May 25, 2024

2024 NBA Draft Big Board: Stephon Castle, Donovan Clingan rise into Top 5 after title run


The NCAA season is over, and pre-draft workout season has begun, which means it’s time to update the 2024 NBA Draft Big Board.

To be frank, I’ve been a bit gun-shy this year on releasing my board. Not because I’m worried about my opinions or reaction, but rather because trying to parse through this class has been dreadfully difficult at the top. As I’ve written throughout the year, I do not have a Tier One or Tier Two player in this class. I’m not even sure how many Tier Three players I will have by the end of the process.

At this juncture, I’m open to all possibilities about what the top of this class looks like on draft night. I would say, in some capacity, all of the players ranked in my top 10 have a non-zero chance to go No. 1 overall if things break right in terms of the draft lottery and they have a strong pre-draft process. There are players there who have a much better chance to go No. 1 than others, to be sure, but NBA teams are all over the map in this class. It does not have a sure-fire guy, so teams are doing their due diligence across the spectrum. I cannot remember a class in which the lottery will have such a significant impact on how the top will be selected.

Some like the positional certainty and defensive acumen Donovan Clingan will bring compared to Alex Sarr. Others like Sarr’s upside athletically and potential to shoot the ball. Some evaluators like Zaccharie Risacher’s two-way game as a shooter and sharp team defender. Others worry about his athletic upside and prefer a player like Matas Buzelis more, even though the evaluators who like the relative certainty regarding Risacher question Buzelis as a shooter and on-ball defender. Even playing for the same team, some high-ranking evaluators prefer Reed Sheppard’s basketball IQ to Rob Dillingham’s explosive handle and quickness. We’ll talk about Stephon Castle in-depth, but he’s a great example of there being no consensus on prospects this year.

Because there’s no sure-fire All-Star, decision-makers have many questions to ponder: What do you value in prospects? What skill sets are most important to you? What translates best in your mind? Or in many cases, what are the skill deficiencies players in this class have that are most fixable to you?

By the law of averages, multiple players will be All-Stars from this draft, even with it being a below-average one, and it’ll be because they improved something in their game substantially. Even the 2013 NBA Draft, a class that was seen as bad at the time and maintains that ignominy within front offices, had three players make the All-Star Game, with one of them becoming arguably the best player in the world for a time in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Having said that, the track record on that draft did prove to be, by and large, bad. Only seven of the lottery picks went on to be above-average rotation players, with only one All-Star in the group. After Rudy Gobert was picked at No. 27, only one player — Allen Crabbe — went on to become even an average rotation player for multiple years.

RANK PLAYER TEAM POS. DRAFT DAY AGE HT.

1

Alexandre Sarr

Perth Wildcats

F/C

19

7-1

2

Nikola Topic

Mega

G

18

6-6

3

Stephon Castle

Connecticut

W

19

6-6

4

Reed Sheppard

Kentucky

G

20

6-3

5

Donovan Clingan

Connecticut

C

20

7-2

6

Matas Buzelis

G League Ignite

W

19

6-10

7

Ron Holland

G League Ignite

W

18

6-8

8

Zaccharie Risacher

JL Bourg

F

19

6-8

9

Cody Williams

Colorado

W/F

19

6-8

10

Robert Dillingham

Kentucky

G

19

6-3

11

Dalton Knecht

Tennessee

W

23

6-6

12

Jared McCain

Duke

G

20

6-2

13

Kyle Filipowski

Duke

F

20

7-0

14

Isaiah Collier

USC

G

19

6-5

15

Devin Carter

Providence

G

22

6-3

16

Ja’Kobe Walter

Baylor

G/W

19

6-5

17

Johnny Furphy

Kansas

W

19

6-9

18

Tidjane Salaun

Cholet

F

18

6-9

19

Tristan da Silva

Colorado

F

23

6-9

20

Tyler Kolek

Marquette

G

23

6-3

21

Zach Edey

Purdue

C

22

7-4

22

Bub Carrington

Pittsburgh

G/W

18

6-5

23

Yves Missi

Baylor

C

20

6-11

24

Bobi Klintman

Cairns

W/F

20

19

25

Tyler Smith

G League Ignite

F/C

19

6-11

26

DaRon Holmes

Dayton

C

21

6-10

27

Baylor Scheierman

Creighton

W

23

6-7

28

Hunter Sallis

Wake Forest

G

21

6-5

29

A.J. Johnson

Illawarra Hawks

W

19

6-7

30

Kyshawn George

Miami (Fla.)

