We're going to try something new here at the Box and One... a rundown of NBA prospects to watch based on college conferences. Our goal is always to add insight into the "how" and "why" of what prospects show in college -- to combine knowledge of the collegiate system with how it could help or hinder guys looking to be drafted.
These conference rundowns are a combination of highlighting prospects and discussing system from the teams in those leagues. We'll look at the 14-team Big Ten first, where dozens of late-first and potential second-round prospects currently reside. There are a ton of great teams and a plethora of depth, though no lottery prospects at the start of the season, at least on our board.
What are we watching for, and who might be able to separate themselves through the year? We'll give you a quick preview and go team-by-team through styles and prospects.
Quick Team Guide
Iowa - Headlined by College POY frontrunner Luka Garza, a mismatch post. Shoot it a ton around him; will play two bigs together. Lots of zone on defense to protect Garza from fouls/ lack of ability to guard on perimeter. Porous defense -- teams can score on them in a hurry.
Michigan - Most pro-like style in the conference under Juwan Howard. Great spacing on O; NBA-esque offense relying on shooting. Defensively playing mix of man and zone, icing ball screens.
Wisconsin - Typically slow-pace offense is taking a TON of threes and knocking them down -- statistically-elite offense. Gritty, long on defense. Identity-based team that's incredibly senior-laden and has a couple of freshmen off the bench.
Illinois - Unique offense under Brad Underwood fusing ball screens, Princeton and pace. Two freak athletes, a freshman facilitating PG and freshman scoring combo. Lots of talent, trying to make it mesh.
Ohio State - Constantly underrated squad; run great sets for shooters and exploit matchups to win games. Top-10 offense in the country thus far, spearheaded by shooting and balance.
Rutgers - Top-15 defensive unit whose offense is carried by a few scorers and solid shooting. Funnel everything to NBA-caliber rim protector in the middle; face a lot of zone on offense
Michigan State - Less offensively-talented than in years past, but shooting the ball well. Tom Izzo always gets the most out of his team on D. Rough start for them in-league, but they'll turn it around.
Indiana - Pound it inside every possession they can through hi-los and post-ups. Absence of shooting is apparent. Really, really good defensively -- aggressive on perimeter, disrupt teams. Want to win games in the 50s and 60s.
Northwestern - Hot start thanks to playing at fast pace and emphasizing lots of threes. They're small, but they really shoot it and have two guards who can get into the lane at will. Unique college threat; curious if they fade to the back by the end of the year.
Purdue - Still running tons of screening actions and trying to play big. Have a few unique players but they feel somewhat caged by system & culture. Always going to be purely man-to-man under Matt Painter.
Minnesota - Pro-style offense emerging after Daniel Oturu turned pro and handed keys to Marcus Carr. Not a great defensive team; lack quality playmakers elsewhere. Will go as Carr goes.
Nebraska - Completely 5-out motion offense under Fred Hoiberg. Tons of pick-and-pops, shooting threes in bulk. Struggle a tad on defensive end, but have length to make some plays. Wild card.
Maryland - Poor defensive squad; convert at the rim at a high rate. Dependent on dribble penetration from guards to create. Will mix in some zone on defense; really thin frontcourt.
Penn State - Competitive, chippy team. Balanced offensive attack; porous on defense but score it well. Could catch a team or two by surprise.
Players to Know
Iowa: Sr. P Luka Garza and Jr. W Joe Wieskamp
The Hawkeyes are a favorite for national title contention; their only losses have come to #1-ranked Gonzaga and to Minnesota in overtime. Garza is the focal point of the perfect system for him: everything is catered to make him succeed, which is partially why he averages 28.8 points and 10 rebounds a game. He gets a ton of looks in the low post, where his old-man, YMCA game takes over. He has a wide body, does his work-pre catch and muscles guys to his spots.
Garza isn't a bruiser by nature, though. His sweet shooting stroke diversifies his game; he's 9-15 (60%) on pick-and-pop jumpers, and 52.9% on catch-and-shoots. Think of Enes Kanter with a pick-and-pop game. He's able to beat guys inside and out, and that makes him a knowingly-productive big man prospect.
