1. PG Trae Young (Oklahoma)
Boasting an insane 29.6 PPG and 10.7 APG, I’m not sure you can consider this freshman a sleeper anymore. Many draft pundits now have him firmly cemented in their top 5, and it’s easy to see the potential. Everything starts with his shooting, where the 6 foot 2 native of Norman, Oklahoma can shoot with range well beyond the NBA 3. His shooting is special as he can knock down threes off screens, off of difficult dribble combinations, and with a hand in his face. He’s shooting 86% from the line and 41% from 3 on an incredible 12 3PA per 40. For comparison, Steph Curry shot 12 3PA per 40 during his junior and final season at Davidson. The gravity that his lethal shot creates opens up the rest of his game.
He has a nasty hesitation dribble that he uses to blow by guards and bigs alike. He has the ball on a string once he gets into the paint as he is always under control and with a plan. He’s excellent at throwing his body into defenders to draw contact, as he’s drawing 10.6 FTA per 40. He has a floater that he seems to always swish as well. The threat of his scoring draws help defenders, and his vision, precision passing, and timing are all excellent. He can hit the rolling big with a lob, kick out to an open shooter whose man is cheating into the paint, and he always seems to make the extra pass.
His only weaknesses are his explosiveness for a point guard as he struggles to finish at the rim at times, and his average size and length (6’4″ wingspan) for a player at the most athletic position in the league. This will limit his defensive upside as he doesn’t have switchability, but he has a good steal rate (2.3 steals per 40) which shows good defensive instincts.
His combination of shooting/scoring/passing is rare which has him drawing comps to Steph Curry, Steve Nash, and a miniature James Harden. These are lofty comps to place on such a young kid, but he is producing the best statistical season we have ever seen for a freshman point guard ever (36% USG, .652 TS%, 57 AST%). He brings a similar cerebral-ness and skill level to the three future Hall of Famers. There are questions about how his game will translate however because of his athletic shortcomings.
2. SG Bruce Brown (Miami)
Brown is a sophomore combo guard with a football background. Standing 6’5 with a 6’9 wingspan, Brown is a big and physical combo guard. That tough football mentality manifests itself most on the defensive end where he has a lockdown mentality. He brings toughness and energy to every possession, and his combination of length and lateral quickness allow him to guard both guard spots. He fights through screens and is an outstanding rebounding guard with 8.8 rebounds per 40 minutes. His defensive versatility and rebounding at the guard spot is invaluable in today’s switch-happy defensive schemes.
On offense, his strengths lie in his versatility. He is a decent slasher with a good first step, adequate ball handling, and some finishing potential. He has shown the ability to operate out of the pick and roll, making the correct reads, and showing the comfortability to make a variety of passes (5.4 assists per 40.) He is a career 33% 3 point shooter (70% FT), so he will need to show more consistency shooting to be a high-level NBA player.
While he is a very good athlete, he is not an elite explosive athlete, and he hasn’t shown polish and consistency. He’s not yet a great finisher at the rim, his decision making needs work (especially if he projects as a lead guard), and his handle needs to be tightened. He is also just an average shooter at this stage.
Brown can do a little bit of everything on the court. He can defend, rebound, pass, drive, and shoot, however, the latter 3 need polishing. Players who can do a lot of different things on the court are players that project well going to the league. He should carve out a role early in his career as an energy defender, using his length to suffocate guards and switch. His ceiling will depend on how much he improves his touch, finishing at the rim, passing polish, and shooting. Working against him is he’s a year and a half older than most players in his class. He projects most similarly to Kris Dunn, Donovan Mitchell, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley, who each brought a defensive mentality at the combo guard spot but whose ceilings were dictated by how much they improved their floor games.
3. Mikal Bridges (Villanova)
Listed at 6’7 and 200 pounds with a 7 foot 1 wingspan, Bridges, a junior, might be the best defender in college basketball. He combines his outstanding length with excellent quickness and feel. He has the feet to stick with quick guards, and the length to guard bigger forwards. He can even be a factor at the rim where he’s averaging 1.9 blocks and 2.6 steals per 40. He’s also a solid rebounder averaging 7.5 per 40.
On offense, he has a clear-cut role as an elite spot up shooter. He’s a lifetime 38% 3 point shooter who’s shooting 46% this year. He’s a career 83% FT shooter as well, which is an excellent for someone with a defensive profile. He is also an excellent cutter who knows and sticks to his role within an offense. He is a straight line driver who can explode out of nowhere for crowdroaring dunks. The ball doesn’t stick with him, and he knows how to play well within a team concept. He has a lifetime .655 TS% which is simply outstanding, but his low usage rate leaves a little to be desired at an average of 16% but it is up to 23% this year.
While he sticks to his efficient role in the offense as a shooter, cutter, and straight line driver, this might also be a sign of a lack of capabilities to expand his game. He doesn’t show much off the dribble beyond straight line drives as he doesn’t run pick and roll and is simply a ball mover, not a playmaker. Additionally, while he has great length as a combo 2/3, he is quite thin at 200 pounds which might limit his effectiveness on both sides of the ball.
He has a clear cut NBA role as a 3 and D player. He needs to play with offensive stars to maximize his potential so he can stick to his role as a spot-up shooter. However, he might have sneaky upside to expand his offensive game because of his outstanding shooting profile. To do this, he would need to become more proficient shooting off screens and off the dribble. He profiles most similarly to Robert Covington and Kris Middleton who are both underrated NBA players.