NBA Mock Draft: Zaccharie Risacher still No. 1; Sheppard, Castle could impress in March Madness – The Athletic

Sam VecenieMar 19, 2024

The NCAA Tournament has finally arrived, which means it’s worth updating The Athletic’s 2024 NBA Mock Draft so fans of pro teams can identify some of the players to watch as they tune into the sports event of the year.

This isn’t exactly the strongest college class. As you’ll see, only four of the top 10 players listed below are college players, and a number of those listed below them played on teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament this season. Unsurprisingly given those factors, NBA teams’ opinions are all over the map on this class. Based on my conversations with league sources across the spectrum, there is no clear No. 1 pick, and only a couple of players are even considered consensus top-five picks. The ultimate order will depend greatly on which teams end up in the top four of the NBA Draft Lottery.

Advertisement

At the top, this class is seen as clearly the weakest in the past decade. Last year, I had five players in my Tier 1 or Tier 2: Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Cam Whitmore, Brandon Miller and Amen Thompson. The year before, I had four such players in Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr. and Jaden Ivey, so I’m not particularly stingy with those grades. No player in this draft class has even hit the Tier 2 level for me.

NBA team evaluators are still struggling to pinpoint the highest-upside players. Many compare it to the 2013 draft in which Anthony Bennett was selected No. 1, only one All-Star was taken in the lottery and only three All-Stars were picked the entire night. The good news for teams: Giannis Antetokounmpo went 15th in that draft, as did Rudy Gobert at No. 27. As in every class, All-Stars will emerge. But it will be a lot more difficult for NBA teams to identify those players.

Beyond that, scouts continue to question the depth of this year’s talent pool. Scouts are really mining the college freshman class to uncover high-upside late first-round picks, even if those players are seen as serious projects. There are concerns some of those younger players who seem unlikely to be picked in the top 20 could decide to return to school and try their luck again in 2025. The proliferation of name, image and likeness money has partially alleviated the financial pressure for underclassmen to turn pro. Expect to see many players at least test the draft process, which begins in March and April and goes through individual workouts, the May combine in Chicago and more. This draft class could be deep into the second round because more players will see an opportunity to go pro in what is seen as a weak class, or it could be even shallower if some of the rawer younger players decide to stay in school.

Some additional notes:

  • NBA team direction and needs are taken into account in this mock draft. Drafting for need often ends poorly, but every team and key decision-maker has tendencies we should consider.
  • I did a bit of forecasting here on stay/go decisions. If you don’t see someone you believe should be in this mock draft, it’s probably because I believe they will return to school.
  • I used the NBA standings as of March 14, but to spice things up, I did one lottery spin. It ended with the Portland Trail Blazers getting the No. 1 overall pick and the Memphis Grizzlies moving into the top four.

(Ages listed are as of June 26, the first day of the 2024 draft.)

GO DEEPER

Hollinger: Here are the most interesting NBA Draft prospects to watch in March

GO DEEPER

Inside Joel Embiid’s Olympics decision and why France’s ‘dream’ is far from reality

1. Portland Trail Blazers

Zaccharie Risacher | 6-8 wing/forward | 19 years old | JL Bourg

Risacher remains at No. 1 for now. It very well may not end this way, and draft workouts will play a critical role in the process. The NBA is constantly looking for big wing/forward types who can knock down shots, defend at a reasonable level and play with the ball in their hands. That makes Risacher the favorite right now to go No. 1; more teams will view his game as one that can fit into a valuable, flexible role for their teams. The race is WIDE open at No. 1, but handicapping it now, I think Risacher would be the pick for more teams than any other prospect.

Advertisement

The French wing has produced at a high level in EuroCup competition. Through March 13, in total EuroCup and French League games, he’s averaging 11.4 points while shooting 49.4 percent from the field, 44.7 percent from 3 and 69.4 percent from the free-throw line. He’s rebounding at a reasonable rate for a wing and has shown some passing and decision-making chops. His jumper looks ready for the NBA, with great touch off the catch and when Bourg runs him off movement actions. He cuts well to the rim and creates buckets in transition. On defense, Risacher is sharp as a help defender and cuts off angles with his length, especially when operating as the low man in ball-screen coverages. On the ball, he’s defended guards at times with mixed results, to the point where I think he’s best served against the two through four positions.

The worry: Risacher is not a good shot creator at this point. The difference between him and someone like current Charlotte Hornets rookie Brandon Miller is the latter knew how to play with more poise to create his own shots in pick-and-roll situations, particularly from the midrange area. Risacher doesn’t have those skills yet. He also doesn’t yet have the explosive first step to beat anyone or enough flexibility to shake opponents off the dribble. Still, he doesn’t turn 19 until April, so there’s a ton of room between where he is now and what he will be at his peak.

2. Washington Wizards

Alex Sarr | 7-1 big | 19 years old | Perth Wildcats

Sarr emerged early in this draft cycle as a legitimate potential No. 1 pick, starting with his performance against the G League Ignite in Las Vegas in early September, when scouts came away believing was the best prospect on the court. He came off the bench for Perth in the Australian NBL this season, averaging 9.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 52 percent shooting while taking two 3s in 17 minutes per night. But don’t think twice about those pedestrian numbers: The Wildcats finished second in the league, and Sarr plays behind All-NBL big man Keanu Pinder.

Sarr is a difference-maker on defense. He covers an immense amount of ground with his arms and quick feet, similar to bigs such as Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr., Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton. Sarr flies around rotating off the ball and can handle himself in a variety of ball-screen coverages, ranging from switching to drop. If he’s waiting at the rim and opponents dare challenge him, odds are he’ll get to the shot and contest it, if not outright block it.