W

20

6-8

31

Jaylon Tyson

California

W

21

6-7

32

Ryan Dunn

Virginia

W

21

6-8

33

Alex Karaban

Connecticut

W/F

21

6-8

34

Kwame Evans Jr.

Oregon

F

19

6-8

35

Kel’el Ware

Indiana

C

20

7-0

36

Terrence Shannon Jr.

Illinois

W

23

6-6

37

Trey Alexander

Creighton

G

21

6-4

38

Justin Edwards

Kentucky

W/F

20

6-8

39

Cam Christie

Minnesota

W

18

6-6

40

Jamal Shead

Houston

G

21

6-1

41

Payton Sandfort

Iowa

W

21

6-7

42

Oso Ighodaro

Marquette

C

21

6-11

43

Cam Spencer

Connecticut

G

24

6-4

44

Melvin Ajinca

Saint-Quentin

W

20

6-8

45

Tyon Grant-Foster

Grand Canyon

W

24

6-7

46

Nikola Djurisic

Mega

W

20

6-7

47

Ajay Mitchell

UC Santa Barbara

G

22

6-5

48

Mark Sears

Alabama

G

22

6-1

49

Kevin McCullar

Kansas

W

23

6-7

50

Tristen Newton

Connecticut

G

22

6-5

51

K.J. Simpson

Colorado

G

21

6-2

52

Izan Almansa

G League Ignite

F

19

6-10

53

Isaiah Crawford

Louisiana Tech

W/F

22

6-6

54

Antonio Reeves

Kentucky

G

23

6-6

55

P.J. Hall

Clemson

F

22

6-10

56

Ariel Hukporti

Melbourne United

C

22

6-10

57

Adem Bona

UCLA

F/C

21

6-10

58

Harrison Ingram

North Carolina

W

21

6-7

59

Jalen Bridges

Baylor

W

23

6-9

60

Malique Lewis

Mexico City Capitanes

F

19

6-8

61

Quinten Post

Boston College

C

24

7-0

62

Juan Nunez

Ratiopharm Ulm

G

20

6-4

63

Xaivian Lee

Princeton

G

20

6-3

64

Pelle Larsson

Arizona

W

23

6-5

65

Pacome Dadiet

Ratiopharm Ulm

W

18

6-8

66

Keshad Johnson

Arizona

F

23

6-7

67

Dillon Jones

Weber State

W/F

22

6-6

68

Nique Clifford

Colorado State

W

22

6-6

69

N’Faly Dante

Oregon

C

22

7-0

70

Ryan Kalkbrenner

Creighton

C

22

7-1

71

Trevon Brazile

Arkansas

F/C

21

6-10

72

Jamir Watkins

Florida State

W

22

6-7

73

Blake Hinson

Pittsburgh

W/F

24

6-7

74

Zyon Pullin

Florida

G

23

6-3

75

Grant Nelson

Alabama

F/C

22

6-11

76

Kobe Johnson

USC

W

21

6-6

77

Alex Toohey

Sydney

W/F

20

6-7

78

Mantas Rubstavicius

New Zealand Breakers

W

22

6-5

79

Jaxson Robinson

BYU

W

21

6-8

80

Isaiah Stevens

Colorado State

G

23

6-0

81

Judah Mintz

Syracuse

G

20

6-4

82

Jaylen Wells

Washington State

W

20

6-8

83

Jonathan Mogbo

San Francisco

F

22

6-8

84

Hansen Yang

Qingdao

C

19

7-1

85

Reece Beekman

Virginia

G

22

6-3

86

Armel Traore

ADA Blois

F

21

6-8

87

Coleman Hawkins

Illinois

F/C

22

6-10

88

Ulrich Chomche

NBA Academy Africa

C

18

6-11

89

Wooga Poplar

Miami (Fla.)

