June 21, 2023, 5:24 pm
Not every drafted player is going to be able to help an NBA team right away. Some might never get there at all. But the draft is a time for hope, where all the raw skills in the world can draw a franchise in. The allure of what could supersede the reality of what’s there, and teams tend to think that they can have the next big thing if they can just get a player into their development program.
We’re going to take a second and spotlight some players who could be considered “projects,” with an abundance of skill that could be channeled into big upside down the line. Shaedon Sharpe and Ousmane Dieng looked polished beyond their years last season, and the future is incredibly bright for those two as they proved to be ahead of the curve.
We surveyed SportsEthos’ prospect team to get some potential fits this year.
GG Jackson, F, South Carolina
Jackson’s upside is undeniable and there were whispers that he would’ve been a top-5 pick had he been in the 2024 class instead, but some team may end up reaping major rewards with the class’s most notable boom-or-bust selection. He can score from all three levels and knows it, constantly applying pressure to defenses. At 6’9″ with a wingspan over seven feet and plenty of burst in his legs, Jackson boasts the combination of size, handles, athleticism and power to get his buckets in a variety of ways. Most of his 15.4 points per game last season came unassisted. Of course, there are negatives, and they’re generally what you’d expect from a young player who knows he can score better than his teammates. Court vision just wasn’t there, shot selection was questionable at best (you can see that in his .384 from the field) and defensive effort was inconsistent. While getting the keys to the car at South Carolina allowed Jackson to show off his bevy of offensive talents, it also wasn’t the best development in terms of fostering maturity or growth. That will be the big challenge for an NBA staff.
Jackson has the frame of a 3-and-D wing with the instincts of a microwave scorer, and teams would be wise to see what happens if that percolates; this isn’t the type of player you want to tone down only because the upside of Jackson at his best is game-changing. If his pro team can get Jackson to understand some of the game’s finer points, then you’ll be looking at a dynamic three-level scorer who could become unstoppable in the mid-range. Finding a balance between post game and perimeter game will be another long-term swing factor, but Jackson’s best-case scenario is certainly worth plenty of careful thought. Landing in the wrong spot could have Jackson lean into his worst tendencies, but the right approach could make him the steal of the class.
— Mike Passador
Leonard Miller, G League Ignite
Miller was a late bloomer in terms of size, with a late growth spurt taking him from a wing-sized player to someone with measurements more akin to a big, now coming in at 6’10” with a 7’2″ wingspan. He was eligible to enter the draft last year and was a prospect full of intrigue coming out of Fort Erie, Ontario, but there were questions about his translation to more competitive play as someone who only found himself on the radar in his older years. Miller chose to take another year to develop himself by enrolling with the G League Ignite in an effort to be more prepared for the jump.
Miller’s year with the Ignite can generally be looked at as a success, as he learned more about the game. He showed good understanding playing off-ball, especially as a cutter. He always drew interest due to his on-ball abilities at his size, but that was unlikely to be something frequently asked of him in the NBA. Miller is already a great finisher, but his shooting mechanics need a little work. His unfamiliarity playing as a big also shows as he sometimes plays a little “light” with weak screens and he is not much of a rim protector, though he is a competitive rebounder. He will likely be asked to play more as a power forward, but his floor-spacing will need to improve. Most likely, Miller will be given a couple years to fully grow into his eventual role unless he is drafted by an noncompetitive team who doesn’t mind the trial-by-fire method.
— Keston Paul
Rayan Rupert, G, New Zealand Breakers
The Australian NBL is far inferior to other international leagues, ranking below the EuroLeague, Spanish Liga ACB, the Turkish Basketball Super League or even the French LNB Pro A. Despite that difference, Rupert was benched in the last three games of the NBL Finals, where he played a combined 43 minutes in five games and his team, the New Zealand Breakers, lost 3-2 to the Sidney Kings. As arguably the best defender in the league, his role diminished due to his lack of scoring ability. Rupert lacks an outside shot, shooting 23.4% from three this season, but his form and 70.9% from the line show promise. He has a ton of playmaking potential, as he grew up as a point guard and has incredible spurts of court vision, passing and ball-handling.
If he lands on a team prioritizing development that gives him on-ball opportunities, it will feel like him hitting the jackpot. With a 7’2 wingspan, he’s a 3-pointer away from being an awesome secondary playmaker that can play off-ball while guarding the other team’s best player. Those traits will likely flourish closer to his second contract, however. Rupert and patience will go hand-in-hand in the next few years, but the potential is through the roof.
— Goncalo Teiga
Amari Bailey, G, UCLA
As a product of Sierra Canyon School, Bailey entered college with about as strong a profile as a high schooler can have. After all, so many NBA players or their kids have walked the halls before him – not to mention the Jenners and LeBron’s sons. Scouts know his game well and discovered early on that he could convert his 5-star rating into serious NBA value. One season at UCLA outlined that potential and featured plenty of great moments but the general consensus was that Bailey could use some more time in the amateur ranks before making the jump to the pros. As a year-long starter on a competitive college program who stepped up when his team needed it most in March, it’s hard to blame Bailey for believing in himself. However, the 6’5” guard could fall into the second half of the draft and find himself in an uphill battle for playing time or even a full-time NBA deal, in some cases. Even in the most optimistic scenario that sees Bailey immediately get a chance in the league, he will have to prove lots of scouts wrong by showing that he is ready for NBA minutes at this stage in his career.
— Derek Ball
Alex Fudge, F, Florida
Some prospects benefit from highlight-focused scouting. If one takes Fudge in small doses, they can be forgiven for thinking he looks the part of an NBA athlete. He surely does have the physical profile of a pro but Fudge is one of the biggest question marks in the draft. The main question is simply why he entered the draft at this stage in his development and without any sustained success across multiple years and programs in college. Fudge has yet to pass an eye test that lasts longer than a TikTok video but within those short bursts of relevance are signs of an NBA athlete with a quick first step and no shortage of confidence.
— Derek Ball
Yannick Kraag, F, FC Barcelona
As with most prospects in this category, Kraag’s NBA value is more theoretical than practical. Playing in the Spanish ACB at his age is impressive but his results weren’t. It remains true that Kraag is an elite above-the-rim athlete that plays with intensity and is trying to develop as a shooter. The framework of an NBA player is apparent but it’s not yet clear what level of player Kraag could be. Showing no further growth may limit his NBA options since Kraag has no immediately transferrable skills. At worst, he could focus on becoming an impactful defender that catches a few backdoor lobs on the other end, but even that projection still requires concerted effort and real growth in terms of defensive awareness and ability. The best version of Kraag continues to develop as a shooter while also fleshing out his dribble attack and improving his defensive focus. That player could fit in almost any rotation but such a version of Kraag doesn’t exist yet. This one has draft-and-stash written all over him.
— Derek Ball