July 19, 2024

2024 NBA Draft: Dalton Knecht, Alex Sarr, Reed Sheppard top Big Board projecting best pro careers

1 I went back and forth a dozen times on who to go with at No. 1. Big picture, I’m betting on the uncertainty of this year’s draft class leading to an unsuspecting player winding up as the best pick — and for that player to get taken outside of the top five. Knecht (21.7 ppg, 4.9 rpb, 39.7 3pt% at Tennessee) is the choice, effectively beating guys at 2, 3 and 4 by millimeters. I’m gambling on picking him to be the best NBA player of 2024’s draft class because of his dead-eye aim, his size, confidence, toughness and ability to be a flamethrower in the NBA. Knecht’s fit could be paramount to meeting his potential; in that respect I acknowledge this is a stretch to project him having the best career of the bunch. The shot will translate, as will his turbo motor and confrontational athleticism. He’s got range on defense and is a vocal presence on the floor. There were stretches last season when he threatened Zach Edey’s claim to being the most impactful player in college hoops. Bet on scoring, bet on shooters, bet on big wings who pile up points in bunches. Bet on Dalton Knecht. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 6 | Position rank: 2 2 I got a chance to see Sarr train for a little bit while on a recent trip to Santa Barbara, California, and the tools/size/skills are clear. He is worthy of No. 1 discussion in 2024. In a great draft class, Sarr would fall to 5 or 6 in the pecking order. Here, he’s plausible as the best long-term bet, but his lack of shooting prowess is what’s holding me back from believing he’s going to wind up as the best NBA player in this class. I expect him to grow into a very good two-level scorer who can be a 20-point-per-game player, potentially as a strong No. 2 option on the team that takes him. Sarr’s appeal is tied to his engagement and dependability as a shot-blocking power forward who will guard 3 through 5 and likely become a defensive anchor to build up a franchise needing more heft in the frontcourt. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 1 | Position rank: 1 3 If Sheppard was 6-5 instead of 6-2 (without shoes), he’d be the No. 1 pick in the draft. His measurables and some legitimate questions about his defensive durability are the only things holding him back. If you watched him play for one game or 30 at Kentucky, you saw the most instinctive player in college basketball last season. Plainly put, Sheppard (12.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.5 spg) has the nose for the right play way more often than not. His hands are super-quick and his shot is elite. He made an outrageous 52.1% of his 144 3-point attempts. The Kentucky native has a great handle, plays with his own pace and can adjust for essentially any kind of teammate. He also doesn’t hunt shots; his passing eye is A-level and his conditioning leaves little room for questions. Sheppard is a hooper’s hooper and has a 3-point shot that will keep him employed in the NBA for more than a decade. I expect his impact to be immense and believe he’ll threaten averaging nearly 20 points by the time he hits his second contract. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 3 | Position rank: 1 4 Born in Spain, Risacher’s nationality is French and he’s become the buzzy projection to go No. 1 to the Hawks in recent days. I think this draft is such a crapshoot that I don’t take issue with it, but I’m not overwhelmed by Risacher’s case as the most well-rounded prospect with the highest ceiling in 2024. The upside: He has good handle for his size, displays a lot of enticing instincts for a stretch big at such a young age and could be a devastating mismatch from outside if his 3-point shot remains above 40% as an NBAer. The wait-and-see: He gets lost on defense with regularity, he doesn’t have upper-tier athleticism and I’d argue he lacks a certain ball-domination quality you’d want out of a No. 1 pick. But he’s a really good prospect, and I think we’ll see more and more players like him populating the league by the end of this decade. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 2 | Position rank: 1 5 Carter has done great pre-draft work after a Big East Player of the Year campaign at Providence to get his name into the lottery conversation. I’m taking it a step further and predicting he will wind up with one of the five best careers of all 2024 prospects. Carter’s two-way ability is verified; he can defend most guards and wings and will willingly put that claim to the test over the course of this summer and into his rookie season. Carter (19.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.8 spg) is a very good athlete and fits well in the modern NBA’s prototype of what a point guard plays like. His shot has improved since he was in high school, which is why I’m aggressive in my placement of him here. The physicality and athleticism is still underrated, somehow. One of my few will-not-fail prospects in the class. He also has the genes: His father, Anthony, played in the league. