2019 NBA Draft: Top Returning Prospects by Conference

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 30, 2018

2019 NBA Draft: Top Returning Prospects by Conference

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    NBA teams will send scouts around the country to cover each conference, including those considered non-power. 

    Still, most draft picks will come from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. And each has a handful of returning prospects whom scouts will be tracking starting in October to assess their progress since last season.

    We pegged our top five prospects from each conference (plus the mid-majors) and listed other sleeper names to keep an eye on.


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    1. De'Andre Hunter, Virginia SF/PF

    Hunter built some draft-buzz momentum last year before breaking his wrist in March and later announcing he'd be back at Virginia.

    An eye-test standout whose versatility is an obvious draw, Hunter plays and guards both forward spots. He used his quickness and body control to convert 12 of 19 drives out of isolation. Hunter didn't take many threes, but he shot 38.2 percent on his 55 attempts. And he knocked down 14 of 31 pull-up jumpers.

    A mix of size (6'7", 225 lbs), length and quickness allowed Hunter to guard bigs and perimeter players. He ranked in the 87th percentile or better defending spot-ups, pick-and-rolls and isolation. 

    Hunter's upside and fit point to a path toward the 2019 lottery. But he's not a lock. He'll need to improve his shot-creating and shooting in a more featured role.


    2. Ty Jerome, Virginia SG

    After making a jump in 2017-18, Jerome figures to take another step forward with Devon Hall gone. Jerome averaged 1.7 threes and 3.9 assists per game his sophomore year, looking sharp as a shooter and a passer. 

    He isn't the most exciting athlete, but he compensates with skill, having converted 17 of 39 shots out of isolation and finished 28 of 61 runners.

    Versatile, savvy and tough at both ends, Jerome has a chance to make NBA teams overlook his lack of speed and explosiveness for role-player potential.


    3. Ky Bowman, Boston College PG

    Bowman is a candidate to blow up after averaging 17.6 points per game (22.7 over his final six) alongside Jerome Robinson, who scored 20.7 of his own and then went pro. NBA teams could be drawn to Bowman's quickness and his ability to break down defenses. He plays at an exciting pace, which led to 3.2 turnovers per game last year.

    Bowman needs to work on his control and his decision-making (49th percentile pick-and-rolls, 41st percentile transition). But he'll become a point guard worth tracking for his shot-making (2.3 3PTM), playmaking (4.7 assists) and unique rebounding average (6.8). 


    4. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech SG

    Alexander-Walker looks the part physically with 6'5" size and broad shoulders, which helps buy him time with scouts. This year, he'll need his skills to catch up to those tools. 

    The main draw to Alexander-Walker at the moment is his shooting after he made 2.8 threes per 40 minutes at a 39.2 percent clip. He played almost exclusively off the ball in the half court, where he was an efficient spot-up scorer, having shot 40 percent on non-dribble jumpers and converted eight of 12 drives to the basket.

    But he only generated 25 total points out of pick-and-rolls and isolation. To move up the first-round board, Alexander-Walker will want to take that next step working on the ball as a scorer and playmaker.


    5. Oshae Brissett, Syracuse SF/PF

    Brissett intrigued last year with his scoring versatility for a 6'8" athletic forward. He averaged 14.9 points and 1.5 threes per game, showing off shooting range and the ability to put the ball on the floor, having converted 17 of 40 drives out of isolation.

    However, Brissett was a disaster around the basket (36.4 percent), unable to finish in traffic. He'd often become a black hole as well—he totaled just 34 assists in 37 games while playing an average of 38.1 minutes.


    Other ACC Prospects to Watch

    Tyus Battle, Syracuse SG

    Dewan Huell, Miami C

    Cameron Johnson, UNC SF

    Terance Mann, Florida State SG/SF

Big Ten

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    1. Isaiah Roby, Nebraska SF/PF

    Roby must get past a case of offseason plantar fasciitis, but otherwise, he's the Big Ten's No. 1 breakout candidate.

    An explosive leaper, the 6'8" combo forward was also highly effective out of spot-up situations (92nd percentile), converting 43.5 percent of his non-dribble jumpers, all five of his pull-ups and six of 11 of his basket drives out of those situations. 