The other end is the question. Sarr has shown potential as a rim runner in ball screens, but for the most part, his game involves pick-and-pops, and he doesn’t make great screen contact. He’s not a high-impact defensive rebounder, which has led to some questioning if he can consistently play the five in the NBA. If he indeed requires a more physical center alongside him, his limited offensive game may be exposed. He’s best served playing next to a floor-spacing five, or he’d need to become a dangerous perimeter shooter himself.

Advertisement

Sarr has shown flashes as a ballhandler and some touch as a shooter, so there’s enough upside in his package of skills to make him a legitimate difference-maker. It will just take him a lot of time to round out. He’s not as offensively polished as Mobley was entering the league in 2021.

Sarr’s range is across the top five right now, depending on how the lottery order falls.

3. Detroit Pistons

Matas Buzelis | 6-10 wing/forward | 19 years old | G League Ignite

Buzelis has been a beneficiary of multiple factors each occurring at once in this class. First, his size, off-ball capabilities and athleticism with the ball in transition make him a high-upside swing in a draft class doesn’t have many of them. Second, bigger wings with similar profiles like Charlotte’s Miller, Memphis’ G.G. Jackson, Washington’s Bilal Coulibaly and Houston’s Whitmore have put together promising rookie seasons while displaying skills they didn’t consistently showcase in their pre-draft seasons.

Those four are positive indicators because Buzelis has not had an ideal pre-draft campaign, especially early. He’s averaging 13.7 points while shooting 45.6 percent from the field in the G League, including a disappointing 26.9 percent mark from 3. However, over his last 11 games, he’s upped those numbers to 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, one steal and an awesome 2.5 blocks per game. He also won some plaudits from scouts for his play at the Rising Stars event at All-Star Weekend, where he helped the G League team upset a roster of NBA rookies and sophomores that included Wembanyama.

There are certainly questions even after his in-season improvement, and shooting is the one that comes up the most. Buzelis shot the ball well the season before at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas but hasn’t been consistent during his youth career. While Buzelis has been able to fit into an offensive role with G League Ignite instead of pressing the issue, scouts would like to learn more about his ability to create on his own. Additionally, while Buzelis’ off-ball defense has largely won over scouts, he has struggled on the ball this season in large part due to a lack of strength.

This is earlier than I would select Buzelis, but this mock draft also is based on feedback I get from scouts, and many are willing to give Buzelis the benefit of the doubt for the G League Ignite’s struggles. I think Buzelis’ range honestly starts at No. 1 if he has a strong pre-draft process and could extend down to No. 7 or below.

GO DEEPER

Matas Buzelis Q&A: Ignite prospect talks Rising Stars competition, watching Luka and more

4. Memphis Grizzlies

Reed Sheppard | 6-3 guard | 20 years old | Kentucky

A month ago, I said Sheppard and Kentucky teammate Rob Dillingham were the two most polarizing players in this draft class. That label remains accurate for Dillingham, but I don’t think that applies to Sheppard anymore, based on my conversations with NBA team personnel.

In his last 13 games, Sheppard is averaging 14.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists (with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), 2.7 steals and nearly one block per game while shooting a ridiculous 52.6 percent from the field, 50.0 percent from 3 and 86.4 percent from the free-throw line. By the way, that 50 percent mark from 3 over his last 13 games? It’s actually made his full-season percentage go down. 

Questions certainly remain. Sheppard is listed at 6-foot-3, though scouts are skeptical he’s that tall. He lacks the length or athleticism typical of a top-10 pick. But the more Sheppard starred in SEC play, the more scouts emphasized what he can do as opposed to the traits he doesn’t have. It’s absurd to me that he only made second-team All-SEC; there’s a real case for him as one of the five best players in the entire country, and I’d consider him an All-American in some capacity.  It’s almost impossible for a college player of any age to be this productive and efficient.

Advertisement

Offensively, Sheppard is potent leading the fast break or delivering hit-ahead passes to his teammates. When combined with his elite shooting, those attributes make Sheppard one of the best connective players in this class. On top of that, he’s showcasing more dexterity operating in ball screens and as a playmaker in recent weeks. His games against Mississippi State (32 points, seven assists and five rebounds on Feb. 27) and Tennessee (27 points, five rebounds and five assists on March 9) were eye-openers for NBA personnel.

Defensively, Sheppard makes plays, and his closeouts on shooters are textbook and disruptive. He has some off-ball lapses that can cause issues for Kentucky, and while he’s excellent at staying in front of guards on the ball, opponents can force mismatches that take advantage of his size deficiencies.

Should NBA personnel believe in Sheppard’s remarkable feel for the game and high skill level, or should they worry about his physical deficiencies? Given the recent success of other supposed “skill-first” guys who slipped in the draft (Jalen Brunson, Brandin Podziemski and Desmond Bane, to name a few), I continue to buy into Sheppard’s positives more than I fret about his negatives. I had Sheppard ranked at No. 6 on my big board back in early December and have maintained a high grade on him throughout the process.

It’s growing exceedingly likely Sheppard will be taken in the top eight if he was to enter the draft. If the right team ends up at No. 1, it’s even possible he at least gets a workout and meeting to prove his chops with that team. The Grizzlies, for example, they tend to love prospects with high feel for the game and skill levels that produce across the box score, even if they have physical limitations. If they draft Sheppard, they can then use Luke Kennard’s expiring salary as matching salary in a trade to fill their hole at center.

