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've hit on the Big Ten, Big East and SEC so far, and now we'll take a trip out to the West Coast for a dive into the Pac-12. With two highly-touted lottery prospects garnering a good deal of attention, eyes will be on the conference all year. But there are some intriguing prospects outside of those top two that scouts and draft fans need to familiarize themselves with.
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
Stanford - Ball screen motion run in Palo Alto, so they'll spread it around a decent amount with equal opportunity. Both bigs shoot it, which is great for spacing purposes -- but the team as a whole is off to a rough start shooting it. Potential to be a really, really good defensive team. Think they have a shot to be great at a national level.
Oregon - Hyper-charged offense under Dana Altman; always producing pros who can shoot and are skilled, but rarely star players. Mix in a ton of 1-3-1 to blanket their stiffer bigs at times, and some full-court zone looks to slow teams down. Pretty consistent top-20 team.
Arizona - Least top-heavy team Sean Miller has had in Arizona. Still trying to play multiple bigs and overwhelm with size and athleticism. Worry about playmaking in their backcourt against great guards until Kerr Kriisa comes back. Really deep but lacking star power.
USC - Horrid spacing on offense as they try to play two (and sometimes three) guys who are bigs. Struggle with guard play right now, but are so individually talented they should win a fair amount of games. Great at protecting the rim; impossible to score on inside.
Colorado - Veteran team that's just tough and well-coached. Very slow, methodical approach to offense. They go as far as their guard play will take them in the conference.
UCLA - Well-rounded group. Really efficient offense but doesn't score a ton of points -- they slow things down, as Mick Cronin likes to do and grind games out.
Arizona State - Play multiple guards, a helter-skelter style and will finish the year top-ten in pace. Always been an emotional program prone to super hot performances and some absolute duds -- they're hard to trust and predict. Really porous defense around the basket means they have to score a ton to win games.
Washington State - Kyle Smith's teams are known for pretty impressive, intentional offense and this year's squad is off to a strong start defensively. That's due in large part to their zone usage, mixing a lot of different looks (including a 1-3-1) to be a unique option.
Utah - Tough competitors with really good college guard play. Should be able to force teams to play at their pace, but don't have the individual players/ size to push the top-end players or athletes on a regular basis. Teams score easily on them in the lane.
Oregon State - Severe lack of depth on their roster, so they lean on their starting five throughout games and can wear down. Nothing overwhelmingly noteworthy about their style of play from a scouting perspective. Have yet to play competition above the bottom-third of the conference.
Washington - Mike Hopkins is a Jim Boeheim disciple, so the Huskies run only 2-3 zone. They don't have any shooting (20% on catch-and-shoots) around a pass-first point guard. I always wonder how teams who only run a zone practice their man-to-man offense in a way that prepares them for good M2M defenses...
California - Rebuilding year for this program. Getting killed in transition out of the gate. Solid offense but get brutalized on the other end.
Players to Know
Stanford: Fr. W Ziaire Williams, Sr. P Oscar Da Silva, Sr. PG Daejon Davis, So. F Spencer Jones, Jr. F Bryce Wills
Look at the stats for this Stanford team and the assists are the first thing that jumps out. Da Silva, Wills, Williams and Davis all average between two and four dimes a game. This offense is incredibly balanced, the same way we saw last year with Tyrell Terry. Prospects won't get a ton of opportunities to be the focal point, so they must make due with the opportunities they have. The challenge is then on scouts to dig in and sift through the minutia to make judgments on these guys.
Jones and Ziaire are the two with the strongest cases to be draft selections; Davis, Wills and Da Silva are more fringe prospects who would earn their way onto a roster. I like Davis as a well-rounded backcourt prospect, though he may not score it well enough to get a roster spot outright. Da Silva is a good scorer inside and out. He lacks rim protection polish or athleticism to play the 5 for long stretches.
I'm a big fan of Spencer Jones as a big shot-making wing. A big-bodied 6'7", Jones shot over 40% from 3 as a freshman last year. His start to the 2020-21 campaign has been strong as well, and he's more of the "no holes in his game" kind of prospect than one who really sets the world on fire. I want to continue to see him do well in on-ball defensive moments against NBA athletes.
Then there's Williams, a clear lottery talent who has been frustratingly inconsistent. What Ziaire does well is make shots and create easy opportunities for teammates. Yet he hasn't really done either. He's forced a bit on his jumper and really hasn't made many. He never gets to the rim and is solely reliant on hitting shots from the mid-range if he doesn't have a clear 3. He has a negative assist to turnover ratio, and 3.7 turnovers a game in an equal-opportunity offense is very concerning.
âI'm not writing Williams off yet and still think he'll be a top-ten selection. He's far too big and fluid of a scorer not to get looks there. But as the season goes on, the stats and impact speak for themselves. His ascent to stardom is what's holding the Cardinal back from being the clear top team in the league.
