on the move.

However, Edwards also scored 10 points in only 15 minutes against Oakland, including a smooth hit on a contested corner 3 (see below). He struggled in the Texas A&M game in the SEC Tournament, but overall, he was the Kentucky player who probably did the least to hurt his stock in the two games.

Watching Edwards shoot before both contests, he’s not a 50 percent shooter like he shot in SEC games this season, but he seemed believable as a 36.5 percent 3-point shooter — his overall percentage on the season. If this is roughly Edwards’ true skill level, as a 20-year-old 6-8 forward, that’s a platform for a useful player. The pendulum has swung wildly this season, with him being seen by some as a potential top pick candidate before the season, but it may have actually swung too far by now. Yes, Edwards was obviously wildly overhyped entering the season, but there’s something here.

Isaiah Collier, 6-5 freshman SG, USC

I saw Collier late in the year and wrote about him here (fourth item), so I don’t want to double down and repeat myself too much. However, I will point out that his Pac-12 Tournament — seen in person by many scouts trying to one-stop shop three conference tourneys in Las Vegas — offered a similarly mixed bag, perhaps at the lower end of the spectrum actually.

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Collier still got downhill to the tune of 26 points in two games but also continued to battle turnovers, finishing with nine miscues and 10 assists in Vegas. I doubt anything that happened there was enough to change any minds, but he should be thankful the first game was at noon on a Wednesday on the Pac-12 Network.

Cameron Matthews, 6-7 senior SF, Mississippi State

I wrote here about Matthews’ fantastic SEC Tournament game against Tennessee and won’t go too long in this space, but his first-round NCAA game against Michigan State produced a relatively typical Matthews output of a stuffed stat sheet (four steals, two blocks, five boards, two assists) but just eight points and zero 3-point shots.

Matthews has the size and athleticism to check NBA forwards and a good enough feel to operate as a secondary option. However, he only made two 3s all season, shot 55 percent from the line and will turn 23 in December. That makes him a project for the late second round or a two-way; he also has another year of eligibility and could return to Starkville or hit the portal.

Hunter Sallis, 6-5 junior SG, Wake Forest

How much do you believe in the shooting? Sallis has decent size, though he’s a bit on the wiry side, and is a solid athlete with a knack for surprise dunks on half-court drives. He’s not a point guard, but as a two, he doesn’t betray any overtly tragic weaknesses.

The big story for him is that he went from shooting 25.6 percent on 3s at Gonzaga to 40.6 percent at Wake Forest, while more than doubling the per-possession volume. Sallis’ shot still doesn’t look pure; he gets his guide hand involved, and that will knock the spin off a quarter-turn sometimes, and the one time he tried reloading after a fly-by was not smooth, easy or effective.

Perhaps the free-throw line tells the more believable story: He went from 78.0 percent to. 78.3 percent. I’m not sure why he couldn’t make a 3 at Gonzaga, but the truth on Sallis is clearly between the two extremes presented by his last two seasons. As with Alexander above — a similar archetype but one who offers more ballhandling at the expense of less size — that résumé makes Sallis draftable but probably a reach in the first round.

Related reading

  • One question for every Sweet 16 team to answer
  • Ranking Sweet 16 matchups from best to worst
  • March Madness doesn’t need stars. It makes them

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(Top photo of Donovan Clingan and Jared McCain: Brad Penner / USA Today)

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John Hollinger ’s two decades of NBA experience include seven seasons as the Memphis Grizzlies’ Vice President of Basketball Operations and media stints at ESPN.com and SI.com. A pioneer in basketball analytics, he invented several advanced metrics — most notably, the PER standard. He also authored four editions of “Pro Basketball Forecast.” In 2018 he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Follow John on Twitter @johnhollinger

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