    His 3.3 blocks per 40 minutes were equally intriguing, highlighting unique defensive playmaking ability stemming from a quick jump and major springs.

    After registering a 17.3 percent usage rate, Roby appears to be ready to take on a bigger role and potentially build a first-round case by expanding his overall scoring skill set.


    2. Carsen Edwards, Purdue SG

    A breakout scorer in 2017-18, Edwards averaged 18.5 points per game, hitting the 25-point mark nine times as a sophomore. He went for 40 points at Illinois and dropped 30 in Purdue's final loss to Texas Tech in the NCAA tournament. 

    He ranked in the 98th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, mostly thanks to a deadly pull-up game, making 45.5 percent of his dribble jumpers. He made 97 threes at a 40.6 percent clip. 

    However, at 6'1", he lacks size and athleticism for a non-facilitator. Edwards registered an uninspiring 19.5 assist percentage and shot just 47.6 percent at the rim. Assuming he doesn't transform into a point guard, he'll use the year to sell teams on his sparkplug scoring potential.


    3. Jordan Poole, Michigan SG

    Poole made headlines last year with his buzzer-beater that sunk Houston in the NCAA tournament. He'll look to build on that shot and the extra attention as a sophomore by expanding his shot-creating and continuing to shoot with confidence. Poole has fine 2-guard size (6'4"), athleticism and a smooth three-ball. His minutes (12.5 per game) should double this season, which will open the door for Poole to draw NBA looks with scoring and shot-making.


    4. Bruno Fernando, Maryland C

    Back at Maryland after testing the NBA waters and participating at the combine, Fernando will look to take a step forward with his offensive skill package. Most of his production and overall appeal has been fueled by a powerful 6'10", 245-pound physical profile, which led to 62.4 percent finishing mark at the rim and 11.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes.

    He only made four jump shots all season and ranked in the 39th percentile on post-ups. Fernando has the NBA tools and athleticism. He'll want to become a bigger scoring threat with the ball as a sophomore. 


    5. Josh Reaves, Penn State

    Though Reaves is a limited scorer, his appeal stems from his two-way role-player potential. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 1.5 threes, 4.1 assists and an impressive 2.8 steals. His shooting has improved with each season at Penn State. And though he's not a creator, he passes well and disrupts defensively.

    An exciting athlete, Reaves ranked in the 84th percentile or better out of spot-ups, cuts and off offensive rebounds. The first round may be out of reach, given his limited offensive upside. But Reaves could emerge as a second-round sleeper, particularly if he continues to improve his three-ball (37.7 percent last season).


    Other Big Ten Prospects to Watch

    Charles Matthews, Michigan SG/SF

    James Palmer Jr., Nebraska

    Cassius Winston, Michigan State PG

    Ethan Happ, Wisconsin PF/C

Big 12

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    1. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech SG

    The departures of Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans should create an opportunity for Culver, a 6'5" 2-guard who averaged 11.2 points as a freshman working off the ball. 

    Of note, 31.8 percent of his offense last year came out of spot-ups, where he ranked in the 88th percentile. He converted at a 45.2 percent clip on non-dribble jumpers and went 10-of-19 on drives to the basket in those situations.

    A smooth athlete with convincing shooting mechanics, Culver will look to improve on his off-the-dribble game as a sophomore. He shot 7-of-31 out of isolation and totaled 28 points on 42 pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions. 


    2. Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State PG/SG

    Wigginton will have NBA eyes watching after averaging 16.7 points as a freshman. This year, he'll look to convert the production into more Big 12 wins and NBA interest. 

    A streak scorer, Wigginton scores and shoots with a sense of confidence. He made 2.2 threes per game at a 40.1 percent clip, appearing most effective working off the ball. Wigginton ranked in the 95th percentile in spot-up, no-dribble jumpers, and he shot 43.9 percent off screens.

    Improving his shot selection and playmaking efficiency (88 assists, 92 turnovers) will be keys toward improving his stock.


    3. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State SG/SF

    Despite failing to show clear improvement as a sophomore scorer, Sneed could find himself in the 2019 draft discussion for his shooting and defense. He knocked down 1.8 threes per game last year while allowing only one field goal against him on 15 tries out of isolation. 