Oregon: Sr. W Chris Duarte, Sr. F Eugene Omoruyi, So. P N'Faly Dante
Quietly, the Oregon Ducks have won 20 games or more in ten straight years. This roster will likely make it eleven, though they'll do so with the least amount of pro talent on the team during that stretch. I'm weary of writing them off; guys like Chris Boucher, Dillon Brooks and Payton Pritchard have all exceeded my expectations and rankings when making it to the pros.
The challenge is figuring out how to rate guys who are multi-year players in Oregon. Brooks and Pritchard both played into their upperclassmen years. Boucher played two years and wasn't markedly better as a sophomore than a freshman. I've had a difficult time getting the trajectory right of the Ducks' past players. So be forewarned.
Dante jumps off the screen at you the first time you watch the Ducks. The 6'11" big man is a shot-blocking menace protected by the various zones they play. He's not quite a Bol Bol in terms of size, and certainly not in terms of skill. He's only played in six games this year, but is averaging 2.7 slocks (blocks and steals). He's really active defensively and shoots 65% from the field. There's enough here worth watching.
âOmoruyi is a grad transfer from Rutgers who redshirted a year ago. He's really old but... he's playing unbelievably to start the year. The team's leading scorer, a stretch-4 shooting 36% from 3, is flashing improved range since the last time we saw him in the Big Ten. The issue is that he'll be 24 before the draft -- can't believe he'd be a draft pick, though could be a name who earns a 2-Way deal and makes a little bit of an early impact if he can sustain this.
Duarte is a sweet-shooting combo with good size at 6'6". He's similarly a little older, graduating high school in 2017 and spending two years in Junior College before coming to Oregon. Again, a little too old to be considered a major prospect. But a good college player and someone who should earn his way onto an NBA training camp roster.
Arizona: Fr. W Benedict Mathurin, Fr. PG Kerr Kriisa, So. P Jordan Brown, Jr. CG James Akinjo, So. P Chrisian Koloko, Fr. F Azoulas Tubelis
This feels like a really odd year for the Wildcats. After unloading three big one-and-dones to the NBA in Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji, they somehow have five underclassmen that teams should know or follow on the roster. But none of them are first-round guys, and there's a real possibility zero get drafted this year. It's a really, really strange-fitting team with a ton of different talent.
Let's start with Kerr Kriisa. He hasn't been ruled eligible yet, and that's not likely to happen until February. He's the team's best backcourt prospect, a smooth-shooting player and really good facilitator. I've had Kriisa as a mid-second round guy this year. The Estonian has a large volume of international film out there, so he'll be on the fence about declaring regardless of whether he plays. Get to know him well if he does.
Joining him in the backourt is Akinjo, the Georgetown transfer. With Kerr's absence and other unique movement in the rotation, he's emerged as the team's top scorer. He's a tad undersized and not much better than junior backcourt mate Jemarl Baker. The intriguing guy here is Benedict Mathurin, a major athlete who is a scoring wing at 6'7". He's the team's third-leading scorer despite playing only 20 minutes a game off the bench. He looks the part and is shooting it really well to start the year. Look for him to be an intriguing dark horse for draft situations.
The frontcourt is even more bizarre. Jordan Brown is a transfer from Nevada, and the sophomore is a bit of a stiff who shows flashes of skill. He's not shooting it or making impacts away from the hoop, but has flashes of solid transition play. He's an okay shot blocker. I'm not sure how draftable he is, but there is some intrigue:
Brown is the solid, forgotten guy who was really highly-touted coming out of high school. The issue with Arizona is that they have three bigs, all of whom share the floor and all see their minutes eaten into as a result.
Christian Koloko is an energy rebounder who blocks shots; he played the least of the three but at 7'1" looks the part the most. His lack of finishing efficiency is a major drawback. Tubelis is a Lithuanian stretch big who hasn't taken a high volume of shots from deep so far, despite the need for it within their offense. He's a really effective passer, is highly skilled and actually a guy I like quite a bit. Sean Miller has a tendency to nail international guys and do really well with how he recruits there. I'd like to see Tubelis get an NBA opportunity.
USC: Fr. P Evan Mobley
It's safe to say that Evan Mobley is a top-three pick in this year's draft. His combo of elite rim protection, feel as a passer and stretch shooting potential give him maximum utility as a modern NBA big. I'm gong to do a deep dive into him soon, so I won't spoil the whole piece on Mobley in this section.
What's worth watching is how teams defend him, and if it might hamper his ability to showcase those elite skills. The Trojans have poor spacing on offense and play Mobley's older brother Isaiah with him. It's not really a recipe for success, nor one that translates to the NBA. Opponents are clogging lanes and really digging down on Mobley to make him a passer.
Colorado did that earlier in the year, loading up on him when he'd go into a move and anticipating kickouts.
