The college regular season is ending in about a month and the NCAA Tournament will start to get underway. The season isn’t over yet but there have already been multiple prospects who have significantly improved their draft stock due to terrific play on the court. In a draft as loaded as this one, making massive leaps on big boards and mock drafts is extremely impressive. Let’s look at some of the players who have taken the biggest leaps.
Franz Wagner, Wing, Michigan
A German-born sophomore by the name of Franz Wagner has spent his second year at Michigan helping them win as many games as possible while skyrocketing up big boards in the process. After a freshman year where he showed that he had a ton of talent yet still had some things to improve on, He’s come back a much better and stronger player.
Wagner’s skill set is tailor-made for the NBA. He’s the typical European hooper in the sense that he combines scoring, playmaking, and feel for the game. However, where he’s not so similar is with his ability to get to the basket and his confidence. A lot of foreign prospects come into the league as scrawny teenagers who don’t have an NBA ready body. That’s just not going to be the case for Wagner. He can definitely look to add strength, but he’s already 6’9, 220 lbs. He isn’t blessed with elite athleticism or measurables, but he somehow finds a way to get to the basket and finish through contact at the rim. That’s not something you usually see from a young foreign prospect, but that just goes to show how unique of a player he is.
I think his defensive versatility might be his best skill. He wasn’t blessed with explosive athleticism as I mentioned earlier, but he uses his long arms and quick feet to his advantage. He’s very mobile and quick laterally which allows him to mirror drivers and ball-handlers when they start to initiate offense. He uses his body to cut off drives and he can swallow shots at the rim when smaller opponents try to finish over him. He racks up a ton of steals and blocks not by obsessively gambling, but by playing passing lanes and using his length to his advantage. When it comes time to guard speedy athletes like Ja Morant or De’Aaron Fox, I don’t think Wagner would be a guy you want to handle those types of players. However, he can sufficiently guard almost anyone else and never stops hustling. He embodies “winning basketball” more than almost anyone else in this draft.
The swing skill for Wagner is his shooting ability. 36.5% is a respectable percentage but that’s a number he should look to improve. His percentages have fluctuated throughout the season and he shot 32% last year. But, there is reason to believe that he can become a much better shooter. For one thing, he shoots 86% from the free throw line, a more reliable indicator of his shooting potential. He also displays soft touch around the basket with floaters and runners. I have faith that he can be a great shooter in the NBA, which would really round out his game nicely. If he can become a knockdown shooter or even a very good shooter, he would be an extremely complete player at the next level. If you’re looking for a star level player, he’s not going to be your guy. However, if you’re looking for a versatile, swiss-army knife player who fits into systems and knows his role, I think Wagner is extremely intriguing in the middle of the first round.
Here’s a more in-depth scouting report on my Instagram page!
Sharife Cooper, Guard, Auburn
Sharife Cooper had to miss several games due to the NCAA and it’s questionable restrictions but since he has stepped on the court, he has been absolutely dynamite for the Auburn Tigers. He’s averaging 19.6 PPG and 8.6 APG for them and is someone that can undeniably impact his teammates around him.
Cooper has an elite skill with his ability to pass and read the floor on offense. He’s a pick-and-roll wizard with a tight handle and otherworldly vision. He’s ambidextrous with his whip passes and he keeps the ball on a string when he’s looking to attack the basket. He can manipulate the defense with his eyes and it often feels like he has a pair in the back of his head. He may very well be the best passer in this draft and right away, he’ll be able to effectively run a bench unit due to his ability to get other guys involved.
However, I have two major concerns for Cooper and his game at the next level. My biggest concern is about how good of a scorer he can be at the next level. Right now, he’s shooting 24.5% from long range and 48.1% at the rim. These numbers are both well below average and I don’t know how much improvement he can make. He does shoot a high free throw percentage (81.9%) but his mechanics are really messy at the moment. He’s also only 6’1 and might be even smaller than that, so it’s hard to imagine he’s ever going to improve as a finisher. For those two reasons, I have a hard time buying that he’s going to be a big time scorer in the NBA.
The second thing is his defense. No matter how much you compete on the defensive end of the floor, smaller players are always going to be targeted. Cooper is not only small but he’s also got a skinny frame and not a lot of length. The glimpses of on-ball tenacity don’t make up for the lack of size and lack of consistent effort on that end. He’s going to be targeted in pick-and-roll situations and teams are going to relentlessly attack him because of how much of a mismatch he is on the court.
Regardless of the concerns, he has clear talent. There aren’t many players in the league that can read the floor better than Cooper can. He’s likely going to step in and immediately become one of the league’s best playmakers. The shooting, defense, and size are all legitimate concerns, but I think he does a couple of things so well to the point where he should at least be in the lottery conversation.
Here’s my good friend Aidan Maher’s scouting breakdown on him!
Jaden Springer, Guard, Tennessee
Jaden Springer is a fiery combo guard that is having an extremely successful freshman season at Tennessee. After starting off the year as more of a role player, Springer and his fellow freshman Keon Johnson (another guy who has risen on big boards) were handed the keys to Tennessee’s offense and they’ve thrived.
Since being truly unleashed, he has scored 15 or more points in every single game and he’s connected on 6-12 of his three pointers. Perhaps what I love most about Springer is that he doesn’t seem to make many mistakes when he’s on the floor. He always takes smart shots, he doesn’t turnover the ball an extreme amount, and he never stops hustling on the defensive end of the floor. In terms of his scoring, he’s got a lot of potential. He uses ball control, footwork, and shiftiness to barrel his way to the basket. He also uses his body extremely well to create separation and absorb contact. He’s got a very effective mid-range pull-up game and he’s shot the three ball consistently well all year (although he’s only taken 28 attempts). He can score from all three levels of the court and if he can become an even better ball-handler, I think he can be a legitimate shot creator at the next level.
His defensive tenacity also stands out on tape. Springer is built like a bulldog and he uses that to his advantage. He’s a pest on defense who gives 110% when he’s defending on-ball. He doesn’t have terrific length but he uses his arms and hands to poke balls loose and rack up deflections. When defending off the ball, he stays alert and keeps his head on a swivel to make sure he rotates properly and is aware of everything that goes on around him. One of my favorite aspects of his game is his ability to put himself between his man and the ball and he keeps track of both of them. A small detail, but an important skill that he has.
Springer has an extremely high floor. There just aren’t a lot of things that he’s really poor at. He’s a great scorer, has flashes of being a creative playmaker, a quality defender, and a terrific shooter/finisher. He has all the tools to be a great pro. Would I trust him to be the lead guard of a championship offense? I don’t think so. I think he’s best suited as a complimentary ball-handler who can take the load off a primary option akin to a CJ McCollum type (not a direct comparison, but more the role he can play). There’s little to no chance that he fails in the NBA. I’d be willing to bet that he has a long and impactful NBA career even if he never develops into a star level player.
Here’s a more in-depth scouting report on my Instagram page!
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