On the Fence: One-and-Done Prospects With Unclear Plans
Should they stay in college or declare for the draft? A few prospects are tough to figure out in the closing weeks of the season
Do you feel that renewed warmth in the air? Do you feel that growing happiness in the afternoons? Do you sense the optimism that comes with the morning light lately? You aren’t crazy. That’s March, right around the corner!
With March comes March Madness and, before we know it, the college basketball season will be over. We only have a few chances left to see the best NBA prospects stake their claim in the draft class. Earlier this week, we wrote about those players at the top and what they are aiming to prove down the stretch.
But what about those players whose immediate futures are more uncertain? There are plenty of freshmen in the country with the option of declaring for the draft with a very real chance to get drafted. But many of them could either benefit from an extra year in college or aren’t secure enough as first-round prospects to make the plunge and declare.
At the bottom of this post, you’ll see a full listing of the players who we believe are locks to declare (9 freshmen) or should decide to declare this year (7 freshmen). That group of 16 includes the guys who we believe are the first-round prospects of the year. Back in January, we remarked that over the last five years, there’s been anywhere from 14 to 21 one-and-done college players drafted, a number that could be on the higher end this year with a deep freshman class and very few upperclassmen emerging as draft stalwarts.
Last year was a record year, where nine freshmen were drafted in the second round. Perhaps the changing NIL legislation encourages upperclassmen to stay and opens up opportunities for freshmen to jump into the draft. It’s possible that teams are valuing youth more and encouraging guys to declare because they can get second-rounders valuable G-League reps. Maybe last year was an aberration. It’s far too early to know just how many slots would be considered available for freshmen, but with 16 guys we’d already consider as strong one-and-done candidates, there isn’t room for everyone else on the fence to declare.
So what do those guys on the fence have to prove or focus on in order to become a true one-and-done prospect? We’ll dive into eight who are firmly on that bubble: Amari Bailey, Adem Bona, Noah Clowney, Judah Mintz, Dillon Mitchell, Julian Phillips, Tyrese Proctor, and Kel’El Ware.
Judah Mintz - PG, Syracuse
Those who have been reading my work dating back to the summer know my love for Judah Mintz’s game. He is so unique as a ball handler, playing at an unorthodox pace and having a tight command of the ball. He’s an exceptional passer, a really polished finisher inside, and has a burgeoning mid-range game. Mintz always seems to make plays happen and has a real energy that he brings.
The issue with Mintz is that he’s 12-51 (23.5%) from 3-point range on the year and isn’t great off-ball. He doesn’t have the typical athletic tools that teams look for in point guards. Mintz has some size at 6’3” and more strength than his frame suggests. He just isn’t overly physically imposing and he plays a relatively grounded style on offense. But he’s SO damn creative and shifty, and he’s got great balance as a passer and scorer.
The Orange aren’t likely to be an NCAA Tournament team, barring an improbable run through the ACC Tourney (hey, they’ve done it before). Mintz is an acquired taste, and the lack of a jumper is real. But the kid brings literally everything else to the table and is a fantastic person on top of that. We’re pretty in on Judah, though that doesn’t count for much when he’s evaluating whether to declare.
Julian Phillips - W, Tennessee
Similarly to Mintz, Phillips doesn’t have a refined 3-point jumper. As a 6’7” wing with very little self-creation skills, Phillips’ offense at the next level will be largely contingent on the shot coming around. But what Julian has proven this year with the Volunteers is that he’s a dynamic defender.
He hasn’t hit a 3-pointer since January 21st, going 0-4 in his last six games. His offensive impact is severely limited. Phillips might be such a good defender that it doesn’t matter. Every metric suggests he’s one of the most impactful guys in the country, even as a freshman. He’s long and athletic, moves well in space, is smart off-ball, and protects the rim at a high level for a wing.
Those tools are really intriguing. NBA teams will have to decide if Phillips’ mechanics are workable or if there’s belief they can rework the shot. If so, he’d be a decent one-and-done to take in the late first or early second. Phillips with a reliable 3-point jump shot is a clear top-20 guy in this class.
Tyrese Proctor - PG, Duke
A member of a unique freshman group at Duke, Proctor has a game that is much better suited for the pros than for college. He’s a big 6’5” point guard with great court vision and polish; spacing and great PNR partners available in the NBA would enrich his offensive arsenal greatly. He’s shown some sturdy moments on defense, too.
We just don’t know how Proctor scores in the half-court. His shot is wildly inconsistent, he has troubling footwork on the interior as a finisher, and his in-between game hasn’t been highlighted with the Blue Devils (only 25% on dribble jumpers).
We want to buy into the feel and size combo. When we’ve seen Proctor at stops prior to Duke, we’ve been really impressed and seen him as a real NBA prospect. Another year in college might be necessary to vault him into first-round potential. He’s really young for the class, which could bode well for a return to Duke and a top-20 goal for next year. Or he could be the prime second-round selection as an incredibly young, investable point guard in the mid-30s. Proctor really is on the fence.
Noah Clowney - F, Alabama
After a somewhat slow beginning of his freshman campaign, Clowney started to make a splash in mid-December as a potential one-and-done. Over an eleven-game stretch from December 3rd to January 21st, Clowney was producing at a high level: 11.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 53% shooting from the field and 35% from 3 on 3.6 attempts. His 16 point, 11 board performance against Houston put him on the map, and going 3-4 from deep against Arkansas was nice icing on the cake for those who saw him as a potential stretch big.
Now in late February, Clowney has been cold over his last eleven games: 42.2% shooting and only 20% from 3 on the same number of attempts. The Tide keep winning, but an 0-20 streak from deep in a five-game sample has really dampened our view of Clowney.
Central to any discussion about the prospect is an evaluation of whether he’s more of a stretch-5 or an oversized 4-man. To us, the burden is on Clowney to prove he can be a perimeter player through the consistency of his shooting and ability to attack the rim as a driver. He’s only 28.6% on catch-and-shoot jumpers this year, 0-2 on dribble jumpers, and has taken just 5 attempts at the rim after two or more dribbles. Another year to sift through his positional fit and to see his perimeter game blossom is something we’d suggest at this point.