GO DEEPER

Reed Sheppard and Kentucky, a love story. ‘The whole state is connected to him’

5. San Antonio Spurs

Nikola Topić | 6-6 lead guard | 18 years old | Crvena zvezda

Topić has not played since early January due to a knee injury he suffered after leaving Mega Basket and returning to Crvena zvezda for the second half of its season. Topić did enough to rise up the scouting board before that injury, and league sources remain unconcerned about its long-term severity despite his extended absence.

In 13 games for Mega Basket, Topić averaged 18.6 points and 6.9 assists while shooting 52.4 percent from the field. He’s a dynamic ball-screen distributor and consistently lives in the paint in the Adriatic League, which consists of teams from the six countries that once made up Yugoslavia. He can execute nearly every pass in the book once he gets that downhill advantage and hits teammates with flair and creativity. Topić also scores proficiently at the rim, using inventive touch in finishing high off the glass and around rim protectors.

Scouts have consistently brought up two issues with Topić’s game. First, where is he as a shooter? He makes his free throws but is an inconsistent marksmen from 3-point range. If he can’t make enough jumpers to keep defenses honest, how will that affect the rest of his game? The second question is whether he can separate consistently from NBA defenders, who are quicker than the slower players who make up the Adriatic League. On the other hand, the NBA game is played in more space, so this could go either way.

Advertisement

Regardless, Topić has a good chance to be taken in the top six. The Spurs could use a lead guard to develop alongside Wembanyama, so they’re a good fit for him.

6. Charlotte Hornets

Stephon Castle | 6-6 wing | 19 years old | Connecticut

I still have Castle in my top six, and I can’t figure out why the public seems hesitant to embrace his accomplishments this season. He has been outstanding since returning from an injury earlier this season. Since the calendar turned to 2024, Castle has averaged 12.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists over 18 games while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3. Since Jan. 28, his long-range accuracy has risen to 37.9 percent on 2.4 3s per game. He is a terrific connective tissue for the best team in the country and consistently impacts the game in multiple facets.

On top of that, Castle has played at a really high level on defense, taking on a variety of tough assignments ranging from point-of-attack matchups to difficult off-ball help responsibilities. He guarded Creighton All-American candidate Baylor Scheierman as well as anyone has all season, holding the Blue Jays’ star to just 24 points in 71 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting across two games. Castle’s versatility has been a huge part of Connecticut’s stingy defense.

Teams still question whether Castle can play point guard at the next level or if he’s more of a secondary ballhandler, which I think is more likely. Some evaluators also wonder if his jumper will translate to the NBA. But Sheppard is the only other freshman in the country consistently impacting games this positively on both ends of the court, and whereas Sheppard’s Wildcats are considered a vulnerable No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Castle’s Huskies are the clear No. 1 team. If Castle’s jumper sticks at the next level, there’s a case for him to go in the top three.

He makes a ton of sense for the Hornets between LaMelo Ball and Miller.

7. San Antonio Spurs (via Raptors)

Cody Williams | 6-8 wing | 19 years old | Colorado

The brother of Oklahoma City Thunder wing Jalen Williams, Cody Williams profiles as the kind of prized high-end prospect who can pressure the rim, pass, make plays and potentially defend multiple positions. At 6-8 with long arms, Williams has showcased the ability to play some point guard this season in addition to attacking in transition and slashing from the wing in a straight line. He’s averaging 13.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 59 percent from the field for a Buffaloes team that earned one of the final at-large selections into the NCAA Tournament. He’s also made 45.7 percent of his 3s, though his lack of volume makes NBA teams concerned that his jumper won’t translate.

The bigger issues for scouts are about Williams’ self-creation upside. These days, NBA wings must be able to create and knock down pull-up jumpers. That’s not a part of Williams’ game at this stage, and it wasn’t in high school, either. If he can showcase any upside as a pull-up shooter, NBA teams would feel better about taking him in the top three. Even so, most evaluators have him in the top-six range at this point.

Advertisement

The Spurs, with a second lottery pick and the point guard spot filled, can afford to take a chance on developing Williams’ game.

8. Houston Rockets (via Nets)

Ron Holland | 6-8 wing | 18 years old | G League Ignite

Holland was the Ignite’s most productive player this season, averaging 19.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while being one of the team’s few sources of offensive creation. However, most of those points came in transition or inefficiently in half-court settings. He had a below-average true shooting percentage and more turnovers than assists as he struggled with his decision-making. That’s somewhat to be expected from an 18-year-old playing professionally for the first time, but it also has left evaluators in a tricky spot as they try to determine where to slot him. He’ll miss the rest of the G League season with a thumb injury.

Holland’s motor is what excites NBA teams most. He constantly plays hard, getting the most out of his terrific athleticism by going 100 percent at every moment. His energy can sometimes bite him on defense when he gets overaggressive and overly physical. But amid the Ignite’s poor season, Holland has at least continued to improve, showcasing a capacity for growth that impressed evaluators.

It seems like Holland’s range is from picks No. 4 to No. 12 right now. Some evaluators who have gone back through his tape now that his season is over have come away a bit more understanding and impressed with his play this season. Pre-draft workouts will play a huge role in determining his draft position, especially if he shoots the ball well in front of NBA executives.

9. Utah Jazz

Rob Dillingham | 6-3 guard | 19 years old | Kentucky

This pick goes to the Oklahoma City Thunder if it falls outside of the top 10. The Jazz seem likely to keep it, as they have the NBA’s ninth-worst record and have fallen off a cliff since the NBA trade deadline.

