After a strong regular season where the Big 12 received a ton of national publicity for its depth and sent seven of its ten teams to the NCAA Tournament, the conference fell on its face in March. They had a 2 seed lose in the second round, two 3 seeds lose in the first round and none of their teams made it out of the Sweet 16. While you never want to take too much from such a small sample size, the Big 12 certainly looked like a paper tiger. Kansas won its 11th straight league title but it was not one of Bill Self’s stronger teams and no one else in the conference was able to carry the banner.
There just wasn’t a lot of high-level individual talent in the Big 12. For as many teams that were ranked in the Top 25, the conference had only two players drafted and the sole lottery pick (Myles Turner) was stuck in a dysfunctional situation at Texas that wound up costing Rick Barnes his job. With Shaka Smart taking over at a sleeping giant of a program and Fred Hoiberg taking his magic act to the NBA, there’s room at the top for a lot of guys in the conference to make a name for themselves this season. Here’s a look at the top returning NBA prospects in the Big 12 by position.
Isaiah Taylor, Texas: This is more a mark of physical attributes and upside than ability to consistently impact a game, which is where Taylor trails Monte Morris of Iowa State. Taylor flashed a lot of raw ability in two seasons under Barnes but was nowhere near close to being a finished product, which is why his junior season under new coach Shaka Smart is so important. He’s the key to Smart having a smooth transition in his first season in Austin and if he’s not able to refine his game and lead Texas to the top of the Big 12, he will quickly fall off most of the prospect lists.
The key to Taylor’s game and the reason he should be able to thrive in Smart’s uptempo system is his speed and ability to change directions. It’s very difficult for defenders to stay in front of him, particularly when he’s playing in space and has a head of steam behind him. When he’s at his best, he is attacking the paint, forcing the tempo and creating shots for his teammates. His physical ability should allow him to thrive as a full-court defender - at 6’3 170, he can play bump-and-run with the best guards and he has the type of game that can succeed in the controlled chaos that Shaka likes to create with Havoc.
Where he has to show improvement is as a finisher, both in the paint and from the perimeter. He shot only 40% from the field and 28% from 3 as a sophomore, allowing defenders to play off him and shrink the court when he didn’t have the ball in his hands. If he can become a more consistent shooter, he could play his way into the first round. If not, he’ll have an uphill battle to make the league as a change of pace guard off the bench.
Monte Morris, Iowa State: Morris has almost the exact opposite profile as Taylor in that he is a prenaturally mature playmaker and floor general without the physical tools that NBA teams are looking for at PG. He’s a great shooter with a phenomenal assist-to-turnover ratio but he has only average size (6’2 170) and speed for the position at the next level and the question is how he will ever be able to physically match up with NBA-caliber athletes on defense. Morris might be able to carve out a spot for himself as a backup PG at the next level but guys like that are a dime a dozen so the key will be to maximize his stats at the NCAA level and generate some positive publicity by leading Iowa State deep in the Tourney. See: Tyus Jones at Duke.
Wayne Selden, Kansas: After two up-and-down seasons at Kansas, it’s now or never for Selden in terms of taking a lead role on the team and establishing himself as an NBA prospect. A McDonald’s All-American who wasn’t ranked too far behind Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins coming out of high school, Selden has never quite been able to put it all together in college, with career averages of 9.6 points a game on 40.9% shooting.
At 6’6 230 with a 6’10 wingspan, Selden has phenomenal size for his NBA position and he’s the rare NCAA player who won’t come into the league giving up a lot of physical strength. He’s also a decent three-point shooter - 34.6% on 3.6 attempts a game for his career - so he has the two building blocks necessary for a wing player in the modern NBA. The questions with Selden are the rest of his game. Can he handle a bigger role in the offense? Can he become a more consistent offensive player and more efficient from the floor? Can he improve as a playmaker?
As is, Selden’s physical tools, three-point shooting and recruiting pedigree should get him a shot in the NBA. If he wants to come into the league with any type of guaranteed contract, though, it’s time for him to take control of the Kansas program and put up the type of stats that get older players noticed by scouts.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas: Svi’s ranking is mostly a reflection of his international performance before he came to Kansas, as he hardly played as a freshman. That’s not a huge surprise given that he just turned 18 in June and he was adjusting to playing and living in the US for the first time but it means he’s a blank slate at this point. At 6’6 190, he has good size for a wing player and he’s supposed to be an excellent three-point shooter with the ability to put up points in a hurry. There should be minutes and shots available for him this season so scout will be watching closely to see what he can do with them.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield is by far the most accomplished NCAA player of the three SG’s on this list but that only gets you so far when it comes to the NBA draft, where physical tools and perceived potential tend to win out. As a senior without ideal measurements, he’ll be expected to put up huge numbers, contend for the Big 12 Player of the Year and lead OU deep into the Tourney to get his name into draft consideration.
