As we hit August in the NBA offseason, it’s time to look at potential top college prospects who might enter the NBA Draft in 2016.
In Part 1 of my league-by-league prospect outlook series, I’ll be looking at the Big Ten and its top NBA prospects going into the 2015-16 season.
Honorable mention: Denzel Valentine SG Michigan State, A.J. Hammons C Purdue, Jake Layman SF Maryland, Zak Irvin SG Michigan
5. Troy Williams 6-7 215 SF Indiana Junior
Many different players could’ve gone in this spot, but Troy Williams separates himself as a dynamite athlete and defender capable of being a difference-maker this season with the loss of transfer Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Williams has ideal measurements for either wing position, paired with elite athleticism and quickness. Williams uses his athleticism well as a defender and rebounder, but also shows intriguing ability and unselfishness as a passer (2.0 assists per game last season) despite being used as a 4.
In order for Williams to reach his potential, he must improve upon his ability from beyond the arc (only 12 made threes through two years). Being used as a 4 at Indiana will make his transition more difficult in the NBA; does he have the ball skills to play on the perimeter? Overall, Williams is a prospect who could be an athletic, lockdown-type swingman down the line. His versatility should give him a look as a late first or early second-round pick in the 2016 draft.
4. Diamond Stone 6-10 250 C Maryland Freshman
Stone, a five-star recruit in the 2015 class, shockingly spurned in-state Wisconsin to choose Maryland this past spring. Stone is a big body capable of dominating in the low post as a freshman, but also showing the versatility to be a factor with his face-up game. At 6-10 and 250 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan, Stone has good size down low and the skill to finish with either hand. Stone has the footwork to get where he wants in the paint, where he uses a soft touch to finish around the rim.
Stone has improved his body over the course of his high school career, but still has a ways to go when it comes to his conditioning while running the floor. His motor runs on and off, which could be problematic if he hopes to be a go-to option at the next level. Overall, Stone might not be the No. 1 option on a loaded Maryland team, but expect him to show enough to warrant a first-round pick in next year’s draft.
3. Nigel Hayes 6-8 230 SF/PF Wisconsin Junior
Hayes’s game has evolved over the course of his time in Madison, from sixth man as a freshman to sophomore standout and now taking the reins of the Wisconsin offense as a junior. The versatile forward can play on the perimeter and in the paint, as his game has grown throughout his time in college. Hayes shot 39.6 percent from three as a sophomore after not making a single shot from that distance as a freshman. Hayes has nice size and length for a combo forward, as he measured at 6-7.5 with a 7-2 wingspan in 2011. Hayes also has intriguing handles and physique for a player his size, oftentimes looking more and more comfortable as a perimeter player throughout his sophomore season.
Hayes still is a little caught in between positions, lacking the ball skills of a small forward and the size to bang down low with NBA power forwards. He’s also somewhat limited as an athlete, lacking NBA athleticism to create separation off the bounce. Hayes’s NBA potential is a bit of a question mark because of his limited role last year, but with the departures of forward Sam Dekker and big man Frank Kaminsky, Hayes will have an opportunity to prove his worth as a first-round pick.
2. Melo Trimble 6-3 190 PG Maryland Sophomore
Trimble was a standout as a freshman and surprisingly returned for his sophomore campaign. This summer, Trimble competed in the Pan American Games, earning a bronze medal while seeing plenty of time at backup point guard. Trimble has the quickness to get in the lane and the shooting ability (41.2 percent from three) to be an impact player at the NBA level. At 6-3, Trimble has enough size and length to be a decent defender with more energy and consistency on that end.
However, Trimble is far from complete as a point-guard prospect. He needs to develop into a more true point guard instead of having such a focus on scoring. Trimble also must gain more consistency and endurance during the course of the season, as he hit the patented freshman wall late last season. Trimble could stand to get stronger, which would help improve all facets of his game, including defense, athleticism and finishing at the basket.
Trimble’s shooting, slashing ability and youth bring promise to his potential on the NBA level. With a more consistent and productive sophomore season, look for Trimble to be in lottery discussions when the 2016 draft comes around.
1. Caris LeVert 6-7 210 SG Michigan Senior
LeVert would’ve been draftable in the 2014 draft after a surprising sophomore season, and he could’ve been a first-rounder in 2015 if he hadn’t hurt his foot and missed the majority of last season. On the court, LeVert looks like an NBA shooting guard at 6-7 with what looks to be a near 7-foot wingspan. His versatility allows him to play 1-3 at the college level and potentially in the NBA down the line. LeVert has the ability to both slash and shoot from the perimeter, which only adds to his intrigue as an NBA prospect.
LeVert does have some glaring weaknesses, however. His lack of strength hurts his ability to finish at the rim and provide resistance at only 210 pounds. LeVert needs to improve his in-between game, as he only shot 31.1 percent on two-point jump shots as a junior, per hoop-math.com.
Overall, LeVert might be the top senior draft prospect in the nation when you consider his potential and youth for his age group (turns 21 on Aug. 25). His versatility, shooting, slashing and unselfishness are attractive in the position-less NBA era, and with a healthy senior season, that might make LeVert worthy of a top 10 pick.