The college basketball season started with a bang. The freshmen standouts lie on the perimeter, with USC point guard Isaiah Collier (20.0 points, 4.0 assists per game) and Baylor swingman Ja'Kobe Walter (18.0 points, 4.5 rebounds per game) erupting out of the gates.
Collier is a strong, bursty guard with a knack for tearing up the middle of a defense. Walter is a shot-maker extraordinaire, possessed with unshakable confidence and potentially elite versatility as a shooter.
With college basketball in full swing, the NBA Draft picture will evolve at a rapid-fire pace. Each game presents a new opportunity for a player to break into the limelight. Scouts will be hard at work all season, scouring gyms nationwide to evaluate potential future draftees.
Here's an updated (early) look at the landscape, with the lottery order determined by Tankathon simulation. The Charlotte Hornets get lucky and are on the clock.
There isn't a clear-cut frontrunner in the 2024 draft, but Ron Holland is easy to project in this spot due to his ability to impact winning both ways. He's a tremendous wing defender at 6-foot-8, possessing advanced instincts away from the ball and the necessary attitude to stack stops at the point of attack.
On offense, Holland doesn't necessarily profile as a go-to scorer right away. He's a bursty driver who should thrive next to an elite ball-handler, such as LaMelo Ball. The 3-pointers appear to be falling and he flashes enough pull-up shooting to suggest long-term upside. He's not your traditional No. 1 pick in terms of imminent stardom, but Holland has the potential for a long and fruitful career on the wing.
Matas Buzelis has a passivity issue, but it's not difficult to decipher the appeal for NBA teams — potentially starting in the No. 1 spot. Buzelis is 6-foot-9 with the ability to fluidly attack downhill, create in transition or splash 3s. He needs to get stronger, but the defense should come around eventually.
The best case for Buzelis would be advancements as a pull-up shooter and rim finisher, allowing him to develop into a legitimate offensive alpha. Worst case, he's a skilled connective passer and additional ball-handling arm that can slide across positions, making him easy to project as a high-level starter, if not a perennial All-Star. The Cavs have an elite frontcourt and backcourt. Buzelis can slide into a significant role on the wing.
Isaiah Collier is well on his way to the PG1 mantle in the 2024 draft class. He's 6-foot-4 and built like a tank. Collier is quick enough to put constant pressure on the rim and strong enough to finish through defenders in the paint. He can also dance around the defense with crafty footwork and soft touch on in-between shots.
The big swing skill for Collier will be 3-point shooting. He hit 1-of-3 in his first game. As the sample size grows, sustained competence could really launch Collier up draft boards. He is the star of the show for USC, especially on the draft front, right now. His playmaking instincts, defensive toughness, and upside as a scorer make him a real name to watch in the top-3. Especially for a point guard needy team like the Spurs.
Ja'Kobe Walter might be the premier shot-maker in the 2024 class. He is supremely confident from just about anywhere on the floor. It's unwise to make sweeping proclamations based on a few games, but Baylor's opening night win over Kansas State was evidence of Walter's ability to put up numbers, even as a freshman in a crowded backcourt. He splashed 4-of-7 from deep and converted several dynamic pull-ups from mid-range.
The next step for Walter is trimming the fat from his shot profile and growing as a facilitator. At 6-foot-5, he's going to carry his weight on defense, too. The Jazz can't expect Jordan Clarkson to stick around forever and beyond Keyonte George, the guard rotation is rather volatile. Walter would have a chance to carve out a sizable niche long-term.
Alex Sarr is the No. 1 prospect on the FanSided big board, so it says something about the 2024 class that he lands No. 5 here. Team fit is going to matter more than usual in the lottery. Most of the time, talent should take precedence. But, the talent is too balanced in this range. Alex Sarr has been a stud for Perth in Australia's NBL. At 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, he fits the mold of a skilled big man every NBA team is anxious to add nowadays.
Sarr is difficult to miss on the floor. His activity level on defense stands out and he's a versatile offensive weapon, comfortable popping out to the 3-point line and excellent as a rim-runner. His inside-outside skill set, which is tied together with impressively coordinated drives and a burgeoning face-up game, could work wonders next to Jaren Jackson Jr. in the Grizzlies' frontcourt.
Justin Edwards will draw favorable pre-draft reviews as a 6-foot-7 wing with advanced athleticism and shot-making juice. Edwards shoots a beautiful lefty jumper that he has extended out to the 3-point line. He's mostly an off-ball scorer at this point — a clever cutter and who loves to attack downhill off the catch — but Edwards flashes enough as a pull-up shooter to convince NBA teams of go-to upside.
He also flies around on defense, which should land him firmly in the lottery conversation. Edwards navigates screens at the point of attack, but he's especially disruptive in passing lanes or with the occasional weak-side block. The Pistons have guards galore and a few bigs to pick through, so a wing who can play off of Cade Cunningham and space the floor is the move.
The NCAA cleared Aday Mara with seconds to spare. He's only averaging 13.3 minutes across UCLA's three games, but he should carve out a bigger role as the season progresses. At 7-foot-3, Mara's base appeal is right on the surface. He's a towering presence in the paint, which causes guards to think twice about venturing down the lane. His instincts as a rim protector and dominant presence on the glass provide him with a solid NBA floor.
