June 21, 2023, 5:13 pm
While collections of superstars and big-money players give teams the best chance to win championships, it does create a dilemma from the middle of the roster on down. One way that a team can afford to spend up on elite players is by consistently nailing their draft picks, securing production at a ridiculously affordable price point. Not all rookies are created equally, however, and all sorts of factors go into a player’s first-year responsibilities. Certain teams have a more dire need for immediate production and can pursue prospects with a game that can hit the ground running, even with a big jump from the NCAA to the NBA ranks. Today we’re going to take a quick look at some players whose games look ready for the big stage — not everyone here is a game-changer, but they may be more equipped to chip in from day one than some of their draft counterparts.
As the league’s salary haves and have-nots continue to separate themselves, finding guys who are ready to complement a championship core right away are vital — just look at how the Nuggets have traded picks in the lead up to draft day. We hit up the SportsEthos prospect team for the scoops on some potential NBA-ready names.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, F/C, Indiana
Jackson-Davis is an older prospect with translatable skills. He does all the typical big man stuff well; he’s an excellent rim protector, a powerful finisher, a good rim-runner, a low-post scorer and a phenomenal rebounder on both ends of the floor. Jackson-Davis will get put-backs and generate second-chance points with his offensive rebounding and also has intrigue as a passer which could make him useful in team-oriented offenses. While TJD showed nothing from deep in college, he actually showed off some shooting in pre-draft workouts and mentioned that it was something he had been working on for a while in preparation for the NBA. We don’t know how reliable the 3-point shot will be, but he will likely be asked to play a role which suits his strengths more.
Jackson-Davis was undoubtedly a prolific player in college, but he is very unlikely to see a similar role in the NBA. He should be able to slot in as a backup big for someone and produce relatively well right away by doing the basics. Rim protection is a coveted skill in the NBA so even if his offense doesn’t translate against NBA athletes, continuing to be a formidable deterrent will be enough. If he can develop his 3-point shot then a long career as a quality role player should be his floor, but even without the shot he should be a serviceable backup.
— Keston Paul
Andre Jackson Jr., G, UConn
Christian Braun won a National Championship and just followed it up with an NBA ring. That’s extremely hard to do and dependent on team landing, but Jackson is the best bet to do it this year, even if the odds are +100,000. If Jackson doesn’t hit 3-pointers, he shouldn’t play minutes with the starters, unless he’s the only non-shooter on the floor, but he could be a very important bench piece on a great team as a do-it-all glue guy. He will be able to defend at an NBA-level, start fast-breaks, be a great cutter and mover off-ball and he’s also a great defensive floor general.
Imagine him coming off the bench for a team like Denver and the possibilities are endless. Or on the Celtics, with Al Horford as a stretch-5 and Jackson providing a defensive spark and offensive movement. Or the Kings, where he would be able to energize the defense and start a ton of fast breaks. Jackson is extremely fit-dependent; if he lands on a team with a gravitational offensive player or on a developing, non-structured team, his chances of playing meaningful NBA minutes are low. But on a contending team that focuses on motion and shooting? Jackson is as NBA-ready as a prospect can be.
— Goncalo Teiga
Colby Jones, G, Xavier
It’s hard to pick holes in Jones’ game — the biggest complaint is probably that he doesn’t have one can’t-miss, undeniable skill. Even so, you could do a lot worse than a swingman who gives you a little bit of everything, as Jones did last year at Xavier. He’s able to run an offense and makes up for lacking speed and athleticism with good, quick reads, and always plays hard on defense. Jones just Gets It; he does stuff all over the floor that helps his team win. All that turned into 15.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game last season, with scouts also attracted to Jones’ improving 3-point work.
Jones is going to be a helpful player, but not one for management groups obsessed with taking home-run swings on their draft picks. Star upside does feel out of the question, especially since Jones struggles to create his own shots, but in terms of elevating everyone else on the floor you can’t ask for much more. He’s the kind of smart, capable guard that can paper over a few holes just by doing the things he’s comfortable with.
— Mike Passador
Kris Murray, F, Iowa
Murray is a versatile forward who does a little bit of everything, complemented by a 6’8″ frame that allows him to defend multiple positions. He’s a willing shooter from distance and has enough in the tank to punish closeouts, though he won’t blow you away with athleticism. The big benefit of Murray, beyond those attributes, is that he’s a fairly mistake-free player. He doesn’t force the action and is comfortable working in the flow of the game, finding his spots and using his awareness and basketball IQ to generate good shots without derailing team concepts. If that sounds familiar, it should — brother Keegan brought similar things to the table in his first year with the Kings.
Kris isn’t the same level of prospect but he has a high floor that teams might like, and although his floor and ceiling aren’t that far apart, there’s enough to Murray’s game to see why some would view him as a plug-and-play. Murray does have to continue to improve as a shooter and adding some more strength wouldn’t hurt, but he’s a sharp player whose weak spots are overwhelmed by being solid in nearly every facet of the game for his position.
— Mike Passador
Hunter Tyson, F, Clemson
The modern NBA values two things above all: size and shooting. With sufficient size for post play and great floor-spacing potential, it’s not hard to imagine several NBA teams lining up for Tyson’s services. Though he doesn’t seem to be the sort of transformative player that can push a squad to the next level, Tyson processes the game at a high level, makes smart reads and demonstrates an above-average proclivity for boards. It seems likely that the Clemson forward will be one of the more productive rookies next year but it’s less clear if there is much room between his ceiling and floor as a player. That shouldn’t matter much for a player in his draft range and Tyson may make some teams regret prioritizing potential over results once all the noteworthy prospects are off the board.
— Derek Ball
Landers Nolley II, G/F, Cincinnati
At the college level, there weren’t many players that could stop Nolley from scoring at all three levels. With plus-size for a wing and a nearly 7-foot wingspan, Nolley got good looks with relative ease. His floater is likely to translate well to the league but Nolley didn’t demonstrate the sort of on-ball potential that will allow him to keep getting those inside-the-arc looks with regularity against higher-quality defenders. Regardless, Nolley has NBA shooting range and is used to a heavy shot diet from beyond the arc. Defenders won’t be able to leave him alone on the perimeter and Nolley has demonstrated an ability to read and react to opposing defenses that should allow him to exploit gaps. If defenders reach him in time to challenge his shot, Nolley will keep the ball moving and continue seeking open space on the floor. Whether shooting off the catch or off the dribble, Nolley seems likely to be immediately effective as a perimeter sniper. NBA size and impressive length should help to compensate for any perceived weaknesses in Nolley’s pro-ready game.
— Derek Ball
Seth Lundy, G/F, Penn State
In a league that focuses on characteristics like athleticism, high potential and youth, it’s understandable that Lundy isn’t generating more buzz. It might be different if the NBA placed a higher premium on basketball IQ or a willingness to work around team needs. Lundy projects as an average-sized wing in the NBA but found himself playing the post for an undersized Penn State team fairly often. At 220 pounds, he wasn’t exactly out of place down low and that offers some intrigue for creative coaches looking to play small-ball. However, Lundy can really stroke it from 3-point range and that’s what’s going to keep him on the floor. The 6’6″ wing seems more likely to elevate a team of more skilled peers than to create value as an individual contributor, but there is absolutely room for a player like that in the league. A combination of shooting, rebounding, defense and overall understanding of the game could help Lundy find a long career as a pro.
— Derek Ball