Garza struggles in a lot of ways, though. He's not a great passer on offense, though he's serviceable. He is not great at moving his feet on the perimeter and is protected a ton by scheme at Iowa. His old-man game may not translate as well to the NBA, which could hamper a team's desire to take him knowing they may have to cater to protect him on defense. I have him as a mid-2nd round guy.
As for Wieskamp, he's a volume 3-point shooter who is shooting 42% on the young season. He'll always be a strong shooter. At 6'6", there may not be enough size for him to guard up, but he is a fantastic rebounder for his size. He's averaging 16 and 6, and I'm really curious to see if he cashes out after the success at Iowa with Garza, or if he wants to come back and try to be "the man". I think he'd be draftable this year if he comes out -- when he's aggressive and cuts to the rim without the ball, he's a very serviceable guy.
Michigan: Sr. W Isaiah Livers, Sr. F Franz Wagner and Fr. P Hunter Dickinson
We'll start with the freshman Dickinson, a DC kid who is an intriguing blend of passing, left-handed scoring and rim protection potential. He's averaging 15.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.7 blocks -- he's been solid in their Ice and Drop schemes and is one of the better facilitating bigs in college right now.
Still, there's a lot for Dickinson to keep demonstrating through his freshman campaign, especially as he goes up against some really good bigs in-league. First is proving pick-and-pop range. He hasn't made a three yet, and it's a part of his game I'm eager to see. He's 0-5 on jump shots in the mid-range thus far; it's a worry he needs to quell. He's also got to gain a little more strength and explosion. A guy I'd buy as a first-rounder in 2022 if he comes back to Ann Arbor and addresses those parts of his game.
Wagner is tough, fundamentally sound, shoots it well, knows how to mismatch and is a better defender than he gets credit for. He's Euro-skilled and built Ford tough. Franz tested the draft waters last year before returning. The return may boost his stock a little bit, but he's still a second-round guy. Really like him as a shooting 3 or 4-man, and his proof of success in the Big Ten and against Euro pro competition makes him a low-risk pickup early in the second-round.
As for Livers, he's one of the better, more consistent shooters in this class and a guy I'm really buying as a specialist for the next level. Smooth stroke, though he's better spot-up than on the move right now. High release, competent defender, used to NBA spacing and a better passer or defender than he gets credit for. Livers is firmly in the 35-50 range for me and is a guy I'd love to see make it to the next level.
Wisconsin: Fr. G Jonathan Davis, Sr. P Micah Potter, Sr. F Nate Reuvers
All three of these guys are fringe prospects and moreso undrafted free agent guys in my book. The collective strengths of the Badgers is that literally everyone there shoots it and is long-armed, but no one player stands out above the rest. We'll breeze through these guys.
Reuvers is a potential stretch-5 who is the team's best rim protector, blocking 1.7 shots a game. He combines that with shooting 43% from 3 on high volume. It's a unique combo that could make him a specialty piece who earns his way onto a roster.
Micah Potter has been the key to their success. If he plays well against the best bigs in-league (Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois) then I may slide Potter into the top-75. There aren't really many holes to his game -- he shoots it (50% from 3 on 2.5 attempts a game), provides energy, runs the floor, and rebounds. He is not a rim protector though, rarely blocking shots and being a little thin to play the 5, which would be his NBA position.
âIf there's one long-term guy I'm watching in Madison, it's Jonathan Davis. The 6'4" freshman combo has played really well early, but needs to pick up his playmaking for others to be an NBA guy. He plays on a senior-laden team as a role player, so it's unlikely he does enough in year one to make him a one-and-done prospect. He's the guy I'm curious to follow long-term, though.
Illinois: So. CG Ayo Dosunmu, So. P Kofi Cockburn, Fr. PG Andre Curbelo, Fr. CG Adam Miller
Lots of reasons for scouts to visit Champaign this year. Dosunmu and Cockburn flirted with the draft last year and made the decision to return; both were likely the right move. For Cockburn, it was a clear decision: the Big Ten wouldn't be as stockpiled with dominant bigs, so he could shine a bit more. Another year of seasoning for his rim protection stock would help him knock on the door as a first-round guy. He's incredibly strong and really big, plus he finishes and moves well -- a Great Value Udoka Azubuike. I'm not sure if the first-round is in his future, but he's a draft pick.
