So we wanted to check out what all they hype was surrounding the 2018 high school class and where its players stack up. We traveled up to the Birthplace of Basketball; where a good portion of the top 10 in 2018 participated in front of sold out crowds and on national television. We got a glimpse into next year’s NCAA freshman in a competitive environment with a lot on the line. Well, not a ton, since most of the 2018 class has signed already…but you get the point. There were great individual matchups within each game and the tournament directors did a great job showcasing what the fans, scouts, and coaches in attendance wanted to see.
Most of the rankings have RJ Barrett as the #1 recruit, but we aren’t so sure that he’ll be the most successful NBA player out of the group. Peering into the crystal ball, here’s how we see this group unfolding.
Bol Bol-The 7’2″ son of legendary Manute Bol, he’s more of a freak than his father. Bol has a more versatile skill set and a more durable body. He has an 8′ wingspan, similar to his father but weighs a little more on a shorter frame.
We were extremely impressed with his ability to handle the ball and create his own offense. There just aren’t that many humans that are his size and can shoot off the dribble. Bol has the most upside given his physical tools are extremely rare. And it seems that he has quite a competitive streak as his future college coach mentioned how he’s never seen him smile as much as he did in Springfield.
Defensively, Bol shines. He knows what he’s capable of and doesn’t play outside of his means. He deters shots everywhere on the floor. Great awareness, which is a huge separating factor at the NBA level. We really like his determination, Bol was on a mission to destroy his opponents and did so.
Cam Reddish-6’8″ wing with a Paul George vibe to his game. We aren’t saying he’ll play for Team USA, but there are a lot of positive qualities to his game that will translate in the NBA. What stood out the most was how easy he made the game look. To score in the NBA, one needs to be efficient and effective. Those traits are not easily learned, watching Reddish live, he has a grace to his movements that most NBA wings do. Reddish showed the ability to score quickly and play through a series of fakes. His offensive game is mature beyond his age.
Reddish is okay on the defensive side of the ball, it will never be a calling card for him. He has the length and athleticism to keep his man in front and help/recover. He’ll rebound a little bit, but it’s not his forte.
Louis King-Another 6’8″ wing…maybe we have a type?? King has a high skill level and makes the game look easy. Thought he was just a little less talented than Reddish, but they bring similar skills to the court. Release point on his shot was a little low, and the coaching staff seems to be trying to correct it.
Nonetheless, he’s a shot maker from 3PT range. Doesn’t need to pound the ball into the ground to be effective. We would’ve liked to see him run into more shots, and really dissect his footwork…but from what we saw we think King will be a versatile shooter at the next level. Handles the ball well and will be able to generate offense. Doesn’t force bad shots, has a couple pretty good teammates and keeps them involved even though he’s the most talented of the bunch.
Decent defender, knows what he has to do and will not be a liability. Not sure that he has the rugged, tough vibe that would put him in the elite category. But we don’t think coaches will be worried about whether or not he can stay in front of his man.
RJ Barrett-The #1 ranked player in this class, Barrett is an interesting evaluation for the NBA. At least 6’5″ with a mature body, Barrett is a phenomenal high school player. We think his defensive prowess will be his best attribute in the NBA. He can defend 1-3 with a combination of length, lateral quickness, confidence, etc. He dogs his man all over the floor and that is something that most high school players with his status don’t care about. Barrett kept a high-level scorer out of the paint and forced him into extremely difficult step-backs and other poor-quality shots the entire game. He fights through screens and steps up to challenges. That’s a mindset that doesn’t develop when a player is in the NBA, they have to walk in the door with it.
What may limit Barrett is his offensive game. He’s great as a facilitator and scorer, but his shooting is not elite.
Think Evan Turner, a fantastic combination of size, athleticism and vision, Barrett is a big point guard. He finds shooters everywhere and could, in the right situation, be a valuable piece to an NBA team. But the trend is going in the opposite direction. Shooting is the top commodity that teams are looking for to space the floor…Barrett is not the floor space, but he’s the guy who can take advantage of the space created by teammates.
Zion Williamson-There is a lot of hype surrounding Zion, and it’s easy to see why. All reports from Springfield were that he looked heavier than this summer and a little out of shape, but his power and athleticism are at a different level than all of his peers. Carrying around 300 pounds, Zion’s body control and ability to glide to the rim from well outside the paint are fascinating to watch.
We think we’ll get a better sense of his offensive game when he has better teammates, but his size and skill set lend him to be a very capable point-center. That seems made up, but we think it’s where the NBA is headed. His ball handling and passing are elite.
He’s a threat to get to the rim to score, which shrinks the help and he fires accurate passes to teammates around the 3PT line. That should be his role in the NBA too. his shooting will have to come along, he’s got a flat trajectory that will need a little fine-tuning.
There aren’t many players in his weight class that are as explosive as he is. Zion’s ability to meet the ball at the rim while coming from the weak side is top-notch and will translate to the NBA. How versatile of a defender remains to be seen. Zion relies on his tools to correct some mistakes, but that will be tougher to do in the NBA, obviously. Can he switch onto ball handlers? Can he closeout to shooters? We aren’t sure yet, but if he can defend guards, wings and bigs all while being able to run the offense…he could be the future prototype for centers.
Anfernee Simons-The draft eligible guard out of IMG drew 15 NBA teams to his game. While we don’t think he’s ready for the highest level just yet, he’ll be there shortly. 6’4″ with moderate tools from an NBA point of view. What we liked most about Simons was his ability to change direction quickly. He has the ability to create separation playing on and off the ball, which is essential to NBA productivity. Has a bag of tricks to get his shot off, including a Dirk-inspired fadeaway. Has good touch from all levels, showed some mid-range ability and can finish at the rim. What will keep him from being a superstar is the lack of feel. He missed some teammates when they had mismatches only to take poor shots. Well, it’s either an awareness issue or an attitude issue…regardless, it’s something to keep an eye on.
He’ll be able to defend both guard spots as most NBA teams are employing shorter backcourts these days. Has the size and quickness that is needed to try and slow down the best guards (Beal, McCollum, Oladipo).
This group may not be as talented as this year’s draft class. But there are still some elite players that have All Star potential. It just may not be who the media is hyping up. We can see Reddish and King having great careers. Barrett and Williamson should start for the majority of their careers. Simons may have a 6th man of the year type season or two. But Bol Bol could end up being the best when their careers are done. He fits the Porzingis mold of new-era big who can handle and create. He’s got a mean streak. He’s the most unique among the unique.