July 15, 2024

Imagining a mock 2024 NBA Draft using only college basketball’s best prospects

The 2024 NBA Draft is widely viewed as one of the weakest in several years, and it’s likely to be dominated by prospects from overseas and the G League. The following exercise presupposes … what if it wasn’t?

We assembled our men’s college basketball experts to conduct a mock first-round draft including only players who were in NCAA programs last season. Is this based in any sort of reality? Not really, though we did consider NBA teams’ needs and context when applicable. Mostly, it’s an excuse for us to give some thoughts on the best pro prospects we saw in the past year while watching ungodly amounts of college hoops (and loving every second of it). And who knows? Maybe some of these guys who starred on campuses will turn into stars at the next level, too.

The commissioner is at the podium …

Reed Sheppard | 6-3 guard | Freshman | Kentucky

There was serious consideration of taking UConn’s Stephon Castle here, because he’s a defensive menace and Atlanta needs that, too, but the Hawks need to surround star point guard Trae Young with some 3-point shooting. Sheppard, the national freshman of the year, instantly addresses that issue. He led the SEC and ranked fifth nationally in true shooting percentage (.699) and his 3-point percentage (.521) would’ve led Division I by a wide margin if he qualified, which he oddly did not despite attempting six 3s per game. Don’t be fooled by the fact John Calipari somehow didn’t start Sheppard. He impacted winning more than anyone on that loaded roster, averaging 17.2 points, 6.2 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 3.4 steals per 40 minutes. — Kyle Tucker



Reed Sheppard and Kentucky, a love story. ‘The whole state is connected to him’

Stephon Castle | 6-6 wing | Freshman | Connecticut

No need to worry about fit, because the Wizards arguably have the worst roster situation in the league and just need to collect talent. Castle, at 6-6 with a 6-9 wingspan, was one of the best perimeter defenders in the country as a 19-year-old freshman. At the very least, he’ll be extremely useful (think the anti-Jordan Poole) on that end. He’s not an overly explosive athlete, and I don’t buy that he can ever be a lead guard. But if he can fix his shot mechanics — Castle made only 27 percent of his 3s for the Huskies — and develop into a true 3-and-D guy, then the upside here is higher than any other college player in this draft class. — Brian Bennett



Why is UConn so unbeatable? The Huskies’ fifth option is a five-star freshman

Rob Dillingham | 6-3 guard | freshman | Kentucky

Passing on Connecticut center Donovan Clingan — who, for my money, is the best college player coming out this cycle — wasn’t easy, but the fit just isn’t awesome with Houston, which already has Alperen Sengun and a glut of other frontcourt pieces. Instead, give me Dillingham, maybe the best pure scorer in college hoops this season. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 15.2 points per game, second-most on the nation’s No. 7 offense, while draining 79.6 percent of his free throws and 44.4 percent of his 3s. Is Dillingham capable of being an every-game starter at his size, or is he destined to fill the Lou Williams microwave bench scorer role? Either way, he’s the most dynamic guard coming out of college, and someone who should stick in the league for a long time. — Brendan Marks

Donovan Clingan | 7-2 center | Sophomore | Connecticut

Here were the best four defenses at limiting opponents at the rim, per Synergy: Minnesota, Boston, Oklahoma City and Denver. Here were the best four defenses in the NBA: Minnesota, OKC, Boston and Denver. San Antonio needs to get better on both ends of the floor, but drafting Clingan would be an opportunity to be elite defensively and bring back the twin towers to the Spurs. Imagine trying to score in the paint with both Clingan and Victor Wembanyama protecting the basket. Clingan feels like one of the surest things in this draft. Offensively, Connecticut got him ready for the NBA using him as a facilitator on the perimeter. He’s comfortable finding cutters and initiating dribble handoffs, and he’s an efficient finisher around the basket. It’s within reason that he may eventually be able to knock down open 3s. Defensively, he was the best rim protector in college basketball. It wasn’t just his shot-blocking either; he made it difficult to complete passes in the paint. The twin towers approach has worked in Minnesota, and no one knows how to coach it better than Gregg Popovich. — CJ Moore

