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Draft reports on the Big Ten’s best NBA prospects

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NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

With the draft deadline to withdraw being pushed to Aug. 17, and the draft scheduled for Oct. 16, declaring for the draft has become an even more difficult decision for college players as the 2020-2021 season is in doubt. Given the uncertainty, Louis and Daniel took a dive into each Big Ten prospect’s game and where they are predicted to be drafted.

Xavier Tillman - Michigan State

Daniel’s Evaluation: I have Tillman ranked as the 21st best prospect in the class on my Big Board. Tillman is an analytics darling, as he finished first in the country in defensive box plus-minus and first in overall box plus-minus. He’s drawn comparisons to Draymond Green as a switchable defender that can’t be moved in the post, while being nimble enough to switch on the perimeter. His short roll passing is delightful, but he’s still a step away from being the fulcrum one can run their offense through. The lack of a reliable three-point shot or springboard hops excludes him from star potential, but the year-to-year improvement on the shot is encouraging, and Tillman completely wiping out in the NBA seems unimaginable.

Louis’ Evaluation: I believe that Tillman has all the tools necessary to become a starter in the NBA given his strength and defensive ability. Standing at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, he has potential to be used as a five in a small-ball lineup as he has shown he can hold his own against taller, lengthier opponents in the post. While his perimeter defending and pick and roll coverage does not exactly wow me, I think there is potential for improvement. He is excellent at creating space and sealing against taller defenders in the post which can give teams another dimension. However, what impresses me the most is his ability to use his frame to relentlessly pursue rebounds, defensively and offensively, averaging 10.3 per game this season. As Daniel touched on, his ability to be a real impact player will be determined on if he can develop his playmaking abilities. Michigan State ran their offense through Cassius Winston and Tillman with the high pick and roll. Given Winston’s pedigree as a deadly scorer, this often created 4-on-3 opportunities for Tillman. Although he was not bad as a passer in these situations it left a bit to be desired given he only averaged three assists to two turnovers.

50 on ESPN / 26 on CBS / 39 on BR / 22 on The Athletic

Jalen Smith - Maryland

Daniel’s Evaluation: Smith strikes me as a Gorgui Dieng-type who can make open jumpers, while providing above average rim protection and the occasional ability to switch. He does have two major red flags in that he is terrible chasing players around off-ball screens, as he struggles to cut at a sharp angle, and is so slender in his lower half that he can be easily outmuscled by stronger centers. Yet, I’m still high on his offensive ceiling, as Smith can oscillate between popping and rolling as a ball screener with ease, and uses his 7-foot-1 wingspan combined with light feet to get off the ground quickly and put pressure on the rim. I have Smith ranked right after Tillman as the 22nd best prospect in the class.

Louis’ Evaluation: What surprises me about Jalen Smith is how fluid his shooting stroke is given how underdeveloped other parts of his game are. He shoots 36.8 percent from three which is respectable for a 6-foot-10 forward. Although I am not sure how he projects to the NBA, I think he has one of the higher ceilings of any Big Ten player due to his elite length and ability to run the floor. NBA teams love guys who can go up and catch lobs and Smith’s catch radius is elite and in some ways reminds me of the way 6-foot-10 Anthony Davis goes up and catches lobs. What he really needs to work on is his defense. Too often he would be sealed in the post which would lead him to commit silly fouls while he struggled to guard on the perimeter. It is apparent he needs to get stronger as he was often pushed way off the block on the offensive end. This made it difficult for teammates to get him the ball and even when he was able to get the ball made it that much more difficult to score.

30 on ESPN / 25 on CBS / 17 on BR / 28 on The Athletic

Cassius Winston - Michigan State

Daniel’s Evaluation: Back in March I wrote a full breakdown of Winston as a draft prospect, and my position hasn’t changed much since then. He’s the best pure shooter in the draft not named Aaron Nesmith, and his ability to burn drop coverage (which has increased in popularity amongst NBA teams the last few years) is truly special. He’s a really good passer, but not a great one that can manipulate defenders to create looks for defenders, and unfortunately has a case for the absolute worst defender that will hear his name called on draft night. Still, his shooting is good enough to a warrant an early second rounder grade, as he sits at 34th overall on my Big Board.

