In the first parts of my league-by-league prospect outlook series, I took a look at the top prospects in the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Big 12. Today, it’s time to look at the Pac-12, which is dominated by one team with a trio of possible first-round picks in the 2016 draft.
California is the most talented team in the conference. A 7-footer anchoring Utah’s front line looks to be a lottery pick. Oregon State has a familiar name leading the team at point guard. So who are the top NBA prospects in the Pac-12?
Honorable mention: Ray Smith SF Arizona, Jabari Bird SG California, Dillon Brooks SG/SF Oregon, Isaac Hamilton SG UCLA
5. Tyrone Wallace 6-5 205 PG/SG UCLA Senior
Wallace had a breakout season as a junior last year, as he took on more responsibility as a playmaker and distributor. At 6-5 and 205 pounds, Wallace has the size to play either guard spot at the NBA level, with good athleticism and quickness to boot.
Wallace is a solid defender as well, playing in the passing lanes (1.3 steals per game the last two seasons) and being able to stay in front of opponents thanks to his lateral quickness. Wallace shows versatility in his game, successfully converting to point guard after playing shooting guard his first two seasons.
However, Wallace still struggles with his jump shot, shooting around 32 percent from long range the past two seasons despite showing solid form. Wallace will need to keep working on his point-guard skills, as it’s most likely to be his position at the next level as he currently lacks the jump shot to play shooting guard.
Overall, Wallace’s versatility and defensive ability give him intrigue at the next level. If he can gain a bit more consistency as a three-point shooter while extending the range for the NBA level, his value will only skyrocket. Look for Wallace to lead a versatile and talented Cal team next season and near first-round draft status come next spring.
4. Gary Payton II 6-3 185 PG/SG Oregon State Senior
Payton’s game is predicated on defense – just like his Dad’s game was. Payton has the ability to guard any perimeter position thanks to his length (6-7 wingspan) and athleticism as he accumulated over three steals, one block and seven rebounds per game as a 6-foot-3 guard.
Payton also did a nice job filling up the stat sheet on offense, averaging over 13 points and three assists while converting 48.5 percent of his baskets. He’s an elite athlete, capable of throwing down big-time dunks and getting enough hang time to help him finish at the rim.
But Payton really struggles as a shooter, shooting below 30 percent from three and only 66.3 percent from the free throw line. His age could really limit his potential for growth, as he turns 23 next December. As you could imagine, his in-between game needs work – though he did shoot a surprising 54 percent(!) on left elbow jump shots, per shotanalytics.com.
Overall, Payton still needs to show improvement as an offensive player to fully reach his potential. His defense alone should warrant a selection in the second round at least, but if he’s able to round out his offensive game, Payton could be a first-round pick.
3. Jakob Poeltl 7-1 240 C Utah Sophomore
Poeltl is the hardest player to project on this list. He showed a lot of potential as a freshman at Utah, but still has a ways to go as a prospect. With that being said, the intrigue starts with his size at 7-1 and 240 pounds, paired with a frame capable of easily putting on more weight without losing mobility.
Poeltl combines this size with excellent hands and a soft touch with either hand. He knows how to use his body to create angles at the rim, and uses his good feet to move well on defense. One of his biggest strengths is the effort he gives on every single possession, which allows him to beat most big men down the floor and on offensive rebounds.
Poeltl was inconsistent during his freshman year, showing plenty of flashes that make one believe he could be a very good player, but that’s the risk with raw big men. How much he improves this season will give a better idea of his draft stock, as he only played 23.3 minutes per game in an up-and-down season.
Poeltl only has average length for a center with a 7-1 wingspan, which could be an issue – although he did block 1.9 shots per game last season in those limited minutes. Poeltl needs to continue to add weight to his frame, and it’s going to be interesting to see Poeltl after a summer of offseason development, as his draft stock could be one of the biggest movers this 2015-16 season.
2. Ivan Rabb 6-10 220 PF California Freshman
Rabb has prototypical size for the power-forward position at 6-10 with a 7-1 wingspan, with athleticism and quickness to help as a shot-blocker and defender. He does a nice job getting deep post position despite a slighter-than-average frame.
Rabb is mobile while running the floor and does a nice job finding open teammates in the half court. His versatility defensively to guard either frontcourt spot will become valuable down the line.
Rabb still has a ways to go in terms of developing his strength for the next level, as he could stand to add an additional 15-20 pounds to help resist stronger opponents. He also struggles as a jump shooter and must continue to work on that part of his game to become more valuable in the pick-and-pop game.
Rabb struggles a bit when stepping out on the perimeter to defend, lacking the lateral quickness to stay with perimeter players. He lacks any post moves besides a left-handed baby hook, so he needs to continue to work on his right hand. While still somewhat raw as a basketball player, he could be a top 10 pick if he works on his game and develops.
1. Jaylen Brown 6-7 SG/SF California Freshman
Brown is projected as the best swingman in next year’s draft, with his deadly combination of athleticism and skill. In my profile of Brown, you could see just how impressive he was to opposing high school coaches. He has an intimidating physical presence at 6-7 and 220 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan – ideal for an NBA wing.
Brown boasts a variety of step-backs, as well as a good enough handle to get where he wants and finish at the rim with authority or solid body control. He has all the tools to become a two-way player, capable of locking down even the best offensive players in the NBA. Brown is unselfish, too, just adding to the versatility he brings to a team.
Brown, most importantly, still needs to gain consistency from the perimeter as he moves to the college level. Sometimes his energy level lacks and he doesn’t play up to his ability, which will need to change as he starts playing at California. He also can force things at times and needs to let the game come to him.
Overall, Brown is joining a talented Cal team with other players looking to impress NBA scouts, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in. The youngster should instantly become a threat as a slasher and in transition, but if he shows an ability to create shots for himself and others, Cal could be one of the best teams in the nation come March. If that’s the case, look for his name to be in the top five come draft time, and perhaps even top three.