1 NBA Draft prospect every current lottery team should highlight

As the 2024 NBA Draft landscape takes shape, here is one prospect every current lottery team should take special interest in.

Alex Sarr, Perth Wildcats
Alex Sarr, Perth Wildcats / Paul Kane/GettyImages
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The 2024 NBA Draft is roughly five months away. Much can change between now and June, but NBA teams are already waste-deep in scouting reports from all corners of the globe. Draft homework starts years in advance for the best teams, but this is the final stretch — the five-month period where opinions crystalize and big boards blossom.

We can't know how the NBA standings will look in June. We also can't know the lottery results, either. We can, however, look at the current landscape of the NBA and start to think about potential draft implications. The contenders have mostly separated from the pretenders at this point. With the exception of a few potentially hasty tear-downs — lookin' at you, Utah Jazz — we know which teams are trying to win, and which teams are gleefully tanking for the best odds at No. 1 overall.

It's a bit ironic that the bottom-dwellers of the NBA are historically bad this season, as the 2024 draft class isn't particularly well received. There's no obvious standout prospect sitting at the top. There isn't even elite depth either. Instead, the top picks will be predicated more than ever on team context and individual opinions. We should expect a wide variety in preference from team to team, starting with No. 1 overall.

So, let's look ahead and start to consider team context a bit. Here are all the current lottery teams, along with a realistic prospect each team should start giving serious thought toward.

14. New Orleans Pelicans (via Lakers) — Tyler Smith, G League Ignite

Tyler Smith has been fairly dependable for a poor G League Ignite team, averaging 10.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.2 steals on .426/.359/.714 splits in 21.5 minutes. He doesn't present the most robust skill set, but Smith's compelling blend of 6-foot-10 size, athleticism, and shooting touch is bound to catch eyes.

The Pelicans are fairly deep across the board, but frontcourt depth is a potential concern as Jonas Valanciunas plays out the final year of his contract. Smith is more of a tall wing than a big at this stage, but he covers ground on defense and flashes upside as a weak-side rim protector. His size and mobility should translate to positional flexibility.

What would help New Orleans, however, is another unique shooter in the rotation. Smith can step confidently into spot-up 3s with compact mechanics. Add his ability to stretch the floor out of pick-and-pops, or as a trailer in transition — in addition to Jordan Hawkins' flyaround bombing and Trey Murphy's limitless range on the wing — and the Pelicans' second unit is cooking with gas. Smith can also supply easy finishes at the rim, but don't expect a ton of self-creation.

13. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Jazz) — Reed Sheppard, Kentucky

The Oklahoma City Thunder took a Kentucky guard in the 2023 draft and it paid immediate dividends. Not unlike Cason Wallace, current Wildcats frosh Reed Sheppard looks ready-made to contribute at the next level. He has been one of the most efficient and impactful freshmen in recent memory. He's shooting the absolute lights out, slashing .566/.549/.829 en route to 11.8 points in 26.6 minutes.

Kentucky continues to bring Sheppard off the bench, but he is clearly the best player on John Calipari's roster. He would benefit from increasing the volume and boldness of his attempts, but 3s roll beautifully off Sheppard's hand. He can spot up on the perimeter, fire quickly off screens, or even bury the occasional pull-up jumper.

Sheppard is more than a sharpshooter, too. While there are concerns tied to his small 6-foot-2 frame, he's a genuine disruptor on defense. He's also averaging 4.2 assists to 1.5 turnovers, with quick processing speed and a knack for connective passing. Sheppard probably won't operate as a go-to ball-handler at the next level, but OKC has playmaking at virtually every position. Sheppard is a plug-and-play fit for one of the NBA's best teams.