By Max Feldman
There is a certain level of boom or bust for every draft pick considering each prospect comes from different levels of experience and varying projected roles at the next level. The style of play in the league continues ebb and flow each and every season – infusing projectable potential for some and relinquishing stock from others. FOG’s safest prospects in this field does not equate to FOG’s top prospects, but the following prospects do instill a bit more confidence in terms of projecting how they’ll fit in the league and areas where they will produce.
There are two major categories that primarily inhibit fear when evaluating a prospect and how he projects in the NBA:
- Age – For prospects under 20 years old, their game is still largely under construction. It can be difficult to be overly confident in a player who’s body and skillset is set to undergo massive changes.
- Competition Level – Players coming from overseas or from mid-major schools have underlying worry factors for all evaluators. While I do not believe there is cemented merit with this mentality, there is a level uncertainty for prospects coming into the league from outside major college basketball.
Both factors will be addressed in detail with the following seven NBA prospects.
19.6 years old, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Simply put, I am and have been over flowingly confident in Deni Avdija as an NBA player. The underlying worry of pouring stock into an overseas prospect is at large with this one, as whichever team lands Avdija will have a fanbase full of critics on draft night. Why am I less worried about Avdija than just about any prospect? Versatility. There is not any area of weakness that I am increasingly worried. Does this mean I think he is a star? Not necessarily. I believe in his shooting ability from deep and his recent stretch of games should breed more credibility from doubters. His athletic ability is better than many think, only enhanced by his elite motor and subtle instincts on steals and blocks. A fluid slasher with touch in combination with advanced passing instincts for his size. Wing playmakers are becoming more and more prevalent and useful making Avdija a tier one option within the field for me. While Deni is not explosive in any area in specific, he is strong in just about every category. For me, that breeds to a massive amount of stock and overall confidence.
19.7 years old, USC
I am not nearly as high as some on Onyeka but I am uber confident in how he fits in the league. Overflowing confidence is somewhat rare in one and done’s, but it is almost as simple as – the areas where Onyeka is great in are needed around the league. Okongwu is a powerful athlete with strong instincts as a shot blocker and rebounder. The area where concern usually pops up with a prospect like this is his natural touch or extended finishing abilities besides dunks. Okongwu placed in the 92nd percentile finishing around the basket and the 98th in post ups. The touch is a strength for Okongwu. His float game off of rolls is beyond his years and his footwork to be able to get to his spots is extremely impressive. Unlike Avdija, there are areas of weakness for the Big O. He might never be a strong floor spacer, but his rim running tendencies – powerful athleticism, rebounding volume, high motor, shot blocking instincts and vertical spacing ability – seems like a very safe bet for the long run in my eyes.
20.4 years old, Iowa State
Of the top tier of lead guards for FOG – Ball, Anthony, Hayes and Haliburton – the former Cyclone is the safest prospect by a solid margin. Haliburton took a massive jump from year one to year two ultimately becoming the best spot up shooter in this class with an optimistic outlook as a combo guard. Plenty of other guards in the class do have combo-guard potential, but Haliburton’s combo guard tendencies are indisputable. Placing in the 99th percentile, yes the 99th, in combination with 6.5 assists per game on a 2.3 assist to turnover ratio should give whichever franchise lands Haliburton an extreme amount of confidence. Whether a franchise has a lead guard in place like the Hawks or has a need there like the Knicks, Haliburton can be the guy without question. Defensively there are some concerns but his IQ is extremely high and the instincts are credible. Closing the gap on 200 pounds should answer a ton of those concerns. I do not picture Haliburton being a star but his efficiency and versatility should thoroughly positively impact winning at his peak.
22.2 years old, San Diego State
I think everyone can appreciate some simplicity in basketball evaluations to some degree. Therefore, I would be extremely surprised if Malachi Flynn is not Cory Joseph at the least. The 22 year old has produced extremely well in the Pac-12 and Mountain West which should disqualify worry factor number two. Flynn was the cream of the crop as a P&R ball handler in the entire nation, placing in the 96th percentile. There is not an area of weakness for Flynn as a lead guard on the offensive end. He can shoot the lights out, a deadeye on spot ups (86th percentile) and can be a healthy distributor putting up 5.5 assists per 36 minutes. Defensively, Flynn was a very positive impact player against pick and rolls and was very strong in isolation situations – two massively telling areas of defense for lead guards. Again, I am not counting on Flynn being an All-Star but I am far higher on him than most because I can not imagine a scenario where he does not produce in the points and assists categories.
19.0 years old, Florida State
Williams is one of the youngest players in this class and inhibits massive concern regarding his production and experience level. For many, this would be the last list you’d put him on. I feel extremely confident in his floor because of his body, athletic ability and fit at the next level. I am almost starting to hate the 3 and D label due to the volume it is thrown around, but for comparison, Robert Covington has become the cream of the crop within that category and I do picture Williams becoming a similar player. Williams is going to be undervalued at the next level because his offensive production will not jump off the paper, but his toughness, physical maturity and relentless motor should make him a defensive piece to count on. Williams has risen to the 10th overall spot on the FOG Big Board in August because of how valuable his projected role is in the modern NBA. He impacts the game without the ball in his hands and can bridge the gap in small ball lineups as four man. The aforementioned idea that a 19 year old’s body and game is still largely under construction is a positive denotation for Patrick Williams. His production and film do not have me measuring whether he is going to be a 25 point scorer or spot up shooter like plenty of other 19 year olds, but rather it has me uber confident that he has all the tools physically and skill wise to be an All-NBA level defender with steady value on the offensive end.
20.4 years old, Cameroon (VL Pesaro)
A name I am starting to rise on. Eboua is a higher level version of Tennessee’s Yves Pons with a projectable skillset reminiscent to Brandon Clarke. A high motor, freak athlete at the four spot who is going to run the floor, defend and make the little plays. Eboua has flaunted some nice touch but has yet to find consistency as a floor spacer. Still just 20 years old, Eboua is physically mature and one of the best athletes in this field under the radar. Why is he league ready if he’s comparable to Yves Pons? I like his ability to handle the ball. He showed a lot of break starting tendencies after rising and snatching rebounds. Factor two is the prominent one here as Eboua just is not very well known coming from Cameroonian descent after playing last season with VL Pesaro in Italy. Likely a second rounder, Eboua is a safe bet for me as a modern four man who with elite athleticism and a high motor. These 6-7 and 6-8 high flying athletes who make an impact at the the four spot seem to be coming around each year now and I see Eboua as an undervalued athlete who fits the mold.
22.7 years old, LSU
Skylar Mays should headline any group of prospects labeled ‘safe’ in this upcoming draft. The former Tiger’s development through his collegiate career was profound in nearly every category. Mays has been a riser for just about everyone as of late because of his two-way production primarily as an off guard. Yet, I still see Mays being a solid contributor as a playmaker for others as it has been an inherit skill of his since high school. Mays is as safe as a prospect as you’ll see in the modern NBA. Credible shooting ability, a strong athlete, secondary playmaking tendencies, defensive instincts and all around toughness on both ends. A high volume rebounder with great steal numbers throughout his four year career, Mays makes the small plays and contributes in just about every area. Rating in the 89th percentile or higher in four major offensive categories (spot ups, P&R ball handling, cuts and hand offs) sheds a light on the winning impact Skylar Mays can bring.