The Big East’s talent level dramatically dropped as teams were left scrambling for new conferences the past couple years, and it’s noticeably affected the league’s perception as a result. However, that’s not to say the new Big East lacks talent – two projected first-round picks on Providence and Marquette should help the league’s outlook if they’re able to fulfill that prophecy come next June’s draft.
But aside from them, the Big East really lacks NBA talent. However, there’s always a chance someone comes out of nowhere to impress. With that being said, who are the top NBA prospects in the Big East as we look forward to the 2015-16 season?
Honorable mention: Paul White SF Georgetown, Josh Hart SG Villanova, Trevon Bluiett SG/SF Xavier
5. Jalen Brunson 6-2 200 PG Villanova Freshman
Brunson is a highly regarded, five-star recruit out of Stevenson High School (IL) who had offers from Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and Michigan State, but he ultimately chose Villanova. Brunson’s a confident, steady lead guard with a running back’s body at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. He’s quick enough to get to where he wants to go, and strong enough to absorb contact and finish at the rim despite his average length (6-3 wingspan).
Brunson was the MVP of the 2015 FIBA U-19 World Championship, showing an advanced ability to run the pick-and-roll while leading Team USA to a gold medal. He’s a very well-rounded prospect, but his size and lack of length could hurt him at the next level as an on-ball defender.
Overall, Brunson has a pretty advanced skill set for a point guard at this stage, so look for him to become a first-round selection in the next 2-3 years after senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono graduates.
4. Billy Garrett Jr. 6-6 205 PG/SG DePaul Junior
Garrett is one of the lesser-known prospects out of lowly DePaul, but he has the size and skill set to become an intriguing combo guard at the next level. At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, he has adequate size to play and defend any of the perimeter positions. He shows unselfishness, handing out 3.9 assists per game last year while playing mostly off the ball for DePaul. He also shows poise and maturity while on the floor, making sound decisions with the ball and utilizing his size to see over the defense, and he can handle the ball and finish in a variety of different ways in the paint.
However, Garrett still needs to increase his efficiency as a scorer, having yet to reach the 40 percent plateau from the field in his first two seasons. He desperately needs to improve his three-point shot from the corners, as he shot zero percent(!) from the right corner and just 13 percent from the left (per shotanalytics.com). He struggles just as much from mid-range and only shot 51 percent at the rim.
In order for Garrett to take the next step, he needs to improve his overall offensive game. If he’s able to do that, expect Garrett to be under first-round consideration in the next couple years.
3. Kellen Dunham 6-6 185 SG Butler Senior
Dunham is one of my biggest sleepers in next year’s draft. At 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, Dunham has adequate measurements for the shooting guard position. He’s a very good shooter with NBA range, shooting 41.4 percent from three last season. He also creates a good amount of mid-range shots off the dribble, where he shot an efficient but improvable 40.1 percent, per hoop-math.com.
However, Dunham didn’t get to the rim all that often, although he shot 56.1 percent on such attempts. His lack of length is an issue on defense, which showed as he notched only 0.6 steals and 2.6 rebounds per game.
The question is how much Dunham can help in other areas besides shooting, as his versatility is lacking in his overall game. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can add much more to his game as a senior, because if he can, look for him to be a second-round pick next season.
2. Henry Ellenson 6-10 245 PF/C Marquette Freshman
Ellenson was the highest-rated freshman to join the Big East conference this season, choosing Marquette to play with his older brother. The younger Ellenson is highly regarded among NBA scouts with an inside-outside game that’s reminiscent of a young Kevin Love. Ellenson has enough size for either frontcourt spot at 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, and he fits the mold of a pace-and-space big man with his ability to hit the perimeter shot. He also has impressive handles and skill level for a man his size.
Ellenson isn’t much of a defender at this stage of development, and that could continue to plague him throughout his professional career. His lack of lateral quickness to stay with athletic 4s could hurt him in this pace-and-space era.
Ellenson is a bit of an unknown right now, and it’s hard to predict how much of an impact he’ll make right away at Marquette. If he averages a double-double out of the gate, he could potentially be a lottery pick in next year’s draft.
1. Kris Dunn 6-4 205 PG Providence Junior
Dunn is far and away the top prospect in the Big East after a very productive sophomore season, which put him squarely on the NBA radar. But Dunn decided to comeback for his junior season despite being projected as a first-round pick in this past draft, and it’ll be interesting to see how much his stock soars after this coming season. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds with nice athleticism and quickness, he has the physical profile of today’s NBA point guard. His 6-foot-8 wingspan allows him to jump passing lanes (2.7 steals per game) and rebound (5.5 per game as a point guard).
Perhaps where Dunn can most help an NBA team is with creating and slash to the basket. He racked up the second most assists per game last year (7.5) in the country and has an excellent handle with the ball. He’s really worked on his jumper, as he can now hit rather efficiently off the dribble – he shot 47 percent from the left elbow and 43 percent from the right elbow (per shotanalytics.com). This bodes well for a smooth transition to the next level, especially if he can continue to extend his range and consistency like he did from his freshman to sophomore season. The youngster shot just two three-pointers as a freshman, missing both. But last year, Dunn attempted 2.3 per game, making a solid 35.1 percent. The improvements have been staggering.
However, a lot of Dunn’s production came because of his high usage on a Providence team that simply lacked creators on offense, allowing him to be rather turnover prone (4.1 per game last year). It’d help him to learn to play off the ball, as his size and length might present some opportunities to play at the 2 at the next level in smaller lineups.
Dunn also needs to work on his pick-and-roll game, as he’s far more comfortable in the open flow and ISO situations. But when you look at him, he’s made so many strides in his overall game so quickly, you wonder how much he’ll grow this year. His freshman season was lost due to an injury, so that concern remains, but another healthy season of improvement in key areas from Dunn could make him a top 10 pick in 2016.