My recent top 60 Big Board is loaded with the cream-of-the-crop NBA prospects for the 2015-16 season, but that isn’t a be-all, end-all list whatsoever. There will surely be a few prospects who take a big leap into the first round, making draft analysts seem silly for where they were ranked before the season.
That’s what makes the NBA Draft so fun and challenging – the surprising jumps players make in their individual game over the summer is exciting. This list will not include any freshman, as I’m basing such growth on promising college play after last year. With that being said, who are some under-the-radar prospects looking to make a leap for this upcoming season?
5. John Egbunu 6-11 255 C Florida Sophomore
Egbunu just sat out a year to transfer across the state from South Florida to Florida, and he should make an immediate impact for new Florida coach Michael White immediately, giving the Gators some key physical traits they’ve lacked at the center position in recent years. Egbunu has NBA size and athleticism, and he used it well at South Florida, averaging 7.4 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 58.9 percent from the field.
Egbunu has added weight and grown an inch since his high school days, which bodes well for his readiness for Florida, although he still has a ways to go offensively and lacks touch – he shot 54.5 percent on free throws his last season at South Florida. But his physical presence down low (1.3 blocks per game) should translate immediately. If Egbunu has a standout year for the Gators, expect his name to be in the NBA Draft conversation following this season.
4. Johnathon Motley 6-9 230 PF Baylor Sophomore
Motley brings intrigue as a 4 with good athleticism and a shot-blocking threat. At 6-9 and 230 pounds, Motley has requisite size to play power forward at the highest level with underrated length to block 1.4 shots per game as a freshman. He should look to increase his range this upcoming season after only attempting four threes last year (making one), and he can stand to improve his 62.5 percent shooting from the line.
Motley needs to improve his overall efficiency, as he shot just 41.7 percent from the field last year, and he can grow as a passer as well (23 assists to 55 turnovers). But all of these areas should be well-improved after an offseason of growth after a promising freshman campaign where Motley averaged 7.7 points and 4.2 rebounds. With an increased role for Baylor this year, Motley could put himself squarely on the NBA Draft radar – with a possibility of turning into a first-round pick in either of the next two drafts.
3. Aubrey Dawkins 6-6 200 SG/SF Michigan Sophomore
John Beilein has a knack for finding talented under-the-radar recruits and turning them into NBA players, and swingman Aubrey Dawkins is the next in-line at Michigan. The sophomore has NBA size and great athleticism with budding skills that showed themselves toward the end of his freshman year. Dawkins scored double-digits in seven of his last 14 games, shooting 29-of-63 (46.0 percent) in those games.
Dawkins has to show more consistency in his approach on the offensive end and improve on his handle to make more plays off the dribble to realize his immense potential. The growth Dawkins and fellow swingman Zak Irvin showed after the Caris LeVert injury midseason was arguably the biggest development of Michigan’s season. With another step from Dawkins, expect him to be squarely on the draft radar.
2. Chinanu Onuaku 6-10 245 C Louisville Sophomore
Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku probably has the highest physical ceiling on this list. At 6-10, 245 pounds with a 7-2.5 wingspan and 9-1 standing reach, Onuaku has the size to play center at the next level. He has excellent athleticism and was a defensive difference-maker, averaging 1.2 blocks and 0.7 steals last season. The big man averaged only 3.0 points and 4.6 rebounds his freshman year, but he showed excellent growth during the FIBA U-19 World Championships in July.
However, Onuaku is still incredibly raw on the offensive end and lacks touch around the basket, often finishing on offensive rebounds and dunks as his only source of offense. He shot only 46.7 percent from the free throw line as well. Even so, he has the tools to wreak havoc defensively, and while Onuaku should see a sophomore jump this year, a big junior year in 2016-17 could send him off to the NBA.
1. Grayson Allen 6-5 205 SG Duke Sophomore
Arguably the biggest omission from my Big Board, Grayson Allen could be a first-rounder after a strong sophomore campaign – beginning right where he left off last April as Duke’s darling late last season. Allen made numerous plays in both the national semifinal against Michigan State and national title game against Wisconsin – catching the attention of NBA scouts. He has a pure jump shot and budding all-around offensive game at shooting guard paired with elite athleticism at 6-5 with a 6-7 wingspan. The youngster has an opportunity to expand his game with a new set of five-star recruits at Duke this year.
But Allen was really inconsistent throughout the regular season, and he’ll have plenty of competition for minutes at the wing for playing time. He needs to shoot threes at a higher clip (shot 34.6 percent last year), and become a better defender and playmaker to become an NBA prospect. He has the talent to take these steps, and playing at Duke he’ll have many opportunities to show scouts what he’s capable of this upcoming season. If Allen improves defensively and rounds out his overall game, look for him to be a fringe first-round pick in 2016.