NBA Comparisons for the Top Players in the Sweet 16

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2019

NBA Comparisons for the Top Players in the Sweet 16

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    With the Sweet 16 about to tip off, plenty of big stars remain in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, many of whom are expected to come off the board early in June's 2019 NBA draft.

    It's only natural for fans to look for comparisons to existing pros as points of reference while they get to know some of these players for the first time.

    In a few cases—Zion Williamson, for example—no easy comparison exists. In others, readily available templates await. No comparison between two players is perfect, but each can be a helpful tool for projecting what kind of player a college prospect will become at the next level.

    Using the order in the latest mock draft from Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, here are the comparisons to watch for the best healthy players left in the tournament.

Zion Williamson, PF/C, Duke

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: Blake Griffin

    More than any prospect in recent memory, Zion Williamson defies easy comparison.

    Though his combination of heft and athleticism makes LeBron James an easy touchstone, that isn't a comparison to throw around lightly, even for a prospect as electrifying as Williamson. A common historical parallel is Charles Barkley—a smart, skilled power forward who made up for his undersized frame with undeniable physical force.

    Williamson's closest contemporary analog is early-career Blake Griffin, whose thunderous dunks and awe-inspiring athleticism made him a walking highlight reel. But like Griffin, Williamson is more than just a dunker and boasts a diverse skill set perfect for the modern game. 

RJ Barrett, SG/SF, Duke

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: Rudy Gay

    On paper, RJ Barrett looks like an ideal wing for the modern NBA. He has the size (6'7", 202 lbs) and scoring ability to be effective, and he possesses the physical tools to be a good defender.

    But like Gay or Andrew Wiggins, questions about his shot selection persist. Will his ultimate destiny be to serve as a player who puts up big stats on a bad team? He relies a lot on mid-range jumpers and forces plenty of shots early in possessions—two habits he must break to reach his potential in the NBA.

    He does have the talent to get there.

Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: Khris Middleton

    Jarrett Culver isn't flashy, but he's a solid, do-it-all wing who can create his own shot, facilitate for teammates and defend his position. He's the kind of contributor who can slot in right away and be an effective role player on any team, and some squads may feel he's the second-best player on the board after Zion Williamson.

    Culver is not quite the outside shooter Khris Middleton has become for the Milwaukee Bucks, but he has the same kind of smooth and versatile all-around game that would help a variety of teams. His floor is lofty, and he's almost certain to carve out a solid career for himself in the league.

De'Andre Hunter, SF/PF, Virginia

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: DeMarre Carroll

    Switchability is one of the most important traits for a modern NBA wing, and De'Andre Hunter has that. He can defend in the post and on the perimeter, which allows him to match up well at both forward positions. He's also knocked down three-pointers at a 44.6 percent clip this season.

    DeMarre Carroll has many of the same attributes as Hunter, and that's exactly the kind of reliable three-and-D wing he should look to emulate as he carves out a role for himself in the Association. With limited athleticism, he will need to rely on his defensive smarts and shooting stroke to be effective.

Coby White, PG/SG, North Carolina

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: Gilbert Arenas

    Coby White just gets buckets. He's developed the versatility to create his own shot while also playing off the ball and spotting up, which gives him many different ways to make an offensive impact.

    White's size (6'5", 185 pounds) and scoring ability bring to mind pre-injury Gilbert Arenas—another electric scorer who was miscast for much of his career as a pure point guard. He's still figuring out how to run an offense and would be most effective in the NBA with a backcourt mate who can serve as a primary facilitator.

    But he's going to score at the next level.

Cam Reddish, SG/SF, Duke

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: Stanley Johnson

    Coming into the 2015 draft after his freshman season at Arizona, Stanley Johnson had every desired attribute for a future two-way star on the wing. But it just hasn't happened for him yet. He still hasn't learned to finish at the rim and doesn't shoot well enough to make up for that deficiency.

    Cam Reddish's college career and physical profile (6'8", 218 lbs) suggest he could either become the player Johnson was supposed to be (something closer to Paul George) or be similarly disappointing when he reaches the professional level. He'll certainly be one of the most polarizing players taken in the lottery.

Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: Wilson Chandler

    Though he serves as one of the most exciting players in college basketball, Rui Hachimura has limited star potential in the NBA.

    He projects as a solid rotation member—maybe even a starter—who's good at a lot of things but doesn't have an elite skill to set him apart in any area. He may be able to carve out a long career like Wilson Chandler's just by being serviceable in enough different areas to stay effective.

    On draft night, Hachimura will be viewed as a rookie who can play right away due to his well-rounded game and three years of collegiate experience. That makes for a fine career track, but he's more likely to be a role player than a star at the pro level.

Brandon Clarke, PF/C, Gonzaga

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    Jeff Swinger/Associated Press

    Pro comparison: Paul Millsap

    Brandon Clarke is the kind of bruising big man every team in the NBA would benefit from rostering. He makes winning plays at both ends of the floor but doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective.

    Paul Millsap's career arc is a good blueprint for the Gonzaga standout.

    Like Millsap in his early NBA career, Clarke has improved offensively to supplement his defensive impact, which gives him the potential to transform from a role player into something more. The next step will involve the development of an outside shot, which Millsap added during his time with the Atlanta Hawks.

    But even without a working three-point jumper, Clarke still has a lot to offer and should become an effective NBA player.

Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Pro comparison: Devin Booker

    Another former Kentucky star provides the comparison for Tyler Herro, who has a similar build and whose calling card is his shooting stroke.

    Both he and Devin Booker can score in a variety of ways. They're also limited defensively and must answer questions about whether they can be key players on winning teams at the NBA level.

    Like Booker, Herro isn't just an outside shooter. He can also finish at the rim and hit from mid-range zones, which makes him a well-rounded offensive player. But his profile features enough enduring concerns about defense and playmaking that his ceiling and potential stardom in the NBA may be limited. 

Keldon Johnson, SG/SF, Kentucky

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Pro comparison: Jimmy Butler

    Keldon Johnson has great physical tools and defensive instincts, which allows him to guard multiple positions on the perimeter and score around the basket. Like Jimmy Butler, he has an excellent motor and plays hard. He's also worked to improve his offensive game and has knocked down 39.6 percent of his three-pointers this season.

    He doesn't project as a star at this juncture, but Butler didn't either when the Chicago Bulls selected him with the final pick of the 2011 NBA draft's first round. The Marquette product made himself a perennial All-Star through determination and hard work.

    Johnson has many of the same physical attributes and a comparable playing style. Can he make a similar jump?

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