Dalton Knecht | 6-6 wing | Senior | Tennessee

This was the easiest call so far. The Pistons need to surround their young backcourt — Cade Cunningham and Jaden — with some shooting. And Knecht fills it up. Detroit needs athletic wings, and Knecht fits that bill, too. The Pistons, who are forever in the lottery, ranked 26th out of 30 NBA teams in 3-point percentage and 27th in 3-point attempts last season, a distinctly unmodern basketball team. Drafting Knecht would be a step in the right direction, as the 6-foot-6 wing averaged 21.7 points, shot 39.7 percent from 3 and carried the Vols to just their second Elite Eight appearance in program history last season. He scored 30-plus eight times and 25-plus 13 times, incredibly putting up even better numbers at Tennessee than he did the year before at Northern Colorado. Knecht is the reigning SEC Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and unofficially the biggest bucket in this draft. – Tucker



Tennessee’s scoring sensation is the All-American no one saw coming

Devin Carter | 6-3 guard | Senior | Providence

Charlotte has a decent nucleus going with LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller on the perimeter and Nick Richards and Mark Williams up front. But the Hornets need backcourt depth — and somebody to lock down opposing guards, which has not exactly been Ball’s calling card. Carter is a perfect fit here as a tough-nosed defender (he averaged nearly three steals + blocks per game last season, as well as almost nine rebounds as a 6-3 guard) who emerged as a high-volume shooter for Providence as a junior. His 37.7 percent mark from 3 was far and away the best of his career, and if that’s real and not just a small sample-size outlier, then he’ll have a long pro career just like his dad, Anthony, who was a 13-year NBA vet. — Bennett

Cody Williams | 6-8 wing | Freshman | Colorado

Williams, the younger brother of Oklahoma City wing Jalen Williams, is exactly the sort of modern, multifaceted wing that all NBA teams are searching for … or, at least he is in theory. The positives: Williams is 6-foot-8 with a 7-1 wingspan, athleticism for days, strong defensive instincts and intensity and a propensity for slashing from the wing. The negatives: consistency, obviously — Williams, because of injury and lingering malaise, only had three 20-point games all season — and questions surrounding his shot and creation abilities. Williams created for other players to some extent this season, with eight games of 3-plus assists, but can he generate his own looks? And will his 3-point efficiency (41.5 percent, but only 1.7 attempts per game) carry over at a higher clip? The Blazers will need to let Williams play through his mistakes to answer those questions, but for a franchise still very much in talent acquisition mode, the upside here is immense. — Marks

Isaiah Collier was the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2023 but had an up-and-down freshman season at USC. (John Reed / USA Today)

8. San Antonio Spurs

Isaiah Collier | 6-5 guard | Freshman | USC

Collier was once considered a possibility to be the No. 1 pick, and a disappointing freshman season at USC hurt his stock. But context matters. USC was a carnival. His size/athleticism profile resembles some guards who have been huge successes in the NBA. The caution flags are his shooting, turnovers and defense. But a closer look suggests he actually had a pretty good statistical season for a freshman point guard.

Here’s some per-game and advanced stats: 16.3 ppg, 4.3 apg, 30.9 assist rate, 21.1 turnover rate, 49.7 free-throw rate, 33.8 percent on 3s, 54.3 percent on 2s

Now the freshman numbers from a one-and-done guard who is the same height: 16.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 34.8 assist rate, 24.0 turnover rate, 53.0 free-throw rate, 32.5 percent on 3s, 50.9 percent on 2s.

