The 2019-20 college basketball season is less than a week away from having its opening tip. While die-hard fans will be there to root for their favorite teams, others are only looming in the shadows to gander at future NBA Draft prospects.
Everyone knows the guys of the utmost importance. Whether it be hyped freshmen or rising upperclassmen, the same five or so players will get the majority of the shine as the weather turns colder.
Nevertheless, these three guys, while not by definition under-the-radar prospects, are players who are likely to get lost in the shuffle early, but have the kind of talent worth monitoring as the season grows longer in the tooth.
Jade McDaniels – Washington Huskies – 6-foot-10 Forward
McDaniels isn’t really a sneaky prospect or anything; though he’ll likely be placed in the shadow of fellow freshman phenom teammate Isaiah Stewart.
Considered a fluid athlete not only relative to his size, McDaniels can shoot well for something his height and developmental stage. His AAU numbers help back up some projections on the youngster, or at least the sort that suggest he’s a production monster.
After 16 games in the NIKE EYBL, he averaged 19.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.4 blocks per outing. While shooting 50 percent from the floor, he shot close to 30 percent from beyond the arc. Again, he’s a 6-foot-10 forward likely capable of playing both the three and four.
Whatever happens with his draft stock will likely be reliant upon his development to prove he can shoot from distance with consistency. It’s honestly a bit of a trope at this point – “if this player can improve his shot, he’s a sure fire thing!” – but so is life when projecting players who have yet to trot about collegiate hardwoods.
He is, right now, capable of hitting it from mid-range with some consistency.
Given the quality of teammates he will have in Washington, coupled with opposing teams likely to focus their efforts on other players, McDaniels will have ample opportunity to highlight his abilities this season.
Outside of that, he’ll need to put on some muscle, which isn’t a huge negative. After all, rare is a teenager with a fully mature body.
Expect both the Huskies and McDaniels to impress to the point East Coasters might even stay awake for some Pac-12 After Dark.
Obi Toppin – Dayton Flyers – 6-foot-9 Forward
If viewing Toppin in a vacuum without context, one would question why he didn’t make the jump to the NBA after last season.
By the time the 2018-19 voyage was over, the big man had counting-stars of 14-6-2. More impressively, he shot 52 percent from beyond the arc – though, there’s a heavily needed caveat to that number, as he attempted less than one shot from distance per game.
Still, that’s the allure of Toppin. A large hybrid-four who might be able to stretch the floor in ways most modern NBA teams need.
The shooting – or, for right now, the idea of it – isn’t wishful thinking, either.
Over the summer at the Nike Skills Academy, Toppin wowed with his stroke, going as far as impressing ESPN NBA Draft guru Jonathan Givony.
“He had an overwhelmingly positive weekend that firmly catapulted him into the conversation as a first-round draft pick,” Givony wrote in a post back in August. “Toppin doesn’t possess elite size, length or strength for a power forward, but he was arguably the best athlete among the big men in attendance. But the biggest revelation of the weekend was just how good a shooter he is.”
For Toppin to improve his draft stock, he not only needs to prove his shooting hype is real, but continue to showcase his willingness to do all the little things, which might end up being the most valuable asset he can bring to an NBA franchise.
Dayton is likely to compete near the top of a competitive Atlantic 10 this season. The more winning the program does, especially when attached to Toppin’s play, the better his draft prospects will end up.
Tyler Bey – Colorado Buffaloes – 6-foot-7 Wing
Freshmen are fun because they are the new, shiny thing. Upperclassmen, however, tend to get picked apart to the point no one finds their basketball abilities attractive anymore.
Bey is the exception to the rule. He’s like wine, as his game is gaining in attraction with age.
The wing showcased an insanely underrated part in the process of scouting NBA prospects last season; Bey developed into an important player in front of our eyes.
In fact, his development into an impact player has the Buffaloes entering the upcoming season with a high set of expectations attached to the program.
Using the most basic numbers, he went from averages of 6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game in the 2017-18 voyage, to 13.6 points, 9.6 boards and 0.6 assists per last season.
Obviously, the assist numbers still aren’t great. Furthermore, he averaged roughly eight more minutes per contest last season. It’s not a huge jump in minutes; although it’s context worth noting.
Bey isn’t a shooter from deep, attempting less than one per night in both of his seasons in Colorado, but that’s not really his game. He’s a bit of a bully-ball player, which is normally a red flag when figuring out if skills translate to the next level. Nonetheless, rebounding is often considered the ability most easily transferable from college to the NBA.
To be clear, Bey isn’t someone expected to be an NBA superstar or even a starter. He’s likely the sort of talent who will attempt to find a role in rotations throughout his career. However, he’s versatile enough defensively, plus physical enough in general, in a way that suggests he can have a lengthy career playing professional basketball.
As it is with everyone else in this post, if he can develop a shot (trope!), as if that’s some easy thing to do, his stock will jump through the roof. There’s no reason to rule out that possibility, though, as he’s already proven he can improve season after season.
Editor’s note: This column originally appeared on Forbes.It’s republished under terms of the publisher-author agreement under the author’s name.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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