    With Dean Wade and Barry Brown back, Sneed's usage shouldn't change much. It won't need to given his projected three-and-D role.


    4. Dean Wade, Kansas State PF

    Wade will be recognized by many as one of the top Big 12 players for 2018-19, but what about as an NBA prospect? He's at least put himself in the conversation as a potential small-ball 4.

    The 6'9" forward shot 44.0 percent from three, 51.0 percent on dribble jump shots and 58.7 percent inside the arc. He didn't lean on any one area for scoring. Instead, he showed a balance of post-up play (17.7 percent of offense), spotting up (17.5 percent), isolation (15.0 percent), cutting (14.0 percent) and pick-and-rolling (13.6 percent).

    The big question is whether he'll have the athleticism to execute and defend. By June, Wade should have built a strong enough case to earn second-round consideration for his polish, production and offensive versatility. 


    5. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia C

    Konate earned himself an invite to the NBA combine last year, though his performance there wasn't enough. He'll have another chance in 2019.

    Despite being listed at 6'8", West Virginia's anchor averaged a whopping 5.1 blocks per 40 minutes, denying scorers at the rim with his 7'0" wingspan, timing and aggressive mentality. 

    He'll continue to draw looks for his potential as a defensive enforcer around the basket. He'll improve his stock by building on flashes of post moves and mid-range touch.


    Other Big 12 Prospects to Watch

    Lamont West, West Virginia SF/PF

    Udoka Azubuike, Kansas C

    Jericho Sims, Texas C

    Kerwin Roach, Texas PG


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    1. Kris Wilkes, UCLA SF

    Wilks is back after an inconsistent year that still earned him an invite to the NBA combine, though he didn't make the strongest impression. The appeal to his potential remains apparent: Wilks possesses NBA wing size at 6'8" and a quick-release shooting stroke he used to drill 1.7 threes per game.

    Spot-ups made up for 34.6 percent of his offense, which he generated by catching-and-shooting (38.5 percent) or attacking closeouts and getting to the basket in straight lines (11-of-20). 

    He'll look to expand on his ball-handling and scoring creativity as a sophomore, having shot 7-of-28 combined between pick-and-roll play and isolation. 


    2. Matisse Thybulle, Washington SF 

    Highly active in Washington's zone, Thybulle has drawn attention for his defense after averaging 1.4 blocks and 3.0 steals. 

    But he also made 1.7 threes per game in back-to-back seasons, creating intrigue surrounding his three-and-D potential. Thybulle is more of a forward than a guard, which is somewhat concerning given his 6'5" size. But the right NBA team could see him filling a specific role and need for his ability to shoot, defend and disrupt.


    3. Jaylen Hands, UCLA PG

    The ball will belong to Hands this year at UCLA with Aaron Holiday gone. Now a sophomore, Hands should have gained some confidence after playing well during scrimmages at the NBA combine. And at this stage, it's no secret where he excels and what he'll need to show scouts in season No. 2.

    He's attractive for his scoring from the point and ability to shake and break down defenses. He also made 1.4 threes per game at a respectable 37.4 percent clip. Scouts will now demand that Hands show he can run an offense, set the table and thrive as UCLA's lead guard and primary initiator. 


    4. Kenny Wooten, Oregon C

    Wooten blocked 2.6 shots in just 19.8 minutes per game, a tribute to his elite timing in rim protection, quick second jump and overall activity around the basket.

    Outside of a basic low-post game, his skill set is limited. But NBA teams will view Wooten as a specialty weapon, capable of making plays off the ball at both ends, either as a shot-blocker or offensive rebounder.


    5. Kezie Okpala, Stanford SF 

    Okpala's potential glowed in flashes, like against UCLA on March 8 when he went for 23 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

    He's raw and will need to take a significant step skill-wise to create NBA interest. But at 6'8", his mix of tools, athleticism, face-up scoring and defensive versatility should earn him a spot on scouting watch lists.


    Other Pac-12 Prospects to Watch

    Oscar da Silva, Stanford PF

    Daejon Davis, Stanford PG

    Jaylen Nowell, Washington SG

    Justice Sueing, California SF


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    1. Jontay Porter, Missouri C

    Despite his brother Michael leaving early for the draft, Jontay returned to Missouri. He attended the NBA combine last May, where he likely learned there were changes that needed to be made after registering the highest body fat percentage in attendance, finishing with the slowest three-quarter sprint and tying for the lowest max vertical.

