In a perfect world, every intriguing draft pick that came into the NBA would get to jettison one bland veteran from his new team’s rotation, sending that player to the bench and clearing the way for the rising rookie dynamo to play 30-plus minutes from the jump.
This column doesn’t exist in a perfect world, but for today’s purposes, it will operate in a vacuum.
It’s possible I’ve already lost you. It’s also possible I’ve already lost myself. So here’s what I mean: Below you’ll find 10 NBA Draft prospects beyond the obvious top three (Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett) who I can envision making a significant fantasy impact if they find themselves in the right situation at some point next year:
Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech: Culver is a guy who can do a little bit of everything, as evidenced by his 18.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.3 treys for Texas Tech this past season. (If you aren’t familiar with his style, here’s a look at his highlights from the NCAA Tournament.) He can get to the rim and finish with either hand. He can pass. He can block shots. Pretty much the only thing Culver didn’t do well this past season is shoot from distance (30.4 percent on 3s with a slightly funky-looking release), but he did shoot 38.2 percent as a freshman, so it’s in there somewhere. I have found myself hoping that Culver doesn’t go to the Lakers at No. 4, because playing alongside LeBron James doesn’t seem like an ideal first-year landing spot for a guy who does a little bit of everything (since LeBron does a lot of everything). Give me Culver in Cleveland at No. 5, or better yet — Atlanta at No. 8. A Hawks fan can dream, right? Whatever the case, Culver is my favorite fantasy prospect beyond the obvious top tier of Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett, and a guy I intend to draft wherever I can next year. (I will probably still draft him, begrudgingly, if he goes to the Lakers.)
De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia: My main concern with forecasting Hunter as a fantasy option has been his relatively low defensive stats, as he averaged just 0.6 spg and 0.6 bpg as a sophomore at Virginia (along with 15.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.0 apg and 1.2 3s on 55.0 percent from the field — and 43.8 percent on 3s). However, colleague Raphielle Johnson convinced me on a recent podcast that in addition to Virginia’s offensive system possibly holding Hunter’s numbers back, the way they configure their defense may have limited his steals and blocks as well. Hunter has a chance to land with the Cavs or even the Hawks, and in either case he’d be looking at an ideal spot to emerge early on.
Whatever PG the Suns Draft at No. 6
—> Darius Garland, Vanderbilt or Coby White, UNC: Garland played just four full college games before a season-ending meniscus injury, scoring 24, 19, three and 33 points for a combined average of 19.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.0 spg and 2.8 3s, on 52.8 percent from the field. Based on the limited college video I’ve seen, Garland is a pure scorer who can shoot off the dribble, shoot it from deep and finish in traffic. The Suns’ other PG considerations — Tyler Johnson, Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton — shouldn’t be impediments to Garland arriving in Phoenix and getting a chance to do his thing right away.
As for White, his numbers weren’t thrilling as a freshman — 16.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.1 spg and 2.3 3s on 42.3 percent from the floor — but it’s worth keeping in mind that he was sharing the floor with established scorers Cameron Johnson (a potential first-rounder himself) and Luke Maye, so to some extent that did hold White’s stats in check. Either way, this is a guy who looks capable of getting his own shot or playing off the ball, and I like his odds of being an asset in points/3s/assists/steals, though I worry a little bit about that low FG percentage in the pros.
Brandon Clarke, SF/PF, Gonzaga: You had me at 1.2 steals/3.2 blocks for one of the best teams in college basketball last year. I could honestly stop there, but that’s not all: Clarke also averaged 16.9 ppg and 8.6 rpg on 68.7 percent from the field, and has an extra “e” in his last name. He also, despite making just 4-of-15 3s last season, has a chance to develop NBA 3-point range — if he doesn’t have it already. (Here’s video of him splashing a bunch of corner 3s in a row during a workout for the Hawks.) This is another guy to watch closely where he lands, because he could put forth a pretty exciting plate of statistics in 30ish minutes a game.
Nassir Little, SF, UNC: It’s easy to be skeptical looking at Little’s sub par college stats — 9.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg and 0.4 3s — but it’s important to remember that he did all of that in just 18 minutes a game as a freshman. When you throw those numbers into the per-36 machine, the numbers it churns out — 19.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg and 0.8 3s — look a lot more intriguing, especially when you consider that the guy is something of a force of nature athletically. I’m not all-in on the idea of Little as a first-year fantasy factor, and he shot just 14-of-52 (26.9 percent) on 3s at UNC, but if he lands in a favorable situation, I can absolutely see him unleashing some explosive box scores.
Cam Reddish, SF, Duke: For better or worse, I think most of us have already formed an opinion on Reddish after seeing him post slightly disappointing numbers playing alongside Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett (13.5 ppg and 3.7 rpg on 35.6 percent shooting) during his lone season at Duke. Personally, I land on the side of being more than a little bit intrigued by Reddish, who also averaged 1.6 spg, 0.6 bpg and 2.5 3s, and absolutely has the size (6-foot-8), the athleticism and the tools to turn into a serious handful at the next level.
Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC: He got injured and suspended (averaging just 9.5 ppg in 22 minutes) during his lone college season, but Porter is a left-handed offensive dynamo who has some intriguing boom-or-bust potential (not unlike Little) after getting limited exposure as a college freshman.
Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana: Langford’s college numbers on their own are pretty impressive — 16.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.1 3s — but they become even more so when you take into consideration that he played 26 out of 32 games with a torn ligament in the thumb on his right (shooting) hand. That helps explain Langford’s poor shooting (27.2 percent on 3s), and makes me very eager to see what the 19-year-old looks like when he’s fully healthy.
Bol Bol, C, Oregon: If we’re talking about players who could thrive in a vacuum — otherwise known as an ideal situation — then who else belongs on this list more than Bol, the 7-foot-2 son of Manute who put up 21.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 0.8 spg, 2.7 bpg and 1.4 3s (shooting 52.0 percent from distance) in nine games before a foot injury ended his college career. There’s some serious unicorn potential here for a big man who plays like he’s studied a lot of video of Kevin Durant. And to be clear, I said plays like he’s studied video of, not has the same upside as KD. The point is, Bol has a really fun skill set for a 7-foot-2 guy, and if a team is willing to put him out there and live with a bunch of mistakes on defense — again, to put him in basketball’s version of a vacuum — we should see some wild box scores along the way.