2018 NBA Draft: Don't Sleep on These Potential One-and-Done Freshmen

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterAugust 23, 2017

2018 NBA Draft: Don't Sleep on These Potential One-and-Done Freshmen

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    The NBA draft's one-and-done freshmen are usually easy to spot before the season. Recruiting rankings, tools, athleticism and established skills can often be telling.

    But every year, there are a handful of surprising names to leave school early. Zach Collins, Justin Patton and TJ Leaf were a few from 2017.

    Sometimes, prospects simply get better over the summer following their senior years in high school, and it becomes evident during events like the U19 FIBA World Championships.

    We predicted five freshmen who'll make quick, unexpected impressions on scouts and wind up going in 2018's first round.

                  

    We considered Michael Porter Jr., Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley III, DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Collin Sexton, Wendell Carter and Nick Richards as more obvious one-and-done freshmen.

Honorable Mention: Lonnie Walker IV (Miami, SG)

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    One-and-done draft ceiling: Top 10

    Some may already view Lonnie Walker IV as an obvious one-and-done talent (hence the honorable mention), but he isn't typically named when predicting the prizes of this year's draft. 

    He could be by June, assuming he fully recovers from this summer's torn meniscus. 

    The NBA scouting lens quickly detects Walker's physical profile (6'4", 206 lbs, 6'10 ½" wingspan in 2016) and athleticism for a pro 2-guard. But he'll earn attention for his mix of perimeter scoring and defensive potential, which could remind some of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

    Co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic (19 points, 15 minutes), Walker has a clean, believable jumper and the ability to connect off three-point spot-ups or pull-ups. And he possesses an encouraging defensive foundation with plenty of strength, quickness and length.

    JaQuan Newton and Bruce Brown should ultimately take pressure off Walker at Miami and lead to a simpler shot selection for the freshman—the way Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes did for Jonathan Isaac at Florida State, where he only took eight shots a game and was still drafted sixth after selling his tools/bounce, efficiency and potential to break out.

Troy Brown (Oregon, SG/SF)

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    One-and-done draft ceiling: Late lottery

    The loss of Oregon's top five scorers could help and hurt Troy Brown, who's suddenly looking at starter minutes and a high-usage role. He would have benefited from some supporting talent, but now Brown should see enough time on the ball and opportunities to showcase versatility the NBA is bound to admire.

    At 6'6" with 6'11" length, he fits the physical profile for a pro 2-guard or wing. He'll also still be 18 years old by draft night, which should buy him wiggle room with his shooting percentages.

    Size and length will help Brown stand out, but so will his unique point-forward ball skills and vision. He'll do some secondary ball-handling and likely emerge as one of Oregon's top assist men.

    If he can pad his two-point scoring and passing with flashes of shooting and impact defense, there should be enough teams willing to invest early in his long-term potential. 

Jaylen Hands (UCLA, PG)

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    One-and-done draft ceiling: Late lottery

    Aaron Holiday will run the show at UCLA, but Jaylen Hands has a chance to earn scouts' attention in a supporting role—just as Zach LaVine did in 2014—with flashes of athleticism and scoring that point to NBA potential.

    Hands puts pressure on defenses with quick, shifty moves off the dribble and explosiveness at the basket. He's been effective around the key with short pull-ups and in the lane by improvising and finishing. 

    The ability to shake free and penetrate will lead to playmaking and assist chances for Hands, even if he isn't the most polished facilitator. 

    He won't produce like a top pick or look anywhere close to NBA-ready. But he won't turn 19 years old until February, which suggests he'll have plenty of room for both physical and fundamental development.

    It's easy to imagine Hands establishing himself as an upside project worth taking in the teens or 20s the way Dejounte Murray did in 2016.

Brian Bowen (Louisville, SG/SF)

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    One-and-done draft ceiling: Mid-first round

    Brian Bowen doesn't appear on early mock draft boards without the athleticism that typically hints at NBA potential. But instant-impact offense and production could distract from his average frame and explosiveness.

    His most recent pitch to scouts came at the Jordan Brand Classic, where he put on a shooting clinic with 26 points, making six of seven threes. Though not always consistent throughout high school, it's still easy to buy Bowen's simple jump-shot mechanics and touch for a 6'7" guard or forward.

    NBA teams should covet his ability to hit jumpers off rhythm dribbles, spot-ups or screens. Ball skills, range and instincts should ultimately help Bowen compensate for average speed and bounce.

    He'll play plenty of spotlight games in a Louisville rotation that stands out as one of the toughest in the nation. And between his versatility and shooting, he'll find ways to work alongside fellow wings V.J. King and Deng Adel.

    If Bowen leaves early, it's safer to project him going in the No. 16-30 range, but he's no doubt an under-the-radar pick to eventually draw first-round interest.

Brandon McCoy (UNLV, C)

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    One-and-done draft ceiling: Mid-to-late first round

    Brandon McCoy strengthened his case this summer at the U19 World Championships, where he put up monster per-40 minute averages of 26.1 points, 19.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

    His obvious NBA center size—7'0 ½", 250 pounds, 7'2 ¼" lengthimmediately stands out. And though never the most polished player on the floor, his tools, hands and agility lead to easy finishes and activity.

    McCoy also shows confidence in his jumper and mechanics decent enough to create optimism over his potential to improve.

    His game doesn't scream upside, without explosiveness, sharp skills or the versatility to guard anyone other than 5s. But as a giant target inside and putback threat capable of protecting the rim, McCoy could draw interest in the 20s for a team that sees a backup center at worst.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech, PG/SG)

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    One-and-done draft ceiling: Mid-first round

    Nickeil Alexander-Walker suddenly makes Virginia Tech a must-watch school for NBA scouts.

    He's steadily risen up the ranks, first leading the 2016 U18 Americas Championship in scoring, then showing out at Adidas Nations and finally earning an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit's World Team.

    Impressing with 6'6" size and well-rounded skills that fuel combo-guard versatility, Alexander-Walker looks poised to emerge as one of the ACC's impact freshmen and surprise pro prospects.

    A solid ball-handler who can score and pass on the move, Alexander-Walker also plays some 2 and has shown shooting potential. He shot 41.2 percent from three on 97 attempts since 2015 between FIBA play, Adidas Nations, Nike Hoop Summit and 2017's BioSteel All Canadian game.

    More strength and explosiveness would raise his draft ceiling, but if he continues to improve and produce as Virginia Tech's lead guard, Alexander-Walker could generate NBA interest fast.

                          

    Wingspans courtesy of DraftExpress.com.


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