With the deadline for declaring for this year’s draft behind us, we now know who will and who won’t be returning to school next season. As is usually the case, the vast majority of players projected to go in the first round ended up declaring. Nevertheless, there are still a number of interesting prospects left in the college game. Even in a draft like 2014, which features a loaded freshman class, there’s still plenty of room in the first round for upperclassmen.
This far out, it’s hard to make any type of comprehensive list of the best players in the 2015 draft. Instead, we’ll be going position by position, taking a look at the best prospects in the college game at each position and how they stack up against each other. This is not a list of the who the best college players are, but of who I think has the most pro potential. These guys are unfinished products - who they are today isn’t necessarily who they will be in November or next April.
We’ll start with the point guard position, which features a familiar dichotomy - the biggest PG’s struggle with their jumpers while the best shooters are undersized. The holy grail are the guys who can do both, but even in the NBA, they tend to be few and far between. The smaller guards probably aren’t going to grow much in their late teens and early 20’s, but the bigger guards can make themselves a bunch of money this summer if they can return with a three-point shot.
1) Delon Wright, Utah - One of the most underrated players in the country. The younger brother of Dorell Wright, Delon burst onto the scene this season, after a lengthy trek through the junior college ranks. At 6’5 180, he isn’t quite as big as his older brother, but he’s every bit as athletic and he has a far more well-rounded game. He was a one-man team at Utah this season, averaging 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1 block a game on 56% shooting.
Wright turns 23 next season, which is a huge red flag for many NBA teams, but his combination of size, athleticism and feel for the game is pretty unique. There’s a lot of Rajon Rondo in his game - his one weakness is his lack of a three-point shot. He’s a reluctant shooter who went 12-54 from beyond the arc last season. If he could consistently make that shot, he would be a lottery pick, but even without it, he will still be a fascinating player to track as a senior.
2) Marcus Paige, UNC - It’s all set up for Paige at UNC. After two slightly down years, the Tar Heels are returning a lot of talent upfront and are bringing in a loaded recruiting class full of wing players. If Paige can be the triggerman for the secondary break offense, they should be right back in national title discussion. And when Roy Williams can put elite talent around a future NBA PG, good things tend to happen. See: Ray Felton in 2004, Ty Lawson in 2009.
At 6’1 170, Paige is undersized for the position at the next level, but he’s a very quick guard with excellent ball-handling ability who can stroke 3’s off the dribble. He averaged 17 points and 4 assists a game on 44% shooting last season, shooting 39% from 3 on 6.5 attempts a game. With a more balanced roster around him next season, he will be asked to be more of a playmaker. It’s almost impossible for a guy his size to start in the NBA and be a shoot-first player.
3) Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s - While Rysheed didn’t get a ton of press as a freshman, his size (6’4 185) and athleticism alone make him a player worth watching. He averaged only 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game on 42% shooting, but he also didn’t get much of a chance to play with the ball in his hands. With Jakarr Sampson declaring for the draft, that should change next season. If he can come back with a three-point shot, he will start flying up draft boards.
4) Andrew Harrison, Kentucky - After one of the most up-and-down freshman seasons in recent memory, the Harrison Twins both opted to return to school, something few would have predicted nine months ago. At 6’5 210, Andrew has great size for the PG position, but his lack of athleticism puts a clear ceiling on how good he can be at the next level. If he can become a better three-point shooter he should have a chance to stick, but stardom probably isn’t in the cards.
5) Ryan Boatright, UConn - Along with Shabazz Napier, Boatright exploded at just the right time last season, carrying UConn all the way to an unlikely national championship. Generously listed at 6’0 170, Boatright is extremely undersized for the NBA game, but he has the speed and quickness to at least get a shot at the next level. As a senior, scouts will be watching to see if he can make the same type of jump Napier made, in terms of becoming a better floor general.
Other names to watch: Isaiah Taylor (Texas), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Shannon Scott (Ohio State), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College)