W

21

6-5

90

Adama Bal

Santa Clara

W

20

6-7

91

Matthew Murrell

Mississippi

G

22

6-4

92

Yannick Kraag

Joventut

F

21

6-8

93

Trentyn Flowers

Adelaide 36ers

W

19

6-8

94

Walter Clayton Jr.

Florida

G

21

6-2

95

Caleb Love

Arizona

G

22

6-3

96

Dylan Disu

Texas

F

23

6-9

97

Saint Thomas

Northern Colorado

W

21

6-7

98

Jaylin Williams

Auburn

F

23

6-8

99

Jaedon LeDee

San Diego State

F

24

6-9

100

Anton Watson

Gonzaga

F

23

6-8

— Ages are as of the first night of the 2024 draft, June 26

Stephon Castle, 6-6 wing, Connecticut, No. 3

I completely understand the shooting concerns with Castle; they’re real. But where I’m at in this class is simple: It’s hard to find guys who have proven they can be a part of winning basketball. And throughout the course of Big East play as well as the NCAA Tournament, Castle showcased that better than any other guy in this class.

I’m not sure what more evaluators want him to do. Throughout the season, Castle consistently took on the toughest assignment on the perimeter and wing defensively for Connecticut, a top-five defense in the country, and found success. Need someone to chase potential first-rounder Baylor Scheierman around screens? Castle can do it. Need someone to defend at the point of attack? Castle can do that. What about a big wing creator? Castle will do that, too, and shut off his water, just like he did in the Elite Eight against Illinois’ Terrence Shannon Jr.

Shannon came into that game averaging 27.2 points over his prior 15 games. Castle held him to eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. In the Final Four, he took on the Mark Sears assignment at point guard. Sears scored 24 but only nine of those points came on Castle, and four of those nine came on heavily contested attempts that Sears maneuvered around or shot over the top of to make. He made life miserable for one of the best guards in the country this season and made him work for every bucket. Against Purdue in the title game, Castle took long swaths of time on Braden Smith, who only scored two points when being guarded by Castle.

If that’s all he did, he’d be worth a first-round pick. But Castle also was quite good on offense. He averaged 12.5 points, nearly six rebounds and three assists while posting a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He had 21 points in the Final Four against Alabama and was the team’s best offensive player, then followed it up with 15 against Purdue. I thought he had a real case as Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four, especially when accounting for the defensive job he did on Sears and Smith.

Castle has tremendous spatial awareness as an off-ball player, plus the ability to cover ground with long strides as an on-ball driver. He passes really well, and in high school, he showcased the ability to make whatever read you want from him out of ball screens. He’s not a lead guard, but he doesn’t have to be. At 6-foot-6 with reasonable length and a 215-pound frame, Castle has all the measurements you’re looking for out of a secondary ballhandler on the wing.

As I mentioned above, the jumper is a concern. Castle made just 26.7 percent of his 3s this season and has a bit of a hitch at the top of his mechanics. His footwork getting into shots is quite differentiated in a bad way, where sometimes he’ll take them off the hop, and other times, he’ll take a one-two step that results in a lean to the left. But he also has touch. He made nearly 76 percent of his free throws and hit a number of floaters this season.

The jumper is going to take time, but if it ever comes along at a reasonable level, he’s probably going to be a star. He’s an elite defender, an awesome processor of basketball and a real passer and playmaker with the frame and strength to finish around the rim. He has better ball skills and a better shooting base than someone like Isaac Okoro, who went in the top five of the 2020 NBA Draft. He was also a more impactful defender than even Okoro was, and that’s saying a lot.

When I talk to teams, I get answers all over the map on Castle. Some executives and scouts will tell me he’s in the top five, as I have him listed. Others will say second half of the lottery. Even more, I’ll hear outside of the lottery in the 15-20 range by the occasional scout who really doesn’t buy the shot. Right now, I think I’d say his range is No. 3 to No. 13 or so, but I’m surprised Castle seems to have become this polarizing. Everyone on the team side asks for young players who impact winning and have upside. It’s hard to do more than what Castle did this season to prove that.