    However, on the floor as a freshman, Porter checked the boxes NBA teams look for in centers, finishing as one of two players in the country to average at least a three-point make, 1.5 blocks and 2.0 assists per game.

    Porter must improve his body and conditioning, but his shooting, passing, timing in rim protection and flashes of attacking closeouts will have NBA teams monitoring him from October through predraft workouts.


    2. Daniel Gafford, Arkansas C

    At 6'11", 234 pounds, Gafford's size and athleticism stood out under the scouting lens. The mix led to a 60.5 percent field-goal mark and 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes, creating interest around his potential as a finisher and rim protector. 

    Even if he doesn't expand or improve his offensive skill package, Gafford should remain in the first-round conversation the way Robert Williams did a year ago. But he must become a bigger scoring threat to leapfrog freshmen and other breakout returning players. Gafford looked limited offensively and shot just 52.8 percent from the free-throw line. 


    3. PJ Washington, Kentucky PF

    NBA teams were intrigued enough by Washington to bring him to the combine, where he flashed more shooting touch than he was able to show at Kentucky. 

    This past summer, he looked quicker than last year during the Wildcats' trip to the Bahamas. 

    Washington should play a more featured role in the offense as a post option and big who can stretch the floor or put the ball on the floor. With NBA size (6'7") and length, he'll just need to establish sweet spots in the half court where he can consistently threaten defenses.


    4. Admiral Schofield, Tennessee, SF/PF

    Schofield doesn't fit inside the NBA box, being a 6'5", 240-pound forward. It shouldn't matter as much in today's league.

    Schofield has developed into a dangerous shooter, making 64 threes at a 39.5 percent clip as a junior. He's also flashed scoring ability from the post to the short corners.

    Persuading NBA teams he can guard wings will be important for his stock.


    5. Aric Holman, Mississippi State PF/C

    Holman has taken baby steps from his freshman to junior year, and he'll now look to complete his pitch to NBA teams as a potential stretch big man. Last season, he finished as one of two players to average 1.5 blocks and 1.0 three-point makes at better than a 40.0 percent clip.

    Holman also ranked in the 99th percentile as a finisher around the basket. Even if his off-the-dribble and post game fail to take off—he only converted two pull-ups and three drives out of spot-ups—Holman's tools, athleticism, effectiveness inside at both ends and shooting could be enough to fill a specialty role.


    Other SEC Prospects to Watch

    Herb Jones, Alabama SF/PF

    Donta Hall, Alabama C

    Jalen Hudson, Florida SG

    Terence Davis, Ole Miss SG

    Austin Wiley, Auburn C

    Nick Weatherspoon, Mississippi State PG

    John Petty, Alabama SG

    Nick Richards, Kentucky C

Big East

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    1. Shamorie Ponds, St. John's PG

    Ponds took advantage of a 31.7 percentage usage rate to average 21.6 points in 2017-18. This year, his focus must be on taking better shots, setting the table and improving his shooting consistency.

    He should have more support with the addition of Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron. Regardless, Ponds has the ability to catch fire and score in bunches, a strength that NBA teams could see translating in a spark-plug role.

    2. Eric Paschall, Villanova SF/PF

    Coming off his most efficient season at Villanova, Paschall enters his senior year as the No. 1 option for a Villanova team that lost Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges. He's strong and explosive around the basket, where he shot 69.1 percent.

    But he also showed promising skill working off the ball, ranking in the 81st percentile out of spot-ups, proving he can make catch-and-shoot jumpers, as well as drives (12 of 19) from the arc. 

    After registering just a 16.9 percent usage rate, he'll have the chance in 2018-19 to show scouts he can do more with the ball in the half court.

    3. Markus Howard, Marquette PG

    Howard returns as one of the most prolific offensive players in the country. He's only 5'11", but he ranked in the 95th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and 99th percentile spotting up. He shot 41.0 percent off the catch and 46.5 percent off the dribble.