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 12 | Position rank: 4 6 I put the top six guys in this class on a tier amongst each other. I don’t think the difference between Clingan and Sarr is all that great, and I’d bank on this UConn big not being around once the sixth pick is on the clock. One of the best things I can say about Clingan (13.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.5 bpg) is that he plays big and so well knowing how big he can be. He doesn’t look awkward; he looks like he’s growing more comfortable with who he is and what he can do with each passing month. Speaking of passing, I think it’s his most underrated talent. You’ll get a lob threat, yes, and you’ll have a paint defender who could become elite in shot-blocking by the end of his rookie season. But his passing is what cements his top-six status. I’ve got him outside the top five because doubts linger about his impact as an offensive player, and it’s hard to envision him ever growing into a perimeter option. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 4 | Position rank: 2 7 The Duke product is unlikely to be taken in the lottery, but I’ll buy Flip’s adaptability as a floor-spacing big who can also get the ugly stuff done around the rim. His defense is passable and his durability shouldn’t be subject to interrogation at this point. He was Duke’s best player (16.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and rated as a top-10 all-around contributor in college hoops last season, per KenPom.com. He went back to school, clearly got better as a sophomore after a quality freshman season (28.2 to 34.8% from 3, plus a bump in block and assist rate). He seems ready for this jump and is bound to be picked later than I’d prefer. I understand some of the hesitation in terms of his success rate near the rim against fellow bigs. That’s fair. But it’s easy to envision him being deployed more often than not beyond 15 feet. His size and offensive acumen will make him a good toy to play with for whatever coaching staff gets him. There might be a slow start, but my guess is he’s a top-10 guy in this class by 2028. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 16 | Position rank: 3 8 Williams’ 7-1 wingspan on a lanky frame has drawn intrigue from most teams in the lottery. His brother’s proven NBA capability (Jalen Williams plays with the OKC Thunder) and his projected long-term athleticism make Cody Williams (via Colorado) an easy pick inside the top 10 for me. Williams has almost all the range as a defender and should be one of the best steal-and-block combo shutdown guys in this class, though he needs to bulk up on his body. Williams weighed at 184 pounds on a 6-6.5 frame at the combine. His stock is rising because he overcame three injuries in his one season at Colorado (11.9 ppg, 41.5 3-pt%). The jump shot is good and will only get better. Doesn’t avoid the paint despite a smaller frame. Shoots well deep into games. Smart, and off the court, is as businesslike in his approach as any player you’ll find in this draft. Few guys have a higher floor than Cody Williams. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 11 | Position rank: 3 9 You can’t deny the size, the basketball IQ, the rebounding inevitability and his consummate professionalism as a teammate. Teams will talk themselves out of drafting Edey because they won’t be creative enough to find out ways to make a two-time national player of the year work in their system. That’s fine. But Edey’s going to be in the NBA for close to a decade, if not longer. He’s trained well, isn’t injury-prone and hasn’t played competitive basketball for more than seven years to this point in his life. Imagine that: A four-year college player who still has immense upside! The Purdue legend is coming off averaging 25.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and shooting 62.3% while drawing more fouls than anyone in college hoops. I’ll guess Edey’s NBA averages will finish in the neighborhood of 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Probably three contracts. That will all pile up to a top-10 career of any player in this ’24 draft pool. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 23 | Position rank: 5 10 I’m slightly lower on Castle than most (he’s almost universally viewed as a top-seven pick) because I wonder if he ever becomes a feared NBA shooter. The defense? That’s never going to be a concern. He will be a top-five defender (at worst) on whatever team drafts him the day he arrives at the facility. Yes, he’s that good. And that skill set is not deteriorating. Castle (11.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 47.2 FG%) loves a challenge and won many of them en route to helping UConn win a national title. But, for me, he’s a tough sell as an NBA point guard; I question if he can or will grow into that role. He could thrive off the ball, to an extent, but if he’s not going to be capable of producing north of 15 points per game, is he top-five-pick worthy? Put him in a position to thrive by leaning on his physical traits and without forcing him to morph into something for which he isn’t ready. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 5 | Position rank: 1 11 I’m so torn here. I just watched Dillingham (15.2 ppg, 3.9 apg, 44.4 3pt%) pull off carnival shots weekly on a Kentucky team that was a rollercoaster of emotions. He’s undersized — 6-foot-1 without shoes — and that is going to cost him 4-8 draft spots, but I can’t justify going lower than this. Dillingham loves buckets and buckets love Dillingham right back. His game is equal parts fun and fearless. His speed and charisma will have a place in the NBA if he embraces his role But he’s a water bug out there, and his liabilities as a defender are so glaring that his offensive game can’t overcome all of it. I think his ceiling is reaching an All-Star Game, but his floor could have him overseas in a few years if he can’t morph into another level of playmaking point guard. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 7 | Position rank: 2 12 If the injuries (knee) are a short-term concern and Topic is able to be an in-the-paint point menace, he’ll be a long-term NBA player. You’ve heard some top-five intrigue with his game, but that’s too bold for my taste for an 18-year-old who hasn’t proven over long stretches to have transcendent talent as an international prospect. (Topic hails from Serbia.) If you’re going to project as a top-end prospect, you need to be downright elite in at least one facet, and I’d argue Topic doesn’t check that box. Most of all, he lacks a huge sample size against good competition, so there is inherent risk here. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 8 | Position rank: 3 13 With Walter there are questions about specific fit. To that I say: Whatever, I see a baller. Walter has the athleticism and defensive faculties to justify being a top-15 selection in this draft. He had fits and starts as a meaningful contributor in his one-and-done season at Baylor (14.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, but his size and skill should be better suited for quicker development in an NBA environment. Walter has a 6-10 wingspan but his ceiling is lower than some others I have ranked below him. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 18 | Position rank: 4 14 Having watched Shannon in person multiple times over his college career, the single biggest forte in his game is how good he is at maintaining control while blazing down the floor on the break. Shannon’s size makes him so difficult to contain in those situations, and I think the NBA game is going to allow him to blossom as a transitional threat. He will be a plus defender, a solid scorer in screen-and-rolls. He also boasts the body type, shooting form and dexterity to plug in and play with almost any NBA franchise. He’d have left for the NBA one or two years ago with a better shot, but I’m of the belief Shannon’s game as a whole is greater than the sum of his parts. That with a guy who averaged 23.0 points last season at Illinois. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 33 | Position rank: 8 15 Two years ago I asked two NBA scouts if Kolek had a future in the NBA and both of them scoffed at the prospect. Now he’s in the mix to go in the first round. I like the Marquette product (who started at George Mason) to be a semi-starter over the course of a multi-contract career. Kolek’s competitive nature was blatant to anyone who followed him the past two seasons. He’s an eyes-on-the-prize point guard (15.3 ppg, 7.7 apg, 4.9 rpg) who doesn’t force the issue, seldom lets the offense out of his grip and wants the best success for his teammates. He’s also going to body up and be a better defender than some think. TJ McConnell springs to mind as an all-too-obvious comp, but I could see Kolek mimicking McConnell’s growth over the next eight years. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 26 | Position rank: 8 16 If shooting is the most important skill set in the NBA, why not McCain safely in the top 20? He made 82 of his 210 3s (41.4%) while at Duke, many of those 3-point attempts coming after being ID’d in the scouting report as Duke’s top option from beyond the arc. McCain was also 88.5% from the foul line and 52.1% from 2-point range as the third-ranked volume shooter on a 27-win Blue Devils team. At 6-3, he also surpassed 5.0 rebounds per game — a great sign. Far from a perfect prospect, but damn if he doesn’t do the fun stuff well — repeatedly well. Very high floor. Keep him healthy, put on some muscle and the shot will translate for years and years to come. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 15 | Position rank: 6 17 I first saw Buzelis in person in 2021 and still have never been able to settle into the idea that he’s got the package to validate being a top-10 NBA pick. That’s not a personal thing, just an observation that runs contrary to others. I can almost assure you he’ll be gone in the top 10 next week. I’m projecting Buzelis winds up as a good NBA player who hits a second contract and flirts with being a sometimes-starter near the end of his first contract. Lacks interior presence, and TBD if he’ll have enough of a consistent long-range shot to be dependable. A nice project as a stretch 4, and I’ve little doubt he’ll be an eager learner. He’s not shy on confidence, either. But the most boring thing you can be when analyzing prospects is falling in line with groupthink. In this case, I’m a seller relative to all others. