If there's one thing that Bouknight knows how to do, it's score. He has that levitation-like floating when he jumps near the basket, length and quickness to create his own and a nasty hesitation move to freeze defenders who crowd him.
But Bouknight's shot selection is awful, there isn't a great deal of upside to his creation for others and he's streaky-at-best from 3-point range. Yet he's discussed as a top-ten pick in this class, and people see a less-explosive Zach LaVine when watching him, or a skinnier Jordan Clarkson. Frankly, I see neither, but what I do see is someone whose talent is so clear on offense that there becomes a point, rather quickly in the draft, that he's too tantalizing to pass on.
That time likely comes near the end of the lottery. I'd have a tough time seeing Bouknight slip past 15 or 16, even with my own worries. There are some who think his issues are teachable, correctable and therefore less scary. Then there's the camp that feel and mentality to score it every touch are the hardest habits to break.
Earlier this season, we did a full write-up and scouting report on Barnes. His game hasn't changed a ton since then, other than some disappointing performances in the NCAA Tournament. But watching Barnes season in totality left me with this feeling that his upside is very Giannis-like. His massive hands are apparent. He is incredibly at attacking the rim downhill and makes good decisions when doing so. The rebound-and-run or open floor potential is massive. He can defend almost any position due to his length and athleticism.
Barnes has two main struggles: shooting and rebounding. The shooting will change how he's played in the half-court. Think about where Giannis was his third or fourth year in the league... that seems an appropriate ceiling for Barnes if he never figures out the shooting. The major issue for me is the lack of willingness to rebound or be physically imposing. Barnes can't be out there as a 4 and fail to impact the game on the glass.
To me, he's a top-eight lock. I have him #6 right now, and he'll toggle somewhere in the 5-to-8 range up until draft night.
To me, RaiQuan Gray is like a grounded tank. He's what you get if you take all the jumping ability away from Zion Williamson.
What Gray can do to move at his size is truly sensational. He's got good guard and passing skills, is a load of a guy who puts his shoulder into people, and is a legitimate multi-positional defender. But he isn't a shooter from distance, and teams could choose to play him in the half-court the way they choose to with Zion: go underneath everything and stay lane protected.
I don't see that changing for Gray until he becomes a really reliable 3-point or pull-up shooter. Teams go under all screens or handoffs in exaggerated fashion. Help defenders don't collapse as much as a result., which handicaps his passing upside. There's a lot here to like, but a lot to be pessimistic about.
At 21 years old, Gray isn't the youngest guy to be considered for the second round. I think he's a second-round talent whose lack of polish is going to likely drive him closer to undrafted territory.
Let's not beat a dead horse. I'm a huge Deuce guy. He's a top-20 prospect IMO who has a super high ceiling, simply because he's only three years into basketball-specific training after being a major football recruit in high school. Give me his mentality, toughness, intangibles, on-ball defense and tough shot-making any day of the week. He's turning himself into a legitimate shooter who can play off-ball. He's perfect for the Marcus Smart pitbull role on a winning team.
Queta is massive and really skilled in some areas. He bulldozered everyone in the MWC in the low post, and his usage rate down there is insanely high. That said, he showed glimpses of impact in other areas that make me believe NBA functionality is there, and he isn't just a giant who beat up on smaller mid-major talent.
The passing is what feels real to me. He's smart, albeit somewhat stiff, with his reads and playmaking ability. He's unselfish and would be functional in the short roll. He's also a legitimate rim protector when he wants to be.
Add it all up and Queta is definitely worth a second-round look. He smells like a solid prospect that will fly under the radar.
Rebounding, raw size, athleticism. I've always tended to be lower on these big guys, simply because there are so many of them and few value in playing two of them together. The game has changed; post players are not worth stockpiling and are fairly replaceable when they aren't elite.
So that begs the question: what are the odds Sharpe becomes elite? If somewhat high, or the path is evident, then he might become worthy of a first-round selection, the four-year investment in his development. If not, it might be best to wait until the second round to gamble on a guy like him.
About a month ago, we wrote a full longform piece on Jones' potential and just how far away from his ceiling he really is. The consensus is that Jones is worthy of a lottery pick because that ceiling is so high. What he's athletically capable of, combined with the shooting touch he's shown and overall impact on defense, makes him a trendy lottery prospect.
Really, Jones is indicative of the conundrum outside the top-eight in this draft class. Will teams prioritize risky high-ceiling prospects who either had underwhelming freshman years (Jalen Johnson, Greg Brown, Ziaire Williams, BJ Boston), late-appearing high-ceiling prospects who showed better but are still far away (sophomore Kai Jones, sophomore James Bouknight), or the older guys who are proven positives but have less room for growth (senior Corey Kispert, junior Jared Butler, 23-year-old Davion Mitchell).
Tre Mann exploded up draft boards in the later-half of the year as his scoring became more consistent and the shooting from deep was not just a small sample size. He's turned himself into a shot-maker in difficult ways off the dribble, off step-backs, pick-and-roll pull-ups or deep behind the line. It's the most currently tantalizing skill for a guard to possess. But where's the rest of his game at?
I don't think there was any player who saw their stock plummet more than Brandon Boston Jr. this year. Coming into the year, Boston was in that top-tier for many, mentioned in the same breath as Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga. But a woeful start to the season, generally underwhelming play and inefficient numbers have cost Boston dearly.
Nonetheless, Boston announced he's leaving for the NBA and won't return to Kentucky. He's going to have the opportunity to workout in front of teams in personal workouts, where just one good showing could rejuvenate the talk about his upside.
Over the last several years, we've seen the glorification of small ball. The Golden State Warriors won a title with skill over size, playing guys like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Kevin Durant at the 4 and 5. The Houston Rockets followed suit, matching defensively with the Warriors and spacing the floor with five competent wings/ shooters. PJ Tucker manned the center at 6'6".
Now, almost every team has some option they can plug in at the 4 or 5 in a smaller lineup. Some do it to match opponents, and some do it to start an advantage. As the game becomes much more fluid in terms of position and everyone, regardless of size, shoots it, there's immense value in drafting a player who can bridge the gap between big and small lineups.
There are a few players in this draft class who come to mind as options for either. They might have a natural position where they are best, but have the requisite size/ strength/ speed/ skill to survive as a small-ball option in a different spot. We'll showcase each guy here, and discuss how this trait should raise their draft stock.