As for Dosunmu, retrospect makes this look like the right decision. He's put up some impressive scoring performances, going over the 30-point mark a couple of times and shooting pretty well from deep. He doesn't figure to be a creator/ handler in the NBA, but flashing the ability to score in spot-ups and from self-creation should give enough intrigue to at least be confident he won't be a net-negative on offense. His appeal is in his long-armed, active defense. I like Dosunmu as an early-second guy, though I can see some teams liking him for his natural gifts late in the first.
The freshmen are interesting ones to me, particularly Curbelo. He doesn't scream NBA game, but has the savvy of European guys like Faccundo Campazzo and Milos Teodosic when he creates out of the pick-and-roll. Typically it takes a large, large sample size for those guys to prove they belong on an NBA court since they lack so much athletically. I think that eliminates Curbelo from one-and-done consideration.
As for Miller, he's a bucket. The 6'3" freshman can really score, but he'll be fourth-fiddle this year. Once Cockburn and Dosunmu move on, he could slide up to the alpha role, a place that really suits his game. I'd expect him to come back and try to make major gains as a second-year guy.
Ohio State - Jr. F Justice Sueing
I'm not really high on many of the Buckeyes this year. Duane Washington can really shoot it, but he's not doing much else that impresses. CJ Walker is someone I had high hopes for, but his lack of shooting hinders some of the sturdy playmaking off the bounce.
That leaves Justice Sueing, an intriguingly strong forward who is efficient from the field and showing some touch from deep. The transfer from Cal looks the part with his frame and physicality. He's firmly on my "need to see more" list and isn't really in the top-100 right now.
Rutgers - So. ATH Ron Harper Jr.
I've written about RHJ multiple times before, so I won't belabor the point. But he's a fantastic mismatch option on the wings. His continued shooting at high volume makes it pretty difficult to dismiss him as a potential first-round guy, especially if Rutgers keeps winning. He can mismatch post, he is a strong-bodied finisher who jump cuts like a running back and handles contact so well. His ability to do a lot of different things well makes him a good NBA wing.
âI'm a really big fan of this kid.
Big man Myles Johnson, the aforementioned rim protector in the middle, is averaging 2.4 blocks a game and is the unique threat they need on the interior. I'm a huge fan of how they use him and think he's G-League bound when he decides to leave Rutgers.
Michigan State - Jr. W Aaron Henry, So. PG Rocket Watts
The Spartans started 0-2 in the Big Ten, which feels illegal under Tom Izzo. The losses of Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman have a lot to do with that -- leaving absences for shot-creators and play finishers. Stretch-big Sam Hauser's arrival has helped, but he's not a pro prospect in my book right now.
3-and-D junior Aaron Henry is forsaking the "3" portion of that mantle. He's a putrid 3-for-22 from deep to start the year. Henry flirted with the 2020 NBA draft and was outside the top-60 on my board due to the shooting concerns. His inability to fix those likely keeps him in undrafted territory.
Stepping up is Rocket Watts, the 6'2" sophomore PG who has stepped up in the shoes left behind by Winston. Watts is a scorer at heart and a competent facilitator. He's barely scraping by at 30% from 3, but he was fantastic against Duke and looked like the best guard on the floor. He's not been really efficient from the field, and part of that is due to poor shooting from deep. The Spartans need him to step it up, and he's one guy who has the most fluid draft stock as a result. If he's good, and Sparty turns things around, it means he'll be an interesting point guard prospect for 2021.
Indiana - So. P Trayce Jackson-Davis
Let's be clear on a couple of things. First, there are other guys who have long-term pro potential on this Hoosiers club, mainly Khristian Landers. But the freshman PG Landers hasn't looked good and, seeing as he re-classed and should be a senior in high school, has no reason to rush his decision-making.
Second, Trayce Jackson-Davis is not an NBA 4. His failure to extend his range to 3, feel comfortable making jump shots or facilitate at all from outside 15 feet doesn't mesh with the current NBA. If it was 1990, sure. Not in 2020.
With those things said, TJD is in a tough spot. His natural athleticism and finishing in space pairs well with a competent point guard. The Hoosiers don't have dynamic guard play right now, at least guys who are threats from deep off the bounce. They compensate by throwing the ball inside to TJD as much as possible.