Dillingham is a prospect with dizzying highs and significant question marks. Scouts love his elite speed with the ball in his hands, in addition to his touch. Dillingham, who is averaging 15 points and 3.8 assists per game this season while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3, maintains his control at a high level despite playing at a fast pace. He uses a bevy of quick crossovers and maximizes his speed with well-timed hesitation moves to change pace.

He’s also listed at 6-3, and many scouts aren’t convinced he’ll even measure that big at the combine in May. That lack of size impacts him as a finisher at times and really causes issues on the other end. Dillingham may be the worst defender in the class, given his struggles getting over screens at the point of attack and issues dealing with any sort of mismatch. He also can get a bit distracted off the ball, with poorly timed digs and rotations.

Advertisement

Can Dillingham be a starting point guard, or is he more of a bench sparkplug? Is he a good enough distributor to be the former, or is he too much of a score-first guard? Can he hold up at all on defense to allow him to close key games? My best NBA comparison for Dillingham is Lou Williams, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner who started just 11 percent of his 1,123 NBA games. Where would a team take Williams in this class? My best bet is in the back end of the lottery, but it seems Dillingham’s range extends from No. 5 to No. 15 or so. There are enormous fans of Dillingham out there who love his explosiveness and skill, and others who don’t love his game at all and worry about his capability to close games.

10. Atlanta Hawks

Tidjane Salaun | 6-9 wing/forward | 18 years old | Cholet

Salaun is another bigger wing/forward archetype of prospect with perimeter skill, and the Hawks need more of those attributes around Trae Young, Jalen Johnson and Kobe Bufkin. At 6-9, Salaun has been productive this season in the French League and Basketball Champions League, averaging 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 35 percent from behind the 3-point line. He has a smooth stroke that should have no issues translating to NBA range, and he can attack the rim on cuts and straight-line drives.

I’m a bit lower than consensus on him, though, because I am worried about his overall feel for the game. I also view him as a more of a forward than a true wing athletically, which could hinder his positional flexibility. But he’s extremely young and has all the time in the world to gain a better understanding of the game. Many teams see him as a real option starting in the back half of the lottery.

11. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Rockets)

Donovan Clingan | 7-2 center | 20 years old | Connecticut

Oklahoma City wants to be able to play with five shooters spaced along the 3-point line at all times. Typically, the biggest impediment to that goal is the difficulty of finding centers with legitimate size for the position who can also dribble, pass and shoot. The Thunder might end up having to settle for more of a complement to Chet Holmgren than a clear scheme fit.

Clingan would be that complement. He can run dribble-handoffs and really pass for a player his size. He’s excellent as a screener and can roll well to the rim. Scouts also will tell you his jumper looks clean in Connecticut practices, even if most are skeptical he’ll ever be an NBA-level 3-point shooter.

Clingan has had an up-and-down year after injuring his foot in the preseason and his ankle midway through the regular season. When he’s been on the court, he’s been one of the most dominant players in college basketball. He completely shuts down the paint when he’s in the game, using an enormous frame that takes up a significant portion of the paint. He moves well for his size and is elite in drop coverage defensively, stopping ballhandlers from turning the corner on him and getting to the rim. His ability to backpedal on-balance is very real. When not defending the ball, he makes his presence felt when necessary.

Evaluators aren’t sure how long Clingan can actually play within games. He was essentially a part-time player as a freshman on the way to Connecticut’s title run and has seen limited minutes this season due to his injuries. The good news: Clingan has averaged 25 minutes per game since Feb. 6 and been spectacular, notching 12.6 points, nine rebounds, two assists and three blocks per contest while locking down the restricted area. If Connecticut goes on an NCAA Tournament run, his draft position will rise.

Connecticut center Donovan Clingan dunks against the Marquette defense during the Big East tournament. (Brad Penner / USA Today)

12. Chicago Bulls

Dalton Knecht | 6-6 wing | 23 years old | Tennessee

It took a long time for people to recognize how much Knecht torched SEC play this season. He scored at a staggering pace, averaging 25.5 points in 18 SEC games while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from 3. For the season, he’s averaging 20.1 points per game on 48 percent from the field, but those stats are dragged down by a stretch where he played at less than 100 percent following an ankle injury suffered against North Carolina. If you remove those games, Knecht is averaging 25 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He was the clear SEC Player of the Year and will be an All-American at the end of the year.

Advertisement

Great college players aren’t always great NBA players, but the style of the 23-year-old Knecht’s game makes him a potential lottery pick. Everything he does offensively should translate to NBA settings. Not only is he is a terrific shooter proficient in spot-up situations and off movement, but he’s also a higher-end athlete than most floor spacers who can sky in transition and finish inside with hang time. He simply has a knack for scoring.

The issues come on defense, as Knecht is rough around the edges and consistently makes errors that lead to problems for Tennessee. But I tend to buy into late bloomers like him, especially those who can really shoot and possess legitimate NBA athleticism.

GO DEEPER

Tennessee’s scoring sensation is the All-American no one saw coming

13. New Orleans Pelicans (via Lakers)

Isaiah Collier | 6-5 guard | 19 years old | USC

Collier has been one of the toughest evaluations this season. He started the season on fire and looked like a candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He tailed off as USC fell apart, struggling with turnovers and defense before hurting his wrist and missing time. Once he returned, he took the Pac-12 by storm. As USC closed the season as one of the better teams in the Pac-12, Collier averaged 18.7 points and 4.3 assists in his final seven games while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 35.7 from 3. He was the bruising, powerful, bowling-ball-esque driver we saw early on and throughout his high school career, living at the foul line by averaging seven free-throw attempts.

