Evans Seven: Sleeper picks for next year's NBA Draft
The 2019 NBA Draft is in the books, so what better time than now to look ahead to what next year’s crop of prospects might bring? In this week’s Evans Seven, we predict the under-the-radar names that could leap into first-round consideration next June, similar to what we just saw with Ja Morant, Cameron Johnson and Jarrett Culver.
1. AARON NESMITH
A member of Vanderbilt’s top recruiting class in school history, Aaron Nesmith is ready for his national breakout. Nesmith went through an up-and-down freshman campaign, as many do, but he is primed for greater efficiency next season.
A highly competitive two-way wing who can make shots and play multiple positions, Jerry Stackhouse’s best recruiting win to date may have been keeping the former four-star prospect in Nashville. A school and travel teammate of McDonald’s All-American Josiah James and mentored by Khris Middleton, Nesmith is a non-BS type of guy who has already drawn NBA eyes.
He has to improve upon his scoring efficiency and ability to handle the basketball, but he is plenty intriguing nonetheless. Nesmith closed out the regular season with 23-point and 24-point outings against Auburn and Florida, respectively, and he will likely be the center piece for the Commodores next season.
2. NOJEL EASTERN
Is it time for Nojel Eastern to break out as a first-round draft prospect? Not many have done a better job at developing their players than Matt Painter, and with Carsen Edwards now gone, the stage is set for Eastern to enhance his stock and in a major way.
A consistent attendee at a number of USA Basketball training camps throughout the years, Eastern knows that he belongs. He has already started 36 games at the high-major level, but there is concern about his shooting, as he failed to make a single 3-point jumper last year. He still brings tremendous value and versatility to the court, and he is a legitimate 6-foot-6 primary ballhandler who can create for others, defend up to three positions and rebound in traffic. In some ways, there are Kent Bazemore comparisons to his game, and Eastern could be a sneaky first-round prospect next June.
3. XAVIER JOHNSON
A rather unheralded high school prospect, Xavier Johnson failed to make the final Rivals150 because of questions about his shot-making ability. Johnson, who originally committed to Nebraska before he ended up at Pitt, has already made great strides with his perimeter jumper, as he converted over 35 percent of his 3-point attempts last season.
Still, he is at his best in putting pressure on the opposing defense via the attack dribble. The competitive lead guard was the catalyst for the Panthers nearly doubling their win total from the previous season. Johnson has already shown his ability to run a team, defend (which is maybe his greatest value) and make shots. Having started 31 games as a freshman, Johnson may or may not be a first-round selection next season, but an expected jump in production could definitely warrant such attention.
4. PAUL REED
The native of Florida flew under the radar in high school, thanks to a late growth spurt. Since then, Reed has consistently gotten better and produced more frequently. A talented and versatile forward, Reed has used the ball skills that he developed prior to his growth spurt along with his now improved athleticism and length in causing havoc in the frontcourt.
Toward the end of last season, Reed began to catch a number of NBA scouts’ eyes, but next year the attention will be on him right from the start of his season. In his last six games of his sophomore campaign, Reed averaged over 18 points and 10 rebounds. With more consistency, he will be the first DePaul player to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft since 2007.
5. ISAIAH JOE
While he was ranked among the final Rivals150 a year ago, Isaiah Joe has already out-produced his ranking. Joe, who started in all 34 games he played, is known first and foremost for his shot -making prowess. While he still does have to get stronger and provide greater playmaking on the perimeter, Joe comes of age at the ideal time. He is a tremendous shooter who made over 41 percent of his 3-point tries last season.
He will be mentored next year by a coach that he had not committed to originally, though Joe should work well within Eric Musselman’s system. Joe will be relied upon early and often, and while things may be a bit more difficult with the departure of Daniel Gafford to the NBA, if Joe can make over 40 percent of his downtown looks while hiking up his assist numbers, he could be the next Hogs product to be selected in the first half of next June’s draft.
6. TYLER BEY
Last season was not a great one for the Pac-12, but next year Arizona, UCLA and USC should get back to their winning ways. Better talent brings better competition, which is just what Bey may need in solidifying his case as a first-round draft pick.
The 6-foot-7 forward is a vacuum on the glass, and in his final 16 games of his sophomore season he averaged over 11 rebounds, and in five of those games he corralled 13 or more boards. There are questions about how skilled he might be - as he is a bit of a tweener - and also with how well he can shoot the basketball. He has made less than 18 percent of his perimeter jumpers throughout his college career, but he is a major producer in the open floor and compares favorably to a vintage Shawn Marion.
Bey must refine his game and show that he can produce in the half-court more frequently, but if he can find the right role and system, he is worthy of a first-round draft selection.
7. AJ REEVES
Reeves missed close to a month of his freshman season thanks to a foot injury, and upon his return he was not able to get his game back on track. In his first game at Providence, Reeves finished with 29 points, thanks to seven made perimeter attempts. Throughout his prep career, Reeves’ talent level was never in question. Rather, it was about his consistency, an aspect of his game that remains in need of refining. However, he is a member of one of the top developmental programs in America, and he should create for one of the more dynamic backcourts in the game next season alongside another potential breakout in David Duke.
Reeves averaged less than 10 points per game last season, but he did start every contest in which he played. By broadening his production capabilities, the sophomore wing should have every chance in the world to be in the conversation as a first-rounder next June.