He puts up numbers, but it's still hard to see tons of instances where he'll be a rolling lob threat, akin to his NBA role. As a result of this, the lack of perimeter feel and how left-hand dominant he is, TJD falls outside the first-round on my current boards. No level of post-up scoring or quick drop-step counter moves to his right hand can really change that -- he's not commanding post-ups in the NBA. Without access to see him as a touch-and-go screener, he's all unknown upside.
Boo Bouie and Chase Audige are good college players. They're not really on the radar for draft teams yet, though. Too much need for consistency to be talking much about them in December.
Purdue: Jr. P Trevion Williams
Again, this focus is on the 2021 NBA Draft. I like guys like Mason Gillis and Jaden Ivey as prospects long-term. I'm not sure if Purdue is the right place to showcase their strengths. Shooter Sasha Stefanovic is a specialist, though he's not big or athletic enough to really carve out an NBA niche. The continued playmaking means he might be a G-League guy his first year as someone is tempted to figure out what they have there.
âThe only guy with much of a shot is big man Trevion Williams (13.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists). He's a double-double guy and a talented passer for his size. The NBA has adjusted, though, to a one-big system. As such, it's so much harder to make the league as a post than ever before. Williams' lack of shot blocking on the inside, despite solid size and positioning, could mean he gets passed over for the hyper-athletic NBA. He's a camp invite guy in my book.
Minnesota: Jr. PG Marcus Carr
No one player in college basketball has seen as large a rise in their stock than Marcus Carr. Last year, Carr averaged 15.4 points and 6.7 assists as he played second-fiddle to Daniel Oturu. With the black hole down low gone, Carr knew he'd need to step up on a team thin with creators.
He has in a major way. Carr is averaging 24.6 points, 6.2 assists and only 2.3 turnovers while shooting 47% from the field and 39% from 3. Those numbers, combined with the volume and attention he gets, make him a trendy guy for the second-round, if not still able to play his way higher.
Carr's self-creation is the key. He gets himself open and makes tough jumpers. Combine that with his competency as a catch-and-shoot threat and sturdy PNR decision-making and he could be instant offense for an NBA team.
He almost single-handedly helped them beat Iowa, creating 53 points for the Gophers that night.
Minnesota shoots the ball well enough around him to keep those assist numbers high and provide spacing for him to go one-on-one. These are numbers that couldâ stay high throughout the year. Buy stock while it's still cheap.
Nebraska: So. ATH Dalano Banton
A 6'9" stat-sheet-stuffing guard?
Dalano Banton leads the Cornhuskers in rebounds, assists and blocks, is second in scoring and averages a ridiculous 1.6 steals a game. He's literally averaging 14, 7, 5, 1.6 and 1 this year.
The well-rounded production is enough to get the unique Banton eyes on him. He's rising into draft range for me, moreso because he's so intriguing despite not having one elite skill. If I'm a team with a late-2nd pick, I'd rather draft him in the 48-60 range than let him slip and choose where he signs.
Banton doesn't have any skill to hang his hat on, but he flashes a little bit of everything whenever he's on the floor. He's long and gifted, knows how to use his size on both ends, is a smart and creative passer and statistically-speaking an okay shooter (34.4% from 3).
There's a lot to like, even if nothing skill-wise to love.
Maryland: Jr. W Aaron Wiggins, So. F Donta Scott
I've written about Wiggins before, as a fringe prospect who is a really good finisher. The fact his shooting continues to dip every year he's in College Park worries me. I think he's an undrafted guy who wouldn't shock me by earning his way into camp invites through strong pre-draft workouts and athletics testing.
Beyond that, this isn't a team with much NBA talent. Point guard Eric Ayala doesn't shoot or facilitate enough for my liking. The guy to watch otherwise is Donta Scott, who is off to a really good shooting start and could be a stretch big. Both Wiggins and Scott are fringe guys, though.
Penn State: Jr. CG Myreon Jones
Speaking of fringe guys, keep your eye on Myreon Jones. It's a little premature to put him on lists right now, but he's going to do a lot of heavy lifting offensively in State College this year. He shoots it well enough and will be someone trendy draft Twitter folks try to talk themselves into liking. I'm not sure I see the appeal or the efficiency, but he'll at least have enough opportunity to earn his way into the conversation.