Collier is an impressive downhill athlete who lives in the paint and has the wherewithal to hit kickouts and dump-offs for assists. Despite his size and strength, he has not been an impactful defender in any way, struggling to stay in front of opposing guards and wings. Questions still exist about his feel for the game and shooting ability. And yet, it’s really hard to find players who live at the foul line and possess Collier’s sheer force and athleticism to impact games.

Collier is definitely polarizing, but I think his late-season push will slot him in the top 15 with ease, with a chance to rise to the middle of the lottery with strong workouts.

14. Portland Trail Blazers (via Warriors)

Ja’Kobe Walter | 6-5 wing | 19 years old | Baylor

Walter has been up and down this season, averaging 14.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Many of his struggles can be explained by his inconsistent shooting. Walter was a solid marksman in high school but has made just 33.9 percent of his 3s so far this season. In Big 12 play this year, Walter made just 40 percent of his 2-point shots and 29.1 percent of his 3-pointers. That’s rough. He hasn’t been quite as good on defense as anticipated, either.

If his shooting recovers, Walter makes for a good investment. He’s an athletic, 6-5 wing who can be run off movement into tough shots. He rarely makes mistakes, has strong feel for the game and plays well within a team concept on offense.

Advertisement

Scouts are split on Walter’s upside. Most don’t see him as a star, but they disagree on whether he’s an NBA starter long-term or merely a rotation player. Those who buy into his shooting and think he can improve his shaky defense could even see him landing in the top eight. I’m a bit lower on Walter right now and would have him further down my personal board. He has some real flaws to fix and doesn’t have the backing of elite size or explosiveness to fall back on. But team personnel tend to give me a range from No. 8 to No. 18 for him.

15. Miami Heat

Kyle Filipowski | 7-0 big | 20 years old| Duke

Filipowski has played like an All-American this season, averaging 16.7 points, eight rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting about 50 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3. He carries Duke through long stretches of games with his ability to catch the ball on the block and score, but pro scouts find his well-rounded perimeter game most appealing. Filipowski can shoot from the perimeter, attack heavy closeouts and bring the ball up the court in grab-and-go situations. His passing has taken a nice leap this season, and he’s more comfortable reading the court. I also think Filipowski’s defense is better than its reputation. The Blue Devils have a top-25 defense, and he usually positions himself well, contests enough shots and can slide his feet a couple of times on an island to stay with wings and even some guards.

Filipowski is a really interesting player for the Heat because he can play next to another big, as he did last season with Dereck Lively II, or operate as a center himself, as he has this season. With Bam Adebayo locked in place, Filipowski would make for an interesting frontcourt complement.

16. Philadelphia 76ers

Yves Missi | 7-0 big | 20 years old | Baylor

Missi seems like an odd pick when the 76ers having Joel Embiid, but I’m skeptical they end up keeping the pick given their star-hunting goals this summer.

Missi is a project, but one with elite tools that project exceedingly well toward an NBA role. As a legitimate 7-footer with a 7-5 wingspan, Missi might have the best frame of any low-usage center prospect in the class. He’s a terrific athlete who moves his feet fluidly in space given his size, and he possesses the hops to sky for impressive lob finishes, both in transition and from the dunker spot underneath the hoop. He blocks shots well and has potential to stick with guards for multiple slides on defense. He made the Big 12 All-Defense team as a freshman, while averaging 10.9 points per game on 62 percent from the field.

He profiles as a Clint Capela-style NBA big man who can guard a bit in space once he gets the nuances of ball-screen coverage down and protect the rim with his physical frame. He needs to put on a bit more weight in his lower half and get stronger through his base, as he too often gets moved on the block and can struggle on the defensive glass. But he has the look of a competent defensive starting center if he can reach his ceiling.

17. Toronto Raptors (via Pacers)

Bobi Klintman | 6-9 wing/forward | 20 years old | Cairns Taipans

It has been a season of ups and downs for Klintman in the NBL. Playing for Cairns as a member of the league’s Next Star development program, Klintman has put up some big games, especially in the first half of the season when Cairns was rolling. However, he missed sporadic time dealing with a few minor injuries over the back half of the season as Cairns fell out of contention.

Advertisement

Klintman is a 6-9 wing/forward who can knock down shots from the perimeter, having made 35.4 percent from 3 this season and 80 percent from the line. He’s excellent on the break, where he can handle and make nice passes. He’s still learning his own capabilities as he grows into his frame; his feel for the game is still developing after he picked up the sport late in his youth. In total, he averaged 9.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this year.

Most teams expect Klintman to hear his name called in the post-lottery range of the first round, even if his rawness and age make him a bit polarizing for evaluators league-wide. The conversations surrounding him are similar to those involving Rui Hachumira, the Gonzaga product who went No. 9 to the Washington Wizards in the 2019 draft.

18. Orlando Magic

Jared McCain | 6-3 guard | 20 years old | Duke

McCain was seen as a potential one-and-done lottery prospect entering the season, but a slow start made evaluators pause as they waited to see exactly how he’d settle in. Over the last two-thirds of the season, McCain has been the best freshman scorer in high-major college basketball. Since Duke’s Dec. 9 game against Charlotte, McCain is averaging 15.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists over his last 23 games. He’s made 41.3 percent of his more than six 3-point attempts per game during that span and is consistently getting into the lane in transition or when driving closeouts. Scouts strongly believe McCain will end up as a high-level shooter even by NBA standards, often invoking Seth Curry’s name as a potential comparison.

