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NBA Draft: Ranking California’s Top NBA Prospects

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

After taking a look at the top prospects among the top ten teams in the USA Today Preseason Poll, it’s time to look at some of the most talented teams that remain outside. One of the them is No. 14 California, who could have as many as three draftees in the 2016 draft, and a few other prospects who could see their future draft stock rise with a successful season this year.

California has plenty of size, length and athleticism throughout the entire roster, allowing new head coach Cuonzo Martin plenty of flexibility to play a variety of different styles of basketball. It should be an exciting season for the Golden Bears as they attempt to not only make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013 but make an extended run deeper into March with a team very capable of it.

5. Jordan Mathews 6-4 200 SG Junior

Mathews doesn’t have the physical attributes of fellow swingman Jabari Bird, but could become a valuable NBA contributor down the line if he continues his promising start for California. He is a dead-eye shooter first and foremost, shooting a lethal 43.9 percent from distance on 4.8 attempts per game as a sophomore. Mathews is a gunner, and could play that role as a scorer off the bench down the line in the NBA. His improvement rate has been steady during his time at California, and he’ll have time to round out his skills as he hopes to make it in the NBA.

Mathews should continue to work on his point guard skills with his physical limitations on the wing, standing just 6-3.5 with a 6-4 wingspan. He also needs to round out his offensive game, as he struggles on two-point jumpers shooting just 34.0 percent (per hoop-math.com). Mathews is underrated as a finisher despite his lack of length, finishing 63.3 percent at the rim (per hoop-math.com), and is smart using his body to maneuver around the lane. Mathews is only a junior, and with two more productive seasons for the Golden Bears, he could find himself as a second round pick in the 2017 draft.

4. Jabari Bird 6-6 200 SG/SF Junior

Bird has a higher upside than Mathews but has lacked the production of the sharpshooting guard so far through their respective careers. The former four-star recruit has struggled efficiency-wise throughout his two years, but Bird’s size (6-foot-6 with a 6-7 wingspan) gives him the edge in terms of NBA outlook. It’s only a matter of time before his natural talent catches up to him, and he showed signs of improvement last year shooting 36.9 percent from three and 43.8 percent from the field. He is a relatively good shooter from two-point range, making 38.1 percent of his jumpers in that area (per hoop-math.com).

He’ll need to continue improving his ability to create off the dribble because he shot an impressive 69.0 percent at the rim last season — the highest of all California players last year. He desperately needs to add some more weight to his frame that will help him turn into a better defender. He is plenty athletic and quick, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t turn into a two-way player down the line. Luckily for Bird, he’s got two more years to round out his overall game as he looks to impress scouts for the NBA. With more efficiency and attention on the defensive side of the floor, Bird looks like a potential first round pick in 2017.

3. Tyrone Wallace 6-5 205 PG/SG Senior

Wallace needs to have his best year as a senior for the Golden Bears to make a deep run in March, and all signs are pointing to that happening after a dominant junior campaign. At 6-foot-5 with a 6-9.5 wingspan, Wallace has more than ideal physical measurements for either guard spot. He’s got great athleticism and quickness too, allowing him to get to where he wants to go on the floor and play the passing lanes on defense (1.3 steals per game).

However, Wallace struggles to finish around the rim, as he’s shot just 55.8 percent at the rim last season (per hoop-math.com). He’s also struggled to shoot from three-point range (31.8 percent) but shows promise shooting off the dribble from mid-range — 37.4 percent shooting from two-point range while 96.6 percent of those shots were unassisted (per hoop-math.com).

Wallace will need to extend his range and continue working on his all-around offensive game to take the next step and show his positional versatility to become a potential draft pick. If he’s able to impress in his final season for the Golden Bears, he should solidify himself as a top 40 pick come June.

01 April 2015:  McDonald's All-American Boy's West Team forward Ivan Rabb (23) in action during the McDonald's All American Game at the United Center, in Chicago, IL.

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

2. Ivan Rabb 6-10 220 PF/C Freshman

Rabb should play a big role for the Golden Bears this season, giving coach Martin the versatility needed to play either frontcourt spot. Rabb’s size and length (6-10 w/ 7-1 wingspan) are solid for a frontcourt player, and his athleticism and quickness should help him stand out as a defender and weak-side shot blocker. He has nice court awareness for a frontcourt prospect and does a nice job running the floor and attacking the rim.

However. Rabb is a bit of a tweener up front at this stage of development, lacking the range to play as a stretch power forward in the NBA and needing to add more weight to play minutes at center. Rabb will need to add weight to his slight frame, which will help defensively and offensively providing resistance in the post and finishing around the basket. With a successful year for California, expect Rabb to be drafted in the lottery in next year’s draft.

Jaylen Brown 6-7 225 SG/SF Freshman

I’ve written plenty on Brown in the past, and he’s likely to be the first Golden Bear taken on draft day. At 6-7 and 225 pounds, he has great size and length (near 7-foot wingspan) for an NBA swingman, allowing him to play and defend both shooting guards and small forwards. He has a well-rounded game, as he plays hard at both ends of the floor. Offensively, Brown is very skilled, displaying a variety of stepbacks and the ability to slash to the rim using his great athleticism.

Brown has a similar build and playstyle to current Detroit Piston swingman, Stanley Johnson. He’ll need to gain more consistency from the perimeter to maximize his offensive ceiling while extending his range out to the NBA three-point line as he readies himself for the next level. He has few weaknesses, although, there will be an adjustment period while he learns to play at a higher level of competition at Cal. With coach Martin likely playing through the five-star McDonald’s All-American, it’s almost certain Brown finds his way into the top 10 as the draft rolls around next June.

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