Well hello, dance partners. As our NCAA Tournament previews roll on, we’ll get it going with another dip in the draft pool. Yesterday Mr. Alex gave you a look at the East. Today we’ll take a look at some of the more intriguing prospects in the South Division. I decided, semi-thematically that we should key in on a handful of impact freshman.
If you want to fill out a bracket with us, go here. Enter the code “unicorn”. Click through and computer up your choices! You don’t get to pick the first four, but don’t worry you can still get pissed when you send the Sun Devils to the Elite Eight, you maniac.
Single file, folks.
Deandre Ayton, #13
Freshman F, (4) Arizona WIldcats
This guy probably won’t slip too far down the lottery slope but it’s not wholly impossible that he’s around when the Knicks are picking. Ayton is enormous and startlingly athletic. His multi-faceted offensive game is the main way he’ll contribute at the next level. I’m reminded of a young Kevin Garnett on that end, nice springy jump shot that looks comfortable, if clunk-able, out to 18 feet. Fine tune it a little bit and he could be a high post lynchpin like The Big Ticket. Couple the jumper with excellent footwork and hands in the restricted area and you could have a reasonable facsimile all around. The most obvious difference will be that Ayton is already more musclebound than Garnett ever was. The physical development should only ramp up as he grows into his huge frame. Ayton is an adonis; a goliath. An adonith.
There are of course two sides of the basketball coin and Deandre won’t exactly impress you on defense. Sometimes I catch myself hoping he just doesn’t realize how big he is and how physically overwhelming he could be. Other times I think to myself, thats something Michael Beasley would do.
Lonnie Walker, #4
Freshman G, (6) Miami
Can you imagine what life would be like if you smushed together your Play-doh jars of Tim Hardaway Jr and Iman Shumpert? You might squeeze out a rainbow of Lonnie Walker.
Don’t be shocked if this kid races up draft boards as the time draws nearer. While he’s had his ups and downs this season, effort and tenacity have never ebbed. He still needs some seasoning but what young guard has it all figured out? He can pop threes, pick your pocket and shake you out of your shorts. Don’t let them tell you he’s the next Donovan Mitchell, but don’t say you weren’t warned when he drops your backcourt mate and runs up your big man’s mug to throw down a missile.
Kevin Knox, #5
Freshman F, (5) Kentucky
This kid started the season getting a lot of the fanfare for the Kentucky hopeful. As the year progressed his fellow frosh, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander proved to be the real wild-catalyst. Knox may still be the game changer at the next level.
I’ve been likening his near-future to that of Otto Porter’s recent past. Otto was proficient all the way around his game and if his jump shot would just start connecting all the pieces could fall squarely into place. Lo and behold, Porter started hitting his triples and he cashed in during free agency and just kept chugging right along.
Knox has the jumper. The mechanics are clean and concise enough to believe he could work his way up to be a solid third option in the NBA. Although shooting 35% from deep and 77% from the stripe isn’t quite good enough to think of him as a pure shooter. He’ll need to pick up the defensive aspects of his game to evolve into a 5-man-unit heavyweight. Thankfully he has the length and should be able to add the muscle to his frame as he gets older and wiser.
De’Andre Hunter, #25
Freshman F, (1) Virginia
This redshirt freshman needs to work on his shooting, but his 38% mark from deep isn’t a terrible damnation. That may be due to decent shot selection more than it is a sniper picking off his targets. Hunter’s long, sinewy, quick-twitch athleticism can cause quite the disturbance up and down a roster. Switch him onto a guard and paper beats rock. Switch him onto a big and scissor beats paper. Float him into a weak side passing lane and rock beats scissor.
Watch this guy shift his hips to close out on an open shooter that unexpectedly sprang free and you’ll see exactly why he has a place in the NBA. His instincts as a guard make him a threat to flat-footed bigs when he has the ball in his hands. His size as a forward make him troublesome to jumpy little guards. If he faces up on you, your teammates better stick to the scheme.
He could very easily become what Mikal Bridges has turned into if he elects to stick around for a few years in Virginia. Until that decision comes, hold this:
Mohamed Bamba, #4
Freshman C, (10) Texas
In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. And I’ll be damned if this long fellow’s limbs aren’t just the clearest ocean of reversed and reconsidered shots. Squint into the Harlem sun and see if you can find the last slice of daylight to the hoop as the shadows spill over your gelatinous family tear drop. Plant Mo Bamba near any rim and watch the block tree grow. Ten feet of space is a one-step closeout for this kid. Do with that what you must.
There are rumors of his shooting ability but a wavering-catapult form, 28% success rate from three and 68% free throw stroke don’t really instill much confidence. He also manages to get spun around in weird ways on both ends but he turned 20 on Monday and footwork to cut off drivers can be learned. Timing a blocked shot is innate.
Now imagine pairing his nearly 8-foot wingspan with Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina. No need to worry about rebounds when all the shots are getting packed. Good luck offenses.
Bamba and the previously mentioned Deandre Ayton could be linked for years to come. Two potentially dominant big men at opposite ends of the floor. Mo won’t fall out of the lottery but he’s more likely to be available near the back end of it than Ayton is. Especially if, coming off a toe injury, he has a lackluster tournament. Something tells me he’ll show out though.
Don’t miss at about 3:33, he makes a free throw and a teammate goes to slap him five only to tag his elbow. That’s some reach, Mo.
That’s enough damage for one day. Wiggle around to that boogaloo for a minute and let us know who else you’re loving headed into the big dance. Tomorrow Alex will be back with his take on the Midwest division. Don’t forget to fill in your bracket and adopt a dog. Adios, friend-o’s.