The key for McCain will be showing he can impact games in other ways. He rebounds well for a small guard and generally makes good decisions, but there isn’t much margin for error for him considering he’s 6-3 and doesn’t possess a ton of length. The Magic could use another scoring guard who can fire from 3 and help space the floor for their playmaking forwards.

GO DEEPER

This Duke freshman is already TikTok famous before his first college game — for dancing

19. New York Knicks (via Mavericks)

Johnny Furphy | 6-9 wing | 19 years old | Kansas

Furphy is one of the tougher evaluations in this draft class. It looked like he’d turned a significant corner a few weeks ago. Playing for Bill Self, a coach who is generally averse to playing raw freshmen, Furphy averaged 13.6 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 54.3 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from 3 during a 12-game stretch from Jan. 16 through the end of February. But in his last four games, with Kansas struggling with injuries and defenses gearing up for March Madness, Furphy hasn’t reached double figures once and has been much less efficient.

What should NBA teams make of this drop? It’s a fair question. His 12-game sample of strong play before this downturn is his only strong stretch so far; he averaged just 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in his first 15 games while playing 14 minutes per night.

Furphy has a lot of the attributes NBA teams seek when trying to identify the right projects in which to invest. It’s hard to find players with this much size and athleticism who can play on the wing. He’s come a long way in just 18 months to even get to this point. He was always seen as an interesting upside swing due to his athleticism and shooting ability, but at the Center of Excellence in Australia, he didn’t seem to know how to impact the game when he played.

Advertisement

This is the spot where this draft class becomes exceedingly difficult to project. I can’t say for sure that Furphy will even be in the 2024 draft, as he could choose to return to Kansas. If he is, based on my read of NBA teams and the intel I’ve received, my bet is that someone in this range will want to invest developmental resources in Furphy. His range is wide, though, and would really depend on his performance in pre-draft workouts.

GO DEEPER

Trips to Kangaroo Island and ‘Eff-you’ dunks: Inside the rise of Kansas’ Johnny Furphy

20. Atlanta Hawks (via Kings)

Tyler Smith | 6-11 big | 19 years old | G League Ignite

Smith is an upside swing for a team seeking a big with perimeter skills. He’s an unfinished player right now, but it’s hard to find big athletes who can shoot like him. At 6-11 with about a 7-1 wingspan, Smith is a fluid athlete who moves well in transition and off the ball on offense. He’s a strong backdoor cutter and has the leaping ability to be able to play out of the dunker spot. More than that, Smith has a beautiful jumper that should translate well to the NBA as he gets stronger and more consistent. He’s hit 35.4 percent from 3 on his way to 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He and Holland have been arguably the two most consistent Ignite players this season.

On the other hand, Smith’s defense needs a lot of work, whether he’s defending fours or fives. He’s messy in help situations and needs to get much more comfortable executing within a team’s scheme. It’s hard to see him logging a lot of minutes early in his NBA career, but the former five-star prospect could become a difference-maker down the road if his team is patient.

21. New York Knicks

Zach Edey | 7-4 center | 22 years old | Purdue

Edey continues to be nothing short of the best player in college basketball, averaging 24.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and over two blocks per game on his way to back-to-back National Player of the Year awards. He establishes position anywhere and everywhere on the court because of his size and strength, yet he possesses remarkable touch around the rim. He’s somehow underrated in ball-screen actions. One could make the case that he’s the best screen-setter in the country with the way he consistently crushes guards trying to get through and rolls to the rim for deep post-ups or easy buckets.

I also think Edey has improved defensively over his time in college. He become a good, impactful drop-coverage pick-and-roll defender and takes up enough space to dissuade guard from driving and finishing around the basket.

The issue with his fit in the NBA are obvious: He’s a 7-4 supergiant who doesn’t move particularly well laterally. Can he stop ballhandlers from turning the corner on him? Can he get back in transition in the up-and-down NBA?

Still, I consistently am told Edey is likely be taken in the first round, outside of the lottery.

GO DEEPER

Toronto tall tales of Zach Edey: On the ice, the diamond … and ‘What’s a Purdue?’

22. Phoenix Suns

Devin Carter | 6-3 guard | 22 years old | Providence

Carter is one of the best players in college basketball this season. The son of former NBA point guard Anthony Carter, Devin was terrific in 2022-23 after transferring from South Carolina but has leapt to another level this season. Carter has always been a terrific defensive player, rightfully nominated as a semifinalist for National Defensive Player of the Year. He is aggressive at the point of attack and has elite off-ball defensive instincts. His elite athleticism is basketball-functional and allows him to fly around the court.

Advertisement

His biggest jump this season has come on offense. After years of being a questionable shooter, Carter hit 38.5 percent of his nearly seven 3-point attempts per game this season. His shot is something of a moon ball that arcs high in the air before falling, but it goes in at a level that is hard to ignore.

His NBA role still projects to be a 3-and-D guard who can do a little bit more. Teams will want to get him into their building to see how his shot looks from the NBA line.

Providence guard Devin Carte elevates for a dunk against Connecticut earlier this month. (Eric Canha / USA Today)

23. New Orleans Pelicans

Kyshawn George | 6-8 wing | 20 years old | Miami (Fla.)

Scouts are increasingly excited about the Swiss product due to his skill level mixed with his size. As a 6-8 wing, George is a late bloomer physically who averaged 10 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists versus only 1.9 turnovers per game from Dec. 21 onward. For the season, he drilled 3s at a 40.8 percent clip. George looks every bit the part of a big wing, with a smooth set shot that extends out to NBA distance and a capability to drive and kick when the opportunity arises.