The second set of numbers belongs to five-time all-star John Wall during his one season at Kentucky. When healthy, Wall was an elite NBA point guard only missing a 3-point shot, and I think there’s some hope for Collier to develop his jumper. Collier’s small sample of catch-and-shoot numbers was solid and taking some tough shots lowered his percentages. His combination of size, athleticism and skill might be the best for any point guard in this draft. The Spurs would love to pair an elite point guard with Wemby.  — Moore

Zach Edey | 7-4 center | Senior | Purdue

He likely won’t go anywhere near this high in the actual draft. But maybe he should? The Grizzlies need an impact player at center to become a postseason contender. With Clingan off the board, and after taking a long look at Baylor’s Yves Missi and Dayton’s DaRon Holmes II, I’m rolling with the two-time national player of the year. Given his total domination and sheer size, it’s actually kind of wild how few people believe in Edey as a pro. The 7-foot-4, 285-pound behemoth averaged 25.2 points, 12.2 boards and 2.2 blocks in leading the Boilermakers to the national championship game last season. He draws an obscene number of fouls and is a career 71 percent free-throw shooter. And if you love Clingan as a pro prospect, Edey went for 37 and 10 in their title-game — Tucker



On Zach Edey, and the things he carried for Purdue basketball

Jared McCain | 6-3 guard | Freshman | Duke

You can usually count on Danny Ainge taking the best player available on draft night — and probably swinging several trades. The best remaining college prospect on the board is McCain, who proved at Duke he’s an elite shooter who’s especially deadly on transition 3s. Though his size and athleticism don’t wow you, he showed a lot of toughness as a good rebounder and passable defender for the Blue Devils. He’s stronger than you think, and he’s won everywhere he’s gone. Plus, his TikTok-friendly personality and high character will make him a fan favorite. Even if he only tops out as the next Seth Curry, that’s still a valuable player to have on any team, especially in this draft. — Bennett

Ja’Kobe Walter | 6-5 wing | Freshman | Baylor

Who knows what the Bulls will do this offseason? DeMar DeRozan’s a free agent, Zach LaVine is (somehow) still on the roster, and there’s a general dearth of talent and direction. So, let’s go with a player who A) should have a role regardless of the team’s other moves, and B) is young enough to become a future building block. Walter was one of the most productive freshmen in college hoops, leading Baylor in scoring as a 19-year-old. Walter’s 28-point breakout in his first college game, a neutral-court win over Auburn, set the tone for him the rest of the season. His 3-point efficiency was up and down, but the mechanics and willingness to pull up are there; we’re betting on Walter ironing out some of his inefficiencies at the next level. Between that, his athletic 6-foot-5 frame, and his general scoring instincts, Walter can contribute as a rookie while bridging the gap to a new era in Chicago. — Marks

12. Oklahoma City Thunder

Kyle Filipowski | 7-0 big | Sophomore | Duke

The Thunder were plus-21 with Chet Holmgren on the floor in the Dallas series and got outscored by 21 with him on the bench. Jaylin Williams is a solid backup and cheap, but Filipowski could potentially be a taller upgrade who could also play in lineups alongside Holmgren and fit OKC’s five-out offense. The Thunder give up more second-chance points than anyone in the NBA, and Filipowski would conceivably help on the glass. He’s also one of the most skilled bigs in this class. Usually someone this tall who can dribble, shoot and pass and is solid defensively has a good chance at making it in the NBA. — Moore

Tristan da Silva | 6-9 forward | Senior | Colorado

The Kings need to space the floor around point guard De’Aaron Fox and center Domantas Sabonis, especially if they lose Malik Monk this summer, and a 6-9 forward who made 118 of 299 3-pointers (39.5 percent) over the last two seasons at Colorado would certainly help. The 23-year-old da Silva averaged 16 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals last season. He’d be a nice complement to (and perhaps eventual replacement for) Harrison Barnes. If you watched da Silva in this year’s NCAA Tournament, it would be easy to love this pick. In three games, he averaged 18 points, shot 60 percent from the field and made 9 of 16 3s. He has all the makings of an NBA rotational player. — Tucker

Baylor Scheierman averaged 18.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 38.1 percent on 3s for Creighton last season. (Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