Of course, there's natural trepidation when picking drop coverage bigs so high in the lottery. That said, in a class with such little established star talent, Mara's reliability on defense should go a long way. He's no slouch on offense either, operating comfortably as a passing hub in the high post. And, surprise, surprise, he's also a dominant rim finisher. The Wizards have a few game-changing perimeter defenders in Deni Avdija and Bilal Coulibaly. Mara can provide a much-needed backstop in the paint.
The Chicago Bulls' roster will probably look very different next season. The Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan era is waning, and one has to imagine the front office will pull the trigger on a rebuild eventually. Enter Stephon Castle, a potential building block for a team short on high-level, affordable young talent.
At 6-foot-6, Castle should mold comfortably into a variety of personnel groups. He's a talented pick-and-roll creator who has mastered the stop-start handles required to keep defenders off balance. He plays strong too, and should draw plenty of fouls. He attempted eight free throws in 19 minutes in his UConn debut. Castle's passing creativity and defensive edge push him over the edge as a legitimate top-5 candidate.
Donovan Clingan is due for a sizable sophomore leap after his tremendous tournament run with the reigning champs. Listed at 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, Clingan is a massive human. He's built with the strength of a freight train, plowing through smaller defenders on finishes at the rim and completely stonewalling opposing bigs on defense.
He won't hang on the perimeter defensively and he's a fairly streamlined offensive contributor — strong screen-setter, hyper-efficient rim finisher, and occasional post-up threat — but Clingan should impact winning as a game-changing rim protector who thrives in his role on offense. The Pelicans need to address the center position as Jonas Valanciunas ages out of his prime.
Izan Alamansa hit a few 3s during the G-League Ignite's international tour, which bodes well for his development this season. He profiles as a bit of a positional tweener at 6-foot-9, but Almansa possesses a number of classic connective traits that should translate well to the NBA. The Blazers have a couple true centers who can protect the rim, and Robert Williams in particular supplies elite defensive versatility. So, it's a natural fit.
He will do standard power forward stuff — Almansa operates comfortably as a screener who can pop into space, or roll downhill for explosive vertical finishes — but it's the passing that really pops for the Spanish 18-year-old. Almansa is a quick processor who rockets impressive dimes on the short roll or working around the elbow. He plays a very complementary style and should have a long NBA career ahead.
At 6-foot-10, Zacchaire Risacher is going to draw a lot of NBA eyeballs due to his positional size and versatility. He's a silky 3-point shooter who comfortably attacks closeouts and creates off of drives to the rim. He needs to bulk up and improve as a finisher, but it's fairly uncommon to find wings with Risacher's blend of size, passing, and shooting.
He's the ideal OKC prospect, offering more size on the wing while fitting comfortably into the 'everybody can shoot, drive, and pass' lineups Mark Daigneault has mastered. Risacher also defends well, putting his length to good use in passing lanes and competing hard at the point of attack, even if stronger NBA wings might get him into foul trouble early on.
The Kings' lack of quality ball-handlers outside of De'Aaron Fox was exposed during his recent injury stint. Davion Mitchell simply doesn't score enough to scare the defense and Malik Monk, for all his scoring power, isn't a generative engine. Tyrese Proctor is due for a sophomore leap for a very good Duke team, and he could address the Kings' primary second-unit weakness.
At 6-foot-5, Proctor has excellent size for a point guard. He can share the floor with another ball-handler as a result. Proctor makes every pass in the book, consistently whipping cross-court skip passes or threading the needle to a diving big with the utmost precision. As he gets better at changing speeds and weaponizing his physical tools as a driver, NBA teams will latch on quickly.
The Spurs double up on playmaking with Nikola Topic, who has been on a tear for Serbia's Mega MIS of late. At 6-foot-6, he's a natural point guard with the positional size to share the court with the aforementioned Collier or Tre Jones. The Spurs have flashed serious potential early in the Victor Wembanyama era, but a severe lack of reliable point guard play has been a serious impediment to their success.
Topic isn't a great athlete, but he knows exactly when to press the accelerator on drives to the cup. His constant gear shifts and feather-soft touch around the paint should make him a dangerous driver, even against NBA defenses. He can also splash 3s to keep the defense honest and he's one of the best passers on the board, frequently exploiting errant help on his drives to the rim.
Elmarko Jackson would fit well with the toughest, meanest, nastiest NBA team. He's only 6-foot-3, but he competes his tail off on defense, blessed with a strong 195-pound frame and long arms to contain the point of attack and cause problems in passing lanes. The Heat really need guard play and Jackson is the sort of well-conditioned try-hard (compliment) that organization prioritizes.
There will be growing pains for Jackson on offense. He's starting for the No. 1 team in the country, though, and his role should only expand as the season progresses. Jackson is an explosive driver who understands how to shift gears and deploy his strength through contact at the rim. He needs to get up to speed as a facilitator, but Jackson's rim pressure and defensive activity make for a strong foundation.
