LAS VEGAS — Usually at this point heading into the season, NBA scouts have a good idea as to which players could go No. 1 overall in the upcoming draft. Last year it was Victor Wembanyama, the year before it was Cade Cunningham and scouts were aware of Anthony Edwards at Georgia and LaMelo Ball playing in Australia as the top two prospects for 2020. This year is significantly different with no clear-cut No. 1 player. G League Ignite’s Ron Holland looked fantastic in a pair of exhibition games against the Perth Wildcats. On the other side of the ball, Alex Sarr soared up draft boards and looked like a potential top-five pick.
There are so many different avenues for players to take before hitting the league. This year, scouts will be all over the globe getting a feel for the best talent in the upcoming draft. Yahoo Sports takes a look at the top 30 prospects from the G league Ignite and college and international leagues ahead of the upcoming regular season.
G League Ignite
This is the most talented Ignite team the program has had since it launched four years ago. Head coach Jason Hart has eight draft-eligible players on his 15-man roster. While Holland shined as the best young prospect on the court against Perth, there has been significant improvement in point guard London Johnson, who played behind Scoot Henderson last year; Tyler Smith, who joined the Ignite after a season with Overtime Elite; and Babacar Sane, who showcased an improved motor and defensive versatility against Perth. Depending on how the 50-game season goes, the Ignite potentially have four players who could go in the first round of the 2024 NBA Draft.
Holland is one of the top projected players heading into the draft season and he looked the part in two games against Perth last week. He led all Ignite players with 33 points and added six rebounds and five steals in a loss Friday night. Holland might be the most explosive player in this draft class and has a deadly first step. At 6-foot-8, he can do a lot of things really well with his size and takes the most pride in his defense and stopping the best player on the opposing team.
“I want to be the one to guard the best player on the court,” Holland told Yahoo Sports. “I take pride in my defense. At the end of the day, I just want to win and make my team better, so if that’s me scoring, being off the ball, I’m here to do what the coach is asking me to do.”
The first thing noticeably different about Buzelis is his size as he went from 185 pounds in March to now 203 pounds during preseason play. Buzelis was patient during the first two exhibition games and is taking time to let the game come to him. At 6-10 and with the ability to play inside and outside the paint, scouts are still figuring out what Buzelis can be at the next level. He shows glimpses of a long-range game and has the footwork to be productive in the paint, but where he shines is in transition and the way he plays above the rim.
“I just want to show growth to my overall game to the NBA scouts,” Buzelis told Yahoo Sports. “They’ve pretty much seen me throughout high school, but it’s a different league now with more physicality and a much faster pace to the game.”
Darlan is still sidelined after suffering a dislocated ankle during Basketball Without Borders during NBA All-Star weekend in February. He participated in non-contact drills each day in practice. Scouts were impressed with his improved jumper and how he showed more consistency off the dribble. Darlan also looks closer to 6-8 than his listed 6-6 height. Scouts are eager to see him back on the court for five-on-five competition.
“I just want to work on my shooting and my movement in my shot this season,” Darlan told Yahoo Sports. “Getting my footwork right to the point where I can catch and shoot and have it be the same shot whether I’m running behind my teammate in transition or off a cut in the offense.”
Almansa, a 6-10 forward, joined the Ignite after playing with Overtime Elite last season and looked significantly better on the court last week in Las Vegas. After a slow start in the first game against Perth, Almansa settled into the offense and scored 13 points and added four rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 25 minutes off the bench. Almansa defends the pick-and-roll well and has the athleticism to return to his man after the hedge. He’s a strong rebounder and is comfortable in pushing the ball up the court himself in transition.
College: One-and-done freshmen players
NBA scouts got a first look at the freshman class during the McDonald’s All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit in the spring and both were highly competitive games. This isn’t the most consistently talented group across the board, but there will be some breakout first-year players in college hoops this year, like every season.
