James Wiseman was considered a possible No. 1 overall NBA draft pick before he ever played in college. Things haven’t changed, even after only three games at the college level.
The Memphis freshman headlines the list of big men in Wednesday’s draft and he’s unlikely to fall out of the top three picks. Beyond Wiseman is another potential lottery pick in USC’s Onyeka Okongwu and a first-round prospect in Maryland’s Jalen Smith.
Here’s a look at some of the top prospects:
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His college stint with the Tigers, cut short by NCAA eligibility issues, showcased a tantalizing glimpse at his skillset.
STRENGTHS: The 19-year-old has a mobile 7-foot-1, 247-pound frame that will make him a presence at both ends of the court, particularly on the glass and in protecting the rim. He ran the floor well and displayed a soft touch in the paint at Memphis, though he made highlight reels more for his array of dunking finishes. The nation’s top-ranked recruit had 28 points and 11 rebounds against South Carolina State in his first game and had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) in his last against a ranked Oregon team. Wiseman made 20 of 26 shots (76.9%) and swatted nine shots in his three college games.
CONCERNS: Wiseman’s last game was a year ago Thursday, so there’s little for any team to study since his days dominating the high school ranks. Memphis ultimately withheld him from competition and the NCAA suspended him for 12 games before he withdrew from school last December, a sequence that cost him nearly a full season of college development.
The 19-year-old freshman offers plenty of defensive and rebounding potential.
STRENGTHS: The 6-9, 245-pounder arrived as a top-25 national recruit and immediately became USC’s low-post presence. He averaged a team-best 16.2 points while shooting 61.6% from the floor, finishing through contact and at the rim – frequently for dunks. He made 72% of his free throws, a promising stat considering he got the line a team-high 143 times. As a defender, he ranked ninth in the country by averaging 2.7 blocks per game, including eight in his first college game against Florida A&M, seven against TCU of the Big 12 and six against Oregon in Pac-12 play.
CONCERNS: He’ll have to continue to expand his offensive game overall beyond overpowering opponents down low or around the rim. It’s unclear exactly how much shooting range he will offer to pull defenders outside after he attempted just four college 3-pointers (making one).
The 20-year-old blossomed as a sophomore for the Terrapins and showed an improving inside-out game.
STRENGTHS: The 6-10 Smith was a top-20 recruit in 2018 then thrived in his second year. He bettered his numbers across the board, averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 53.8% from the floor. More impressively, he has developed into a capable 3-point shooter, shooting nearly 37% last year while making 32 3s in 31 games. He also made 75% of his free throws, up from 65.8% a year earlier, and had a wingspan better than 7-2 in NBA combine measurements.
CONCERNS: Smith helped himself by bulking up about 10 pounds to 225 as a sophomore, but he’ll need to add more strength to handle contact in the paint and physical defenders. He also needs to improve ballhandling and creating his own shot as he develops his game further, with much of his production in college coming off feeds from Maryland’s guards.
OTHERS TO WATCH
— VERNON CAREY JR.: The Duke freshman lefty has a strong frame (6-10, 270) that allowed him to score inside (17.8), work the glass (8.8) and protect the rim (1.6 blocks). The Associated Press’ Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year could be a late first-round prospect.
— ZEKE NNAJI: The 6-11, 240-pound Nnaji was the Pac-12 freshman of the year at Arizona, where he averaged 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds. He showed fluid athleticism both in running the floor and through his solid midrange game, which could land him in the back half of the first round.
— ALEKSEJ POKUSEVSKI: The 18-year-old has been playing on a developmental team in Greece. The 7-footer has playmaking potential with guard skills and passing, though he’ll need to get much stronger (195 pounds) as a first-round prospect.
— ISAIAH STEWART: The 6-9, 250-pound Stewart was a physical presence inside during his lone season at Washington, averaging 17 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 57%. He was second to Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike in wingspan (nearly 7-5) in NBA combine measurements and is likely to go in the back half of the first round.
AP sports writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.
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