Believe it or not, the college basketball season is winding down. Yes, I know, try to hold back your tears, we still have some time. However, it is never too early to start looking at the future of some of the game’s greatest stars. Despite the Big Ten being “down” in terms of competition, there is no shortage of talent in the league. As is the case with any power conference, there are a bevvy of professional talents regardless of how many league teams make the NCAA Tournament. Just take Ben Simmons as a recent example.
Now, the NBA Draft is still in the distance, but as team’s wrap up their seasons within the next one to two months, players will start declaring their professional aspirations. With those impending announcements on the horizon, it is time to look at a preliminary Big Ten Draft Board. Who are the top NBA prospects in the league this year? Let’s take a look:
Big Ten Big Board
1. Miles Bridges - Michigan State
- NBADraft.net Mock: Round 1 Pick 10
Listen, everyone and their mother loves Jaren Jackson Jr. to be taken ahead of Bridges in this year’s draft. Quite frankly, I do not understand why. Bridges has more versatility offensively, and has NBA level talent right now. His ability to drive to the rim as well as pull up and shoot in an incredibly efficient manner makes him a no-brainer in my book. Sure, Jackson Jr. has more raw potential, and that is what NBA teams want, but how could you not want a 19-year-old who has NBA skills AND room to be molded.
To me, it is just absolutely crazy to think that Miles Bridges is not the best NBA product in the Big Ten right now. I truly believe he could go to the NBA right now and be a 15 points a night player. Is Jaren Jackson capable of that right now? I do not think so.
2. Jaren Jackson Jr. - Michigan State
- NBADraft.net Mock: Round 1 Pick 2
Given my semi-scathing critique of Jackson, you might be wondering why I would put him at number two. However, while I think Miles Bridges is the most capable NBA talent, Jackson has the greatest room to grow. His frame and length have already made him one of the best interior defenders in college basketball. Defense can usually translate to the professional level, but Jackson will have to put on a good amount of muscle. That is the case with almost every one and done though.
What worries me the most about Jackson is how his offensive game transitions to the NBA. Given his 6-foot-11 frame, do teams put him at power forward or center? I suppose that depends on how much bulk he puts on. However, I am skeptical as to how successful he would be as a stretch four type of player, a role that is vital in today’s NBA. Can he set good enough screens and make shots off the roll? I suppose we will find out.
3. Moritz Wagner - Michigan
- NBADraft.net Mock: Round 1 Pick 30
Like Jackson, teams will flock to Wagner thanks to his ability to stretch the floor. The junior is shooting 40 percent from three-point range this season. If he were in the NBA today, he would be in the top-40 of NBA players for three-point percentage. Plenty of teams will see Wagner and Lauri Markkanen as one in the same. They will see a player who can put on some strength (which Markkanen has with Chicago) and can be immediately successful.
NBA franchises are attracted to two types of players, primarily: young, raw talent and European stretch fours. Moritz Wagner fits into at least one of those molds.
4. Keita Bates-Diop - Ohio State
- NBADraft.net Mock: Round 2 Pick 38
The potential Big Ten Player of the Year has drawn quite a bit of buzz over the course of his senior season. While averaging 20 points and nine rebounds per game, he has shot nearly 50 percent from the field too. Outside of Miles Bridges, Bates-Diop may just be the most NBA ready player in the Big Ten. This is primarily due to his development over the last four years, both in skill and physical attributes. He ends up at number four on this list for that exact same reason, which seems so backwards.
Here is the thing, NBA teams want young players. On the rarest of occasions do teams use a valuable lottery pick on a graduated senior. I mean, think of it this way, the last player to play all four years in college and still get drafted number one overall was Kenyon Martin, in 2000. The league has just shifted so that teams have more control over the development of their players. Whether that is a good thing or not is a different discussion.
5. Isaac Haas - Purdue
- NBADraft.net Mock: Undrafted
Whoever decides to take a chance on Haas will draft him as a project. He does not rebound the ball well for his size nor is he overly reliable stamina wise. Whether or not the durability factor can be improved, I do not know. What I do know is lugging his frame up and down the floor has to be a task in its own right. Anyway, it is that very size that makes him such a unique player to today’s NBA.
The dominant paint presence is a dying breed in the NBA. We very rarely see players who consistently put their back to the basket and try to score. Even players like DeMarcus Cousins, who, at one time, were known for paint scoring, have moved their game further and further from the basket. That may make teams shy away from Haas in the end because it is clear that he may never fully develop a game outside of the paint.
However, even the biggest players in the NBA were able to become efficient from the outside, Yao Ming comes to mind right away. So, maybe it is possible, but if a team picks Haas, they will be doing so simply based on the idea of him becoming the new Boban Marjanovic.
There are others who may go undrafted and are picked up by teams after the draft. Vince Edwards and Ethan Happ jump out at me as prime undrafted free agent candidates. However, at maximum, I think there may only be five Big Ten players drafted come June. Yet, a few of those five may become legitimate NBA contributors as their careers progress.