10 NBA Draft prospects who will make an immediate impact
With Warriors-versus-Cavs 4.0 in the books, NBA fans are already obsessing over the offseason. Where will LeBron sign? Which other superstars could be on the move? Which contenders will morph into bottom-feeders, and vice versa?
In this wildly unpredictable league, it seems like anything could happen.
Before the July 1 commencement of free agency, however, teams are focused on the draft. Last year’s draft provided immediate-impact players for playoff teams like the Jazz (Donovan Mitchell), Celtics (Jayson Tatum), and Warriors (Jordan Bell). Other rookies, like Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, didn’t play for contenders, but they were starters from day one and had a significant influence on their team’s fortunes.
With this year’s draft fast approaching – it’s slated for Thursday, June 21 – we have identified 10 prospects who are positioned to immediately jump into the rotation and make an impact for their new teams.
10. Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
Brunson will never be a captivating highlight-reel guy. He plays below the rim, and there isn’t much flash in his game. But the guy possesses all the intangibles. He was the unquestioned leader on Jay Wright’s national title squad. Brunson, the Naismith Player of the Year and son of former NBA player Rick Brunson, is only 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, but he has a strong frame; no one is going to push him around. The junior from Illinois also possesses incredible basketball IQ and maturity. Don’t expect him to experience a rough transition to the pro level. He knows what he can and cannot do, and that self-awareness should position him for success.
9. Robert Williams, PF, Texas A&M
Williams, at 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds, is a beast around the rim. He’s on the shorter side for a post player, but he has a gargantuan wingspan (7-foot-6), and he swats shots away with callous disregard. He averaged 2.5 and 2.6 blocks per game, respectively, in his freshman and sophomore seasons at A&M. Williams is a fluid athlete; in some respects, he reminds me of Draymond Green. He struggles, however, with shooting the ball. Williams does not even think about pulling the trigger from outside. He needs to work on his J, but his strength and athleticism position him as a major defensive contributor – perhaps this year’s version of Bell.
8. Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky
Knox was the No. 7 player in his class, and though he earned SEC Freshman of the Year, most mock drafts have him falling out of the lottery. I don’t understand it – Knox has promising pro potential. The Tampa native was streaky at times in his freshman campaign at Kentucky, but he’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Knox can play both inside and out, and he has an impressive arsenal of tools around the rim. He struggled early in the year on the defensive end, but he improved throughout the season. If the 6-foot-9 forward lands with a coach who can keep him engaged, he should shine.
7. Collin Sexton, G, Alabama
Sexton spent his freshman year in the spotlight, but all the attention didn’t negatively impact his performance. The 6-foot-3 guard – ranked No. 6 in his class – flourished as Alabama’s go-to weapon from the jump. He was especially impressive in the SEC Tournament, averaging 26.3 points, five rebounds, and three assists per game; he was named to the All-Tournament team. He also drove the length of the court and finger-rolled in a game-winning buzzer-beater against Texas A&M to keep his team’s season alive. A pit bull-type guard, Sexton should make some NBA team very happy. One thing is certain: he’s not going to back down from any opponent.
6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky
On a loaded Wildcats team, Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader. The 6-foot-6 freshman from Toronto doesn’t post eye-grabbing offensive stats (14.4 points, 5.1 assists per game), but he showed the ability to take over a game when his team needed it. He played with notable consistency in the postseason; in Kentucky’s SEC title-game win over Tennessee, he dropped 29 points. He also rebounds well for a guard and, with a 7-foot wingspan, is a strong defender. Gilgeous-Alexander has the physical and mental tools to be a consistent starter in the NBA.
5. Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State
Bridges surprisingly opted to come back for his sophomore season in East Lansing, and though he had a strong year, he probably slightly hurt his draft stock. The Spartans were expected to contend for a national title with the return of Bridges and addition of freshman Jaren Jackson Jr., but they underachieved. Bridges, a consensus second-team All-American, is built powerfully (6-foot-7, 225 pounds), and he plays with a smooth touch around the rim. His game is somewhat reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony’s. Bridges will need to become a more consistent shooter at the next level, but he has the offensive skillset to get numbers immediately.
4. Wendell Carter Jr., PF, Duke
Carter’s shine was limited this season because he played along Marvin Bagley III and three other strong starters: Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval, and Gary Trent Jr. Carter, however, very well could blossom into the best pro of the group. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder has patterned his game after Al Horford, and the comparisons are clear. Carter averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. He’ll probably never be a flashy, look-at-me superstar in the conventional sense, but much like Horford, he makes winning plays and does what needs to be done to get his team where it needs to go. He’s like Brunson — both players strike me as can’t-miss prospects.
3. Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova
Bridges has “15-year NBA veteran” written all over him. He has the athleticism and size to guard almost any position on the court, and his work on his jump shot has made him an offensive threat to boot. He shot only 29.9 percent from downtown as a freshman, but he boosted that percentage to 39.3 percent as a sophomore and 43.5 percent this past season as a junior. Bridges averaged 17.7 points per game for the national champs. I look at Bridges and see an Otto Porter/Trevor Ariza hybrid – he’s the type of versatile young wing every team in the league is seeking.
2. Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke
Bagley entered his lone collegiate season as one of the most highly-touted players in America – some sites ranked him No. 1, others No. 2 – and lived up to the hype. He earned ACC Player of the Year and posted impressive averages of 21.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. What I like most about Bagley are his versatility and hustle. He sprints up and down the floor, and his outside shot (39.7 percent) is a constant threat. He won’t go No. 1, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Bagley posted strong stats from Day One in the league and contended for Rookie of the Year.
1. Luka Doncic, SG, Slovenia
If you aren’t familiar with the gifted 19-year-old yet, read Mina Kimes’ excellent feature from April. He faces the same bias as every player out of Europe – is he the next Darko Millicic? There is no reason, however, to believe Doncic will be anything short of a star in the NBA. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Slovenian has competed in the EuroLeague since 2015, when he was 16. This year, he was named the league’s MVP and Final Four MVP in leading his Real Madrid squad to the championship. The EuroLeague isn’t the NBA, but it’s a super high level of competition, and he blossomed into its best player. Doncic will be ready for the biggest stage.
Aaron Mansfield is a freelance sports writer. His work has appeared in Complex, USA Today, and the New York Times. You can reach him via email at [email protected]