We’re almost to the end of the nonconference schedule, which means it’s time to look at who’s made the biggest statement early on and improved their draft stock in the eyes of scouts. Many prospects have honed their skills over the summer to show out for NBA scouts, and a few have come out of nowhere to become legit prospects capable of impacting the league as early as next year. Who have made the biggest leaps from my Preseason Big Board to now?
5. Jakob Poeltl 7-1 240 C Utah Sophomore
Preseason Rank: 11
Poeltl might be the highest ranked prospect on this list, and he’ll most likely be the first one drafted out of the five. He’s improved as a presence down low, showing a nice touch with either hand while finishing around the basket. Poeltl still shows a similar tenacity while protecting the rim (2.2 per game) and has improved his awareness — he’s doubled his assist output so far this season.
Poeltl has improved statistically across the board and shows a very high skill level for a 7-foot-1 big man. His ability to impact the game in all areas is one of the reasons he’s moved into a potential top seven pick. If he’s able to keep up the production heading into the Pac-12 regular season, there’s no doubt he’ll be in contention for a top spot in the 2016 draft.
4. Demetrius Jackson 6-1 200 PG Notre Dame Junior
Preseason Rank: 26
Jackson has put himself squarely on the lottery bubble with his recent play thus far — Jackson is averaging a career-high in points and assists at 17.8 and 5.0 per game respectively. Most impressively, Jackson has been able to keep up his efficiency with an increased workload, shooting a career-best 55.2 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from 3.
Jackson was held back by senior Jerian Grant last year and is proving to be a better prospect in his own right, thanks to his combination of athleticism, quickness, and shooting ability as a lead guard. He reminds me a bit of Eric Bledsoe at this stage, and if that comparison is valid, someone will be willing to take him in the lottery.
3. Denzel Valentine 6-5 225 SG/SF Michigan State Senior
Preseason Rank: 43
This one’s obvious — the leader for National Player of the Year comes in at number two on this list, as NBA scouts are starting to notice the versatility and ability of the senior swingman. Valentine has a lot of the same skills that Draymond Green brought to Michigan State during his standout senior season, will the NBA potentially make the same mistake with Valentine?
Most likely not. Valentine is getting plenty of first round buzz right now, with some draft sites slotting him near the lottery. While I think that might be a stretch, it’s safe to say Valentine has solidified himself as a first-round pick, and if he keeps up his stellar play, don’t be surprised if he creeps up into the mid first round in 2016 despite being a senior.
2. Isaac Haas 7-2 300 C Purdue Sophomore
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Haas has proven to be one of the top prospects on Purdue’s talented frontcourt that includes senior 7-footer A.J. Hammons and freshman big man Caleb Swanigan. Haas has notched double-figures in nine of his 11 games this season, showing improved touch around the basket and better quickness as a shot blocker (1.6 per game).
Haas’ 7’2″, 300-pound frame makes him a load to handle in the paint, both offensively and defensively. It’ll be important for him to continue to show this production when he sees more physical bigs in the Big Ten regular season. Last year, Haas reached double-figures in 10 of Purdue’s first 13 games — he only scored 10 or more in four of his final 21 games. Consistency is the biggest thing for Haas, if he’s shown such growth after a year at Purdue, he should be picked near the end of the first round.
1 Wade Baldwin IV 6-3 195 PG/SG Vanderbilt Sophomore
Preseason Rank: Unranked
Baldwin is easily the biggest riser during the nonconference slate, combining his prototypical point guard measurements with a lethal shooting stroke. At 6-3 with a 6-10 wingspan, Baldwin has the ability to play both backcourt positions and protect the passing lanes defensively. Baldwin is shooting 50.0 percent from three on over three attempts per game, proving last year’s number of 43.9 percent as a freshman was no fluke.
Baldwin is more smooth than explosive at this point, but his shooting and performance against Baylor caught the attention of scouts. He still has a ways to go as a passer; his assist total has decreased relative to last year while he’s turned it over more as well. Hopefully that improves throughout the season. Baldwin has firmly placed himself in the first round, and a deep run in March could serve wonders to his stock for the 2016 draft.