Top NCAA freshmen big men to watch without James Wiseman in the mix

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Top NCAA freshmen big men to watch without James Wiseman in the mix


Top NCAA freshmen big men to watch without James Wiseman in the mix

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The NCAA took a big hit by losing top NBA prospect James Wiseman but other young centers have shown they deserve more recognition as well.

With Wiseman no longer in the picture, these are the top freshmen big men who will likely hear their name called during the 2020 NBA draft. If you’re favorite team is looking for a young frontcourt player, it is worth getting to know these prospects.

Isaiah Stewart, Washington

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Aggregate Mock Draft Rank: 14 

Stewart was recently named Mr. Basketball USA and was also the Naismith Prep Player of the Year. He was considered the No. 3 overall recruit in the nation and the second-highest-rated big man behind Wiseman. As a freshman, he’s scored 19.2 points and grabbed 8.8 rebounds per game. The big man is coming off a three-game stretch in which he averaged 24.0 points and 12.0 rebounds and won USBWA Freshman of the Week. He is shooting 10-for-11 (90.9 percent) when rolling to the basket in the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports, which speaks to his potential fit in an NBA-style offense. While he is a little bit undersized at 6-foot-9, Stewart reportedly has an impressive 7-foot-4 wingspan that will help as a rim protector at the next level.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aggregate Mock Draft Rank: 16

Arguably no player in college basketball has improved his NBA draft stock as much as USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu, who is putting up 17.7 points and 9.0 rebounds with 3.2 blocks per game. Perhaps the only reason why he was flying under the radar before the season is that he was surprisingly not one of the players included in the celebratory high-school events like the McDonald’s All-American game. With his strong play on both sides of the ball, Okongwu has proven that he belongs near the top of the draft. He is averaging 1.18 points per possession in non-transition sets, per Synergy, which ranks in the 97th percentile among all NCAA players. He leads all freshmen in dunks (27) so far this season and is a constant lob threat near the rim. The big is shooting 68-for-85 (77.6 percent) within five feet of the basket, which ranks third-best among freshmen with at least 25 attempts in this zone. Okongwu also has a nice shooting touch, connecting on more than 70.0 percent of his free throws. As a defender, his block percentage (12.0 percent) ranks second-best among freshmen. By all marks, he looks the part of a lottery selection.

Vernon Carey, Duke 

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Aggregate Mock Draft Rank: 18 

Before the season, Carey was the No. 6 overall recruit in the nation and the top player to commit to Duke. He is now one of the best college basketball players in the country, bragging the second-best Player of the Year rating on behind 18.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Carey leads all NCAA players in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (8.7) and is attempting 7.3 free throws per game. He also ranks Top 10 among all college basketball players in defensive rebound percentage (30.3 percent) so far this season. His block percentage (8.7 percent) is Top 10 among freshmen, showcasing his potential as a defender as well. There is a lot to like about Carey, who is a very well-rounded prospect and elite NCAA contributor.

Zeke Nnaji, Arizona

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Aggregate Mock Draft Rank: 20 

Unlike the other players included on this list, the 6-foot-11 center was not considered one of the top prospects in the country heading into the season. He was a four-star commit who was receiving less hype and publicity than Arizona teammates Nico Mannion and Josh Green. But he has played his way into first-round consideration, averaging 16.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Most impressive: he is a perfect 11-for-11 in a transition offense, via Synergy, ranking in the 99th percentile thus far. The Wildcats are scoring 124.3 points per 100 possessions with Nnaji on the court, which gives him an offensive rating that ranks Top 10 among freshmen. Most evaluators consider him a Top-25 pick, per The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie.

N’Faly Dante, Oregon 

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Aggregate Mock Draft Rank: 46  

Oregon Ducks big man N’Faly Dante was considered the fourth-best center in the country among all recruits heading into the season. However, he was ruled ineligible to start the season because the NCAA missed his clearance date. But sometimes when one door shuts (e.g. Wiseman leaving Memphis), another one opens (e.g. N’Faly Dante making his college debut). The big man put up 11 points while shooting 5-for-8 (62.5 percent) off the bench in his first game for Oregon. There is still a lot for him to prove once he finds a rhythm, though he has shown hot streaks before. He averaged 15.3 points and 9.8 rebounds on the AAU circuit and led his high school team to the GEICO Nationals. Most notable, though, is he was measured with a wingspan of 7-foot-5.5 and a standing reach of 9-foot-5 when he attended the Nike Hoops Summit earlier this year.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana 

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Aggregate Mock Draft Rank: 91

Indiana Hoosiers freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis has been one of the most productive players in the country so far this season, averaging 15.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. While he was not considered a sure-fire one-and-done prospect, it is possible that he has played his way into the 2020 NBA Draft. He is averaging 1.23 points per possession, per Synergy, which ranks the 98th percentile this season. He has been one of the most prolific cutters in the NCAA, averaging 5.1 points per game on this play type. trails just three players in college basketball. Partially because of this, Jackson-Davis has recorded more dunks (21) than all freshmen besides Okongwu. His free throw rate (77.1 percent) ranks Top 10 among freshmen as well. Overall, his offensive rating (134.6) ranks as the second-best in the Big Ten Conference. Meanwhile, his block percentage (8.7 percent) is sixth-best in the conference. Even without a jump shot, he will be worth a flier in the second-round if he decides to enter the draft.

Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia 

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Aggregate Mock Draft Rank: NR 

West Virginia Mountaineers freshman Oscar Tshiebwe appeared at No. 72 overall on ESPN’s big board and No. 74 overall on The Athletic’s big board. Bleacher Report has him a bit higher, putting him at No. 42 overall. But his size alone could make him a potential first-rounder if he decides to enter the draft. During his time at the Nike Hoops Summit, his wingspan measured at over 7-foot-4. This has helped Tshiebwe secure the best offensive rebound percentage (20.5 percent) in the nation. He also ranks Top 20 in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (7.0) simply have no idea how to contain him without contact. Tshiebwe is averaging 1.53 PPP in transition offense, which ranks in the 96th percentile this season.

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