NCAA Basketball Recruiting: Pro-Player Comparisons for Top Class of 2017 Stars
Ever feel like kids are growing up much faster these days? Nowhere is this more evident than in the sport of basketball, where top high school players are getting evaluated for their pro prospects long before deciding their college paths.
A look at early 2017 NBA mock drafts, such as the one put together by DraftExpress, includes 13 projected picks who are still months away from making their collegiate debuts. The same goes for NBADraft.net's predictions for the 2018 draft, where 15 prospects heading into their senior years of high school are among the first-round picks.
Scouts are always looking down the road to what's out there, and part of this process involves figuring out who each prospect's game most closely resembles from the pro ranks. These player comparisons usually don't pan out, but that doesn't make them any less interesting.
We've identified the NBA player, either current or former, that each of the top 20 players in 247Sports' 2017 rankings compares most favorably to. Have your own takes on these prospects? Let us know in the comments section.
PF DeAndre Ayton
Rank: No. 1
Pro comparison: Kristaps Porzingis
A 7-footer who has no shortage of college teams interested in him, DeAndre Ayton is well aware that many coming to his games this summer are just as curious about how he'd fit in the NBA. That's why he's trying to pattern his game after a pair of the top big men in the pros, one domestic and one foreign.
Ayton told Scout.com's Evan Daniels he compares himself to Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans center who went No. 1 overall in 2013, as well as New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis. He's more partial to the latter, mostly because of what Porzingis can do away from the paint.
"We have the same game to be honest," Ayton said. "Same exact game. He can shoot. He can put the ball on the floor and go to the rim and he can post up."
Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky are the most interested in Ayton, who is originally from the Bahamas but has played prep ball in San Diego and Phoenix, where he currently resides.
PF Mohamed Bamba
Rank: No. 3
Pro comparison: Anthony Davis
With seven of the top 17 players in the 2016 class (including three of the top four) listed as power forwards, there's a strong likelihood that several prospects will have similar pro comparisons. But we're going to take the one for Mohamed Bamba with more credence than others because of its source.
Sure, Calipari might say that even if it weren't applicable in an effort to get Bamba on his 2017-18 team, but the comparison fits. Though Bamba is only 6'11” and 207 pounds, he has room to grow and plays bigger than he is. He averaged 7.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in less than 14 minutes per game for Team USA in winning the FIBA Americas U18 championship earlier this month.
Bamba currently has 21 scholarship offers, with Duke, Kentucky and Villanova considered the front-runners at this point.
SF Brian Bowen
Rank: No. 12
Pro comparison: Jason Richardson (retired)
Based on how he is growing he figures to be much bigger than the 6'7” and 195 pounds he has been playing at this summer. But as long as Brian Bowen fills out and adds strength it will be hard not to see a fellow Michigan native's game. And not just because Richardson is his uncle.
Bowen is coming off a strong showing on the AAU circuit in Las Vegas, where NBADraft.net noted his ability to score "in a number of unique ways." There was also mention of his improvement at handling contact, but he needs to continue to work in that area to meet his full potential.
Richardson was a 37 percent three-point shooter in 13 NBA seasons, making 38.3 percent of his outside shots while at Michigan State. The Spartans are considered the favorite for Bowen, getting 100 percent of the Crystal Ball predictions, though Michigan recently offered him and Notre Dame, Duke and Kentucky are also solidly interested.
SF Troy Brown
Rank: No. 13
Pro comparison: Steve Smith (retired)
Among the issues with comparing high school kids to adult professionals is a little thing called adolescence. You never know how someone is going to grow during those formative years and how it's going to affect their athletic development, and even the way they play a spot.
Troy Brown is a great example of that. Two years ago, when entering his sophomore year of high school in Las Vegas, he was rated as the No. 1 point guard in his class. This prompted us at Bleacher Report to call him the "next Magic Johnson."
That was when he was about 6'5” and now he's 6'6.5” and, more notably, packing 215 pounds onto his strong frame. He's also now considered a wing, the fourth-best small forward in 2017. It's a similar growth path that Smith took on his way to Michigan State and a 14-year pro career.
Brown, with 14 scholarship offers, cut his list to eight (Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgetown, Kansas, Ohio State, Oregon and UNLV) on Thursday, his 17th birthday.
PF Wendell Carter
Rank: No. 4
Pro comparison: Chris Webber (retired)
There are several top 2017 prospects who are taller than Wendell Carter's 6'10”, but none of the 26 players rated as 5-star talent by 247Sports has him beat in the weight department. And don't be fooled by those 258 pounds, as he knows how to use them all.
SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell called Carter "the most polished player and most accomplished player in the country" because of his mix of offensive efficiency and defensive dedication. He's not going to wow you like some of the more flashy players in his class, but “he brings his lunch box to work every night,” according to NBADraft.net.
Webber, both at Michigan and during a 15-year NBA tenure, was also known for being effective without always looking pretty, but he made sure to get the job done.
Carter, an Atlanta resident, recently cut his list to eight schools. The finalists include in-state schools Georgia and Georgia Tech, as well as blue bloods like Arizona, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina, along with California and Harvard.
SG Hamidou Diallo
Rank: No. 8
Pro comparison: Gerald Green
The top-ranked shooting guard in the 2017 class is more than just a shooter. Hamidou Diallo also might be the best dunker in the country among incoming high school seniors. Earlier this year Bleacher Report's Scott Phillips ranked him as the sixth-best dunker among prep players, the only one who wasn't part of the 2016 class.
"There are some leapers who take off for a dunk and they somehow keep elevating to a level where you question how that is possible," Phillips wrote. "He keeps going up until he's looking down on the rim."
Phillips equated Diallo's work at the rim, which has mostly come in games instead of dunk competitions, to former NBA dunk champion Green. Green won his title in 2007 and continues to show his stuff in that area, though he's also established himself as an effective three-point shooter with a 36.1 percent career rate.
Diallo has 18 scholarship offers, most recently adding ones from Arizona State and UNLV.
PG Trevon Duval
Rank: No. 5
Pro comparison: Kyrie Irving
Trevon Duval has been on many college teams' radars for several years, and now the stretch run is beginning. But it also means the NBA interest is just starting to ramp up, as evidenced by him being pegged by NBADraft.net as the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft.
Pro scouts are going to want to continue to see Duval's game develop, particularly handling more of the "nuances" of his position, as ESPN.com put it. For now, though, all signs point to him having a very short stay in college before stepping right into a starting lineup in the NBA, much like Irving did with Duke and then the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Irving was a first-round pick in 2012 despite playing only 11 college games because of injuries, but before getting hurt he showed his potential. That's what Duval is focusing on, along with figuring out his college choice.
The top-rated point guard in the country has 22 offers and plans to cut that down to "about 10 schools in August," he told USA Today. 247Sports' Crystal Ball makes it seem like a done deal to UCLA, though he appears a long way away from committing.
SF Kevin Knox
Rank: No. 6
Pro comparison: Kevin Durant
He was 6'4” when he entered high school but kept growing, now sitting at 6'8” and the second-best small forward in his class. This growth spurt has put to bed Kevin Knox's hopes of making it in the NFL, which was his first dream, but makes embarking on a basketball career very feasible.
"He'll probably be 6'10" with a size 19 or 20 shoe," Knox's father, Kevin Knox Sr., told SB Nation. "That doesn't necessarily equate to a quarterback in the NFL, but those dimensions do translate to a possible NBA player."
Knox's growth has made it so he's capable of playing every position, though ultimately he translates into a 3 or 4 at the pro level. That gives him a ceiling that borders on greatness, hence the reference to Durant, who has the length to play in the post but the game that warrants being on the perimeter.
Knox recently trimmed his college list to 10 schools: Alabama, Arizona, Duke, Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, LSU, Miami (Florida), North Carolina and Villanova.
PF Brandon McCoy
Rank: No. 7
Pro comparison: Rashard Lewis (retired)
He's been listed anywhere from 6'10” to a shade above 7'0”, depending on who's measuring him. But that difference in inches doesn't change the collective opinion among experts that Brandon McCoy is a fast riser who will not only stand out in college but at the next level as well.
That is, of course, if he continues to put in the effort needed to go from a physical specimen to an accomplished athlete.
"McCoy's skills and consistency in the effort department will have to continue to grow as the level [of] competition steepens and he can no longer rely as much on his natural size and physicality," DraftExpress wrote in June after watching him try out for the U.S U18 team.
Lewis, his pro comparison, dealt with similar issues during his formative teenage years. He opted to bypass college for the 1998 NBA draft and was invited to the green room but ended up not going until the second round, needing to develop during his first two pro seasons before becoming a full-time starter for 11 seasons.
McCoy, from San Diego, has 10 offers at this point with West Coast suitors like Arizona, California, Oregon and San Diego State the early leaders to get his commitment.
SF Michael Porter
Rank: No. 2
Pro comparison: Paul George
One of just four 5-star players who have committed for 2017-18, Michael Porter pledged to Washington two weeks ago just before setting out to be Team USA's leading scorer on the U18 team that steamrolled through the FIBA Americas tournament. Choosing the Huskies was in no way surprising, since his father (Michael Porter Sr.) was recently added to the coaching staff and Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar is his godfather.