Justin Edwards, Kentucky
Edwards looks the part of a modern-day NBA perimeter player with his 6-8 frame and endless range. He’s a better spot-up shooter than at getting something off the dribble and is more of a straight-line slasher who wants to get to the rim, instead of settling for midrange jumpers. Edwards shines defensively with his long arms and ability to anticipate passes, particularly in transition defense or full-court press. Edwards scored 23 points in the GLOBL JAM final against Canada in July and could be the first Kentucky player off the board in the No. 1 recruiting class coming in this season.
Stephon Castle, Connecticut
No freshman is coming into a better situation than Castle, who joins the defending national champions and will have the ball in his hands early on this season. Castle is a big guard at 6-6, 215 pounds and looked fantastic in three overseas exhibition games in August. He showed more confidence stepping into his 3-point shot, looked confident with the up-tempo pace of the college game and kept players in front of him on defense. Castle led all players in scoring with 16.7 points and added 2.3 steals per game while shooting 60% from the field and 43% from 3-point range.
Isaiah Collier, USC
Collier is the No. 1 recruit coming into the college season and has the most NBA-ready body at the guard position at 6-5, 210 pounds. He averaged 19.6 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals while shooting 52% from inside the arc and 38% from 3-point range during his senior year of high school and was named the MVP of Stephen Curry’s SC Select camp and was also the McDonald’s All-American Game co-MVP. Collier loves to get downhill and has an excellent touch around the rim. Scouts will be watching how his 3-point shot progresses this season.
Aaron Bradshaw, Kentucky
Bradshaw had surgery earlier this summer to repair a fractured foot. Kentucky head coach John Calipari is optimistic Bradshaw will return to the court in November, telling reporters in June, “This kid is so excited to be here and wants to help us win … we will not rush him back and for what he did and how he did it. When he decided [he wanted to get the surgery] it was a day and a half, two days later when he had the operation.”
The 7-2 freshman fits the mold of a young NBA center with the way he can step out on the perimeter but also has the footwork and length to defend the post.
Elmarko Jackson, Kansas
Jackson is a solid point guard at 6-4 with speed and excellent shot creation. His quick-twitch decision-making sets him apart from other guards projected at the top of the draft. He plays just as well off the ball in the way he cuts and crashes the offensive boards for easy put-backs. Look for everything to run through Jackson and Texas transfer Arterio Morris this season.
Ja’Kobe Walter, Baylor
Walter might not be the No. 1 option at Baylor this season, but scouts might not need to see as much production from the two-way guard with limited offensive touches to select him in the first round next year. The 6-5 playmaker has good instincts off the dribble and has a fast-paced twitch to his game that makes him an intriguing guard at the NBA level.
D.J. Wagner, Kentucky
Wagner is a third-generation player with aspirations of making the NBA. His dad, Dajuan Wagner, played four years in the NBA while his grandfather, Milt, played professionally for 13 seasons. Wagner looks comfortable at point guard, and he loves his little hesitation off the dribble before using an explosive first step to get around defenders. Wagner averaged 14.8 points throughout the GLOBL JAM against Canada in July and will most likely be the player running the show at Kentucky this season.
Caleb Foster, Duke
Foster was snubbed in the McDonald’s All-American honors and might use that to fuel a strong freshman season. Foster has been putting the work in during early-morning summer workouts and has always been a terrific shooter at 6-5. He can play on or off the ball and when he gets the hot hand, he’s difficult to guard with his high release and quick shooting mechanics.
Omaha Biliew, Iowa State
Biliew’s sheer athleticism shines when he first hits the court, but he’ll have some growing pains this season after struggling for Team USA at the U19 World Cup in July. The 6-8, 220-pound forward gets up and down the court with ease and is one of the best rebounders in this freshman class. NBA scouts will need to see more fluidity in his decision-making outside of the paint and how well he adjusts to the physicality of playing in the Big 12 this year.
Jared McCain, Duke
McCain is one of the most competitive guards in this freshman class and doesn’t shy away from any matchup or duck competition. He was one of the most productive guards at Chris Paul’s point guard camp in Los Angeles last month and finds ways to win at every level. Although he’s not the biggest guard in the class at just 6-2, he has a consistent 3-point jumper and lets it fly from all over the court and from deep range, too. In a draft class that appears to be wide open, McCain could surprise a lot of people with how productive he can be at point guard and how much value he adds to a team.