14. Portland Trail Blazers

Baylor Scheierman | 6-7 wing | Senior | Creighton

Rip City is flush with young guards (Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, et al) and even though they selected Cody Williams a few picks early in this exercise, taking a swing on another wing seems like the right move here. Scheierman is an outstanding shooter who made 39 percent of his 3s in college at extreme volume. He’s not just a floor-spacer, though; he’s a legit ball-mover, a key trait needed to blend in with those high-usage guards. He’s also a surprisingly good rebounder, and while he may be challenged to hang on defense against better athletes, Scheierman is a mature, reliable, tough-nosed role player for a team that can use more of those. — Bennett

Tyler Kolek | 6-3 guard | Senior | Marquette

Between #HeatCulture and Miami’s player development system, it takes a particular type of person to succeed in South Florida — like, say, one whose college team was picked to finish ninth in its conference two years ago, and whose only response was: “F— ’em.” Um, yeah, that energy will play in Miami — and so will the person who spoke it into existence, Tyler Kolek. At Marquette this season, Kolek led the nation in assists per game (7.7) while shooting 38.8 percent from 3. He’s also a solid, crafty defender for his size. Like Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami’s last first-rounder, Kolek is older (23), has played tons of basketball, and is the type of ready-made contributor who can help the Heat rebound from an early postseason exit. Tyler Herro and company will still have the ball in their hands plenty, but Kolek is an ideal set-up man for the various talents on this roster, while also being a cheap future piece for a team with potential tax issues. — Marks

Terrence Shannon Jr. | 6-6 wing | Senior | Illinois

Shannon is the kind of talent that the 76ers should be after. Their offense needs some juice and some youth off the bench. Shannon was the most productive perimeter scorer in college basketball, averaging 23 points and going on a heater in March. He had a seven-game stretch when he averaged 30.3 points per game. He has elite burst and that should translate to the NBA. After watching Tobias Harris go scoreless in the elimination game against the Knicks, it should be obvious to Philly that it needs a wing scorer willing to take a shot. — Moore



Former Illinois guard Terrence Shannon Jr. found not guilty in rape trial

DaRon Holmes II | 6-10 forward | Junior | Dayton

The Lakers will have a decision to make here. There’s some buzz about the Suns taking LeBron James’ son, Bronny, at No. 22. If that’s the case, you almost certainly have to pull the trigger here to keep your superstar happy — even if it’s otherwise preposterous to take a guy who averaged 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in one season of college just outside the lottery. There’s also the possibility L.A. trades down to take Bronny in a more realistic spot. Or trades the pick as part of a deal to get a win-now player for LeBron. Since those are all unknowns, I’m just taking the most intriguing prospect left on the board here, and that’s Holmes, a 6-foot-10 All-American who shot 39 percent from 3 and was Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s a super-versatile big who averaged 20.4 points, 8.5 boards, 2.6 assists and 2.1 blocks last season. — Tucker

Carlton “Bub” Carrington | 6-5 guard | Freshman | Pittsburgh

It’s no secret what the promising Magic desperately need: shooting, especially with Gary Harris’ expiring contract. It’s something the team likely will address through trades or veteran free agents, but why not also take a shot on the upside of one of the youngest players in the draft? Carrington, who doesn’t turn 19 until next month, showed flashes of serious scoring and passing ability as a freshman, especially late in the season (he had 23 points in the regular-season finale against NC State and 24 in the ACC tournament semis against UNC). He made only 32.2 percent of his 3s but took nearly more than six per game and has a mechanically sound stroke. I’d bet that the shot develops. Add him to recent draftees Jett Howard and Caleb Houston and hope at least one of them hits. — Bennett

Ryan Dunn | 6-8 wing | Sophomore | Virginia

Not only did the Raptors have the league’s fifth-worst defensive rating this season, but they desperately need a rangy forward to alleviate some of the pressure on Scottie Barnes. Dunn checks both boxes, even if he won’t provide much (any?) lift offensively. At 6-foot-8 with a 7-1 wingspan, Dunn has the size and athleticism to guard multiple positions and would form a formidable tandem next to Barnes. He was the only high-major player this season to average better than two blocks (2.3) and one steal (1.3) per game, and he posted nine games with five or more “stocks.” Offensively, he’s basically a zero — solid in transition and finishing near the rim, and … that’s it — but the Raptors can afford to be patient on that end while still reaping the instant benefits of Dunn as a stopper. — Marks

