The third in a five part series. Come back daily to see which other players to check out this year.
We've covered the top incoming freshmen for this year. Who are the returning players who will be vying for lottery selections next June provided they continue strong play going forward.
Kris Dunn, PG, Providence Friars
DX: 8, ESPN: 13
6'4 with shoes, 6'9 wingspan
Age: 21.4 years old
Why to be excited: After struggling with injury for the better part of his first two seasons in Providence, Dunn finally got healthy last year and was able to put together an eye-popping statistical season. Dunn has great size and athleticism for a point guard, and supreme vision. Last year, he had an absurd 50% assist rate (the number of teammates' FG's he assisted), which is easily the best mark of any point guard prospect in the last couple of years. He's got great defensive potential as well, and could have very easily been picked in the late lottery last year, had he decided to stay in the draft.
Why to be worried: Turnovers. Dunn is a truly exciting player, and his vision is unparalleled among his peers, but he also has a tendency to play sloppy and out of control. Despite his astronomical assist rate, he didn't even manage a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio last year, as he frequently lost the ball. Dunn may be the epitome of a bust or boom candidate - his ceiling is pretty high, but if he doesn't play more under control, he won't be given a chance to reach it.
What to watch for: It was a puzzling decision for Dunn to come back to school this year. Some of his stats were so strong it seems unlikely that he will match or surpass them this year, which could truly hurt him given his age (22 in his first NBA season). His best chance to improve his stock going forward will be to handily improve his weaknesses without losing too much of his luster. Watch to see if his shooting improves - he shot a respectable 35% from 3, but only managed 68% on free throws - and especially see if he cuts down on his turnovers. There is no more damaging play to an offense than a live ball turnover.
Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah Utes
DX: 10, ESPN: 10
7'1 with shoes, 7'1 wingspan
Age: 19.8 years old
Why to be excited: Poeltl was one of the surprises of last season, emerging from relative obscurity to average 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks per 40 minutes. Poeltl's bread and butter is defense; he had a fantastic showing against Okafor in scoring 10 points, collecting 8 rebounds, and blocking 3 shots in only 27 minutes, while limiting Okafor to only 6 points. Poeltl's big, long, and springy, the following in the mold of Chandler and other rim-running defensive bigs.
Why to worry: He's not a terribly intuitive player on offense. He averaged only 1 assist per 40 minutes, and sported an atrocious assist to turnover ratio of 0.42. He provides no value on the offensive end unless he's setting a pick or dunking the ball. He won't need to be terrifically skilled to succeed at the next level, but he does need to improve his passing ability for peak efficacy.
What to watch for: Whether he improves his reads when rolling to the hoop. If Poeltl can cut down his turnovers and improve his passing ability, he could be a scary two way center in a few years. Watch how he adjusts when catching on the roll in traffic; this is an important skill that will help him to raise his court awareness. He can't continuously turn it over in that situtation. Let's see if he has grown.
Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
DX: 14, ESPN: 16
6'1 with shoes, 6'5 wingspan
Age: 20.9 years old
Why to be excited: He may have been the best player on a Notre Dame team that went to the Elite Eight and gave Kentucky all they could handle last year. Jerian Grant got all the accolades, but Jackson was just as important of a contributor to that Irish team. He is a top tier athlete who is quick and explosive, he can shoot and distribute, and he kept his turnovers down. If given the keys this year, he may have a breakout showing and help Notre Dame overachieve again.
Why to worry: Jackson has played well, but has flourished in only a limited role so far. His first two seasons at Notre Dame saw him post 15 and 18% usage rates, respectively, below the 20% that can be expected on an evenly distributed team, and well below the 25 or so percent that most stars players exhibit. While he has proven to be efficient in a small role, it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his efficiency while increasing his usage.