Zvonimir Ivisic, Kentucky
Ivisic officially signed with Kentucky in August, but there are rumors the university administration is not clearing him, claiming Ivisic is not proficient in English (even though he’s passed two English-speaking tests). Whether the 7-2, 220-pound forward out of Croatia plays at Kentucky this season doesn’t matter to scouts after what he showed during the GLOBL JAM against Canada. Ivisic brought much-needed size and rim protection in the lane and looked comfortable knocking down 3s trailing in transition or in the pick-and-pop situation. Kentucky fans would be devastated to lose Ivisic after a taste of what he could bring to the team, but NBA scouts and executives will continue to evaluate the young center whether he’s at Kentucky or somewhere else.
College: Top returning sophomores
There were 152 players who withdrew their names from the 2023 NBA Draft, with the perception that players could help their draft stock if they returned for another season.
Tyrese Proctor, Duke
Proctor reclassified up last season and was one of the youngest players in college basketball. Originally from Australia, Proctor showed glimpses of what sort of guard he could be at the NBA level last season, and NBA scouts are eager to see what he can build on with one year under his belt at Duke. The 6-5 guard averaged 9.4 points and 3.3 assists per game last season and really excels as a playmaker and the way he sees the court.
Trevon Brazile, Arkansas
Brazile is coming off an ACL tear that kept him sidelined for the majority of the season. Prior to his injury, he had the dunk of the year and put every NBA team on notice with his elite athleticism and the way he finishes above the rim. All eyes will be on Arkansas early in the season to see how he looks coming off the injury, and if he’s still as quick off the first step and explosive in the lane. With Anthony Black, Nick Smith Jr. and Jordan Walsh leaving for the NBA, a lot of Arkansas’ offense could run through Brazile.
Donovan Clingan, Connecticut
Clingan’s production off the bench during his freshman season got a lot of scouts’ attention. At 7-2, 265 pounds, he does not fit the mold of a current NBA big, but he’s likely in a league of his own in terms of how well he reads the defense, particularly out of a double-team making the right pass, and great hands in the post. His forte is not taking players off the dribble, but he possesses a skill set in a post player that many NBA teams covet in a secondary unit.
Kyle Filipowski, Duke
Filipowski elected to return for a second year at Duke after having to undergo double hip surgery last spring. The 7-1 center averaged 15.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in 29 minutes for the Blue Devils last season. He’s not afraid to shoot the 3-pointer, but NBA scouts will be monitoring his consistency this season after shooting only 28% from deep his freshman year. His lateral mobility has always been an area of concern, and it will be interesting to see if his surgery has helped him in that department this season.
Kel’el Ware, Indiana
Ware was less than impressive and relatively quiet during his freshman year at Oregon. Hopefully the question marks can be erased after joining a new roster with a new coach, and scouts will see the potential they first saw from Ware as a high school senior. At 7-1, he’s an elite rim protector and finisher and adds some size and length in the lane, causing guards to second-guess anytime they get to the rim. He’s still relatively young and has tremendous upside. The jump to Indiana could be the change he was looking for coming into his sophomore season.
Baba Miller, Florida State
Miller had an underwhelming season during his freshman year at Florida State (due to a 16-game suspension to start the season because of eligibility). He looked great during the U19 World Cup for Spain as he excelled in spacing and extended his game outside of the paint. The 6-11 versatile forward will have a much bigger role on the Seminoles this year. Scouts will be looking for him to carry his aggressiveness and better shot selection from over the summer to the college season.
Kylan Boswell, Arizona
Boswell didn’t see a lot of playing time as a freshman after entering the season with a foot injury that required surgery. Fast forward to the USA Basketball U19 tryouts and Boswell was the best guard on the court. He made excellent reads off the pick-and-roll, is patient with the ball and has a quick change of speed while keeping a tight handle. Boswell will be the primary ball-handler for the Wildcats this season and looks like one of the most improved players from his freshman to sophomore year.
