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The Boardman Bugle

Five future NBA stars playing in college

Chris Mediate, Editor-in-Chief

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The National Basketball Association for years has used the college basketball platform to gauge young up and coming talent. Each NBA team is looking for something different.

Some teams are looking for young players to fill their complementary roles, some are looking for players who fit an offensive or defensive need, and some may just need a certain position filled. But there are a few teams in particular who are looking for something else, something bigger. They are looking for the next big thing, a player they can mold and build their entire franchise around.

The 76ers, Lakers, Timberwolves and Knicks of the world bank on the NBA Draft. More specifically, the NBA Draft lottery, which ensures any of these young (and/or struggling) teams get first dibs on some of the best talent college basketball has to offer. With all of this in mind, here are five college players that NBA general managers are hoping to call come draft day.


  1. Josh Jackson

College: Kansas

Position: shooting guard/small forward

Grade: freshman

Height/Weight: 6’8”, 205 lbs.

NBA player comparison: Kawhi Leonard.

Stats: 16.0 ppg., 6.9 rpg., 3.0 apg., 1.6 spg., 1.3 bpg.

Josh Jackson is a freakishly athletic wingman out of Kansas who was a top-five recruit in his class. Jackson has been terrific all season and top to bottom Kansas’s best all-around player. He is a defensive ace and can lock down a team’s best player. He stands at a versatile size of 6’8” with a long 6’9.75” wingspan, which helps him guard multiple positions. Whether out on the perimeter or in the paint. He has a high basketball IQ on both sides of the ball and is able to find the open man with ease. His offensive game is in need of the most work, mainly with his shooting touch. Jackson slashes at the rim just fine, but because he lacks a three-point and mid-range jump shot, it makes him very one-dimensional. On top of that, his free-throw shooting percentage is around 50%, which is less than ideal for a physical perimeter player who gets to the line often. However, those issues are very fixable and he remains a can’t-miss talent with a very high ceiling. You might also argue that he is the safest pick in the draft, because even if he does not reach all-star caliber you are still getting a phenomenal defensive player who will impact your team immediately. A safe pick in the draft who has a high upside and terrific motor sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.


  1. Jayson Tatum

College: Duke

Position: small forward

Grade: freshman

Height/Weight: 6’8”, 205 lbs.

NBA player comparison: Carmelo Anthony

Stats: 15.8 ppg., 6.9 rpg., 1.9 apg., 1.5 spg., 1.4 bpg.

Jayson Tatum is the next up in a long line of talented wing players to come out of Duke. He is following in the steps of Jabari Parker, Justice Winslow, and Brandon Ingram, who were all very versatile and taken as lottery picks in the draft. Like those before him, he has been pushed from his natural small forward position to power forward and has still been productive. This is a plus showcasing that versatility. But unlike the previously mentioned wings, Tatum’s transition has not been as smooth, as he suffered an ankle injury which sidelined him for most of Duke’s nonconference slate. But since he has returned, he’s been one of Duke’s top options to score. He is a fearless competitor who is very confident and does not shy away from any opponent. Though he’s struggled to find his range behind the arch, his shot mechanics are very good. He uses a wide range of moves mixed with silky smooth athleticism to get him to the bucket. The forward is especially effective in isolation plays. Tatum a lot of potential to be a great defender, though his defensive tools have still impressed early. One of his weaknesses has been his attitude, as he has struggled in the early going to accept his role as the third option in the offense. This has resulted in shot-hunting and flashes of selfishness, showing scouts that his ability to play within an offense might need tweaked. But the young forward is still one of the premier prospects in the draft and should thrive in an iso-dominated NBA.


  1. Dennis Smith jr.

College: North Carolina State

Position: point guard

Grade: freshman

Height/Weight: 6’3”, 195 lbs.

NBA player comparison: Damian Lillard

Stats: 19.2 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 7.0 apg., 2.2 spg., 0.3 bpg.

