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NBLxNBA Draft Preview

The eyes of the basketball world will be on the NBA Draft this Thursday where NBL Next Stars LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton as well as Aussie Josh Green are all expected to be selected in the first round.

A host of other NBL players are also draft eligible including current Next Star Justinian Jessup (The Hawks), Kouat Noi (Cairns Taipans), John Mooney (Perth Wildcats), Sam Froling (The Hawks), Yanni Wetzell (SEM Phoenix) and 2019-20 Next Star Terry Armstrong (SEM Phoenix). 

On the eve of the Draft, NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria runs his eye over the top prospects in the ultimate NBLxNBA Draft preview.

Mock draft rankings accurate as of 9am AEDT Wednesday November 18

LAMELO BALL

Age: 19

Position: Point Guard

Nationality: American

Last season: 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 12 games for the Illawarra Hawks

What the experts are saying: Ball's incredible playmaking skills have him slated to be one of the top picks of the draft, with many experts predicting he'll be the first name off the board. John Hollinger from The Athletic, who has Ball slated to go number one, writes: “I think Ball has the best chance of playing in an All-Star Game of anyone in this draft.” 

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony believes Ball will get snapped up by Charlotte with the third pick overall while a few others suspect he might slip all the way to Chicago at four.

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: 1 - Minnesota Timberwolves (The Athletic, CBS & USA Today)

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: 4 - Chicago Bulls (The Ringer)

The Final Word: Few potential number one picks have polarised NBA GMs to the extent that LaMelo has this year. It’s clear from the reporting that while some believe he is the standout option atop the draft, others are inclined to look past him, citing concerns about his defence and shooting. What’s not disputed, though, is Ball’s clear potential to become an All-Star level player on account of his tremendous feel for the game and creative passing skills. 

The question is: who will take that punt? If he slips outside the top two, either of Charlotte at 3 or Chicago at 4 would be good fits for Ball. Also, keep an eye on both Detroit (7) and New York (8), as either could look to trade up the draft to obtain him.

However it plays out, Ball’s selection will represent a landmark moment in the history of the NBL. The kid arrived in Australia last year as a projected second round pick and, after a season in the Next Stars program with The Hawks, will wind up being one of the first - if not the first - name off the board.

RJ HAMPTON

Age: 19

Position: Point Guard

Nationality: American

Last season: 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 15 games for the SKY Sport New Zealand Breakers

What the experts are saying: The consensus on Hampton is that he’s likely to be selected in the mid-teens, with most experts tipping him to be snapped up in the 14-16 range. Kevin O’Connor, from The Ringer, for example, thinks he’ll go at pick 14 to Boston and writes that “If [the Celtics] keep the 14th pick, Hampton makes sense because he could immediately serve as a spark-plug scorer off the bench and provide long-term upside.”

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: 14 - Boston Celtics via MEM (The Ringer)

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: 19 - Brooklyn Nets via PHI (The Athletic, Bleacher Report, Yahoo Sports) 

The Final Word: Hampton’s physical tools make him a high-upside pick midway through the first round. He’s an excellent athlete with great size and quickness who, as he gets stronger and continues to improve his handle, has the potential to live on the rim in the NBA. 

The youngster grew tremendously - on and off the court - in the NBL, as he worked with seasoned pros on the day-to-day and competed against former NBA guards like Casper Ware and Scott Machado on game nights. Speaking on NBL Overtime last week, Hampton stated that his time in the league had left him “one-two steps ahead of those guys coming out of college.” Whether or not that’s true, only time will tell, but what IS clear is that Hampton has the potential to carve out an excellent career in the NBA. 

Over the past week or so I’d started to like RJ as a target for either Orlando or Portland at 15 or 16 but with Houston reportedly obtaining that Portland pick in the Covington-Ariza trade, that throws a wildcard into the mix. Either way, he’s certain to be a first round pick.

JOSH GREEN

Age: 20

Position: Shooting Guard

Nationality: Australian 

Last season: 12.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 42.4% from the field in 30 games for Arizona Wildcats (NCAA)

What the experts are saying: ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote yesterday that “Green will be a popular target in the Nos. 15-25 range as probably the top wing prospect still on the board.” In his latest mock draft, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has Green slated to go at 18 to the Mavericks, describing him as a guy who “fits into any roster as a 3-and-D wing.”

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: 19 - Brooklyn Nets via Philadelphia 76ers (ESPN)

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: 31 - Dallas Mavericks via GSW (Sports Illustrated)

The Final Word: Green is an excellent athlete, has good size for the wing position and is an outstanding defender, making him a favourable option for teams picking in the second half of the first round. He’s also terrific in the open court, a good passer and, while his jump shot still needs work, he has shown an ability to knock it down from range. 