Donovan Clingan, 7-2 center, Connecticut, No. 5

Clingan helped himself as much as any player in the NCAA Tournament, leading Connecticut to a national title. His elite interior defense was arguably the most important part of the equation for the Huskies, which can be seen by Connecticut’s defensive improvement throughout the season.

From the start of the season until Jan. 31, UConn had the 23rd-best defense in the country, per Bart Torvik’s statistical database. That coincides with Clingan’s early-season foot injury that held him out of practice, as well as a minor injury against Seton Hall on Dec. 20 that held him out of competition for nearly a month. He played three games in late January to get rolling again, and once the calendar turned to February, UConn turned on the jets defensively. From that point forward, the Huskies had the No. 2 defense in the country, which was led by Clingan shutting down the interior.

What was the difference? Early in the season, Clingan wasn’t in pristine shape as he worked his way back from the original injury. He was heavy, and you could see it in his movement. He wasn’t quite as quick backpedaling in drop coverage and wasn’t able to play as many minutes, averaging only 20 per game. But as he got back into condition, you could see his movement skills improve. He was the player we saw in the NCAA Tournament last season, where he was mobile and active on defense. He played 25 minutes per game and averaged 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. From the Big East tournament final to the national championship, he averaged 16.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and three blocks per game.

What you’re getting in Clingan is an elite drop-coverage big who profiles as an elite rim protector by NBA standards. I feel confident he’ll be a starting center in the NBA. His mobility at his size is too good, and he’s stronger with a more physical frame than Walker Kessler. I also think he’s a better rebounder than Kessler due to that ability to anchor on the interior.

However, the biggest difference between the two comes as a passer. Clingan is a legitimate passer with awesome vision for a center. He’s comfortable running dribble-handoff actions at the top of the key but can also reject them if they’re getting overplayed and just try to make a pass himself. He averaged nearly two assists per game over his final 18 games and had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

In this draft, if you’re telling me I’m getting an elite defensive big who finishes inside and passes well, I’m taking him in the top 10.


Jared McCain works against NC State’s Mohamed Diarra during an Elite Eight game last month. (Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)

McCain has been rising up my board for about two months now to the point where he’s been in the lottery for a few weeks. In his last 20 games, McCain averaged 16 points, six rebounds and two assists while shooting 48 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the line. That is absurd for a freshman against ACC-level competition, and it was over a prolonged period after a slow start to the season. McCain was among the best high-volume, high-efficiency scorers in college basketball over the back half of the season. The fact that he’s not being talked about more as a lottery pick is a bit strange given that context.

In the NCAA Tournament, McCain finally seemed to put himself a bit more on the map. He dropped 30 points in a blowout win over James Madison, where he drilled eight 3s. Against NC State in Duke’s Elite Eight loss, McCain was the only guy who really seemed to keep Duke afloat on offense. He dropped 32 points and had six rebounds while drilling five 3s. More importantly, though, McCain showed some driving and slashing feel out of screens and dribble handoffs. He attacked mismatches when they came available and worked well against D.J. Burns playing off him in drop coverage. He ended up getting to the line 11 times and looked like a well-rounded scorer as opposed to just a 3-point marksman who makes a killing in transition — a thing that is undeniably true about his skill set but also limits who he is.

I think McCain has more juice than simply being a floor spacer. The concerns with McCain are obvious. He’s undersized for the role at 6-foot-3 and not a terrific athlete in terms of explosiveness. Largely, McCain gets loose as an off-ball scorer and when he gets the ball on the move ahead of time to help him get downhill. There isn’t much shake in terms of change-of-direction with him.

McCain is an elite shooter from 3 who can handle the ball and finish around the paint at a high level. He drilled 19 3s from 25 feet and beyond this year at a 40.4 percent clip. He hit 61 percent of his half-court attempts at the rim because he’s smart and picking his spots, and he can play through contact better than he gets credit for. On top of that, sources across the NBA and the college space rave about his work ethic, and he is tireless in the weight room and in the gym.

