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NBA Draft: An Early Look At The Pac-12

Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire

Now that the college basketball season is a few weeks old, it’s time to take a quick look at the Pac-12 and its NBA draft prospects within the conference. The Pac-12 looks much-improved from a year ago, boosted with young talent along with returnees hoping to show scouts how much they’ve grown after another year in college. Which prospects have impressed early on?

Seasoned Veterans

Utah center Jakob Poeltl has been the most dominant player in the conference early on, showing the ability to score in the post like seasoned NBA veteran at just 20 years old. Through six games, Poeltl has averaged 20.5 points (more than double last years 9.1 ppg) and 10.0 rebounds per game.

His size and length allow him to block 2.3 shots per contest, and it’s what gives him plenty of intrigue for the next level. Poeltl was already on the first round radar after a solid freshman campaign, but the sophomore has stepped up his game and, if he keeps this up, could solidify himself in the top ten picks in the 2016 draft.

California combo guard Tyrone Wallace is taking the senior leap many thought he would, and is currently third in the Pac-12 in scoring at 18.7 per game through six games. Wallace has been doing it all for California, averaging 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists on 52.6 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three-point range.

Wallace’s three-point shooting has been a pleasant surprise thus far, and if he can keep it up, his stock should rise thanks to the potential versatility he brings in the NBA. At 6-6 with a 6-9.5 wingspan, He has excellent size for a lead guard and decent size for a shooting guard at the next level. It’ll be interesting to watch him this year and see what he can do with a talented (but inexperienced) California squad.

Oregon State combo guard Gary Payton II is making a statement to NBA scouts with his play early on in the non-conference slate, averaging 18.6 per game while being stout on the defensive end (3.6 steals per game). Payton is also an excellent rebounder (8.0 per game) and facilitator (4.8 apg), both improved from last year, but he still needs to work on limiting turnovers as he’s tossed away 3.0 per game.

Payton will need to keep working on running an offense if he plans to play point guard full time at the NBA level. Payton’s 6-6.5 wingspan might allow him to guard some shooting guards, and it seems like his shot is very improved from a year ago (55.1 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three) so that could help his versatility at the highest level too.

Oregon sophomore combo forward Chris Boucher caught my eye last week, and he looks like a potential first round pick with a couple more years of seasoning at the college level. Boucher plays center for the Ducks, but his position at the next level is likely a stretch-four. Boucher is a great athlete at 6-10 and 200 pounds and shows speed and fluidity in the open court.

Boucher had a breakout game against Arkansas State last Wednesday, putting up 17 points, nine rebounds and nine(!) blocks. Boucher put up another 14 points and five blocks last night. He’s now averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game. Not only that, he shoots the ball well from distance at 31.3 percent, and if he can continue growing into his body and extend his range, the skies the limit for Boucher.

Talented Freshman

Cal swingman Jaylen Brown has lived up to the hype early on, scoring a season-high 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting last Friday in a loss against Richmond. Brown still needs to improve his outside shot, especially in the pace-and-space NBA we live in today, but the good news is Brown has brought California a legit scoring option on the wing. Brown is playing efficiently despite the lack of an outside shot at 47.9 percent from the field.

Brown has also been a force on the glass, averaging 5.8 rebounds per game in the early going. Hopefully, Brown can gain some more consistency from three-point range (19.0 percent) and play more aggressively on the defensive end (just 0.5 steals per game) as the season continues. If he’s able to improve those areas, Brown will likely be a top five pick this year.

The third Golden Bear on this list is big man Ivan Rabb, who has played as advertised early on, putting up 13.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for California. Brown shows nice anticipation using his length for blocking shots and also knowing when to pass out of the post. The lefty has a soft touch around the rim and a quick second leap for whenever he misses.

Rabb brings a lot to the table as a finisher and rim protector but needs to show improvement from mid-range, as he’s shot just 35.3 percent from that distance (per hoop-math.com). If Rabb can improve his range throughout the season, expect him to be somewhere in the lottery when the 2016 draft comes around.

The last freshman who’s caught my eye from the Pac-12 this preseason is Washington combo guard Dejounte Murray. Washington is one of the youngest teams in the nation, and Murray proved to be arguably the most talented freshman on the Huskies. At 6-5 with a 6-9.5 wingspan, Murray has excellent size for either guard spot. He’s quick, athletic and has shown the ability to make plays off the bounce for others and himself.

Murray isn’t the most efficient player right now shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 28.0 percent from three, but expect those numbers to improve over time. Murray could be a first round pick as soon as next year with his combination of youth, athleticism and all-around game on offense. Murray still needs to slow down the game and improve his jump shot before he makes the leap to the NBA.

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