Again, I think instances like this say more about his ecosystem than Mobley himself. But great player adjust. I have him third on my big board right now, behind Cade Cunningham and Jalen Suggs. We'll see if he can flash enough to overcome the poor Trojans offense to vault himself higher.
Colorado: Sr. PG McKinley Wright
This is my guy.
When it comes down to second-round prospects who I fall in love with, Wright is the 2021 version. He's a heady, versatile scoring guard who can facilitate out of the PNR (5.2 assists per game is a solid mark). He's a strong-bodied 6'0" (and might realistically be 5'10") who shoots 37% from 3 on a limited sample size.
What's incredible about Wright: he is shooting 61% from two-point range on over eight attempts a night. For someone of his size, it's astounding. And while he's a deft navigator of ball screens and gets to the rim, it's his usage of floaters and runners that are getting him to this mark. He doesn't miss. they look like wild playground shots, but are a key part of his arsenal:
Seeing him make these at such a high rate, at high speed, so frequently is removing doubt that he can't be a finisher at the next level. He can. And he does it despite being the focal point of every defense he faces. I'm rooting for this kid, a tough on-ball defender who is making it work in spite of his smaller stature.
UCLA: Sr. W Chris Smith
Mick Cronin's team is off to a good start after some really close battles to start the season. They have as deep of a team as you'll find in the country, especially in the backcourt. The Bruins have seven guys averaging between 8 and 13 points a night. Tyger Campbell is the facilitating point guard who runs the show; everyone else shoots it around him.
But the Bruins don't have a lot of NBA prospects, at least right now. None of their rotational pieces are freshmen. All upperclassmen are the most well-rounded, while the sophomores are more one-dimensional and good in their roles. There's a lack of supreme athleticism or explosion, sacrificed for solid skill and a little toughness. It's a good college team but... not filled with NBA prospects.
Chris Smith flirted with the draft last year before withdrawing to come back for his senior year. It was likely the right decision for him. He is a little underwhelming of a finisher on the interior for his size, one of those factors that makes me really weary of a late-round role player.
Arizona State: Fr. W Marcus Bagley, Fr. CG Josh Christopher, Sr. PG Remy Martin
Let's be real: it's impossible to trust the Sun Devils. They're so erratic in their performance that it probably reflects poorly on their draft prospects. They're also so porous up front that the margin for error is super thin. For NBA fans, think of the Washington Wizards. You know they'll give up 120 every night, so you need exceptional performances from Bradley Beal and others to win. The same goes for these guys.
Bagley has stood out early as the best prospect on the team. He's a long, fluid shot-maker who has great footwork off screens. He's a good athlete (though not quite like his older brother Marvin) and a reliable, smart help defender for someone his age.
âHe impressed early on in five games he played but hasn't played since. Those impressive shooting games and defensive performances are somewhat marred by the dismal 28.6% 2-point field goal percentage. Again, easy to fall in love with his skill and flashes, but there are some flaws to point to.
Christopher is a big 6'5" guard who is averaging 17.5 points per game as a freshman. Because he plays with Martin (we'll get to him soon), he doesn't get to flash a lot of facilitating skills (only 1.1 assists). Part of the appeal of Christopher is the mystique around if he can be a point guard at the next level. He's scoring despite not making shots from the perimeter, so the development of his PNR offense will play a big role in how high his draft stock rises. He's in real first-round range.
The guy who has the keys to the offense is senior Remy Martin, and talk about erratic. There are major highlights that Remy provides, but the full Remy experience also sees horrid shot selection, missing open teammates once he gets going, over-dribbling, and major defensive lapses. The Sun Devils play small so they can play fast, putting Remy at the 1 and Christopher at the 3. The collection of talent is great, though no one player is seeing a major uptick in their draft status (with perhaps the exception of Bagley) in the current alignment of the roster.
âWashington State: None
One of the country's major surprises to start the year, the Cougars are knocking on being ranked despite a lack of major talent. They play great team-ball and are a difficult out in the conference. Pullman is not a stop for NBA scouts at this time, though.
Utah: Jr. W Timmy Allen
A well-rounded overall player, Allen is a fringe top-100 guy. He'll get asked to do way too much for the Utes, which could harm some of his efficiency metrics. He also needs to become far more consistent from deep. But there's fringe talent here. He put up 25 and 9 in a win against Kentucky and looked like he belonged on the floor with major NBA athletes last year. You should at least know the name.
Oregon State: None
The bottom of the Pac-12 is pretty poor for a major conference. Somehow, the Huskies are 1-9. Washington is playing really, really poorly and lacks offensive talent. Oregon State will struggle to defend in large stretches. Cal is 0-6 in conference. The best player of these final teams is Oregon State senior Ethan Thompson. He's not exactly a pro prospect, but he puts up numbers and might play his way into a major role opportunity overseas.