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One-and-Done Mania: Which Freshman are Truly on Draft Radars?
An update on the freshman class as a whole and a look at why this year could shatter records for the number of one-and-dones drafted
In a world where there are unlimited draft selections and opportunities in the NBA are easy, the entire notion of a ‘pre-draft’ prospect makes a great deal of sense. Why wouldn’t an NBA team want to get in a year early at a discounted price, take over a prospect’s development to tailor it to their needs, and reap the benefits over the long-term?
Unfortunately, the world we live in isn’t quite that simple. As a result, the frequent online conversation pushing freshmen to declare for the draft is a little premature and sometimes irresponsible.
Allow us to explain. Recent trends indicate that, yes, there are more one-and-done prospects every year, to the point where about one-third of the draft consists of one-and-done prospects. Right around half of the lottery typically consists of these players, and that doesn’t count prospects of the same age who come from non-convention routes like the Ignite, OTE or international paths.
2022: 21 one-and-done (6 lottery, 12 first round, 9 second round)
2021: 18 one-and-done (7 lottery, 14 first round, 4 second round)
2020: 17 one-and-done (5 lottery, 12 first round, 5 second round)
2019: 14 one-and-done (8 lottery, 11 first round, 3 second round)
2018: 18 one-and-done (10 lottery, 14 first round, 4 second round)
The numbers tend to fluctuate and, oftentimes, determine whether a draft class is perceived as strong or weak. The more one-and-done guys go in the first round, the more we tend to view that draft as a great one (see 2018 and 2021). 2023 might be the exception, where we end up with a record-setting number of freshmen drafted without this class ascending into the pantheon of greatness.
What we saw last year was an increase in one-and-dones going in the second round, with nearly double the amount we’d seen in prior years. There are many phenomena that contribute to that number. NIL passing drove more upperclassmen to stay with a pathway to making more guaranteed money in college than as a second round pick, opening up opportunities for freshmen to snatch up draft selections as high-upside swings. Combine that with the extra year of eligibility granted by COVID and this phenomenon could be a one or two-year spike that goes back to normal in 2024.
COVID has also provided interruptions in the consistent development path many prospects walk. As such, several top prospects coming out of high school have posted subpar years in college… and still gotten drafted. Last year, Patrick Baldwin Jr. (28th), Peyton Watson (30th), Caleb Houstan (32nd), and Kendall Brown (48th) all got drafted after severe concerns and struggles their freshman years. In 2021, Ziaire Williams (10th), Jalen Johnson (20th), and Brandon Boston Jr. (51st) all fell into the same category.
The jury is still out on whether this trend truly yields beneficial results for NBA teams. What it might mean, though, is that currently struggling freshmen such as Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively from Duke are bound to declare and get drafted anyway, or an injured guy like Nick Smith from Arkansas.
The combination of all these trends squeezes the high-achieving freshmen who might have started a season outside of the pre-draft radar. We have, at this point, seven freshmen who feel like safe bets to become lottery picks: Smith (Arkansas), Anthony Black (Arkansas), Keyonte George (Baylor), GG Jackson (South Carolina), Brandon Miller (Alabama), Cason Wallace (Kentucky), and Cam Whitmore (Villanova).
Several others are on that trajectory and could be knocking on the door of the lottery without much consternation: Lively and Whitehead from Duke, Gradey Dick (Kansas), Jett Howard (Houston), Jarace Walker (Houston), and Ke’el Ware (Oregon).
If all those players declare for the draft, that puts the total of one-and-done prospects at 13, filled completely of what we’d currently consider first-round players. History would suggest that there’s room for maybe only one more first-rounder and 6-7 second rounders.
For what it’s worth, we believe that 2023 will break that number of overall one-and-dones to get drafted. While that’s driven by the depth of the class in a certain regard, the biggest reason we feel that way is a lack of strong upperclassmen who have separated themselves as draft-worthy prospects. Even if we get upward of 20 freshmen who declare and get drafted, there is still a lot of work to be done to determine who those players will be.
As of the turn of the calendar to the New Year, we have a list of 20 freshmen still worth keeping an eye on as one-and-done potential guys. We’ve ranked them in order of how likely we think it is that they declare:
Brice Sensabaugh, Ohio State
Baba Miller, Florida State
Kyle Filipowski, Duke
Tyrese Proctor, Duke
Dillon Mitchell, Texas
Taylor Hendricks, UCF
Jalen Hood-Schifino, Indiana
Julian Phillips, Tennessee
Terrance Arceneaux, Houston
Judah Mintz, Syracuse
Donovan Clingain, Connecticut
Noah Clowney, Alabama
JJ Starling, Notre Dame
Adem Bona, UCLA
Amari Bailey, UCLA
Tre White, USC
Jordan Walsh, Arkansas
Mike Sharavjamts, Dayton
Mark Mitchell, Duke
Malik Reneau, Indiana
It bears repeating: history would suggest that a maximum of eight of these guys will end up declaring for the 2023 NBA Draft and getting drafted. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, so sifting through that list is somewhat futile before we get deeper into conference play and cross the threshold into February.
