Posted on: August 18, 2019 Posted by: Old Man Comments: 0

Last season’s returning college class was great.  There were four upperclassmen taken in the top ten and six taken in the lottery.   Players like Ja Morant, De’Andre Hunter, Jarrett Culver exceeded expectations but were still projected to be potential lottery picks even before the college season started.  Even players like Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and PJ Washington had lottery buzz before the season started.  This years crop of players returning to college as of now is looking pretty…meh.  When looking at NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s 2020 NBA mock draft there are no returning players mocked in the top ten.  Heck, the first college returnee on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft is Tre Jones at 16 and there’s five in total mocked in the first round.  This year’s incoming freshmen/international class is deep in terms of quality NBA starting talent.  There isn’t a generational talent like Zion Williamson but there’s plenty of rotational players with upside. The closest thing to a sure fire number one pick would be Cole Anthony but as of now that’s something that will need to play itself out during the season.

Typically speaking, are all of these highly touted freshmen/international prospects going to have as good of a season as most are expecting?  No.  There are overhyped freshmen every season that fall out of favor when it comes to talent evaluation or physical ability.  Players like Bol Bol, Trevon Duval, Skal Labissiere, Louis King, Luguentz Dort and much more know this fact all too well.  That means either some lower graded freshmen/international player will have a surprisingly good season or a returning upperclassmen has an unexpected breakout season; enough so to launch themselves in serious draft consideration.  

The list of players that I’m about to talk about aren’t the college returnee favorites like Tre Jones, Tyrese Haliburton, Charles Bassey, Jalen Smith, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson or Ayo Dosunmu that are listed highly on NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com’s mock draft.  I wanted to identify my personal favorite “breakout/sleeper” candidates for the upcoming 2020 season, ones that I’m most looking forward to watch.  Even though I have these players listed under “breakout/sleeper” that doesn’t mean they aren’t on people’s draft radar already.  It just means players who aren’t being heavily considered on current popular mock draft boards (NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com) that have the potential by seasons end to boost their draft stock significantly: 

 

Obi Toppin, 6’9, PF/C, (RS)SO, Dayton, 21.4 years

(ESPN.com: 43, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It’s tough putting Obi Toppin on this list since he’s mocked 43rd on ESPN.com’s 2020 mock draft.  I guess since I consider Toppin the best returning bigman (only because Killian Tillie never stays healthy) and would mock him in the first round.  He’s also pretty old for a player who only played one season of division one basketball.  I don’t even know if he’s going to have a proper “breakout” season since the offensive system at Dayton doesn’t exactly highlight his skills.  The Dayton offense looks to be a Princeton styled offense which has Toppin cutting most of the time.  Personally I’d like to see him more as a ball screener in a spread offense, whether that be pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.  His screen setting ability does need to improve since he tends to avoid contact and dive early.  He does have great timing on his dives to the rim but hardly ever did I see him delay his roll and break open extra passing lanes.  Still, his length, athleticism, soft hands, touch around the rim and one foot leaping ability help with his overall rim-running prowess.  Toppin actually has a solid intermediate game displaying movement two point jumpers now and again.  I would like to see his decision making improve when being the release value but he still can make plays with his respectable feel for the game.  I would also like to see Toppin spot up more.  He rarely shot from distance and when he did showed capable rhythm and touch.  I want to see him attack closeouts and display his dribble drive game more often next season.  With the offense that’s being run at Dayton I don’t know if Toppin will get that opportunity but on the rare occasion of him doing those actions he looks more than adequate.

On defense Toppin showed his positional versatility being able to bang down low with burly bigs and stay in front of jitterbug guards.  He still needs to gain more muscle if he wants to consistently go toe-to-toe with NBA frontline players.  But his ability to play on the balls off his feet, his lateral quickness, end-to-end speed and length help when defending multiple positions.  For the most part he’s a solid team and on-ball defender.  Nothing special but won’t beat himself. At times he has bit on fakes and lost position but made up for it with great recovery speed.  He’s the type of player who will thrive chasing down blocks.  I would like to see him fight at the rebounds apex more often.  I don’t know if that’s to prevent an injury but sometimes he seems too grounded.  I think he’s being somewhat undervalued due to the offense ran at Dayton and personally have a first round grade for him.  Until Killian Tillie shows me he can stay healthy the best returning bigman is Toppin.

