5 Mid-Major Prospects You Can't Ignore Ahead of 2018 NBA Draft

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2018

5 Mid-Major Prospects You Can't Ignore Ahead of 2018 NBA Draft

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    Chris Covatta/Getty Images

    When scouting for the NBA draft, teams cast a wide net that extends to all schools, including ones in the lower-profile mid-major conferences. 

    DeAndre' Bembry, Larry Nance Jr., Richaun Holmes, Kay Felder, Joel Bolomboy and Damyean Dotson represent a handful of recent prospects drafted from smaller programs.

    Mid-major has become an arbitrary term. With the exception of our honorary mention, we decided that the Mountain West, Big East, American and West Coast do not qualify as mid-major anymore.

    From those conferences, the standout prospects include: UNLV's Brandon McCoy, Wichita State's Landry Shamet, Creighton's Khyri Thomas, Cincinnati's Jacob Evans, SMU's Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster, Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie, Tulane's Melvin Frazier, Villanova's Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges and Shamorie Ponds of St. John's.

Honorable Mention: Chandler Hutchison (Boise State, SF, Senior)

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    A strong 2016-17 at Boise State helped put Chandler Hutchison on the map. He's taken it a step further as a senior. 

    Averaging 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists, Hutchison is turning heads with his scoring and versatility. 

    Already an eye-test standout for his 6'7" size and exciting athleticism, the 21-year-old wing has improved his shooting, a preseason key to unlocking his stock and potential: Through 21 games, he's made more threes (31) than he hit all last season (26); he ranks in the 76th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the half court, per Synergy Sports; and he's making a career-best 72.2 percent of his free throws.

    Signs that he's turning the corner as a shooter have been notable, given the success he's had scoring in other ways, including transition (1.149 PPP), isolation (1.000 PPP) and takes to the basket as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (1.321 PPP).

    A recent 44-point outburst in a win over San Diego State could ultimately be the needle-mover that pushes Hutchison into the first round on boards across the league.

Kevin Hervey (Texas-Arlington, SF, Senior)

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    After tearing his ACL as a sophomore, Kevin Hervey appears back to full strength and suddenly relevant in this year's NBA draft discussion.

    He's scoring 21.1 points per game in a variety of ways, not leaning on any one strength, with 19.2 percent of his offense coming in transition, 15.0 percent out of spot-ups, 11.0 percent in isolation, 9.9 percent on post-ups, 9.1 percent on putbacks, 8.0 percent on cuts and 7.6 percent as a roll man.

    And at 6'9", 230 pounds, he's knocking down 2.3 three-pointers per game. 

    Hervey has been most effective working out of spot-ups, a good sign when projecting his role at the next level. Making 39.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks and 52.6 percent of his dribble jumpers, Hervey also grades out as excellent driving right (89th percentile) and very good going left (82nd percentile).

    He's even shown soft touch on his runner (10-of-18), a key shot in today's game, particularly for a player like Hervey, who lacks explosion around the basket. 

    Teams will surely look deep into his medical reports, based on his injury history. But a 31.5 percent usage rate, plus all the production, suggest he's healthy and past the knee problems.

Alize Johnson (Missouri State, PF, Senior)

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    One of five players in the country averaging a double-double and a three-point make per game, Alize Johnson stands out for his offensive versatility. 

    He's turned himself into a prospect to watch after growing four inches in junior college, transferring to Missouri State and winning MVP of last summer's Adidas Nations.

    Johnson, now 6'9", does most of his damage in the post, where he averages .889 points per possession. But it's the flashes of ball-handling, the rebounding motor and shooting that create intrigue from an NBA perspective. 

    He fits the description of a modern-day 4 who can stretch the floor (1.3 threes per game) and grab and go off a defensive board (1.037 PPP as transition ball-handler). Even his 2.2 assists per game represent a selling point for passing and playmaking ability. 

    His efficiency has taken a hit this season with more responsibility, but between his pair of 20-point, 20-rebound games and the valued boxes he continues to check, Johnson will be drawing NBA attention—possibly from teams in the 20s who may buy into his particular strengths and fit.

Milik Yarbrough (Illinois State, SG/SF, Junior)

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    In his first year with Illinois State after transferring from Saint Louis, Milik Yarbrough is making a name for himself with across-the-board production and improved shooting.

    He's averaging 16.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists in just 26.5 minutes. Yarbrough also had an eye-opening nine-game stretch from December to January where he averaged 22.3 points. The hot steak included a few enormous performances, including a 25-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist line at Ole Miss and three other 25-plus-point efforts.

    Though strong and powerful at 6'6", 230 pounds, he's often used as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, where he excels at finding teammates (1.329 PPP as passer, 93rd percentile) and taking it to the basket (1.355 PPP, 89th percentile). 

    Averaging 9.6 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes, he seeks out contact around the basket, where he also finishes at a 60.5 percent clip and cleans up on the offensive glass (15 putbacks). 

    His 31.9 percent three-point mark is subpar, but he's making 1.7 threes per 40 minutes (up from 1.2) and 78.4 percent of his foul shots (up from 59.7). 

    Impressive physically with expanding versatility, the arrow is pointing up for Yarbrough on a number of different fronts. He'll be an interesting prospect to track during the predraft process to see if he tests the waters and declares a year early.

Thomas Wilder (Western Michigan, PG, Senior)

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Consider Thomas Wilder a potential deep sleeper.

    He earned some extra attention last week after going for 40 points against Toledo, but Wilder has been scoring in volume for years, having averaged at least 18 points since his sophomore season.

    The 6'3" point guard grades out as one of the top pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the country (1.016, 90th percentile), making 44.9 percent of his dribble jumpers, 40.0 percent of his runners and 50.0 percent of his takes to the basket off the screens. He's generating 1.087 PPP (73rd percentile) as a passer in these situations as well.

    Wilder shows playmaking ability at both ends of the floor, averaging 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals.

    He could stand to improve his floor game as a lead guard, and he hasn't had much experience playing quality opponents. But as a second-round flier, Wilder could be worth the gamble for a team that needs additional backcourt depth.

D'Marcus Simonds (Georgia State, PG/SG, Sophomore)

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    It's difficult to predict whether D'Marcus Simonds will wind up in this year's draft or one down the road. But he's made a major leap in 2017-18 with numbers (21.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists) that could be difficult to top again at Georgia State. 

    Should he declare, there will certainly be some interest in Simonds' unique mix of athleticism and combo-guard versatility. 

    An explosive, 6'4" ball-handler, he has a quick first step, which has led to scoring on 15 of 17 attempts off drives to the basket out of isolation. He also taps into his hesitation move when using ball screens, scoring 55 points this year on pick-and-roll drives. 

    Simonds must improve as a shooter, though he's looked capable with 1.2 threes per game, and he's shown he can play off the ball, converting 40.8 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers out of spot-up situations.

    It's possible NBA teams advise Simonds to return to work on his jumper and decision-making (3.6 turnovers), which can be wild. Still, he's a prospect teams can't ignore if he does choose to test the waters.

          

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports-Reference.com