Porter is the second consecutive top-five player that Washington has landed, along with incoming freshman Markelle Fultz. They played together on Team USA but aren't likely to be college teammates, since Fultz is projected as a one-and-done player who will be gone before Porter arrives.
That will mean Porter's freshman year in college will see him be a go-to player, something he's already used to.
"Because of his special ball skills he will be effective playing as a big forward or as a shooting guard, and he will be able to cover multiple positions on defense," wrote ESPN's Paul Biancardi, comparing Porter to George because they both "combine athletic bounce and long strides with adept passing and shooting accuracy to impact the game."
PF Billy Preston
Rank: No. 9
Pro comparison: LaMarcus Aldridge
Despite his lofty ranking, Billy Preston is still very much a work in progress. So say the experts who have evaluated him and noted the talent and skill is there but the understanding of what works best is not.
"An ultra-talented forward who can do a bit of everything, Preston can shoot, handle and rebound very well for his size but there are also times when he makes bad decisions and forces up bad looks," NBADraft.net wrote. "Part of the problem with Preston sometimes is that he knows he's talented and leads to him making a play for himself instead of making the right basketball play."
In other words, to this point Preston has been showing more interest in himself than those around him, and as long as he can mature he'll be on a good path. Aldridge resembled this at times when at Texas, where he recorded only 34 assists in two seasons, but in the NBA he's assisted on more than 10 percent of made shots by teammates in his career.
Preston, who is originally from California but will play his senior year at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, is considering Arizona, Kansas, Maryland and USC.
C Nick Richards
Rank: No. 19
Pro comparison: Rudy Gobert
Jamaican-born Nick Richards recently trimmed his list to Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky and Syracuse, according to ESPN's Jeff Borzello. All five of those suitors love him for his great work close to the rim and hope they can be the ones to help him develop further away from the basket.
He told Borzello he thinks he's "the best shot-blocker in the country, the best rebounder in the country," but the scoring part of his game is still coming along. This is where the the Gobert comparisons come in, since the NBA standout is also still coming into his own offensively.
Gobert was one of just two NBA players in 2015-16 who averaged at least two blocks and 10 rebounds per game but took less than eight shots per game. Gobert has averaged more rebounds per game than points to this point in his career.
Richards has the potential to move past the label of a defensive specialist, but for now it's what also makes him so appealing.
C Mitchell Robinson
Rank: No. 10
Pro comparison: Hassan Whiteside
New Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury made waves earlier this month when he landed a commitment from Mitchell Robinson, the prized big man picking the mid-major Hilltoppers after backing out of a pledge from Texas A&M—where Stansbury had been an assistant coach—in April. It helped that Stansbury had recently hired former North Carolina star Shammond Williams, who is Robinson's godfather, as an assistant.
Robinson told Scout.com that Western Kentucky's style of play also swayed him, though because Stansbury is taking over a program that style may be fluid. That also works for Robinson, who has a skill set that works on both the offensive and defensive end.
"He's still just beginning to fill out his frame but he can really change ends and also gets off his feet quickly," ESPN's Adam Finkelstein wrote.
Robertson is considered a late bloomer by Finkelstein and others, which is why Whiteside comes to mind. Whiteside was a surprise one-and-done player at Marshall who went in the second round of the 2010 NBA draft but had to go through the D-League and play overseas before getting back into the NBA. Coming off a monster 2015-16 season, he just signed a four-year, $98 million contract with the Miami Heat.
PG Collin Sexton
Rank: No. 18
Pro comparison: Chris Paul
Fresh off being MVP and leading scorer of Team USA's U17 World Championship title team, despite not starting any games, Collin Sexton has become one of the hottest commodities of the 2017 cycle. There are still 10 in the running for the Georgia native, rated as the second-best point guard of his class.
A volume scorer who gets his points in a variety of ways—he took 38 foul shots in six Team USA games while also shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range and 57.6 percent overall in averaging 17 points in just 18.8 minutes per game—Sexton is starting to look like the high-scoring point guards that litter the NBA.
Paul is a good parallel because, like Sexton, he didn't start to draw major national attention until just before his senior year of high school.
Sexton's progression will be closely watched, not just by the colleges hoping to haul him in but the pro scouts looking ahead to 2018.
SG Gary Trent Jr.
Rank: No. 11
Pro comparison: Jimmy Butler
Gary Trent Jr. has the potential to be the most explosive scorer among any 2017 recruits, the kind of player who can shoot, slash and finish at the rim. It's a very different composition than that of his father, former NBA big man Gary Trent Sr., who at 6'8” and 250 pounds became known as the “Shaq of the MAC” for his time at Ohio University.