Louis’ Evaluation: My hope for Cassius Winston is that he is not just another example of a great college point guard that fails in the NBA. He had a tremendous career at MSU with the highlight of the 2019 Final Four run where the Spartans knocked off the Duke team that had Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett. I really root for four-year guys like Winston who did things the right way; however, I just have a really hard time seeing his game translate to the NBA. To me, his singular trait that will translate is his shooting as he shot the three at an unreal 43.2 percent with high volume. He consistently struggled against lengthy defenders which made him turnover prone as he often could not find angles for passes in screen and roll situations. Defensively, Izzo was a mastermind and did all he could to hide Winston for four years but even then, it is easy to see that he will be exposed in the NBA. The role I see Winston succeeding in in the NBA is as a second unit, off-ball scorer, similar to the role he took when Rocket Watts was the primary ball handler for MSU.

29 on ESPN / 21 on CBS / 34 on BR/ 30 on The Athletic

Ayo Dosunmu - Illinois

Daniel’s Evaluation: Where people stand on Dosunmu shows where allegiances lie amongst basketball fans. Strict college basketball fans think of him as a winner and leader that elevates those around him. The analytically minded draft-focused community sees the .296 three-point shooting percentage and 3.7 free throw attempts per 36 and dismisses him as inefficient. I think the answer lies somewhere in-between. He’s an awesome at rim finisher (71.8 percent) and he can get shots off using his height, but he has a lot of technical flaws in his game he’ll have to work out in order to get a real chance at cracking a rotation. He currently ranks 49th overall on my Big Board, but I’m a bit higher on him than most, and there’s a chance he falls out of the draft entirely and has to sign a two-way contract in the NBA.

Louis’ Evaluation: It is hard to see how Dosunmu projects at the next level as he does not have elite playmaking abilities as evidenced by his 3.3 assists per game to 2.7 assists per game but has great size at 6-foot-5 with elite athleticism. But he is a very poor shooter for a guard which will really limit his effectiveness in the NBA today. However, I still see Dosunmu being able to make an impact in the NBA as a defender and as an athlete in transition. He can make tremendous plays on the break on offense and defense and possesses an elite first step. It’ll be harder for him to blow by defenders without the threat of a three-point shot, but I see him becoming an asset to a team if he can fix his shot.

NR on ESPN / 55 on CBS / NR on BR/ 51 on The Athletic

Daniel Oturu - Minnesota

Daniel’s Evaluation: So Oturu is ranked as a first round pick by most of the mainstream. I’ve even seen him projected to be a lottery pick. Let’s just say draft Twitter...disagrees. Actual quotes I’ve heard:

“Oturu is going to get picked, despite the fact that the only thing he isn’t bad at is rebounding.”

“His passing skill gives black holes a bad reputation.”

This might be hard to fathom given how Oturu dominated NU on three separate occasions this season, but the Minnesotan big man just doesn’t project well to the next level. Most big men who lack quick feet, supreme bounce or upper echelon ball skills face this issue. I have him in the late 60s or early 70s range of my current board.

Louis’ Evaluation: Oturu was a dominant post presence in the Big Ten, but it will be interesting to see how effective his post game will be in the league. Much of his inside game was just about being more powerful than his defender. It is hard to say that he has an advanced post game as he relied primarily on a drop step/seal to score in the post. He rarely displayed a hook or showed advanced footwork. Making it more difficult for him to succeed is his below average shooting ability as he shot 36.5 percent from three on only 52 shots. Despite all this however, I think he has high floor due to the intangibles that possesses. First off, he has a 7-foot-3 wingspan. There is nothing NBA scouts love more than a plus wingspan. Next, he is relentless rebounder with tremendous hustle. As one of the best rebounders in the country with 11.3 per game, this is something that will translate well. Before he develops his shooting and playmaking, I can see Oturu playing a Guerschon Yabusele type role early in his career as a high energy guy off the bench.