What to watch for: Will the added responsibility get to him and negatively affect his play? If not, he may be better than many people expected.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, SG, Kansas Jayhawks
DX: 17, ESPN: 17
6'6 with shoes, 6'6 wingspan
Age: 18.2 years old
Why to be excited: Mykhailiuk is essentially a freshman going into his second year of college playing for one of the best programs in the country. He had his big coming out party two summers ago, when he averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists per game for Ukraine at the FIBA U-16 championships. His best attributes are his shooting and his willingness as a passer. He will fit the current direction of the NBA well by hitting jumpers and moving the ball intelligently.
Why to be worried: He didn't have a very good first year at Kansas. Part of that is to be expected, given his young age, but one hopes that a strong future NBA player would have had a better campaign than he did all the same. He finished the year shooting an abysmal 30% on all field goals, and only 29% from three, turned the ball over nearly as frequently as he garnered assists, and was generally ineffective in the little time he did see. Perhaps he will be more impressive given a year to mature and learn Bill Self's offense.
Mykhailiuk's wingspan (6'6) is also problematic. He struggles finishing at the rim, which may be due to his lack of length, and it will likely prevent him from being a top defender as well.
What to watch for: Will he show us a glimpse of the player who dominated at U-16's two years ago? Mykhailiuk needs to relocate his shot and compete on defense. Once he starts to do those two things, the rest of his game - passing, cutting, pick and roll play - should fall into place. If he can't, then he doesn't deserve to be in the conversation for the first round of the draft.
Caris LeVert, SG/SF, Michigan Wolverines
DX: 19, ESPN: 26
6'7 with shoes, N/A wingspan (unavailable)
Age: 20.999 years old (21)
Why to be excited: LeVert is exactly the sort of 3-and-D player the league has been gravitating towards in recent years. He's a great shooter (40% from three the last two years) and a very smart passer, sporting an assist rate competitive with point guards, rather than wings. Although his wingspan is unavailable, he appears long, and is laterally quick, presaging a promising perimeter game.
While LeVert is entering his senior season, he is very young for his age, essentially playing a year ahead of where he should be.
Why to be worried: In a season when LeVert was expected to flourish as the primary ball handler in Michigan's spread offense, he didn't impress as much as many scouts had hoped. Much of that was due to the dearth of talent surrounding him, allowing defenses to key in on him, but many were hoping for better creation skills than he displayed.
The bigger issue is his injury history. He injured his foot badly this past season, requiring two surgeries and missing the final three months. If that has an adverse effect on his athleticism and mobility, he'll be much diminished as a player going forward.
Nigel Hayes, SF/PF, Wisconsin Badgers
DX: 21, ESPN: 20
6'8 with shoes, 7'2 wingspan
Age: 20.7 years old
Why to be excited: Hayes was a chief component of the national runners-up last year, serving as the fulcrum of their defense. He played a similar role at Wisconsin to how Draymond Green operates for the Warriors, in that he played both bigger and smaller than his size, allowing for a bigger player to switch onto the best perimeter players. He has the lateral quickness to stick with many wings at the next level, and could be another key to switching defenses like Golden State's.
In addition to his defensive versatility, Hayes was a positive offensive player for the Badgers as well. He was capable as a scorer, passer, and rebounder, and added a jump shot to his repertoire after acting as a complete non-shooter the year before.
Why to be worried: He's not great at any individual skill. The comparison to Green doesn't quite work, because Green was stronger in almost every aspect as a college player, even if Hayes is better than most. In my comparison of players last year, Hayes consistently showed himself to be middle of the road when compared to other prospects. There's value in players who take nothing off the table, but it's unclear if Hayes will bring enough to it to make himself a true asset.
Add to that his tweener size, and there are some reasons for pause. I find it likely that Hayes has a spot in the league regardless of his measurements, but many are skeptical.
What to watch for: How will Hayes handle an increased role in the offense this year? He enjoyed the company of Kaminsky and Dekker on the team last year, which allowed him to benefit from teams' lack of focus. Now that the Badgers are more definitively his team, will Hayes maintain his efficiency, and can he increase his volume scoring to keep Wisconsin in the national picture?
Check back tomorrow for incoming freshmen who are not being discussed as lottery picks, but very well could be depending on how they play this season.