    Howard lacks size and athleticism and he isn't much of a playmaker (18.4 assist percentage). His best chance to make an NBA roster will be as a scoring-spark specialist like Yogi Ferrell. 

    4. Jessie Govan, Georgetown C

    Govan had a breakout junior year to average 17.9 points and 10.5 rebounds, up from 10.1 points and 5.0 boards as a sophomore. He did his damage from the post (80th percentile) and cutting off the ball (80th percentile). 

    But Govan still struggled to block shots at a high rate (1.4 per 40 minutes), and his jump shooting has yet to take off. Improving those areas of his game could earn him a spot on second-round radars. 

    5. Justin Simon, St. John's SF

    A jack-of-all trades forward, Simon averaged 12.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists. He's an impressive passer and facilitator who's becoming a more threatening shooter after making 15 of 36 threes. 

    Simon is just 6'5" without great scoring ability, and at this stage, he doesn't have a speciality skill. But his unique versatility should remain worth tracking, particularly if he continues to make strides as a shooter.

Non-Power Conferences

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    1. Ja Morant, Murray State PG

    One of two players last year (16 total since 1992) to average at least 10 points, six rebounds and six assists, Morant returns as a trendy breakout candidate. There are obvious areas he'll need to improve skill-wise (4-of-18 out of isolation). But for a ball-handler, Morant possesses the enticing explosiveness that traditionally fuels NBA upside.

    He's one of the rare point guards equally capable of finishing alley-oops as he is tossing them up. Morant has also proved to be an effective ball-screen weapon, ranking in the 82nd percentile out of pick-and-rolls.

    Scouts will be eager to see how much Morant progresses as a shooter (27-of-88 from three), as well as an in-between scorer since he missed 14-of-18 runners and only converted two jump shots inside the arc. But he's already a triple-double threat without any real polish, and after turning 19 in August, he has a tremendous window to improve. 


    2. Killian Tillie, Gonzaga PF

    Tillie experienced a semi-breakout last year, returning under the expectations that a full one is coming. From an NBA perspective, Tillie is appealing as a 6'10" big who has made 47.9 percent of his career 117 three-point attempts. And though not an exciting athlete, he still shot 62.4 percent inside the arc last year.

    He ranked in the 86th percentile or better in spot-ups, pick-and-rolling and cutting. Still, it's Tillie's shooting and potential to switch defensively that suggest he's a fit as a role-playing pro. 


    3. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga PF

    After averaging 11.6 points in a supporting role as a sophomore, and then combining for 49 points between two Asian World Cup Qualifying games this past month, Hachimura has naturally emerged as a breakout name to watch.

    The NBA scouting lens picks up his athleticism and face-up quickness for a 6'8" forward. But the pressing question remains: Can he shoot? He's 9-of-40 from three through two seasons at Gonzaga, and unless he's a revamped, newly polished shot-creator, he'll need to show teams his jumper is improving.


    4. Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State PF

    McDaniels toyed with the idea of staying in the 2018 draft, deciding to return as a sophomore just before the withdrawal deadline. It was the sensible move, presuming McDaniels returns with added confidence and offensive skill.

    A bouncy athlete, he shot 69.7 percent at the basket last year, with a combined 57.8 percent of his offense coming off cuts, putbacks and transition baskets. This season, he'll look to improve upon his 32nd percentile post-up ranking and jump shot that missed on 27-of-37 attempts. 


    5. Zach Norvell, Gonzaga SG

    Norvell shot an impressive 57.9 percent inside the arc while averaging 2.1 threes per game as a freshman. He even ranked in the 87th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler as a dual-threat scorer and passer.

    With Tillie and Hachimura back, Norvell may still be limited to supporting-role duties. But Gonzaga should be a spotlight team that will have scouts attention. He's in a good position to capitalize, the same way DiVincenzo did late last year for Villanova.


    Other Mid-Major Prospects to Watch 

    Cody Martin, Nevada SF

    Caleb Martin, Nevada SG/SF

    Quinton Rose, Temple SG/SF

    Jarrey Foster, SMU SF/PF

    Fletcher Magee, Wofford SG

    Markis McDuffie, Wichita State SF

    D'Marcus Simonds, Georgia State PG/SG

    Kellan Grady, Davidson PG


    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports Reference.