Interestingly, a number of experts are predicting Green will get selected somewhere in the early twenties, meaning he may well end up alongside either Ben Simmons in Philadelphia (21) or Joe Ingles in Utah (23). Either way, the boy from Sydney is set to become a first round Draft pick tomorrow and, from there, his NBA journey begins.

 

JUSTINIAN JESSUP

Age: 22

Position: Shooting Guard

Nationality: American 

Last season: 16.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 39.7% from three in 32 games for Boise State University (NCAA)

What the experts are saying: Currently tipped to get selected late in the draft by both ESPN and The Athletic, Jessup’s stock has recently been on the rise. Speaking on NBL Overtime, Sam Vecenie from The Athletic described Jessup as “an end of the second-round kind of guy and an elite level shooter” adding that “teams really want guys who can knock down shots at an exceedingly high level.”

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: 56 - Charlotte Hornets via BOS (ESPN)

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted (Multiple)

The Final Word: A 6’7 wing who can shoot the heck out of the ball, there’s a lot to like about Jessup as a potential ‘3 and D’ type of prospect. He also has an NBL deal already in place (with a team led by a highly-regarded coach) which is something that could prove helpful for an organisation looking to stash a second-round pick. With all that in mind, don’t be shocked if you hear Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum call Jessup’s name late in the second round.

 

KOUAT NOI

Age: 23

Position: Small Forward

Nationality: Sudanese-Australian 

Last season: 9.5 points, 5.7 rebounds in 22 games for the Cairns Taipans

What the experts are saying: While he’s not projected to be drafted, Noi has had interviews with a number of NBA teams during the pre-draft process. For what it’s worth, he also knocked down 98 free throws out of 100 attempts during some recent pre-draft testing, which is some pretty darn good shootin’.

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

The Final Word: I’m told that three teams have Noi on their shortlists for Thursday’s draft, meaning there’s an outside chance the Taipan could hear his name late in the second round. It’s unlikely though and the 23-year-old is expected to set his sights on getting to Las Vegas next year for a first-time appearance at the Summer League.


JOHN MOONEY

Age: 23

Position: Power Forward

Nationality: American 

Last season: 16.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals in 31 games for Notre Dame (NCAA)

What the experts are saying: Mooney has had a host of pre-draft interviews with NBA teams but has not featured on any of the experts’ mocks in the lead up to the Draft. Nonetheless, his contract with the Wildcats contains an NBA-out clause on the off chance he gets picked up late in the second round.

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

The Final Word: Despite being one of the best rebounders in all of college basketball last season, Mooney’s chances of getting drafted are slim. With that in mind, let’s leave the final word to him. “If I get drafted, great,” Mooney told NBL Overtime. “If not, I’m going to come over to Perth and work my tail off to help my team compete for another championship.”

 

SAM FROLING

Age: 20

Position: Power Forward

Nationality: Australian 

Last season: 6.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists in 17 games for the Hawks

What the experts are saying: Froling has completed zoom calls with a number of NBA teams throughout the pre-draft process, including this one with the Charlotte Hornets. That being said, none of the top draft experts consider the 20-year-old to be a genuine chance of being picked up on Thursday.

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

The Final Word: Turning pro in 2019 made Froling automatically eligible for this year’s draft and, unfortunately, an injury-interrupted rookie campaign didn’t help his chances of getting drafted. Nonetheless, the 20-year-old remains an intriguing prospect. With his size, mobility and developing skill-set, NBA teams will be keeping a close eye on his progress throughout NBL21.

 

YANNI WETZELL

Age: 24

Position: Power Forward/Centre

Nationality: New Zealand

Last season: 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 59.2% from the field in 32 games for San Diego State (NCAA)

What the experts are saying: The big Kiwi’s name hasn’t appeared on any mock drafts but he did tell NBL Media recently that he’d conducted a few zoom calls with NBA teams early in the pre-draft process.

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

The Final Word: Wetzell won’t hear his name called out on Thursday but he certainly did enough in his final college year to show his exciting potential as a pro. With that in mind, NBA teams will be keeping a close eye on his production throughout his rookie pro year with the Phoenix.

 

TERRY ARMSTRONG

Age: 20

Position: Shooting guard

Nationality: American 

Last season: 0.3 points, 0.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists in eight games for the South East Melbourne Phoenix

What the experts are saying: Armstrong hasn’t appeared on any mock drafts, but according to Stockrisers he had pre-draft interviews with the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.

Highest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

Lowest Mock Draft Prediction: Undrafted

The Final Word: Blessed with an athletic frame and an incredible leaping ability, Armstrong has the physical tools to develop into a really interesting pro. He’s likely to go undrafted and the challenge will then fall on the 20-year-old to keep developing his game as he searches out where his fascinating journey will take him next.

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