 

Keyontae Johnson, 6’5, SF/PF, SO, Florida, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Keyontae Johnson really is an undersized power forward.  Heck, I think he can play some small-ball center as well.  Even though he’s listed at 6’5 he weighs 225 pounds, has wide shoulders, strong bulky frame, ample butt, lengthy arms and large hands.  He also apparently measured his vertical at 41” but even without that recording his explosion on tape shouldn’t be up for debate.  That explosion and his intuitive ability to track down rebounds helped Johnson post 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, 9.4% offensive rebounding percentage and 16% total rebounding percentage.  His defense was the first thing that I took note of.  He’s definitely a better on-ball defender compared to a team defender.  It’s not like he’a a bad team defender, it’s just that more times then I would’ve liked Johnson was a split second late on his assignments.  Sometimes he’s too locked in on the ball and has to quicken his recognition on back end rotations.  He can cover ground at a fast pace so as long as he aligns his head with his movement Johnson should become a more than suitable team defender.  But his on-ball defense and switchability really stood out. Johnson has a big, muscular frame and is still quick at the same time.  He has decently fluid hips and does a good job staying attached even when he gets beat.  He can be taken to the post by bigger forwards and do an admirable job holding his ground.

On offense Johnson is pretty limited.  He’s more of a straight line driver with little wiggle and finishes most of his drives with jump stops.  He has an average first step but is still able to draw fouls at a fair clip.  Johnson does a good job playing the game low so when he’s able to get a beat on his defender does a good job creating distance with his shoulders and chest and finishing around the bucket.  He has a good feel for off-ball cutting and does most of his damage around the basket.  His jump shot probably needs more extension on his set/release point to raise his follow through.  He did manage to catch-and-shoot at an average clip but anything off the dribble needs to improve.  He’s more of a ball mover on offense but at times has made some nice passes with anticipation.  Johnson probably doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning upperclassmen and really maxes out around high level role player. With a quality freshman class and the transfer of Kerry Blackshear the Florida Gators should be a lot more talented this year compared with last season.  That should only boost Johnson’s role on the team and could be someone by seasons end with more hype.

 

Aaron Henry, 6’6, SF, SO, Michigan State, 20 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ As the season went along last year Henry got better and better.  He ended up starting and contributing for a team that went to the final four.  Henry plays the game with such balance and has a good center of gravity it helps him move about the court with as little wasted motion as possible.  He is a sound defender that plays well on-ball and team defense.  His low defensive stance helps defend 1 through 4 and his communication skills help him process the game.  Having a strong defensive anchor supports his upside as a total package defender.  There is still room for improvement as he can float on defense, ball watch and commit silly fouls.  He was a freshmen under Tom Izzo last year and Izzo doesn’t give much rope.  I mean during Jaren Jackson’s freshman season he barely cracked 20 minutes per game at the end of the season.  Henry should be able to afford more leeway his sophomore season.

Henry impressed me the more I watched him on offense.  I thought he was just going to be a straight line driver and floor spacer but I was pleasantly surprised by his skill set.  For starters his dribble drive game is more diverse than I expected with variations of pivots, jabs, step offs and pump fakes.  He can use this array of set ups while attacking closeouts.  He can finish with touch, hit runners and make jumpers on the move.  Even with all that said Henry is still pretty limited as a live-ball creator but has shown these flashes of skill which is a good place to start from.  He’s not really quick twitch in the lane and is still developing counter dribble drive moves.  His passing is pretty underrated making some pin-point passes right before the play breaks open.  His overall sharp IQ should help in aiding his developmental process.  Henry will be getting a greater opportunity to showcase his skills this season and has a chance to make the sophomore leap. 

 

Nate Hinton, 6’5, SG/SF, SO, Houston, 20.2 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ I really like Hinton.  The guy is just a good basketball player on both sides of the ball.  His handle in comparison to the other wings on my list (Johnson and Henry) is probably the furthest along in his progression.  He can actually grab-and-go defensive rebounds and jump start the offense.  He has a serviceable go-to live-ball move with a right-to-left push cross, has decent stop and go moves with balance and can accelerate/decelerate in the lane.  This could be a reason why he gets to the line at a good clip with a 32% free throw rate.  With that said he still doesn’t have the most advanced handle and still needs more counters, shiftiness plus more rim attacks.  Also, his first step seems to be pretty average but his solid control and stability help him with downhill speed.  But the bottom line is that his handle and live-ball skills are further along when compared with his peers and gives him a head start with his maturation.  Additionally, he’s growing his off the bounce pull-up game and can make tough movement two point field goals.  That will help enhance his overall scoring ability.  He also has some appeal as a playmaker even though it sparsely happens displaying passes on the move, out of the pick-and-roll and one hand passes cross court.  It kind of feels like a skill laying dormant and could be a huge x-factor in his development.  Maybe he never showcases his passing capability but from what I’ve seen there’s potential gains.

