One of the themes of the 2024 NBA Draft is that nobody stands out as a clear No. 1 prospect. In fact, the top of this draft is the worst there’s been in a while. The uncertainty surrounding the first overall pick rivals the 2013 NBA Draft when the Cleveland Cavaliers made Anthony Bennett the first player selected. That’s not something that excites any team as struggling franchises are always hoping to hit big on draft night. However, even though nobody stands out as the top player in the class, there will likely be a few new stars to emerge from this group. One of the players with a real shot is USC guard Isaiah Collier.
This season, Collier is averaging 15.4 points and 4.1 assists per game on 50.6% shooting from the floor. Collier is also going to the free throw line for 5.4 attempts per game. Interestingly enough, only two other players in Sports Reference’s database have averaged at least 15.0 points, 4.0 assists and 5.0 free throws per game, while also shooting at least 50.0 percent from the floor, in their freshmen seasons. Those players were Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, two former No. 1 picks. That said, there are clearly some special things about Collier, so let’s get into it.
When talking about Collier, it’s hard not to start with his size. Collier is listed at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, and he’s built like an absolute truck. The 19-year-old has wide shoulders and some serious upper body muscle, and that helps him to bounce off defenders and finish through contact like few other guards. Collier’s size is also a huge part of the reason he lives at the free throw line. Not only does he average 5.4 free throws per game, but he also averages 10.5 attempts per 100 possessions. All of that will make NBA teams fear Collier late in games. He’s going to be an elite driver of the basketball at the next level, where his quick first step and tight handle will be electric with the extra spacing the pro game provides.
Collier has also flashed some real ability to run an offense this season. The guard’s assist numbers don’t jump off the page, but his teammates haven’t exactly helped him. But Collier generally does a good job of getting his teammates involved, and he sees the floor really well for a score-first point guard. That is going to make him a lot tougher to guard in the NBA, as there’s a necessary unpredictability to his game. Collier needs to be more than just a good driver in order to be the best version of himself, and he has been that early in his first college season.
Collier just has some rare traits for a lead guard, as it’s not often that you find them with his size and physicality. He’s also a plus-level athlete, even if he isn’t the most explosive leaper in the world. These tools give Collier a nice combination of high upside and high floor. Every team in the league can use a guard that is a walking paint touch with the ability to cause defenses to collapse. The only issue is that Collier has quite a few flaws, and they will need to be corrected in order for the guard to reach his potential.
The biggest concern with Collier is the shooting. The guard doesn’t have an ugly looking shot, and nothing seems mechanically off. However, he’s shooting only 31.3% from three this season, and he’s only hitting 66.3% of his free throws. The latter is particularly concerning, with free throw shooting being a good indicator of long-term shooting success. If Collier doesn’t drastically improve from behind the arc, teams are going to go under screens and make him a lot easier to guard. So, he needs to work hard on this in order to give himself an All-Star future. The one thing that does bode well for him is that he is confident. Collier is willing to take jumpers and clearly believes in the work he’s doing. So, perhaps this is just a short-term issue.
Collier has also had some trouble with turnovers this season. It was a glaring issue early in the year, but he was able to correct them a bit as he got more comfortable in Andy Enfield’s offense. But Collier is still a threat to cough the ball up three or more times on any given night — he’s averaging 3.6 per game. That’s going to make it hard for NBA coaches to trust him to run the show. He simply needs to recognize when a play isn’t there to be made. Sometimes the simple approach is the right approach.
Finally, Collier is also a disappointing prospect when it comes to the defensive end of the floor. A player with his physical tools should be a good on-ball defender, at the very least. But it feels like opposing guards blow by him with ease. And if that’s a problem in college, it’s going to look really bad in the NBA. Almost every guard he’ll face will be quicker at the next level, and he’ll be defending in more space. So, Collier really needs to work on opening his hips a little, and he needs to have more attention to detail. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a player that his NBA coach will be trying to hide.
Overall, Collier isn’t far away from being a special offensive player. If he starts hitting the jumper and cutting down on turnovers, he’ll be an awesome pro — even if he ends up being a below-average defender. But, as far as being the top overall prospect in college goes, Collier has more question marks than most of the ones we’ve seen over the last decade or so. So, his NBA team will have a lot of work to do in order to get him to max out his potential. But the same can be said for a lot of the other prospects in this cycle.