By Andrew Kahn
The Pac-12 has as many as 15 players who might be considered for the NBA draft. Here’s a look at the conference’s top prospects.
Kevon Looney, freshman, UCLA
UCLA had lost five in a row, including its first two league games, before winning its last two. Looney is a big reason for the mini turnaround. He scored 27 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in a double OT win against Stanford and scored 15 against Cal yesterday. He shot 7 for 12 in both games to earn the Pac-12 Player of the Week award. Looney, a 6’9”, 220-pound power forward, was a McDonald’s All American last season. Most draft analysts have him as a lottery pick in June’s draft. ESPN’s Chad Ford has him as his fifth best prospect right now.
In UCLA’s abysmal performance against Kentucky, Looney looked competent against the Wildcats’ NBA-ready front line. He only made 4 of 14 shots, but he played hard and didn’t look completely overmatched. He’s been attacking the offensive glass at an impressive rate and shown some nice touch from the outside. NBA teams would like to see a higher field goal percentage at the rim than his current 55 percent clip (according to Hoop-Math.com).
Stanley Johnson, freshman, Arizona
Johnson doesn’t look like a typical freshman—he’s 245 pounds of muscle. Coupled with his ridiculous athleticism and it’s no wonder he’s a projected lottery pick. The 6’7” wing has been playing well for Arizona this season, shooting 43 percent from deep and grabbing 6.6 boards a game. His slashing ability and strength helps him get to the line a lot. He’s a high flyer who excels on the break but still needs some work in the half court offense.
Delon Wright, senior, Utah
From San Francisco City College to the NBA? That appears to be the path Wright is on. A two-time conference Player of the Year at the community college, Wright was a breakout star for Utah last year. This season, he is second in the country in offensive efficiency among players with his usage rate (according to KenPom.com). A 6’5” point guard, Wright has the size NBA teams covet. He had a huge game in a three-point loss to Kansas earlier this season, which helped his draft stock, but he must improve his outside shooting (12 of 54 last season; 8 of 28 this year).
Tyrone Wallace, junior, California
Already a two-time conference Player of the Week, Wallace averages 18.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He scored 17 against a normally stingy Wisconsin defense. ESPN and DraftExpress rate him as a mid-first round draft pick. At 6’5, 200 pounds, he has NBA size, athleticism, and strength, though he’s struggled a bit in Pac-12 play. In his first league game, he posted perhaps the most productive 4 of 20 shooting game you’ll ever see: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 0 turnovers. His shooting has been shaky since: 4 of 14; 9 of 21; 2 of 9. Scouts will want to see consistency even against defenses designed to stop him.
Jakob Poeltl, freshman, Utah
Just in case you were taken aback by seeing two upperclassmen on an NBA prospect list, here’s another freshman for you. Though the sample size is small, Poeltl’s KenPom comparisons include former first round picks Joel Embiid, Derrick Favors, and B.J. Mullens, as well as projected top-3 pick Karl-Anthony Towns. All of those players were one-and-done in college, but Poeltl may need another year in school. He has played well against Utah’s better opponents this season and is a monster on the offensive boards (third-best rate in the country). Like many young 7-footers, his offensive game needs some polishing.
Other top prospects: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, sophomore, Arizona; Robert Upshaw, sophomore, Washington
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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