He should improve upon his 33.7% three point shooting percentage this season.  Mechanically speaking he does dip the ball down pretty low at times but has a quick trigger with his follow through.  Developing core strength and getting stronger in general should help with power and accuracy which should improve his shot.  His 85.7% free throw percentage is a fair indicator of potential shooing success in the future as well.  On defense Hinton plays with energy and hustle.  He’s a hard nose defender using his brawn and leverage to body up his man.  Off-ball he can get his assignments mixed up occasionally but overall has a manageable IQ plugging up the gaps and shrinking the court.  It also helps that he has good timing in the passing lanes and creates events on defense.  Overall Hinton has two-way wing ability.  His role should expand with Houston and so to should his draft stock.  

 

Paul Reed, 6’9, SF/PF, JR, Depaul, 20.3 years

(ESPN.com: 51, NBAdraft.net: 36)

~ It’s funny.  Out of Toppin, Johnson, Henry, Hinton, Reed and Pickett, Reed is probably the player I favor the least but is still mocked on both ESPN.com and NBAdraft.net.  Go figure.  I debated even having Reed on my list since there’s nothing “sleeper” about him at this point in time.  I’ve been a fan of Reed for a while and think he has major upside nevertheless.  So to keep in theme of upperclassmen that I favor for next season Reed would have to be on that list.  The very first thing that stood out about Reed is his long limbed profile.  His height, length and athletic ability really does fit well with the modern NBA.  Depending on how his skill set develops he could play small forward all the way up to center.  He does have to get stronger if he wants to absorb the heavy blows at the next level however.  I personally would’ve liked to see Reed involved more as the screener in pick-and-roll’s since he can be a devastating dive man and can function better with more space popping out from a ball screen.  He can drive in a straight line and spin back to the basket in the lane.  Most of his live-ball moves are pretty sluggish.  I mean, he does have a crossover but it’s pretty slow.  He has good overall touch, solid leaping power, body control exploding off one foot which makes for efficient finishing.  He didn’t shoot that many three’s but has a high release point along with solid touch gives Reed sufficient room to improve.  He’s more of an extra pass type of player but has made drive-and-kick passes on occasion.  Although he can be a black hole on offense and get tunnel vision.  He needs to do a better job taking advantage of his scoring ability and create for others.

Reed is a mixed bag on defense.  You see his potential and upside as he can traverse through large swaths of ground at a brisk pace.  He displays great creation skills and sports solid block and steal percentages (2.3%steal, 6.8%block).  But the guy just has poor fundamentals.  He can’t flip his hips on defense which hurts defending at the point of attack.  He plays back on his heels too often and needs to play on his toes for better mobility.  He commits careless fouls which can be highly frustrating.  He goes for the ball instead of staying sound with his responsibility which ends up knocking himself out of position.  He has underwhelming recognition skills on defense.  He can make the initial rotation but struggles to cycle through multiple rotations.  Reed is by no means a terrible defender but just infuriating to watch someone with such defensive upside be prone to that lack of detail.  He has the baseline ability and tools to become a lottery pick but until he establishes better habits his future might restricted.         

 

Jalen Pickett, 6’4, PG/SG, SO, Siena, 19.8 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ It feels like most people following the NBA draft knows Pickett by now and the term “breakout/sleeper” really doesn’t apply to him.  I just think there’s a very good chance by season’s end Pickett will have first round draft consideration.  I had to put him on my list especially since Pickett isn’t mocked by either ESPN.com or NBAdraft.net.  Does this mean I like Pickett more than other returning guards like Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, AJ Lawson and Ayo Dosunmu?  Well, yea.  You can make the argument that those four other point guards have better first steps, better athletic ability and higher ceilings.  But they all have their question marks as well. Lawson is taller but I don’t trust his touch, Hagans and Dosunmu have quick first step’s but need to be a better shot makers and Jones can’t shoot threes.  I guess I favor Pickett more because of offensive versatility.  I think Pickett has more potential to become a Fred VanVleet type combo guard in the NBA in comparison to the others.  Pickett can set firm screens, move well without the ball, make tough movement shots, catch-and-shoot and make good decisions attacking closeouts.  