Yves Missi | 7-0 big | Freshman | Baylor

The Cavs could use a backup center given 33-year-old Tristan Thompson was still getting minutes this season. Missi is a big upside play here. He made the Big 12 all-league defensive team and started to flash potential as a playmaking center the second half of the season, putting the ball on the floor and using his speed to get around bigs from the top of the key. His role in the NBA could just be as a rim roller, and he got plenty of pick-and-roll reps playing for the Bears. But it’s also possible he’s more than that and could turn into a starting-caliber center. Shame on my colleagues for letting the Cavs get such a steal here! — Moore

Kel’el Ware | 7-0 big | Sophomore | Indiana

With starting center Jonas Valanciunas expected to move on this summer via free agency, the Pelicans need a new big man, and ideally one who doesn’t clog the paint as much as Valanciunas when Zion Williamson is on the floor. Ware makes a ton of sense here. The former top-10 recruit followed a solid freshman season at Oregon with a terrific sophomore year at Indiana, averaging 15.9 points, 9.9 boards and 1.9 blocks while teasing some serious stretchability. The 7-footer sank 17 of 40 3s (42.5 percent) for the Hoosiers. He measured (7-foot-4 1/2 wingspan) and tested very well at the combine and figures to be a viable option for any team needing a center. — Tucker

Jamal Shead was the national defensive player of the year and the Big 12 player of the year last season. (Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

22. Phoenix Suns

Jamal Shead | 6-1 guard | Senior | Houston

Yeah, he’s small, and he barely reached 30 percent on 3s the past two seasons. Who cares? This was arguably the best leader and almost inarguably the best defensive guard in college basketball, who might well have dragged his team to the Final Four if he didn’t get hurt in the NCAA Tournament. Shead — who, no surprise, shined in the combine scrimmages despite not being 100 percent — is a winner, period. He’s going to play in the league for a long time. I want him on my team. — Bennett



Where would Houston be without Jamal Shead? Stranded

Johnny Furphy | 6-9 wing | Freshman | Kansas

Will the Bucks keep this pick? Debatable. Giannis Antetokounmpo is in his prime, and a mid-20s rookie selection — especially given our college-only pool — is only reasonably going to help so much. But the Bucks, who finished 11th in the league in 3-point percentage, could probably use some more shooting: both to create space for the Greek Freak, as well as to limit the burden on a 34-year-old Damian Lillard. Furphy is exactly the kind of low-usage, high-efficiency wing who fits around the Bucks’ existing core. Plus, considering he’s one of the youngest players in the draft — he doesn’t turn 20 until December — Milwaukee can count on him stretching the floor around Antetokounmpo for the foreseeable future. Furphy doesn’t turn the ball over, improved as a rebounder in just one season at Kansas and hit 35.2 percent from 3 despite barely playing the first two months of last season. Get him on Antetokounmpo’s bulking plan, and in a year or two, Milwaukee may have a real weapon. — Marks



Trips to Kangaroo Island and ‘Eff-you’ dunks: Inside the rise of Kansas’ Johnny Furphy

24. New York Knicks

Cam Spencer | 6-4 guard | Senior | Connecticut

This would be viewed as a reach, but Spencer fits the Knicks perfectly. He has the kind of edge to him that Knicks fans would love. He also just makes shots and wins. Spencer had the highest offensive rating in college basketball and made 44 percent of his 3s for the champs. He has a crazy work ethic, spending more time than anyone in the country watching film and working on his game. He’s going to find a way to make it in the NBA. — Moore