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 9 | Position rank: 2 18 Bully-ball point guard who had to do a ton in his one year at USC (16.3 ppg, 4.3 apg) and was not ultra-efficient (33.8% from 3, 67.3 from the foul line). You hear “downhill attack” with Collier a lot and it’s justified. If he grows into more of a distributing lead guard, he’ll be a great second option at the 1 for a lot of teams. And he’ll be a great scout team point guard given his size and aggressiveness. The defense needs some molding and he got too careless too often on a Trojans team that needed more discipline. If anything, I thought I’d be lower on him than mock drafts, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Interesting development heading into draft night. Keep in mind, Collier was the No. 1 recruit in the high school class of 2023. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 13 | Position rank: 5 19 If you’re here as a die hard college hoops fan, Holmes is no secret. If you’re here as a curious NBA person who watched a little college hoops, just know that Holmes (the best Dayton prospect since Obi Toppin) has the size of a power forward (just under 6-9 without shoes) but many of the skills of shooting guard and is probably capable of playing a different role within the offense every other time down the floor. I’m amused with his potential. Averaged 20.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. His 3-point shot was solid (38.6% on 83 attempts) after not entering college as a proven shooter. Has the strength, rebounding acumen and measurements to stick. Among the better grab-from-all-angles rebounders in this draft. His instincts in getting loose balls are terrific. At his size, is a good playmaker off the dribble but can also use his back to the basket well and will force power-forward defenders into a lot of situations outside their comfort zone. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 20 | Position rank: 1 20 His value comes when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, which is why his ceiling is lowered for me. Holland could wind up as a top-five defender in this year’s class. He bypassed college to play for G League Ignite in its final year of existence, and that decision seems to have been a neutral one; it’s conceivable his reputation could have been slightly better or slightly worse had he played at Texas. I do put stock into the fact he’s super young (still 18) and has plenty of room to grow. Just not sold (yet) on his upside as a dynamic two-way player. That said, this is a big-board mock and not a forecast, so I’d be stunned if he falls out of the lottery. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 10 | Position rank: 3 21 As you can tell, we’ve got a solid dose of international prospects who will capitalize on a weak draft and wind up going in the first round. Salaun (via France) is a lock in this respect. He’s still raw, but I’ve spoken to a few people and caught up on some of the tape to confidently and reasonably project him in the top two thirds of the first round. I’m pushing him 5-7 spots further down than where he’s been mocked in part because his shot still needs more evidence it can be reliable against the best players in the world. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 15 | Position rank: 4 22 Definitely one of my guys in this year’s class. By that I mean: There’s not a lot of people out there projecting the Creighton wing to be top-25-good. But I like him a lot. Unless a team out there is feeling particularly bold, I doubt the slightly undersized 2 guard out of Creighton is getting picked in the first round. I do firmly believe his toolbox of traits gives him an excellent chance at making it to a second contract. Alexander started the majority of his games in three years at Creighton. He has good shooting form, can play on- and off-ball, and it should be emphasized he’s coming off career highs of 37.1 minutes, 17.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists for one of the 10-12 best teams in college basketball. Fit is probably key here, but if the right franchise takes him or trades for him, he’s going to be a sweet rotation player by Year 2 or 3. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 38 | Position rank: 9 23 Entirely plausible Missi, a one-and-done force at Baylor, is as high as 15th on some teams’ boards and as low as 40th on others. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder here. He’s almost certainly never going to be a guy who puts up more than 12 points on average, but Missi’s chances to be a multi-contract player reside with his rim protection, his improving instincts around the paint and a hunger for rebounding that should become deeper in the pros. Sometimes a guy can be a rotation player for nearly a decade if he’s borderline great at two or three things. Missi fits that description and has the body to make it a reality. Averaged 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds in 23 minutes per game for Scott Drew. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 19 | Position rank: 4 24 Since this is a weak draft, I’m not sure if the 24th-best player is even playing in the league six years from now, but I’d be surprised if Simpson isn’t able to stick around for at least a half-decade. I’m more in on Simpson than his former Colorado teammate, Tristan da Silva, who is receiving a bit of top-20 buzz. Simpson is slightly undersized but has a lot of innovation to his game and never adjusts his demeanor or want-to, regardless of time or score. He shot 43.4% from beyond the arc, which I anticipate will remain a reliable facet to his game. The stats are all healthy and shouldn’t be undervalued: 19.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.6 steals. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 35 | Position rank: 9 25 A former five-star prospect, Smith shined in recent months while playing for the G League Ignite. The 6-11 big has a good 3-point shot, is dexterous with the ball and seems to be getting better by the month. I think he’s got a good chance to make more than a third of his 3s at the next level once he finds his footing. Smith is a perpetual lob threat who plays the back alleys well. His size (6-11) and age (19) combined with a lefty stroke make him a tempting upside play. Also among the better passing bigs in this year’s draft. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 21 | Position rank: 2 26 A year ago at this point, Edwards was in the conversation to go No. 1. Now his stock falls outside the first round in the eyes of many. As I often do with one-and-done players, I will lean in on his skill set and reputation getting him back onto the better side of things. Edwards has the frame and instincts of a modern NBA wing. The jumper still needs work, and he’s not a go-go-go kind of player, but the tools can be refined. He was a top-five prospect in his class with good reason, and I think his NBA experience winds up being more fruitful than his time at Kentucky. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 30 | Position rank: 7 27 Ingram was a five-star prospect when he left high school a few years back and committed to Stanford. I don’t know if he’ll have his name called in the first 30 picks, but I’m confident he’ll wind up as one of the 30 best players in this year’s draft. Strong, intelligent, encouraging passer, eager rebounder and playable at the 2 or 3. He averaged 12.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and shot 38.5% from 3 at UNC last season. His defense will be the dealbreaker in his favor when it comes time to sticking on a roster. Also: Ingram had above-average measurements and testing at the combine and projects as a pliable two-way wing. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 36 | Position rank: 11 28 Entirely plausible we have a quasi-Jalen Brunson situation here. No, I’m not saying Shead’s going to become an MVP candidate seven years from now. And Shead wasn’t quite as great as Brunson in college, but he was a First Team All-American at Houston (12.9 ppg, 6.3 apg, 3.7 rpg, 2.2 spg) and he’s a better defender as a prospect now than Brunson has ever been. Why isn’t he more discussed as a first-round pick? It’s his size, most of all. At just over 6 feet in shoes, the height is holding him back. The shooting is also raising eyebrows. Shead shot 29.7% from 3 in his Cougars career. But I love his potential and believe in his will. Maybe there’s a Jevon Carter-type role waiting for him with the right team. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 41 | Position rank: 10 29 What a rise for Carrington (13.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.1 apg) over the past two months. He’s projected to be picked higher than my big board slot, for sure. He didn’t play for an NCAA Tournament team — Pitt went to the NIT — so the one-and-done Panther had a profile that was low-ish heading into the pre-draft process. His mid-range reliability and excellent command of the dribble is a selling point, but the shot still needs some work. From a talent standpoint, there is no arguing that he qualifies in this year’s draft as a top-30 commodity. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 17 | Position rank: 7 30 No prospect like him in this draft. Dunn (8.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.3 bpg) could be the best defender of the group, but he ranks sub-100 in offensive prowess among all 2024 prospects. (Dunn shot 20% from beyond the arc at Virginia.) I am putting him in my final slot because I’m that big of a believer in Dunn’s NBA defensive capability. Some scouts believe he was the best all-around defender in college last season — that carries a lot of weight. If he had any type of reliable jump shot, he’d go in the lottery. Great measurables, ultra-switchable and can play on one end of the court for any team, right now. Fascinated to see who takes him. CBS Sports’ prospect rank: 22 | Position rank: 5