There’s a growing notion in the draft community online about the merits of ‘pre-drafting’ a player. In essence, it’s the idea of taking a player one year when it seems fairly projectable to believe that, if they were to go back to school and keep improving, they’d get taken much higher the next year. While it’s an inexact science, we’ve the concept tested from both ends in very small samples. Josh Primo was taken 12th back in 2021 as a really young freshman; it was seen as a bit of a surprise, but many in the draft community thought Primo would be a top-eight pick in 2022, so buying into Primo a year early made sense. On the flip side, Jaden Ivey of Purdue faced the same discussions the same year and decided to return to school. Instead of going in the middle-to-late 1st round in 2021, he went fifth in 2022 and is now a future star for the Detroit Pistons.
While each prospect has a different path and should make their own decisions on whether to declare or not, it’s worth noting how rare and specific this type of concept must be applied by an NBA team. The prospect in question has to have a major ceiling with star power that is already notable; it’s too risky to be done for another role player or non-self-creator.
Contract status also matters a ton. First-round picks receive two guaranteed years in the NBA, and almost all of them get to the four-year mark because teams understand their development requires a multiple-year investment. Second-rounders aren’t gifted the same amount of patience or security from an NBA team because they’re instantly playing for their next contract and often bouncing down to the G-League.
Based on his play to start the season, Brice Sensabaugh is a legitimate one-and-done. His scoring upside is very clear, and he’s been as consistent as any freshman in the nation. We’re seeing growth from him as a passer and defender over the last few games, and if it continues, he’ll be closer to being a lottery pick than in danger of returning to Ohio State for another year.
Guys like Noah Clowney and Taylor Hendricks have shown a great deal of upside. Hendricks is a terrific athlete in several ways, has the ideal size to play the 4, finishes near the rim with burst, defends, and has legitimate shooting upside. He’s not a primary creator, though, so lottery upside doesn’t feel likely. The same can be said for Clowney, who might play more like a big on the defensive end than Hendricks.
Several prospects have one clear wart to work through, likely pushing their decision late into the Spring to see how progress is made and what feedback they get from agents and teams. Judah Mintz, Tyrese Proctor, and Jalen Hood-Schifino are lead guards with a lack of a 3-point jump shot. Dillon Mitchell, Jordan Walsh, and Julian Phillips are wings with the same challenges.
The ultimate wild card is Baba Miller, the Florida State athlete who hasn’t gotten to play yet this year thanks to an NCAA suspension. Baba is admittedly raw but brimming with unreal upside on both ends of the floor. He’s 6’11”, can handle and shoot, moves like a guard, and fits the mold of several new-age players like Aleksej Pokusevski or Bol Bol. With that upside, marginal production at Florida State will turn him into a very legitimate first-round pick. He is one of the few freshmen with a legitimate pre-draft claim.
There is one last factor into the draft declaration process that certainly factors into a prospect’s decision. It’s what we refer to as the crunch from below, and it’s the phenomenon where highly-touted incoming freshmen might overshadow or take away from the ability to grow into a leading role as a sophomore. If a talented freshman decides he needs more time to turn pro, his second collegiate season has to put him in great position to be a first-round pick, otherwise, he’s more likely to be a four-year college player. There’s nothing wrong with that path, but if the goal is to get drafted as high as possible, then analyzing the landscape for future recruits and potential top prospects is important. It’s an issue that only tends to impact prospects at blueblood universities, but we’ve seen how difficult it can be for sophomores at places like Kentucky and Duke to punch their way into the first round when a talented new crop of freshmen comes in every year.
The point is, particularly in online discourse, there’s a lack of understanding of how few freshmen find their way into the NBA right away. While we could make the case for about 30 of them as 2023 draft prospects, not all of them can get drafted, so we have to be careful with utilizing our platforms to encourage these youngsters to declare. Contract constraints in the NBA, trends for how many freshmen typically get drafted, and the merits of waiting a year before they declare to increase their draft position all will prevent the amount of one-and-dones from skyrocketing in 2023.