I’m a believer in McCain. He was only right below the Kentucky guys in terms of production as a freshman in college hoops this season.

Zach Edey, 7-4 center, Purdue, No. 21

It might look strange to have the guy who dropped 37 points and 10 rebounds in the national title game lower than his counterpart, but I thought Clingan actually really made Edey work for his buckets when he was in the game.

Edey got off to an awesome start, scoring an early 16 points in the first 12 minutes. But from that point forward, I’d argue Clingan completely shut off his water. From the eight-minute mark of the first half all the way to the eight-minute mark of the second half, Edey only had six points. He had 22 points on 18 shots in the first 32 minutes of the game, which are really the ones where the result was in question. That eight-minute mark is when UConn went up by 17 and essentially ended the game.

Edey went 6-of-7 down the stretch and had 15 points in the final eight minutes, but a large portion of those shots were defended by Alex Karaban, as Connecticut went small late. Part of the reason Connecticut went small was because Edey forced Clingan and backup center Samson Johnson into foul trouble, but it didn’t really result in the game staying close. So while, 37 points and 10 rebounds is incredible, I think that stat line overstated Edey’s impact on the game a bit, and I felt like Clingan actually got the better of him when the result was in question.

Edey also had a few moments on defense that popped for scouts and flagged limitations. Particularly, early in the second half, Johnson caught him on a pair of pick-and-roll dives to the rim that gave evaluators pause. Johnson is the kind of athletic, springy big man whom Edey will be asked to defend in the NBA. He had no issue simply beating Edey to the spot to open up himself for a lob.

That said, I have a strong grade on Edey and think he’s a solidified first-round pick. He is so strong and physical that I think he’ll be able to establish position on nearly anyone in the NBA. He was the best screener in the country this season and made underrated strides in drop coverage defensively. Edey also is in condition and had no problem running out 40-minute games, a remarkable feat for a player his size. I buy him being more than just the Boban Marjanović type to which he’s often compared.

A.J. Johnson, 6-7 wing, Illawarra Hawks, No. 29

I got to see Johnson work out in Santa Barbara, Calif., recently, and it was every bit as impressive as one could have hoped.

We’ll talk about some of the limitations I saw in a second, but Johnson’s ability to get to spots as a scorer in a fluid, on-balance manner is real. His jumper is mechanically sound both off the catch and bounce. He worked on getting into the shot from different footwork from both sides of the court, and while the jumper looked a bit more well-developed in terms of rhythm from the left side — this isn’t uncommon for young, right-handed players, as it’s a bit easier to get into shots off the hop, particularly on stepbacks, from the left side — everything looks clean and pure enough to where Johnson should be a very high-level shooter down the road.

Johnson came into his time at Illawarra in the ballpark of 6-5 to 6-6. Seeing him stand next to Ron Holland, who is around 6-7 1/2 in shoes, was an eye-opener, as he looked about as tall as Holland. I asked Johnson after his workout if he’d grown during his time in Australia, and he said yes, and multiple sources both in the United States and around the NBL confirmed Johnson’s account that he has grown a bit since the last time many American audiences saw him in high school. Johnson’s measurements will likely be among the more coveted by NBA personnel; if he’s grown into that 6-7 range as it seems he has, it opens up many more avenues for his success. Instead of being more of a guard, it can realistically slide Johnson down to the wing at some point in his career, especially given his wingspan that appears to be something in the ballpark of 6-11.

Part of the downside of workouts like this is that you don’t see players deal with contact. Right now, that’s Johnson’s biggest weakness. Still quite skinny with a frame that is likely under 180 pounds even with the work he put in this season, Johnson couldn’t deal well with the physical NBL on a night-to-night basis. He couldn’t consistently get to his spots because, once his momentum got stopped, he didn’t quite have the contact balance to be able to adjust. But Johnson’s shoulders are quite wide and make you believe his frame has room for a lot more growth. He just looks like a person who is still quite young and growing into his body.

