After taking a look at the top five prospects in each of the major conferences, it’s time to look at the nation’s top mid major draftees. each selection on this list has a solid chance of reaching first round status with a solid season, so it’s going to be interesting to track each over the next ten months.
We’ve seen many mid major prospects grow into successful NBA players through the years, and this crop of prospects brings similar talent that could leave a footprint on the NBA. With that being said, who are the top five mid major prospects for the 2016 NBA draft?
5. Ron Baker 6-4 220 PG/SG Wichita St. Senior
The lone senior on this list, Baker is a tenacious combo guard with solid size, strength and length (6-8 wingspan) for either backcourt position. He performed well at this summer’s Pan American Games, where he helped Team USA earn a bronze medal. Baker brings poise, shooting ability and defensive tenacity as a prospect, and if he can bring more playmaking to Wichita State this upcoming season, Baker could push to be a first round pick.
However, while Baker does a nice job on defense at the college level, it remains to be seen if he could have a similar impact against elite athletes at the highest level. Baker’s lack of athleticism while finishing could be problematic as he might not be able to create separation or finish at the rim efficiently in the NBA. His field goal percentage decreased from his sophomore to junior season, from 45.6 percent to 43.3 percent, which doesn’t bode well for his continued improvement as he heads into his senior year. If Baker can improve his efficiency and finishing ability, he could be a late-first round pick. Baker is slated as a solid second rounder right now.
4. E.C. Matthews 6-5 190 PG/SG Rhode Island Junior
E.C. Matthews has been on the NBA radar for a year now, and he struggled to take the leap many thought he’d take as a sophomore last season. Matthews regressed in efficiency across the board with an increased workload, as he increased his scoring at the same time. Scouts are hoping he’s able to improve his efficiency and shows more playmaking ability while displaying a better sense of ball security (3.6 turnovers per game last year, on 2.0 assists per game).
Matthews still has intriguing size for a combo guard, at 6-5 with a 6-7 wingspan, which should allow him to play and defend both backcourt spots thanks to his solid athleticism and quickness. Matthews has a smooth lefty stroke, and with his feet set, he can shoot very well. Matthews does a nice job playing the passing lanes where he has a crafty handle to maneuver to the rim on the break or halfcourt. Matthews shows spurts of greatness off the dribble, but needs to show more consistency before jumping to the NBA. If Matthews takes that next step scouts are looking for, look for his name to be in the conversation as a late-first round pick.
3. Stephen Zimmerman 7-0 235 C UNLV Freshman
Zimmerman is a prototype NBA center, a coordinated 7-footer with touch around the rim and on the perimeter where he can work in both pick and pop and pick and roll scenarios. Zimmerman is also a very good passer from the high post, and his range extends even further out to the three-point line. Zimmerman’s length might be his biggest asset, as his 7-3 wingspan provides a presence near the rim on defense.
Zimmerman still needs to add 15-20 pounds to be able to handle the rigors of the NBA in the paint. Zimmerman is still growing into his size, and oftentimes he is too slouched over defensively which doesn’t allow him to stay with perimeter players while moving laterally. He’s still pretty inconsistent at this stage, and will need to show more consistency to reach mid first round status.
Overall, Zimmerman is a rare combination of mobility, shooting ability and defense as a 7-footer. His ability to stretch the floor might not be as much an asset in college thanks to his size and length near the rim, but down the line it could cause major mismatches in the NBA. Look for Zimmerman to be picked between 10-20 in the next draft if he’s able to consistently dominate as a shooter and shot blocker next season.
2. Domantas Sabonis 6-10 240 PF Gonzaga Sophomore
Sabonis might be the most familiar name on this list while being the son of legendary, 7-foot-3 Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis. Sabonis is a player in his own right, a skilled 6-10 big man who plays with grit and aggressiveness near the rim with the ability to finish smoothly with either hand. Sabonis played a big role on a stacked frontline for Gonzaga as a freshman and looks to continue to increase his production with a bigger role as a sophomore. Sabonis is a very good rebounder, thanks to his ability to box out and strength to outmuscle other players around the basket.
However, Sabonis could struggle with more length at the highest level, as he only has a 6-10.5 wingspan. This hurts his ability to make an impact on the defensive side of the floor mostly, and could hurt him as a rebounder, too. But Sabonis has been playing against grown men for years now, including before his year at Gonzaga. It’s not out of the question that he can get by on his grit at the highest level, but he’ll need to work on a little mid-range jumper to help keep the defense honest and spread the floor. Expect Sabonis to be a mid-first round pick in the 2016 draft.
1. Malik Pope 6-10 210 SF/PF San Diego St. Sophomore
Pope might not be ranked highest on mock draft boards right now, but could easily be the highest selected after a successful sophomore campaign. Pope is a fluid 6-10 forward with the handle and shooting ability to play full-time on the perimeter at the highest level. He has the versatility and shooting ability to play three positions, and struggled to impact the game as much as he could have as a freshman after coming off consecutive broken legs during his high school career.
Simply put, Pope’s talent level is through the roof, as he could have been a first round pick last year after only averaging 5.1 points per game his first season at San Diego State. Despite only playing 14.8 minutes per game, Pope shot the ball rather efficient at 45.5 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from three. He also has a fluid handle on the perimeter where he could stand to improve as a slasher and shooter off the dribble during his sophomore season. If he’s able to put it all together and lead a San Diego State team as a sophomore, don’t be surprised if you hear Pope’s name being rumored as a top-10 pick in 2016.
Honorable mention: Sidy Ndir PG New Mexico, Kyle Wiltjer PF Gonzaga, Winston Shepard SF San Diego St., DeAndre Bembry SF St. Joseph’s, James Webb III SF/PF Junior, Joel Bolomboy PF Weber St.