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Draft Preview

Players to Watch: West

by Ed Isaacson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The West Region is headlined by the Big 10 and Pac-12 champions, Wisconsin and Arizona, along with a strong mix of power conference and mid-major talent, including North Carolina, Arkansas, VCU, Ohio State, and Harvard. With so many good teams, there is also a lot of potential NBA talent, to the point where I could have easily added a few more names to breakdown.

Here is a short breakdown of the best NBA prospects in the West region, with the players listed in the order of their team’s seed. Click here for the best prospects in the Midwest Region. Click here for the South Region. Click here for the East Region.

Frank Kaminsky, Senior, Wisconsin, F – One of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year, Kaminsky’s rise over the past two seasons has been one of college basketball’s best stories. A skilled seven-footer with the ability to score in the post or from the perimeter, Kaminsky posted career highs of 55 percent from the field, and 40 percent from three-point range this past season. Though not particularly strong or quick, Kaminsky uses strong footwork and nice shooting touch to create scoring chances in the post, and his ability to shoot from the perimeter makes him a great option in pick-and-pop situations. Defensively, Kaminsky is average, though he is solid fundamentally, and his good awareness allows him to find ways to compensate against stronger or faster players. As with many seniors, there may not be a lot of upside with Kaminsky, but he is the kind of player who could contribute quickly in many different NBA offenses.

Sam Dekker, Junior, Wisconsin, F – A long, athletic small forward, Dekker has been on the NBA’s radar since a strong freshman season, though his play has been very inconsistent at times. Dekker is at his best when attacking the basket, and if he gets a step on his man, he can be a very strong finisher at the rim. While he shot almost 40 percent from three-point range as a freshman, he shot just 30 percent this season, and though he has good size at 6’9, he can have trouble getting good looks on the perimeter. Dekker doesn’t show great footwork consistently on defense, but he understands team defense well and his length does come in handy when playing passing lanes.  Though he hasn’t taken the leap many expected after his first season, you get that sense that there is still a lot of untapped potential in his game, and he will be coveted by many teams when he is in the draft.

Stanley Johnson, Freshman, Arizona, F – Arizona’s leading scorer as a freshman, Johnson was inconsistent, as many freshmen are, but he also had many big performances that the Wildcats needed as they marched to the Pac-12 Championship.  A high-level athlete with an NBA body, Johnson showed a more versatile skill set than expected, including being a better perimeter shooter than he was in high school, though still only shooting 37 percent from behind the arc this year. Johnson likes to try and get to the basket off the dribble, but he is not a good finisher at the rim for his athleticism and strength. He does have a solid mid-range game, as well as the ability to post up smaller defenders. Defensively, Johnson can be very good, especially on the ball, but he does make a lot of mental mistakes, which hopefully can be avoided as he gets more experience. He is very good in transition, and has the ability to push the ball himself or run one of the wings, and he has the ability to finish in ways that highlight reels are made of.  Long-term, there is plenty to like about Johnson’s game, but the perimeter shooting becoming consistent will be the key to where he finds his role at the next level.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sophomore, Arizona, F – Another athletic Arizona forward, Hollis-Jefferson makes his mark on the game in a different way, namely, being one of the top defenders in the country. At 6’7 with very long arms, Hollis-Jefferson can guard multiple positions, rebounds well for his position, and his instincts on and off the ball are as good as I’ve seen from a wing defender in the past few years. His numbers, such as steals and blocks, may not jump out at you, but you won’t find many offensive players who can say they got consistently good shots with Hollis-Jefferson defending them. Offense is another story. Other than put backs off of offensive rebounds, the occasional lob, or getting out in transition, there isn’t much to Hollis-Jefferson’s offense. Even an open lane to the basket can be an adventure with his ballhandling skills, and we won’t go into his jumper. Hollis-Jefferson’s ability to defend is what will get him his NBA chance, and he could do well with it, but it’s building up the rest of his game which will determine where he fits in long-term.

Rico Gathers, Junior, Baylor, F – Gathers enjoyed a breakout season for the Bears, averaging a double-double almost 12 points and rebounds per game. 6’8 and 280 pounds, Gathers is built like a football player, and this year he used his physical nature to its maximum, gathering rebound rates of 18.9 and 25.8 percent on the offensive and defensive glass, respectively. Gathers has improved as a defender as well, even when Baylor played more man-to-man defense, and his strength allows him to push much bigger post players off the low block. His offensive game is limited to around the basket area, and even there he has some trouble, especially with long defenders. Gathers gets to the free throw line at a tremendous rate (200 free throw attempts on 284 field goal attempts), but as a 61 percent shooter, he doesn’t convert the chances into points often enough. NBA teams will have interest in him for his rebounding ability on both ends of the floor, but the rest of his game is lacking, and though many joke about NFL teams being interested in him, I wouldn’t be surprised by it.
Marcus Paige, Junior, North Carolina, G – A pre-season First Team All-American, many found Paige’s season to be disappointing, and though his numbers, other than points per game, were very similar. Paige is a solid scorer, and his second-half heroics have been a treat for basketball fans over the past few seasons. A 39 percent three-point shooter, Paige has close to NBA range already, and the lefty is capable of hitting off the catch or dribble. North Carolina often needs him to score, and will move him off the ball to get him looks, Paige is also a good distributor, with the ability to draw defenders out and get into the lane, and making some strong passes to open teammates. Paige is also a solid on-ball defender, as well as playing passing lanes well, though his footwork needs some polishing. How far North Carolina goes in the tournament will be dependent on Paige, and there is a good chance he will show what he is made of in late-game situations.  