The younger Trent is going to end up at a much more high-profile college, with 14 offers and climbing, including ones from Duke, Kansas and Michigan State. His plan is to cut that list down to five in the immediate future.
The key for Trent is to continue building his overall game and not relying solely on the offensive portion, or he runs the risk of being someone who can't adapt in the pros. It took Butler a little while to find his scoring in the NBA, but he was able to earn playing time because of his defensive intensity.
"His NBA upside remains up for debate as he'll really have to adjust to no longer being the most physical guard on the floor and rely more on skill and finesse," DraftExpress wrote.
SF Jarred Vanderbilt
Rank: No. 16
Pro comparison: Lamar Odom (retired)
Jarred Vanderbilt has some room to grow before he matches the physical makeup of Odom, who played at 6'10” and 220 pounds for much of his 14-year NBA career. But even at 6'8” and 200 pounds, it's not hard to see that Vanderbilt has the capability to have a similar impact as a ball-handler the way Odom did at his best.
"There’s few forwards in this game that coaches truly give the green light to rebound and start the break," BallIsLife.com's Brad Hensley wrote.
Vanderbilt has triple-double potential thanks to his ability to end the opponent's possession on one and then quickly get his own team's one started. And as a great trailer, he's there to clean up on misses on the offensive end.
An impressive nine-school list was recently released by Vanderbilt, a Texas native who included four Lone Star State programs among his finalists.
PF P.J. Washington
Rank: No. 15
Pro comparison: Paul Millsap
While he's not getting much taller than the 6'7” he was as a high school freshman, P.J. Washington continues to pack on the mass in order to be able to handle the bigger defenders he's going to end up facing in college and especially the pros. He weighed 233 pounds to Team USA's U18 squad at the FIBA Americas tournament, where he averaged 10 points and four rebounds in five games.
The more muscle put onto his frame, the more Washington will continue to trend toward being a Millsap-type in the NBA. Millsap averaged a double-double in all three college seasons at Louisiana Tech, while in the pros he's been progressing toward over the past 10 years.
Washington still needs to develop a perimeter jumper, much as Millsap has been doing in recent years, to fully meet his potential. Schools like Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas, some of his top suitors, will be glad to have him work on those things on their roster.
PF Austin Wiley
Rank: No. 17
Pro comparison: Kendrick Perkins
One of the several notable prospects that Bruce Pearl has managed to bring to Auburn since he arrived there two seasons ago, Austin Wiley is set to be the cornerstone of what would be Pearl's fourth Tigers squad. And if Wiley continues to develop at the prep level he doesn't figure to be on The Plains for long.
The son of two former Auburn star basketball players, Wiley keeps growing and has been measured at 6'10.5" by 247Sports. That pairs well with a frame that can probably take on more than the 250 pounds he's currently carrying, which puts Wiley in position to transition into a pure center if he'd like.
"His sheer size and activity allowed him to have a major impact on the backboards while showing his mobility in transition," DraftExpress wrote.
It's a similar track Perkins was on when he went straight from high school to the NBA in 2003, a first-round pick who played only 583 minutes in his first two seasons before turning into a dependable five.
SF Kris Wilkes
Rank: No. 14
Pro comparison: Kawhi Leonard
A combo forward who is versatile enough to handle the rigors of the paint or contribute from the wing, Kris Wilkes will continue to get better as he grows up and out. At 6'7” and 191 pounds, he's far from fully developed, making for a fluid ceiling to his potential.
Wilkes' recruitment, though, isn't coming along at that pace. It's going much faster, setting up for a showdown between a number of Midwest schools as well as those from both coasts. Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star wrote that Indiana and North Carolina could be the favorites.
Looking beyond his college time, Wilkes' NBA future depends not just on his physical growth but the expansion of his skill set. DraftExpress notes he has "some real tools to work with physically, particularly on the defensive end," but the offensive part of his game is still coming along.
For those who might forget, Leonard wasn't a particularly polished offensive player at San Diego State but now is among the best shooters in the NBA.
PG Trae Young
Rank: No. 20
Pro comparison: Trey Burke
Trae Young has cut his list down to six schools, with a heavy lean on Big 12 teams that aren't too far from his Norman, Oklahoma, home. That naturally includes the Sooners, along with Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, as well as Kentucky and Washington.
Washington might have an inside track on him, since he played with recent Huskies commit Michael Porter Jr. at the Peach Jam and on Team USA's U18 squad at the FIBA Americas tournament. Those experiences should help him continue to develop into a top prospect thanks to his shooting touch.
"His deep perimeter shooting makes him particularly interesting to keep an eye on," NBADraft.net wrote.
Young's game is similar to Burke, the former Michigan star who's entering his fourth NBA season, though Young can still rise above that comparison.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.