Pickett might not have a swift first step and top notch athletic ability but is a good leverage scorer using his butt, base, shoulders and footwork to create scoring angles.  He then takes these scoring advantages and uses them to support his ability to create for others.  He does need to tighten his handle as it can be high at times and he needs to finish with his left hand more often.  His long distance shot has a high release point but has a slight hitch in my opinion.  As long as he buffs that out then I think he can raise his three point percentage especially considering he has solid touch and a good unassisted make rate.  His mid-major competition level might be covering up some of his defensive capacity since Pickett doesn’t have explosive athletic ability.  He gets by defending with his strength, broad shoulders, long arms, functional movement and processing speed which helps create on defense.  Those traits will have to carryover at the next level if he wants to be a plus defender. Pickett doesn’t have the upside of some of the other returning guards but his game could translate better to an ever growing versatile league.  

 

DEEP SLEEPER 

Kessler Edwards, 6’8, PF/C, SO, Pepperdine, 19 years

(Not even close to being mocked anywhere)

~ He’s probably more likely to be a four year player than a second year breakout candidate.  Still, even after his senior season at college I don’t know how credible an NBA prospect he will be then.  He’s definitely a long shot to make the NBA.  But after watching some games from his freshman season there is a slight chance he becomes draft relevant.  For starters his physical profile is the most NBA ready quality about him.  He’s long, with good explosion and closing speed.  He can also cover ground in a hurry.  His overreliance on his athleticism to make plays is a problem though and he needs to develop better functional speed.  On defense his hand eye coordination is probably his best trait.  Add that to his long arms and he creates defensive events at a solid rate.  His defensive footwork is sloppy, his IQ is maybe average and he needs to be more focused off ball.  With that said he did show pick-and-roll versatility, doing an admirable job switching, hedging and recovering, and downing the roll.  That skill alone is in demand around the league and could be what propels his career.

On offense Edwards was mainly a spot up shooter.  He has a low set/release point but since he’s long armed and tall he gets his shot off over most defenders.  Developing core strength will be important to quicken his release over time.  Probably the next best thing he does on offense is diving off pick-and-rolls.  Being a great rim-runner makes sense with his athleticism, length, hand eye coordination, leaping power and touch around the basket.  He doesn’t really have a handle, mostly will attack a closeout with a 1-2 plant and release.  But his overall shot creation and live-dribble game is pretty much non-existent at this point.  I admit this is a long shot but it’s fun following prospects throughout their college career.

 

Honorable Mention

Anthony Lamb, 6’6, SF/PF, SR, Vermont, 21.6 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Good leverage scorer; dips shoulder into defender, strong base and smooth footwork to create scoring angles.  Promising long distance shooting traits that should help translate to the NBA.  I’d say he’s an average NBA athlete with a strong frame and board shoulders.  Nice touch around the rim, gets to the line at a fairly high clip and makes tough movement two point jumpers.  Average to above average IQ on defense.  Needs to improve processing speed if he wants to consistently defend at the next level.  Overall by years end could be regarded as a second round prospect.  He’s more of an undersized power forward and his role in the NBA could be bench/rotational scorer.

 

Devin Vassell, 6’6, SG/SF, SO, Florida State, 19 years

(ESPN.com: not mocked, NBAdraft.net: not mocked)

~ Vassell didn’t play that much this season, only played in short spurts.  Has a long limbed frame that needs to fill out over time but solid NBA athleticism.  He was mostly a catch-and-shoot three point shooter on offense for Florida State but shot well from deep overall.  Most everything about his game seems at least average: vision, team defense, on-ball defense, finishing and handle.  His shot creation and off the bounce game are probably his bigger question marks.  Overall he looks like a potential 3-and-D wing in the NBA.

 

Quintin Dove, 6’8, SF/PF, SR, UT-Martin, 21.2 years

(Not even close to being mocked)

~ He’s another long shot to make the league like Kessler Edwards.  He transferred from a community college last season so he only has one year division one under his belt.  He’s a questionable defender, extremely foul prone and needs to tighten up his decision making.  So yea, long shot.  I guess what intrigued me about Dove was his physical profile, offensive rebounding, active hands on defense, he’s really good around the rim, actually has somewhat of a straight line handle, got to the free throw line at a good rate, shot 81% from the line, made some difficult shots and his jump shot looks to be translatable to the next level even though he hardly shoots any threes.  He really has to pop on defense, foul less and shoot more threes to get on any draft radar.     

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