Brice Johnson, Junior, North Carolina, F – Another in the line of long, lanky power forwards at North Carolina, in the mold of Ed Davis and John Henson, Johnson has emerged this season as a consistent offensive option for the Tar Heels. His offense is limited to mostly 10 feet and in, but his length makes it tough to stop his shot, and his shooting touch continues to improve. Johnson is a good offensive rebounder and very efficient on put backs, often using his quick leaping ability to make a play before the defense can react. He doesn’t have many post moves, and he does his best work when just looking to fill open space within the defense where he can score. Defensively, he can have some issues with stronger post players, but he has the length to force bad shots. His lack of strength holds him back a bit on the defensive boards, but he makes up for it with his quickness and desire to beat others to the missed shot. Johnson posted seven double-doubles this season, including games against Louisville and Duke. NBA teams will like his length and motor, combined with plenty of untapped potential, but he still needs to develop physically to make the most of it all. 

Justin Jackson, Freshman, North Carolina, F - Jackson was inconsistent for most of the season, but he has been very good the past three weeks, including a 22-point performance against Virginia on Friday night, and the 6’8 freshman is just starting to show what he is capable of. Long and skilled (sensing a pattern?), Jackson has a strong mid-range game, and with the look of his shot, being consistent from long-range should come around soon enough. He handles the ball well for his size, and he has very good court vision for a young forward. Jackson isn’t a great defender or rebounder, but once he adds some strength to his long frame, he should improve. Jackson may not be a likely candidate for this draft, but a significant one-year improvement should have him highly coveted next year.

Bobby Portis, Sophomore, Arkansas, F – Portis built on a successful freshman season with a stronger second year, culminating in winning the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year award. A skilled forward, Portis has good size and bulk, though he needs to work on adding muscle. He is strong scorer around the basket in one-on-one situations, and he also has the ability to step out and hit mid-range jumpers, along with the occasional three-point make. Portis handles the ball well at 6’11 and has strong footwork, though he does need to work on using his body more consistently to seal and create space. Defensively, his time at Arkansas has made him a strong perimeter defender for his size, and while he battles in the post well, added strength will help him there, and as a rebounder, at the next level. Portis did all he could to impress as a sophomore, and he should be in a good position come this draft, if he declares.

Le’Bryan Nash, Senior, Oklahoma State, G/F –A former McDonald’s All-American, Nash probably didn’t think he’d still be at Oklahoma State as a senior, though he has played well enough the past two seasons to make the NBA a possibility. An athletic slasher, Nash can be a strong finisher at the rim, and over the past few seasons, he has learned to do a better job drawing contact. He also has a decent mid-range jumper, with defenders often giving him space to respect his driving ability. Long-range shooting is an issue, to the point where he isn’t worth guarding out to the arc. Nash has hit just 30 of 140 three-point attempts in his four seasons, a good number of them wide-open looks. He’s a solid defender on the wing, though not great, and he will rebound well on occasion. 

D’Angelo Russell, Freshman, Ohio State, G – Russell emerged as one of the top freshmen in the country this season, as well as one of the nation’s leading scorers. Not many freshmen can stuff a stat sheet like Russell, and he even posted a triple-double in February against Rutgers. He’s a good long-range shooter with a confident, quick release, shooting 41 percent from three this year. What separated Russell was his ability to see the floor and distribute, including some highlight reel passes. He makes his reads in pick-and-roll situations for his age, and some NBA teams may envision him as their point guard, but he makes a lot of bad decisions. Some of it may be youth and Ohio State’s reliance on him, but he has not played well against good defensive teams this year. Defensively, he’s an average on-ball defender, and he is much better defending off the ball, where he uses his length well to play passing lanes and reach in on passing drivers. Russell has a bright future at the NBA level, but he is not as ready as many think his numbers indicate.

R.J. Hunter, Junior, Georgia State, G - A highly regarded high school recruit, Hunter chose to play for his father Ron at Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference, though it’s not like the Sun Belt doesn’t produce NBA talent, including lottery pick Elfrid Payton last year. Hunter has good size, 6’6, at the shooting guard position, with a quick, consistent jumper, and the ability to make plays off the dribble. His shooting numbers were down this season, including dropping from 39 percent to 30 percent from beyond the arc, but his challenge has been shot selection, especially forcing up shots with multiple defenders coming at him. He is a very smart player, like many coaches’ sons, and his ability to create for teammates has improved greatly since his freshman season. Hunter has also been a better defender this season, using his length well to break up passing lanes, and having a good knack of being in the right place to get his hands in when a shaky ballhandler makes his way to the basket. Hunter is a player I’m excited to see at the NBA level, especially when the pressure isn’t on him to carry a team’s scoring load.  

Others to Watch: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin; Brandon Ashley, Arizona; Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona; Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina; Michael Qualls, Arkansas; Joseph Young, Oregon; Shannon Scott, Ohio State; Tyler Haws, BYU; Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

Ed Isaacson
Ed Isaacson is in his second year of covering the NBA Draft for Rotoworld.com, while his work can also be found at NBADraftblog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @nbadraftblog.