It has been a bumpy start to his freshman season at Kentucky, but D.J. Wagner is a bursty 6-foot-3 guard who supplies instant rim pressure and crafty scoring inside the arc. He will have to answer questions about his 3-point shot, but his athleticism and dribbling craft will keep NBA scouts engaged. The Pelicans need to think about point guard depth long-term given CJ McCollum's recent injury spate.
A smooth lefty shooter on the wing at 6-foot-7, Melvin Ajinca's NBA appeal is rather straightforward. He's a 3-and-D wing built for a league that optimizes that skill set. He's a strong driver and adequate defender too, but his recently diminished role with Saint-Quentin threatens to harm his draft stock.
Kyle Filipowski needs to convince NBA teams that he can defend despite a negative wingspan and limited mobility. But, he's a 7-footer who competes hard and offers a world of potential on offense with his projectable 3-point shot, tight handles, and passing chops. The Knicks could use some frontcourt reinforcements, especially with Julius Randle's tenure getting a bit tenuous.
Adem Bona has been the star of the UCLA frontcourt to date, showcasing a blend of rim-running, shot-blocking, and rebounding verve that should carve out a spot in the first round. He doesn't reinvent the wheel at center, but he's a bouncy athlete who can defend at a high level and provide a passing outlet above the rim. The Suns can't count on Jusuf Nurkic forever.
Ke'el Ware figures to break out after transferring to Indiana for his sophomore campaign. A long, mobile big who can hit 3s and protect the rim, he has a place in the modern NBA. The Magic have some frontcourt problems to figure out, even if Wendell Carter Jr. gets back to full speed eventually. Orlando loves rangy athletes, and Ware's 3-point upside is an added bonus.
The NCAA still hasn't cleared UCLA's Berke Buyuktuncel, which could present a slight roadblock in his NBA Draft journey. But, the 6-foot-9 freshman from Turkey is bound to impress when the opportunity eventually arrives. He's built for a long role-player career, supplying efficient shooting, rock-solid connective traits, and quality team defense. The Hawks could use another forward to help fill the John Collins void, even if Jalen Johnson is clearly the long-term starter.
Cody Williams is off to a promising start at Colorado. There aren't many 6-foot-9 guards who present Williams' upside as a driver and transition playmaker. That makes him the perfect fit for OKC's hydra-headed offense, and he's also the younger brother of Thunder forward Jalen Williams. Cody will need to get the 3-point shot in line and prove his mettle on defense, but he's a worthy upside play for a deep OKC team.
Trevon Brazile looks exceedingly comfortable and confident in his return from a torn ACL. An explosive leaper who can finish lobs, hit the occasional 3, and protect the rim at a high level, he's sure to find NBA teams right back on the bandwagon in 2024. The Pacers need a defensive facelift, which Brazile could help facilitate alongside 2023 lottery pick Jarace Walker.
Reviews are mixed on Scotty Middleton's early small sample at Ohio State, but he's a 6-foot-7 wing who can shoot 3s and defend multiple positions. Scouts will want to see him test the limits of his skill set with OSU, but he's a savvy team player who fits a useful niche projecting toward the NBA. The Pacers could use another body on the wing, especially with Buddy Hield's future hanging in the balance.
The Blazers love to take swings with intriguing athletes. At 6-foot-11, Baba Miller flashes upside as a shooter and driver on the wing. Factor in the defensive versatility and his strong finishing at the rim, and he's on track for first-round consideration with a sophomore leap at Florida State.
Oso Ighodaro should satiate front offices eager for immediate help. The Marquette senior doesn't leap off the screen with athlete athleticism, but he's strongly built at 6-foot-9 with advanced passing chops and a knack for driving finishes. His upside as a playmaking hub in the high post should appeal to the Celtics specifically. Al Horford is the perfect veteran mentor.
The Bucks need perimeter defenders, badly. Reece Beekman is one of the best guard defenders in college basketball and he's due for a significant leap in production as a senior. So long as the shooting percentages stabilize, he should garner first-round consideration.
Tidjane Salaun is a 6-foot-9, capital-A athlete on the wing. He will need to add polish at the next level, but his explosive forays to the rim and aggressive defense will convince plenty of NBA front offices that he's worth investing in. The jumper needs to get more consistent, but Minnesota could envision a suitable home in the Wolves' lanky, versatile frontcourt.
He's still rounding into form, but Terrance Arceneaux looks the part of a 3-and-D wing. At some point the 3s actually have to fall — he shot 25.0 percent last season and sits at 14.8 percent through three games in 2023-24 — but he's finishing efficiently inside the arc and the Knicks could benefit from another defensive wing on the back burner.
The Sixers need another ball-handler. Maybe that gets addressed either short or long-term before the trade deadline, but there are several worthy guards projected toward the back end of the first round. Elliot Cadeau has to get the jumper calibrated, but his burst, creativity, and passing vision should keep NBA teams locked in.
Riley Kugel came on strong late last season and he appears to be making the first-round leap as a sophomore. The jumper looks clean and he impresses with bursty drives to the cup. He doesn't offer much passing at the moment, but he can make the simple read off penetration. He creates plenty of havoc with his activity on defense. The Nuggets could prioritize experience, as well as another able two-way wing.