Cam Spencer lights UConn’s fire

25. New York Knicks

Jaylon Tyson | 6-7 wing | Senior | California

The Knicks haven’t drafted in the first round since 2020 and now they have back-to-back first-round picks this year, but there’s a lot of buzz about their desire to trade one or both to keep the window open after a 50-win season and second-round playoff appearance. Whoever ultimately makes this pick, the pickings are starting to get mighty thin. Tyson, a 6-foot-7 wing scorer who played at Texas, Texas Tech and Cal the last three seasons, is one of the few truly intriguing prospects left on the board. He was All-Pac-12 with the Bears after averaging 19.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season. He hit 38 percent of his 3s on 246 attempts the last two years at Texas Tech and Cal. He has the tools to become a contributor in the league. — Tucker

26. Washington Wizards

Kyshawn George | 6-8 wing | Freshman | Miami

I can’t say I remember many Kyshawn George moments from last season, as he averaged less than eight points a game for a bad Hurricanes team. But he’s a rangy wing who shot over 40 percent from 3 as a freshman, so there’s certainly some potential here. The Swiss native will likely spend a lot of time early on in the G League, but the Wizards don’t have to worry about rushing development right now and can afford a flier here. — Bennett

27. Minnesota Timberwolves

Harrison Ingram | 6-8 wing | Junior | North Carolina

Only eight Timberwolves players averaged at least 10 minutes per game this postseason, and all but one — forward Kyle Anderson — are slated to be back. So with this pick, why not a potential Anderson replacement? Ingram is cut from the same cloth as Slo Mo — aka, not an athletic freak — but he’s got a 7-foot wingspan, can play multiple positions and has a relatively high floor. The former McDonald’s All-American averaged 12.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 steals per game this season at North Carolina, while shooting 38.5 percent from 3 (even with a nagging wrist injury). Ingram can probably play the 3 next to Gobert and Towns in a super-sized lineup, but he can slide up to the four in a pinch, and even potentially serve as a small-ball five. Again, the athletic limitations are a thing, but getting someone this late in the draft who can rebound, shoot, defend multiple positions and handle it a little still counts as a win. — Marks

28. Denver Nuggets

Oso Ighodaro | 6-11 big | Senior | Marquette

I finish by getting to pick two of my favorite college players back-to-back. The Nuggets need a backup center and they could land one here with some similarities to Nikola Jokic. Marquette coach Shaka Smart even consulted the Nuggets a couple years ago when he was trying to figure out the best way to utilize Ighodaro, a point center with terrific vision and a love for setting up teammates. When Jokic went to the bench, Ighodaro could do some similar things in two-man games. He’s probably a better fit defensively as a power forward, so he could conceivably share the floor with Jokic and backup Aaron Gordon as well. — Moore



How Oso Ighodaro became the linchpin for college basketball’s most experimental offense

29. Utah Jazz

Justin Edwards | 6-8 wing | Freshman | Kentucky

Because why not, right? If you’re picking 29th in a college-only draft, you’re taking a flier no matter who you choose. So why not roll the dice on a 6-8 one-and-done who was the No. 3 recruit in the 2023 class? Some preseason mock drafts last fall (including ours) had Edwards going No. 1. The lefty’s lone season at Kentucky didn’t go as planned, as his early on-court struggles sent him spiraling mentally. But Edwards deserves a lot of credit for fighting through that to become a valuable contributor by March. Over the final 10 games of the regular season, when Kentucky surged into contention for the SEC title and locked up a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Edwards averaged 11.6 points, shot 61.5 percent from the field and sank 16 of 29 3s (55.2 percent). That included a tantalizing 28-point performance against Alabama in which Edwards hit all 10 of his shots. — Tucker

30. Boston Celtics

PJ Hall | 6-10 big | Senior | Clemson

The Celtics don’t need a whole lot, of course, but another big body could prove useful, as Kristaps Porzingis remains injury-prone and Al Horford can’t do this forever. Hall is an undersized five who’s not nearly the defender even a post-prime Horford is, but he fits Boston’s preferred five-out playing style. Though he shot just 31.5 percent on 3s last season, he hit 39.8 percent of them as a junior and is comfortable in a pick-and-pop role. — Bennett

(Top illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; photos: Carly Mackler, Jamie Schwaberow, Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)