George is also an awesome passer who makes early hit-aheads to find transition offense and is excellent at finding kickout passes when he gets into the paint. He just knows how to play and has the pedigree, as his father played college basketball at St. Francis (Pa.) in the 1990s.

Athleticism is the biggest question for George. He put on a substantial amount of weight after hitting a growth spurt over the last few years, and while he’s fluid, he currently has no burst. He’s still quite skinny, but can he put on more weight while adding enough explosiveness and power to play with more force? That’s an open question. Scouts are also not sure what role he played, if any, in Miami’s disastrous finish to the season.

George range is seen as somewhere in the back half of the first round now.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

Bub Carrington | 6-5 guard | 18 years old | Pittsburgh

This is a bit earlier than I would take Carrington. He’s a significant project, with the upside being something of a combo guard who can play in ball screens, make high-level passing reads and score with volume when he gets going. But he was the talk of the scouting community after conference championship week, when he put together several monster games as Pittsburgh made an ultimately unsuccessful push toward the NCAA Tournament.

Carrington’s best games make him look like a future lottery pick, which could end up happening in 2025 if he decides to return to school. His worst games make him seem like a player who will be stuck in the G League for multiple years as he learns how to attack and make decisions. He was productive at Pittsburgh this season, averaging 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists, but he shot 41.2 percent from the field and 32.2 percent from 3. He missed a ton of his shots off the catch and was most impactful with the ball in his hands.

Advertisement

Any team that takes him will need to be patient and willing to go through some growing pains. I’m not convinced he stays in the 2024 class. But in light of his ACC tournament performance, NBA teams are excited to get him into their building and learn more about how he thinks the game and how much he can improve his jumper. His range is seen as something like No. 20 to No. 45 right now, and he has the perfect opportunity to test his stock.

25. Milwaukee Bucks

Ryan Dunn | 6-8 wing | 21 years old | Virginia

Dunn is all about defense. The Naismith committee not even having him as a semifinalist for National Defensive Player of the Year is the most egregious award decision in college basketball in the last five years or so — and there have been many contenders.

Dunn can do everything a team asks of him on defense and more. He can guard all five college positions and should be able to check one through four in the NBA. He is an elite defensive playmaker who averaged 1.3 steals and 2.4 blocks per game. He’s always available as a rim protector coming from the opposite side, and he can execute any ball-screen coverage.

The issue for Dunn is on offense. He plays hard, crashes the offensive glass and is a sharp cutter, but his jumper has been rough throughout his two years at Virginia. By the end of the regular season, Dunn stopped shooting 3s entirely and seemed to lose confidence in general. In his final 11 regular-season games, he scored just 51 points over 297 minutes played, shooting just 14 percent from 3 and a ghastly 31 percent on free throws.

Defensively, Dunn is as good as New Orleans Pelicans ace wing Herb Jones was when he entered the NBA in 2021, but he’s nowhere near as polished as Jones on offense. Teams are all over the map on him right now. I’ve heard projections ranging from right outside of the lottery to the end of the first round, depending on how workouts go.

26. Washington Wizards (via Clippers)

Jaylon Tyson | 6-7 wing | 21 years old | California

Tyson’s gone on a real journey to this point. After entering college as a top-40 player in his recruiting class, Tyson has gone from Texas to Texas Tech to Cal in three years. Now, finally, he is emerging as a real NBA prospect. At 6-7 with long arms, he has great measurements for the NBA. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he’s powerful and isn’t all that bothered by contact, allowing him to get the most out of his length and athleticism. He averaged 19.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from 3.

He’s another guy scouts are on the fence about. His decision-making can be frustrating, he often predetermines his reads and his shooting remains in question because he’s never really taken a high volume of 3s. Somewhere between picks No. 20 to No. 40 looks about right at this stage, although I think he could move up in the pre-draft process.

Advertisement

27. Minnesota Timberwolves

Hunter Sallis | 6-5 guard | 21 years old | Wake Forest

Sallis has been one of the biggest risers throughout the pre-draft cycle this season. The former Gonzaga guard averaged 18.3 points per game while shooting 49.9 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from 3 this season. The shooting from distance is the big leap. In his two seasons at Gonzaga, Sallis never hit over 27 percent from 3. Now, Sallis has confidence and is drilling his nearly six 3-point attempts per game at a high level. If he can keep that up — and his free-throw percentages have long indicated some shooting potential — he has a chance to be the kind of scoring combo guard who litters NBA benches league-wide. He’s athletic and shifty and can play on or off the ball consistently.

At this point in the draft, teams are just looking for a useful NBA rotation player. Sallis ticks a lot of boxes for the Timberwolves if his shooting is real, considering their need for scoring off the bench.

28. Utah Jazz (via Thunder)

Cam Christie | 6-6 wing | 18 years old | Minnesota

Like Carrington, Christie is another great candidate to test the draft process and find out exactly where his stock lies. The brother of Lakers’ wing Max Christie, Cam’s style of play is similar, but he has showcased the capacity to do more with the ball in his hands than Max did at this stage.

Cam averaged 11.3 points and 2.2 assists this season versus only 1.2 turnovers. More importantly, he drilled 40.3 percent of his 3-pointers this season while taking more than five per game. Scouts are excited about his potential to be a 3-and-D player with even more ball skills than normal, though it will take Christie time to reach that level.

If Christie stays in this class, he will likely be someone who will need at least a year in the G League to get his body up to speed. But in a down draft year, scouts are enthusiastic about sorting through players like him to see if any could turn into something long-term. The Jazz are on a longer timeline and could afford to be patient.