The name that seemed most applicable when watching Johnson was the Trail Blazers’ Anfernee Simons, who entered the draft after a post-graduate year at IMG as opposed to heading to college despite the fact that his frame was not ready for the NBA. Simons took over a year to get on the court consistently as he filled out his 180-pound frame. But he played in his second season, and by the start of his fourth season, he was a ready-made NBA scoring guard. Simons is a bit more explosive than Johnson, but Johnson is bigger and might have a bit more potential on the defensive end.

Johnson is going to take time. But seeing him in-person multiple times, as well as in that pre-draft workout, it’s clear the frame was his biggest impediment to success this season. Once his frame catches up to his gifts, Johnson has all the tools he needs to be this draft’s interesting high-upside swing in the late first or early second round.


A.J. Johnson drives to the basket during a game against the Cairns Taipans in January. (Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)

Ulrich Chomche, 6-10 center, NBA Africa Academy, No. 88

Chomche was one of the major attractions for scouts this year at Nike Hoop Summit, as he was the lone draft-eligible player in attendance.

He measured at 6-11 1/2 in shoes, which means he’ll come in right around 6-10 without. He had a 7-4 wingspan and a 9-1 1/2 standing reach. Those were the measurement confirmations NBA teams were interested in getting. Having said that, Chomche was not particularly impressive during practices and did not follow it up with a strong performance in the game. The consensus from talking to scouts was that Chomche should certainly look to attend college next season to work on his craft.

It’s easy to see why there was some excitement entering the event. Chomche runs the floor incredibly well, getting up and down with ease. He also has easy lift and gets off the ground quickly, making him a potential lob threat in NBA spacing.

The intersection of size and athleticism is real, but he’s far too raw at this stage. I don’t think I would even feel great about him opening next season as a starting big at a high-major college. Chomche is still really learning and developing his feel for the game. He often looked a bit lost on defense in ball-screen coverages and in communicating with his teammates. He also chased nearly everything around the rim, leading to offensive rebounds or fouls.

Chomche has been billed as a potential shooter from distance, but I don’t see it translating any time soon. He has a hitchy shot that has a long way to go, even if there is some latent touch. He needs developmental reps right now, and college would be the best option for him at this stage.

Other notes

  • Two freshmen whom NBA teams seemed to be quite high on in my conversations: Johnny Furphy out of Kansas and Bub Carrington out of Pittsburgh. Furphy is ranked No. 17 above, and Carrington is No. 22. The consensus on Furphy was that he would likely be a riser through the pre-draft process due to his size, athleticism and work ethic, with potential to hear his name called in the late lottery. Carrington had an up-and-down season, but he was a player who really impressed scouts at the ACC tournament. He averaged 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his final six games of the season. His range is a bit more spotty than Furphy’s, but somewhere starting outside of the lottery and extending down to No. 35 or so seemed to be the consensus.
  • Providence guard Devin Carter also has some real momentum. A number of teams in that No. 15 to No. 23 range could use an immediate contributor, and that’s exactly what Carter profiles as. He’s an elite defender at the guard position and as competitive a player as you’ll find in the class. He drastically improved as a 3-point shooter this season, hitting nearly 38 percent from 3 on over seven attempts per game. The shot looks funky, but it goes in. I think he’ll be able to play from day one in the NBA, and it’s hard to find guys like that in this class. If Carter found his way into the lottery, that wouldn’t stun me. A number of team evaluators are quite high on him.
  • A player on whom I’ve been quite high throughout the season is Tristan da Silva out of Colorado, and it feels like teams are also interested. He had a spectacular NCAA Tournament run, where he had 20 points against Boise State, 17 points and five assists against Florida and 17 points with three assists against Marquette. On the season, he averaged 16 points, five rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 49.3 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from 3 and 83.5 percent from the line. Those percentages are essentially directly in-line with his career percentages of 49.3 from the field, 38.6 from 3 and 78.6 from the line over four years. I’m probably a touch higher than league consensus by placing him at No. 19, but I do think he hears his name called in the first round.

Related reading

(Top photo of Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)





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