33 on ESPN / 41 on CBS / 37 on BR / 27 on The Athletic

Kaleb Wesson - Ohio State

Daniel’s Evaluation: I really like Wesson’s game, and there’s even a hint of a desperately poor man’s Karl Anthony-Towns in him with his combination of shot making and passing skill. However, his feet are too slow to hold up on defense, and he only compounds this shortcoming by failing to keep his hands straight up on contests, with a horrid rate of 3.1 fouls per game this season. Not to mention his .444 field goal percentage is just horrible for big, and is a result of his lackluster post game. A 6-foot-9 big man who will get burned on defense and is really just a three-point shooter? It’s not the worst thing, but it’s not good enough for my taste. I’d rank him in the 60-65 range of this class.

Louis’ Evaluation: Wesson has elite shot mechanics, starting from his pre-shot mechanics all the way to his high release and followthrough. This allows him to be an elite pick and pop option which the Buckeyes deployed frequently and is his primary NBA trait. This shooting ability is what fuels his playmaking and why I think his 1.9 assists-per-game does not do him justice. I think he has great vision in the short roll which is what NBA teams crave right now. He consistently made the right decisions regarding making the extra pass on pick and pops and while passing out of the post to hit open guys in the corners. In regards to his defensive ability, I think Daniel touched on this enough: it needs to improve if he wants a shot at a roster spot. Just reading through any of the other evaluations will tell you that a modern day big man needs to be able to guard multiple positions in the NBA.

NR on ESPN / 73 on CBS / NR on BR / 56 on The Athletic

Luka Garza - Iowa

Daniel’s Evaluation: Put those pitchforks down you Big Ten truthers. Garza is an awesome college player. But again, it’s hard for a lot of college centers to translate to the pro’s, where you can’t hide from lethal ball-handlers on the perimeter. Garza just wasn’t good enough last year on defense to survive in the NBA, and on offense, he either needs to become an even better three-point shooter or develop playmaking chops, because post-up offense is fading fast. He’s even admitted himself that he needs to improve his quickness and overall athletic burst going forward, and more than any prospect on this list, I expect Garza to return to Iowa next year. But if he does officially declare for the draft, I’d probably rank him in that same 60-70 range.

Louis’ Evaluation: As a Naismith Player of the Year Finalist in 2020, Garza has one of the best college resumes in this draft as he exploded this year for 23.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG on a 54.2 FG percent. Garza has an elite back-to-the-basket game as he has an arsenal of up-and-unders, hooks and rip-throughs that he punished defenders with in college. He even expanded his game this year by taking 109 threes, which showcases his increased skill and workload in the Iowa offense. However, as a 6-foot-11, 260 pound center in college, he was not in any way explosive and was brutal in screen and roll situations. In addition to not being able to guard on the perimeter, I would not classify Garza as an elite shot blocker in any way which really projects him as a net negative as a defender in the NBA. As much of his game in college was predicated on overpowering lesser defenders, it will be curious to see how he fares against elite athletes in the NBA if he does decide to enter the draft.

NR on ESPN / 97 on CBS / NR on BR / 92 on TheAthletic

Pat Spencer - Northwestern

Daniel’s Evaluation: Sorry, but no.

Louis’s Evaluation: He actually signed with Tandem Sports Agency, so best of luck to him in his professional basketball, and for further evaluation, you can check out this piece where I broke down his game a couple of months ago.

Not ranked on any board.

Other potential draftees from the Big Ten:

Aaron Henry, Michigan State

Lamar Stevens, Penn State

Isaiah Livers, Michigan