29. Denver Nuggets

Tyler Kolek | 6-3 guard | 23 years old | Marquette

Before an oblique injury that held him out the Big East tournament, Kolek had gone nuclear. From Jan. 15 until Feb. 25, Marquette went 10-1 as Kolek averaged 16.9 points and 9.6 assists per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3. However, his injury could end up hindering him in the NCAA Tournament, if he plays as expected. Marquette desperately needs him to be healthy to make a deep run.

Kolek is a crafty guard. I’m not convinced he can even dunk, but he knows exactly how to play off two feet and is an elite distributor in ball screens. He’s made a big leap as a shooter this season, drilling more than 40 percent from 3 while looking much more confident pulling up when the opportunity arises. Kolek will need to prove he has the footspeed to hold up on defense in the NBA, and he’ll need to prove he can create separation with the ball in his hands against better defenders. But any team looking for a backup point guard could plug Kolek in early. Indiana’s T.J. McConnell is a name that often comes up as a comparison.

Advertisement

30. Boston Celtics

Justin Edwards | 6-8 wing | 20 years old | Kentucky

Welcome back to the party! Over his last 10 games, Edwards, a five-star recruit initially considered a potential top-five pick before a difficult start to the season, is averaging 11.3 points and three rebounds per game while shooting 61.5 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3. He and the Wildcats battled through his early struggles and seem to have come out on the other side with a productive player who has contributed to important wins recently. Whereas he was a mess on defense early in the season as he struggled to get Kentucky’s rotations down, he’s been more consistently in the right places of late. Instead of trying to do too much with the ball, as was the case most of the campaign, he’s now happy to play within the flow of the offense as a floor-spacer who attacks closeouts occasionally and cuts.

NBA scouts latched onto Edwards initially because they love big wings who can knock down shots and play with the ball a bit. Now, he’s finally starting to fit that criteria more and more. The high lottery is out of the question, but don’t be stunned if Edwards is able to at least secure a first-round slot after his horrible start. He deserves credit for fighting through the adversity, as does Wildcats coach John Calipari for sticking with him.

Second Round

31. Utah Jazz (via Wizards): DaRon Holmes | 6-10 big | 21 years old | Dayton

32. Toronto Raptors (via Pistons): Trey Alexander | 6-4 guard | 21 years old | Creighton

33. San Antonio Spurs: Kel’el Ware | 7-0 big | Indiana

34. Portland Trail Blazers (via Hornets): Oso Ighodaro | 6-11 big | Marquette

35. Milwaukee Bucks (via Trail Blazers): Tristan da Silva | 6-9 forward | Colorado

36. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Grizzlies): Kevin McCullar | 6-7 wing | Kansas

37. Philadelphia 76ers (via Raptors): Baylor Scheierman | 6-7 wing | Creighton

38. Memphis Grizzlies (via Nets): Melvin Ajinca | 6-7 wing | Saint-Quentin

39. New York Knicks (via Jazz): Alex Karaban | 6-8 wing | Connecticut

Advertisement

40. Portland Trail Blazers (via Hawks): A.J. Johnson | 6-5 guard | Illawarra

41. Charlotte Hornets (via Rockets): Ulrich Chomche | 6-11 big | NBA Africa Academy

42. Boston Celtics (via Bulls): Ajay Mitchell | 6-5 guard | UC Santa Barbara

43. Houston Rockets (via Warriors): Izan Almansa | 6-10 big | G League Ignite

44. San Antonio Spurs (via Lakers): Payton Sandfort | 6-7 wing | Iowa

45. Miami Heat: P.J. Hall | 6-10 big | Clemson

46. LA Clippers (via Pacers): Adem Bona | 6-10 big | UCLA

47. Boston Celtics (via Mavericks): Pelle Larsson | 6-6 wing | Arizona

48. Orlando Magic: Antonio Reeves | 6-4 wing | Kentucky

49. Sacramento Kings: Trevon Brazile | 6-10 big | Arkansas

50. Washington Wizards (via Suns): K.J. Simpson | 6-2 guard | Colorado

51. Detroit Pistons (via Knicks): Pacome Dadiet | 6-7 wing | Ratiopharm Ulm

52. Indiana Pacers (via Pelicans): Cam Spencer | 6-4 guard | Connecticut

53. Indiana Pacers (via Cavaliers): Juan Nunez | 6-3 guard | Ratiopharm Ulm

54. Indiana Pacers (via Bucks): Ariel Hukporti | 7-0 big | Melbourne United

55. Los Angeles Lakers (via Clippers): Johni Broome | 6-10 big | Auburn

56. Denver Nuggets (via Timberwolves): Jamal Shead | 6-2 guard | Houston

57. Memphis Grizzlies (via Thunder): Dillon Jones | 6-6 wing | Weber State

58. Charlotte Hornets (via Celtics): Malique Lewis | 6-8 wing | Mexico City Capitanes

Get The Bounce, a daily NBA Newsletter from Zach Harper and Shams Charania, in your inbox every morning. Sign up here.

(Top photo of Dalton Knecht, Reed Sheppard and Stephon Castle: Andy Lyons / Getty Images; Williams Paul, Matthew Maxey / Icon Sportswire. Illustration by Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.

Start Free Trial

Sam Vecenie covers the NBA Draft, college basketball and the NBA for The Athletic. His podcast, the Game Theory Podcast, is regularly ranked among the top podcasts on iTunes. Previously, he worked for CBS Sports, SB Nation, Sporting News, and Vice. Follow Sam on Twitter @Sam_Vecenie

Source

×