2018 NBA Draft: Projecting Breakout Prospects for Next Year's Class

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterAugust 25, 2017

2018 NBA Draft: Projecting Breakout Prospects for Next Year's Class

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Breakout NBA draft prospects typically show signs the season or summer before.

    A few of the following players received valuable experience at last year's combine or impressed in July at the U19 World Championships. A pair of juniors went through semi-breakouts as sophomores and now look poised to finish the job with one more year.

    They'll all be looking at bigger roles following the departures of key teammates. 

    Having been off the radar or considered second-rounders last June, these eight names look poised to work their way into the 2018 first-round mix.

Bruce Brown (Miami, SG, Sophomore)

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Early draft projection: Top 10

    All signs point to Bruce Brown rising the way Donovan Mitchell did—with more frequent scoring outbursts and hotter three-point shooting. 

    Brown went off a number of times last year; he hung 30 points on North Carolina and 25 on Duke in two top-10 wins. He triple-doubled against South Carolina State. And he'll see his 20.9 percent usage rate go up in 2017-18.

    Now the co-star for Miami alongside JaQuan Newton, Brown has both the game and opportunity to strengthen his case for NBA scouts. 

    He checks boxes with 6'5" size and athleticism, scoring skills (on- and off-ball) and playmaking ability at both ends (3.2 assists, 1.5 steals per game).

    Brown's jump-shot development will ultimately factor heavily into his stock. He demonstrated fine shot-making capability—floaters, pull-ups, spot-ups—but his percentages were weak. With extra looks and confidence, more made threes (33 last season) and better mid-range execution (25.4 percent on two-point jumpers) should propel Brown into the lottery.

Justin Jackson (Maryland, SF/PF, Sophomore)

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    Early draft projection: Mid-first round

    Thanks to standout length (7'3 ¼" wingspan), athleticism and shooting, Justin Jackson earned an invite to last year's NBA combine.

    But it wasn't enough. Unlikely to go in the first round, he returned to Maryland, where he's now in a better position to build a draft case.

    No more Melo Trimble means extra scoring chances for the 6'7", 225-pound combo forward. Jackson, who drilled 43.8 percent of his threes, should improve his stock by looking sharper inside the arc, where he shot the same percentage as he did behind it. 

    With strong tools and a jumper, Jackson clearly has an intriguing foundation to build on. Meeting with teams and competing during May's combine should have only better prepared him for his sophomore season.

    More off-the-dribble flashes and refined shot-creating could put Jackson in the top-20 mix for 2018.

Chimezie Metu (USC, PF/C, Junior)

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    Early projection: Mid-to-late first round

    Chimezie Metu found scouts' radar last year, but inconsistency prevented him from making a significant mark. 

    He still completed Part 1 of a breakout, raising his scoring average to 14.8 from 6.4 and sporadically blowing up, like he did in the NCAA tournament against No. 3 seed Baylor. Despite the loss, Metu's 28 points in USC's finale seemed like a sign of more to come.

    Skill-wise, he took a major step in the right direction, showing sharper footwork and soft touch out of the post. Face-up drives, over-the-shoulder hooks and mid-range jumpers (44.6 percent on two-point jumpers) helped Metu emerge as a well-rounded scoring threat from the elbows and short corners. 

    The keys to his 2018 draft stock: Taking over more regularly and becoming physical inside, given his uninspiring 9.9 rebounds per 40 minutes. A loaded supporting cast at USC should only help Metu, who appears one more leap away from establishing himself as a future NBA scoring big.

Tyus Battle (Syracuse, SG, Sophomore)

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    Early draft projection: Mid-to-late first round

    Syracuse's top 2016 recruit, Tyus Battle played 30.7 minutes per game as a freshman, looking more comfortable as the season went on. And then he averaged 18.5 points over his final six games. 

    It seemingly started to click for Battle, who possesses NBA size (6'6"), enough athleticism and a promising shooting stroke. 

    He shot a respectable 36.6 percent from deep on 164 attempts, making a three in 26 of 34 games. And though not the craftiest shot-creator, he threatened defenses by driving and slashing through lanes. 

