Evans Seven: Freshmen who could use March to move up draft boards
Who could be this year’s Malachi Richardson or Tyus Jones? We're talking about a freshman standout who puts together a remarkable run for a few weeks in March and ends up entering June’s NBA Draft. In this week’s Evans Seven we assess the candidates and whether there is a potential replacement for that player.
1. TYLER HERRO
Herro has been scorching hot lately. He has missed just a single foul shot since mid-December, made over half of his perimeter attempts last month and has continued to improve his per-game averages across the board.
Scouts have come to love his confidence, toughness and most of all, shot-making abilities. He didn’t begin the year as well as many had hoped, but Herro has steadied his stock while remaining a major perimeter threat. A run to the Final Four most definitely won’t be in the cards for Kentucky without Herro shooting well.
If he does that and then makes a move for the NBA after one year in Lexington, the cupboard is not bare. Tyrese Maxey has already signed with the Wildcats. Defined more as a scorer than a shooter, Maxey - along with an an offseason of development for Immanuel Quickley and Jemarl Baker - could be what is needed in replacing the Wisconsin native.
2. TALEN HORTON-TUCKER
Horton-Tucker is one of the youngest freshmen in the nation, but he is an extremely versatile player. He might not look the part of a potential NBA first-rounder, and he will not light up the YouTube world with highlight dunks, but the quirks and layers to his game have definitely raised NBA scouts’ eyebrows this winter.
He's a complete stat-sheet stuffer who plays like a smaller Draymond Green. Horton-Tucker has plenty of talent around him, and that has allowed for him to play the unselfish brand of basketball that he likes most.
Iowa State has gone through a season of ups and downs, but the Cyclones have the talent to make a run this month. If so, Horton-Tucker will be front and center, and if he does make the leap to the NBA expect Steve Prohm to scour the grad-transfer waters while putting an even greater reliance on Zion Griffin and Tyrese Haliburton next season. Prohm will also hope that incoming wing Marcedus Leech can pitch in.
3. TRE JONES
Just like his older brother Tyus, Tre Jones could be primed for a one-and-done campaign in Durham. Shot-making, or lack thereof, has become his primary bugaboo, which has made it more difficult for his teammates to find open driving lanes to the basket. Jones is also not an explosive athlete, but what he lacks that department he more than makes up for in the intangibles category and with his ball-hawking defense.
Duke, with a healthy Zion Williamson, has all that it takes to cut down the nets next month, which could make the transition to the NBA that much easier for Jones. If that is the case, the Blue Devils are going to have to strike this spring. Jordan Goldwire is a sporadic producer in spot minutes, and Boogie Ellis and Wendell Moore can pitch in when needed, but expect Duke to heat things up further with RJ Hampton by reclassifying the 2020 five-star guard.
4. COBY WHITE
A five-star guard who has taken over the point guard position for the Tar Heels, White was primarily known as a bucket-getter before college, as he holds the state’s high school scoring record. However, he has shown the ability to create for others much more efficiently lately, and that has allowed UNC to play its best ball in recent weeks.
If White can lead his team on a deep run in the NCAA Tournament it will make the NBA Draft that much more tempting. If he were to make such a move, North Carolina's pursuit of Cole Anthony becomes even more important. A UNC-less White next year and a miss on Anthony could make things very difficult when it comes to competing for another national title next season.
5. OCHAI AGBAJI
Six weeks ago, no one - not even Bill Self - knew just how good Ochai Agbaji was. It took a season-ending injury to Udoka Azubuike, the suspension of Silvio De Sousa and the prolonged departure of LaGerald Vick for Agbaji’s redshirt to be taken off. Ever since, the talented wing has flourished. Whether it is his quick-twitch abilities, athleticism, always running motor or the ability to guard three different positions, Agbaji has made it clear he belongs on NBA Draft boards.
His best bet would be to come back for a full year of college next year, but when you’re hot, you’re hot. A solid run this month could force his hand. Thankfully for the Jayhawks, they have more than enough talent in store with the upcoming enrollments of Christian Braun and Isaac McBride and the hope that Quentin Grimes will return and play the way many had assumed he would this winter. That would give KU a more-than-sturdy backcourt that could compete for another Big 12 title.
6. IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS
Brazdeikis has never had a problem scoring, and that asset has been on full display this season, as has his toughness, ambidextrous-like abilities and grab-and-go skills off the defensive glass. Conference play has allowed his opponents to game plan better for him, but the quick turnarounds of the postseason might create some difficulty when it comes to stopping the Canadian forward.
If Brazdeikis does make the move to the league, look for the Wolverines to rely more on Isaiah Livers. Michigan will also welcome to campus top 50 prospect Jalen Wilson in the fall. The Texas native is more of a jump-shooter than Brazdeikis, but his playing style and fit in John Beilein’s system is ideal in helping to fill the void that would be left by the standout freshman.
7. JALEN SMITH
While Bruno Fernando has received plenty of praise this winter, and rightfully so, it is Smith who might be the best long-term pro prospect in College Park. The former five-star prospect has lacked consistency, but there have been moments of "what could be" with the intriguing freshman. Whether it was his 21-point, eight-rebound game against Minnesota or the impressive, winning runner over Nebraska in January, Smith has shown that he has all of the tools in tow.
However, the past few weeks have not been great, which makes returning for his sophomore season likely his best option. An impressive run by the Terps this month - along with a more consistent Smith - could force him to give the NBA a look. That would make the incoming enrollments of Makhel Mitchell and Makhi Mitchell that much more critical to Maryland’s success next season.