What will give him a chance at the next level is his ability to be a volume three-point shooter off the dribble, as he’s coming off a season where he averaged 17.4 points a game and shot 35.9% from 3 on 7.4 attempts a game. The question for Hield comes on the defensive side of the ball as he’s slightly undersized for a SG (6’4 215 with a 6’8 wingspan). His best case scenario at the next level is to carve out a Gary Neal like career and it’s a lot easier for a coach to play a shooter off the bench if he can hold his own on defense.
Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor: Prince might be one of the most underrated prospects in the country. Like a lot of Baylor players under Scott Drew, Prince has excellent physical tools for his NBA position and has developed into a fairly well-rounded player in college but being hidden in a zone for most of his career and playing in a PG-heavy offense has caused him to slip under the national radar. At 6’7 215 with a 6’11 wingspan, Prince is an excellent athlete with the size and speed to defend three positions at the next level and he has turned himself into a pretty good three-point shooter - 39.3% as a junior on 4.6 attempts a game. And while he’s a senior, he’s still only 20 years old so there’s still plenty of room for him to expand his game. He has got everything NBA teams are looking for when it comes to 3-and-D players so if he gets the chance to play with the ball in his hands more and put up bigger stats he could quickly shoot up draft boards.
Karviar Shepherd, TCU: The signature recruit for Trent Johnson at TCU, Shepherd could be one of the breakout players in the country this season as the most talented player on a rising program that could play its way into post-season contention. At 6’10 225, Shepherd has an excellent combination of size and speed and he has the ability to move his feet on the perimeter and bang in the post against bigger players. And while he has never put up huge numbers in his first two seasons in Fort Worth, he’s a versatile player who can step out and knock down a 20-foot jumper and finish above the rim. He’s the type of big man who might be better at the next level when he can be paired with a high-level guard who can utilize him in the two-man game.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley is the youngest and least heralded of Baylor’s three returning starters in the frontcourt but he might have the most upside in terms of NBA potential. At 6’9 230 with a 7’3 wingspan, Motley is an athletic big man with a refined post game who can step out and knock down a mid range jumper, more than hold his own on the boards and protect the rim. He would be an ideal PF for the way the game was played a generation ago. The question is whether he can adapt to a small-ball game and guard smaller players on the perimeter and on the pick-and-roll or whether he will have to play as an undersized C at the next level.
Georges Niang, Iowa State: There’s no questioning Niang’s college production and the way he plays as a small-ball PF is exactly the way the game is going at the next level. The concern with Niang is physical - will he be able to guard in the NBA and will he be able to take elite 6’7+ athletes off the dribble? The struggles of Iowa State against with a more athletic UAB frontline in the NCAA Tournament didn’t exactly ease concerns about how his game would translate. Imagine Draymond Green without the athleticism.
Prince Ibeh, Texas: No player in the country might benefit more from a coaching change than Ibeh, whose going from a rigid, post-heavy half-court offense under Barnes into a more uptempo full-court attack under Smart which should better utilize his physical gifts. Smart has already compared him to Larry Sanders, whom he coached into being a first-round pick at VCU. At 6’11 250 with a 7’4 wingspan, Ibeh is a freak athlete whose filled out in three seasons at Texas. While he has never gotten a lot of minutes playing behind the glut of big men in Barnes program, his physical tools mean that any amount of production under Smart would rocket him up draft boards quickly.
Rico Gathers, Baylor: A double-double machine coming off a junior season where he averaged 11.6 points and 11.6 rebounds a game on 45.9% shooting, Gathers is the type of undersized big man who might have been written off as a “4.5” a generation ago - not big enough to be a 5, not perimeter-oriented enough to be a 4. At 6’8 280, he’s a physical specimen whose practically immovable around the basket and who would be an ideal LT prospect if he ever switched sports. He will never be an ideal rim protector but his ability to push guys out of the post and rack up huge rebounding numbers could allow him to carve out an NBA career as a Joey Dorsey type. He was arrested for shoplifting over the summer, something he will have to put behind him as NBA teams have little time for marginal prospects who run afoul of the law.