    Former starters Tyler Lydon, Andrew White and John Gillon accounted for 42.2 points and 30.2 field-goal attempts per game. Battle is suddenly looking at featured touches and more opportunities to work on his one-on-one scoring and playmaking. 

Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, PF)

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    Early draft projection: Mid-to-late first round

    Despite playing just 4.6 minutes per game as a freshman at Gonzaga, Rui Hachimura's U19 World Championship performance was too convincing. 

    His 20.6 points per game ranked second in the tournament, though it was the versatile scoring flashes behind them that hinted at NBA interest and a breakout season. 

    Hachimura put on show after show and looked far more comfortable around the perimeter than we've seen in the past. He suddenly morphed into a face-up scorer with quick pull-up jumpers, pump fakes into drives and improvised runners off one foot. 

    He also made eight threes in seven games and shot 75.5 percent from the line, showing promising shooting mechanics and overall shot-making ability away from the basket. 

    Hachimura isn't completely new to scouts considering he first broke onto the scene at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in 2014 and the Jordan Brand Classic International game a year later. But with Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski no longer at Gonzaga, this is the first time teams will have the chance to evaluate the Japanese-born forward in a consistent role for 30-plus games.

    Unless his performance at the U19 was fluky or a result of inferior competition, Hachimura looks poised to turn some heads with regular minutes.

Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SG/SF, Junior)

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    Early draft projection: 20s

    Mikal Bridges is a strong double-down bet after entering last season as a breakout candidate. 

    Despite averaging just 9.8 points, he still shot 39.3 percent from deep and 91.1 percent at the line—key numbers that strengthen his case as a potential three-and-D wing.

    Bridges makes his mark on defense, locking down and forcing turnovers (1.7 steals per game) with quickness and length that also translate to versatility. He'll guard three to four positions, make open shots and efficiently score inside the arc without wasting possessions on the tough jumpers; he converted 69.4 percent of his two-point attempts. 

    He stood out analytically as well, finishing fourth in the country in box score plus-minus (13.4).

    With Josh Hart gone, Bridges will take on a bigger offensive workload, even if it just calls for more slashing and shooting rather than creating. Playoff teams in the 20s should see him as a two-way role player by June, as Patrick McCaw has become for the Golden State Warriors.

Austin Wiley (Auburn, C, Sophomore)

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    Early draft projection: Late first round

    After playing a limited freshman role at Auburn, Austin Wiley drew attention this summer for USA at the U19 World Championships. 

    He averaged a double-double in fewer than 20 minutes per game and used his massive 6'11", 250-pound frame and 7'5" length to dominate his area around the basket. 

    Wiley isn't explosive or skilled, but his NBA role would be clear: Run the floor, crash the glass, block shots and score around the block. He'll convince scouts those strengths can translate by being a productivity/efficiency monster this year in the middle.

    Though his upside is limited without perimeter skills or bounce, Wiley's tools and activity level point to energizer-enforcer potential. 

Rawle Alkins

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    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    Early draft projection: Late first round

    Rawle Alkins got himself noticed last year, which was confirmed by his invite to the NBA combine. It just came too soon for scouts to fully buy in.

    He'll return this season with more confidence and freedom after only taking 8.4 shots per game as a freshman.

    A physical, 223-pound guard, Alkins' body is a selling point. He drives and finishes through contact, mixes power with change of speed off the dribble and can handle the ball in a secondary role. Alkins even played some point and flashed playmaking skills during five-on-fives at the combine, which could boost his stock if scouts see more of it at Arizona. 

    Alkins possesses of a number of qualities and strengths that point to NBA role-player potential. He's comfortable shooting the three (37.0 percent) and showed defensive toughness.

    Scouts could wind up seeing a reserve, scoring combo if he builds on his suspect 32.9 two-point jump-shot percentage and 2.9 assists per 40 minutes. 

                      

    Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, RealGM.com, Hoop-Math.com. Measurements courtesy of DraftExpress.com.