College Basketball's 5-Star Recruits Who Have Hurt Their NBA Draft Stock Most
Though top high school recruits have the option of jumping straight to a paycheck in the NBA's G League, the one-and-done year of college hoops is still the path of least resistance to the draft.
But that one year doesn't always go according to plan, as several guys at both Duke and Kentucky have learned the hard way this season.
It usually takes a lot for a top-10 recruit to drop out of the projected first round, and that's no different this year. Sometimes, a guy just doesn't fit in the offense, or he deals with a nagging injury, and while his draft stock may fall a bit, NBA scouts still mostly believe in what they saw in high school.
But we'll see what happens after Jalen Johnson's opt-out, Terrence Clarke's seven ineffective games before he shut it down with an ankle injury and Caleb Love's inefficient play in about 80 percent of his contests. They're weird situations in a weird year that may result in drastic changes from preseason expectations.
Players are listed in ascending order of their consensus preseason draft position from mock drafts by ESPN's Jonathan Givony, SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell and Bleacher Report's Joe Tansey. Current consensus draft position is according to USA Today.
Guys Who Probably Weren't 1-and-Done in the 1st Place
The way people typically talk about the one-and-done revolution in college basketball, you might think all 5-star recruits are expected to declare for the NBA draft in any given year.
In reality, it's more like 90 percent of the top 10 recruits and less than 50 percent of the guys in the 11-20 range. The 5-star recruits outside the top 20 fall into more of a "might leave if they have an awesome freshman season but will likely play two years" bucket.
These guys are in that latter group and have not had an awesome enough season to be on the NBA's immediate radar. Don't call it a failed campaign, though. Rather, get ready for them to appear in the various "Ranking the Top 50 Players to Watch in Men's College Basketball in 2021-22" articles.
Bryce Thompson, Kansas
247Sports No. 21; 5.3 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.2 APG, 26.9% 3PT
Perhaps the biggest reason Kansas disappointed through the first 2.5 months of this season was that Bryce Thompson hasn't been the star we were anticipating. That isn't to say he has been terrible, but we were expecting him to at least partially replace Devon Dotson's production, and that hasn't happened. He missed three games in early January with a cracked vertebrae and another seven games after that with a broken finger. Obviously, that didn't help his developmental process.
Walker Kessler, North Carolina
247Sports No. 22; 4.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG
Walker Kessler is surging and has been solid when on the floor, but playing time has been difficult to come by in a frontcourt where Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Day'Ron Sharpe are each averaging around 10.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Kessler would maybe go in the second round if he declared, but he'd be better off coming back for a year as the primary big man after that trio presumably leaves.
Jeremy Roach, Duke
247Sports No. 23; 8.7 PPG, 2.7 APG, 2.1 RPG, 28.4% 3PT
Jeremy Roach has had the best season among guys on this tier, but he's not ready for the NBA yet. He's only averaging 1.24 assists per turnover and is shooting 28.4 percent from distance. There are flashes of potential, though, and he does have double-digit games with double-digit points. However, he would benefit from another year in college.
Khristian Lander, Indiana
247Sports No. 27; 2.2 PPG, 1.2 APG, 27.9% 3PT
The highest-rated recruit out of Indiana was a critical get for head coach Archie Miller and his staff, but Khristian Lander has been nowhere near the instant-impact guy James Blackmon Jr. was a few years ago. In fact, he has been one of the least efficient players in the Big Ten. He finally made a two-point bucket on Saturday against Michigan, ending an 0-of-16 drought over the previous 22 games.
Mark Williams, Duke
247Sports No. 28; 5.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG
Mark Williams has come on strong since mid-January, blocking multiple shots in nine of his last 10 games and recording a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) against Syracuse's 2-3 zone on Feb. 22. A decade ago, he would probably be rocketing up draft boards. But this 7'0" center has no range and isn't a hot commodity in the modern NBA. Illinois' Kofi Cockburn isn't even a projected first-round pick, so Williams would almost certainly go undrafted if he left Duke after just one year.
Josh Christopher, Arizona State
Preseason: Consensus No. 20 Pick; 247Sports' No. 12 recruit
Current: Consensus No. 27 Pick
Season Stats: 14.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.4 APG, 30.5% 3PT
Josh Christopher's stock hasn't fallen far, but even a slip of seven spots in the consensus projections was one of the larger backslides among the 16 top-20 recruits who went to college instead of the G League.
Christopher's slight fall is due to a combination of three things, the biggest of which is his jump shot.
The ability to shoot was a question mark for the 6'5" 2-guard before he even got to college, and the 30.5 percent three-point clip hasn't done anything to dissuade those concerns. He does have a respectable mid-range game, so maybe the deep ball will come. But a lot of scoring guards in this year's class have a proven ability to stroke it. You've got to assume teams will take guys like LSU's Cameron Thomas or Louisville's David Johnson before Christopher.
Another concern is the back injury that has caused him to miss Arizona State's past six games. Is it a significant issue, or is Arizona State simply prioritizing his long-term health over what he could do now for a sub-.500 team? Predraft evaluations and medical screenings will be critical.
And while Arizona State's team success is, by far, the least of the three concerns, it doesn't help that Christopher's talent is being wasted on a squad that can't rebound, can't defend and can't win with any regularity. Playing for a bad team didn't stop Markelle Fultz or Ben Simmons from going No. 1 overall, but at least they were clearly the best, most NBA-ready players on their respective bad teams.