Now onto the headlining position for this draft: the point guard. The depth of point guards in this draft class really made making this list tricky, because there are a few other guards that could have found their way on it. But the last three players on this list are in fact point guards, which should be an indicator of how sensational they really are. Dennis Smith jr. is the first of the trio. The guard has been ridiculous all season for the Wolfpack and is the heart and soul of the team. Smith has kept this team competitive in arguably America’s best conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, despite the team as a whole struggling. He is a pure scorer, superior athlete, and has a lightning quick first step. From size to skill, he plays right into the redefinition of point guards in the NBA. Predominantly, point guards at that level are scorers who do so much more than pass the ball and quarterback the offense. He can take a game over on a whim and no stage is too big. For example, he had a 32-point performance at Duke to lead NC State to their first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995. Before long, Smith will be a household name.


  1. Markelle Fultz

College: Washington

Position: point guard

Grade: freshman

Height/Weight: 6’4”, 195 lbs.

NBA player comparison: James Harden

Stats: 23.2 ppg., 6.0 rpg., 6.0 apg., 1.6 spg., 1.3 bpg.

Markelle Fultz is yet another “diamond in the rough” on a very underachieving team. Most draft boards have already heralded Fultz to be the top pick in the draft. A lot of that hype is justified, his statistics speak for themselves. Fultz and Smith have very similar play-styles, but because I believe Fultz does the play-style just a little better gives him the very slight nod. He does everything good; shoots, scores, passes, defends, you name it. I should also add that he does all of that at an efficient rate, having a player efficiency rating of 28.68 that ranks in the top 25 in the country. At 6’4” with a 195 pound frame, he uses his size very well to drive to the hoop and make his own shot. He is also very dangerous in transition and a tough defender. Fultz is calm and composed for his age and adjusted to this level of play almost seamlessly. So it is pretty easy to assume adjusting to the NBA will be no different. No questions asked, he is one of the most complete and explosive players in college basketball. With the motor and skill he has, there is no doubt he will be making some NBA GM very happy.  


  1. Lonzo Ball

College: UCLA

Position: point guard

Grade: freshman

Height/Weight: 6’6”, 190 lbs.

NBA player comparison: Magic Johnson

Stats: 15.1 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 7.8 apg., 1.9 spg., 0.9 bpg.

Onto the last prospect. As big of a fan as I am of Fultz, I am an even bigger fan of Lonzo Ball. I know I said Fultz is the more complete player, but as far as a difference maker goes and possible once in a lifetime talent, I think Ball is the best in the draft. He is without question the best point guard, in large part due to his insanely high basketball IQ and the intangibles he has to offer. He is one of the main reasons the Bruins have been so successful this season. Last season, UCLA was 15-17 and missed the NCAA tournament. If that team was that bad, who’s to say this year would be any different with almost that whole roster returning? Well, since adding Ball, UCLA is one of the best shows in college basketball, boasting a 23-3 record this season. Their offense has been humming smoothly all season thanks to Ball and it is one of the best in the country. By the numbers, they averaged 77.5 ppg.(ranked 67th in the country) with an offensive rating of 107.0 (ranked 116th in the country) last year. Now, they are averaging 92.9 ppg. (ranked 2nd in the country) and have an offensive rating of 122.4 (ranked 1st in the country). Those numbers just do not lie. Ball has smooth ball handling and control, a consistent three-point jump shot, very quick with or without the ball, slashes well, a great finisher around the rim, athletic, a next-level passing and playmaking ability, and he is 6’6”. Pair all of that up with his killer instinct and clutch gene, you have yourself a franchise player. He will instantly improve whatever team he lands with and is the must-have player in this draft. Book it.


Honorable Mention

The following is a list of players who did not make the list but could still turn out to be special talents for an NBA team.

De’Aaron Fox- PG, Kentucky

Miles Bridges- SF, Michigan State

Malik Monk- SG, Kentucky

Jonathan Isaac- SF, Florida State

Harry Giles- PF, Duke

Lauri Markkanen- PF/C, Arizona


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Boardman High School
Five future NBA stars playing in college