ICYMI, these were the 2014-15 Hardwood Blues All-Americans. Cam Payne’s nomination propelled him into the draft lottery! Below are some early candidates for the upcoming season:
These spots are typically reserved for mid-major underdogs, but there are also gems like Josh Hart hiding in plain sight at some of the country’s top programs. This was the focus of my article last season that highlighted a trio of unheralded prospects playing at North Carolina. Pat Cannoughton (Notre Dame), Norman Powell (UCLA), and Josh Richardson (TENN) are just a few more examples of 2015 draftees who slipped under radar this time a year ago. What stands out most about Hart is his offensive efficiency. His combo of 60% 2P shooting, 40% 3P shooting, and anemic turnover rate makes him an intriguing off-guard prospect even with a relatively low volume of scoring.
Of the retuning NCAA guards that played at least 25 minutes per game last season, Hart is 3rd in ORtg and first among major conference players. His rebounding, steal, and block rates aren’t stellar, but are enough to suggest that Hart is more than just a shooter. Nova’s backcourt of Hart and the lightly used (but highly effective) sophomore Phil Booth will be one to watch this season.
Although he is older and underwhelming physically (thus lacking the theoretical upside of the other guys), I would be remiss if I didn’t write about Bradshaw: one of my favorite returning players and a certified boss. Bradshaw (pictured above) looks like a Catholic league sharpshooter – and he is dangerous from long range – but it’s his savvy and athleticism that makes him fun to watch. Against Virginia’s #1 KenPom defense, Bradshaw put on a March Madness performance for the ages. He poured in 25 points (10-19 FG) and collected 9 rebounds, showing off the full arsenal that included beating Malcolm Brogdon backdoor for a dunk and a calling bank on a three pointer.
Long live Craig Bradshaw.
School: Eastern Washington
When I first spotted Bliznyuk on the list of NCAA PER darlings, I assumed that he was another product of an Eastern Washington offense that produced some cartoonish stat lines last season (what up, Venky Jois!). Then I had a flashback of the blonde-haired Ukranian balling out in the NCAA tournament vs. Georgetown. The 6’6” freshman delivered 11 points (3-7 FG), 6 rebounds, and 2 assists in only 22 minutes of action off the bench against EWU’s toughest opponent of the season. In doing some research, I found an interesting article on Bliznyuk’s path to basketball stardom that shed some light on how a quality swingman might wind up playing in the Big Sky:
The only thing that has set Bogdan back is his mouth. He was born with a gap in his upper jaw. One of his multiple surgeries after moving to the United States included transferring bone there from his hip.
His most recent jaw surgery kept Bogdan out for half of last summer’s AAU season. The half-season was his first club basketball experience since fifth grade.
“I think it’s a big reason he is so under-recruited,” Burkett said. “This kid is an (NCAA) Division I player. If they don’t get this kid, they missed. Whoever gets him gets a steal.”
With the trigger-happy Tyler Harvey gone to the NBA, the stage is set for Bliznyuk to have a breakout season.
Paris Bass is a string bean hybrid forward who is on the draft radar (projected 45th overall in 2017 by DraftExpress.com) but still merits more attention. Although his scoring efficiency leaves some to be desired, especially for a mid-major prospect, Bass’ all-around impact is quite impressive for a freshman. Not a single entrant from last year’s draft matched Bass’ production across the board in terms of PTS, REB, AST, STL, and BLK. The only guys who came close were mid-major point centers David Laury and Seth Tuttle, both fine players who, unlike Paris, lack the athleticism, length, and upside to play in the NBA. If Bass can improve his shooting this season, there’s a chance he gains steam as a first round prospect.
In an NBA landscape where no one blinks at Khris Middleton getting a $70 million contract, Iona’s Isaiah Williams strikes me as a guy that GMs will drool over. An athletic 6’7” swingman, Williams has all the makings of the type of wing player that is so en vogue these days. A search for NCAA players (since 1995-96) who match Williams’ sniper-like 3P shooting (40%, min. 100 attempts) and steal/block rates brings back a variety pack of NBA 3&D forwards: Kevin Durant, Shane Battier, Robert Covington, Wes Johnson, Danny Green, James Jones, and Danny Granger. The fact that only roughly NBA starting caliber SF have put up these kinds of numbers in NCAA bodes well for Isaiah, and that doesn’t even account for his insane 2P efficiency and low turnover rate. Though Williams has yet to surface on mock drafts, I guarantee that he will be drafted by 2017 if he keeps up this level of play.
School: Houston Baptist
I couldn’t dig up much on Josh Ibarra, who plays in the obscurity of the criminally ignored Southland Conference. Listed at 6’11”, Ibarra has legit center size and rates off the charts in 2P efficiency, rebounding, and shot-blocking; key statistical categories for his position. The NBA is littered with anonymous big men, and the rise of a guy like Richaun Holmes sets precedent for a mid-major C such as Ibarra crashing the second round in a few years.