Terrence Clarke, Kentucky
Preseason: Consensus No. 16 Pick; 247Sports' No. 8 recruit
Current: Consensus No. 33 Pick
Season Stats: 10.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 22.7% 3PT, 3.0 turnovers
Terrence Clarke has not played since December because of an ankle injury, isn't expected to play again this season and was a disappointment for what little time we did get to watch him.
During Kentucky's atrocious 1-6 start, Clarke was all over the place, struggling to find his role in a Wildcats rotation that had 100 percent changed during a pandemic. We all expected him (and Brandon Boston Jr.) to be one of the team's alphas, but he almost seemed conflicted on whether to take that role.
When he was assertive, he dealt with turnover woes and didn't shoot well. Seven games is a small sample size, but 22.7 percent from deep and 47.1 percent from the free-throw line are ugly marks.
Both the turnovers and the shooting percentages reinforced the primary warning signs with Clarke when he came out of high school. His athleticism was never a question, but he had a tendency to get loose with the ball or settle for some ill-advised shots. Those remain obvious issues.
On top of the poor play, the ankle has to be at least a minor concern, as well. Ankles aren't usually a red flag, especially for a guy without much of an injury history. All the same, for someone who relies so heavily on slashes and jab steps, ankle health is a big deal. If it was serious enough to keep him out for several months, could it be a recurring issue?
Caleb Love, North Carolina
Preseason: Consensus No. 15 Pick; 247Sports' No. 14 recruit
Current: Not in First Round
Season Stats: 10.1 PPG, 3.6 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 23.2% 3PT, 3.3 turnovers
The one-and-done lead guards have done well by North Carolina head coach Roy Williams in recent years.
Last season was a 14-19 disaster, but when Cole Anthony was healthy, he was special. He just had no supporting cast before going 15th in this past October's draft. The year before that, Coby White was fantastic in leading the Tar Heels to a No. 1 seed. He went No. 7 in the subsequent draft.
But the third time has been the furthest thing from the charm for the Tar Heels this year.
Outside one fleeting night of greatness in the road win over Duke (25 points, seven assists), Caleb Love has had a woeful year of trying to run North Carolina's offense. He's barely shooting 30 percent from the field, is worse than 25 percent from the perimeter and is barely averaging an assist per turnover.
Love has posted a sub-90 O-rating in 18 of 24 games this season, which is almost unfathomable for a guy who was this highly touted coming out of high school.
North Carolina's loathed rival had a point guard a few years back who failed to live up to similarly high expectations in Trevon Duval. If he wasn't a unanimous first-round draft pick before his freshman season, he was darn close to it. He posted a sub-90 O-rating in 12 of 37 games and went undrafted.
Love's size (6'4", 195 lbs.) and high school accolades might intrigue some franchise enough to take a second-round flier on him, but there's no question his draft-night ceiling is much lower than it was four months ago.
Jalen Johnson, Duke
Preseason: Consensus No. 6 Pick; 247Sports' No. 13 recruit
Current: Consensus No. 8 Pick
Season Stats: 11.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 44.4% 3PT
Jalen Johnson's draft stock hasn't taken much of a hit, at least within the mock drafting community.
However, his recent decision to opt out of the remainder of the season—and the fact that Duke appears to be much better off without him—cannot help his spot on front-office white boards around the country.
Johnson's talent is undeniable. He had 19 points and 19 rebounds in his collegiate debut against Coppin State. He also had 24 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists against Pittsburgh. And while concerns exist regarding his defense, Johnson fared well in the blocks and steals departments when he was engaged on that end.
But this also wasn't the first time he left a team out of the blue, as he pulled out of IMG Academy before his senior season of high school could begin. Between that and the foot injury that kept him out of action for nearly a month, the red flags may well leave lottery teams feeling the risk isn't worth the reward.
There was a similar situation in the football world a few years back with Marcus Peters: super-talented player who might have been a top-five pick if he hadn't been dismissed from the team in November of his junior year. The Kansas City Chiefs took a calculated risk on him with the No. 18 pick, and he won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015.
Johnson could do that in the NBA, but the franchise that takes him needs to be prepared for a similar situation to his high school and college days.
Brandon Boston Jr., Kentucky
Preseason: Consensus No. 5 Pick; 247Sports' No. 5 recruit
Current: Consensus No. 21 Pick
Season Stats: 11.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 27.0% 3PT
Brandon Boston Jr.'s stock is way down from where it started, but it has improved in the past month or so.
Through his first 12 games, Boston was shooting 17.5 percent from three-point range and averaging more field-goal attempts per game (12.0) than points (11.5). That's quite poor, especially for a guy whose best asset is scoring. For a while there, it didn't even look like he would be a first-round pick anymore.
Over the past 11 games, though, he's sitting at 34.7 percent from three-point range while cutting his turnover rate roughly in half to just one per game.
Those numbers will do just fine.
While he's the consensus No. 21 pick, I would venture a guess that one of the teams at the back end of the lottery will overlook his rough start at Kentucky and buy low on a guy who had limitless potential coming out of high school.
He won't be a top-five pick, though. That went out the window a while ago, in part because guys like Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs and Arkansas' Moses Moody have been better than expected, leaving Boston in the dust in their ascent up draft boards.