Adem Bona, UCLA
Bona’s freshman year at UCLA was plagued with different injuries, including a facial fracture and a left shoulder injury that left him sidelined for part of the NCAA tournament. Bona did not travel with the team to Spain for the summer tour and has yet to participate in five-on-five action. Last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year put up 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in just 23 minutes. If Bona is healthy this season, he’ll be a huge part of UCLA’s success in the paint with his tremendous size at 6-10, 235 pounds.
Australia’s National Basketball League
This is the most talented group of prospects that formerly played in the states to hit the NBL in recent memory. In 2020, LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton played in the Australian league and were first-round picks. NBA scouts and executives will travel to Australia for the NBL Blitz (a tournament with every NBL team), taking place Sept. 16-22, to get early eyes on these four prospects.
Alex Sarr, Perth Wildcats
Sarr was one of the best players on the court in two exhibition games against the G League Ignite, particularly in the second game, where he finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in the win. At 7-1, he’s an elite rim protector, but what was most surprising is how well he can keep perimeter players in front off the switch and his second efforts defensively.
“The NBA is evolving and becoming more positional-less, so even at my size, I have to be able to guard every position and feel comfortable with the ball in my hands,” Sarr told Yahoo Sports. “I feel like I’ve always been able to play on the perimeter and it’s nothing new or uncomfortable for me to step outside of the paint and make plays.”
A.J. Johnson, Illawarra Hawks
Johnson was originally committed to Texas before electing to go the professional route and play in the NBL this season. He has a long frame at 6-6 and is very crafty with the ball in his hands. Johnson has been in the gym training with Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green since eighth grade. There are a lot of similarities in their game, particularly on offense with the change of speed and ability to finish at the rim. Johnson recently suffered a slight fracture to the nose, but he will compete in the NBL Blitz wearing a protective mask.
Trentyn Flowers, Adelaide 36ers
Flowers unexpectedly left Louisville in August and joined the 36ers prior to the start of the season. Flowers, a 6-8 wing, loves to bang on the rim every chance he gets and scouts will be monitoring his 3-point jumper. Defensively he can guard every position on the perimeter and is tough in mismatch situations with his size and athleticism. He’s more of a slasher than spot-up shooter and loves the baseline drive on the left side before cutting back to the middle of the lane to finish with his right hand.
Bobi Klintman, Cairns Taipans
Klintman tested the NBA waters last season and elected to leave Wake Forest and join the Taipans for one more season before hitting the NBA. Klintman, a 6-10 wing, averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds off the bench as a freshman and will be a player to watch this upcoming season. He has a smooth jumper that extends past the 3-point line and his size and his skill set make him an intriguing first-round prospect in the upcoming draft.
There’s another potential lottery pick coming out of France and Nikola Đurišić opted to return for another season after testing the NBA waters last year.
Zaccharie Risacher, France
Risacher first came on the scene in France’s Pro A league (the same league Wembanyama played in) and played for Team World at the Nike Hoop Summit last spring. He’s one of the youngest players in this draft class, turning 18 years old in April, and has a ton of upside at 6-9. He shot the ball well during practice at Hoop Summit but couldn’t get things going during the scrimmage or game against Team USA. Risacher should see extended minutes for JL Bourg-en-Bresse this season. He will be the main draw to Europe for scouts this season.
Nikola Đurišić, Serbia
Đurišić elected to return for another season after getting feedback from NBA teams last spring. Scouts were hoping to see Đurišić on the court in a pair of games against USC in August, but the 6-8 guard suffered an ankle injury, leaving him sidelined when Mega Basket played the Trojans in Greece. Đurišić is a tough guard with capable shot-making skills and has a natural playmaking feel for the game.
Ousmane N’Diaye, Senegal
N’Diaye is one of the most intriguing international prospects with his 6-11 frame and how mobile he is on the court for his size. He can be a little turnover-prone in transition when catching the ball in traffic, but he shows strong upside as a player who could see meaningful minutes on an NBA team two or three years down the road.