NCAA Baketball Top Freshmen: An Early Look

It’s still very early on in the 2017-18 college basketball season. But through the first few games and tournaments of the season, we’ve learned a bit about some of the nation’s top freshman. Many of these phenoms will be lottery level prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft. Here’s who has impressed the most thus far:


  1. PF) Marvin Bagley III (Duke)

 bagley duke

PPG: 22.3 RPG: 11.3 APG: 1.4


The number one recruit in the 2017 class has not disappointed. Bagley has been stellar as both a scorer and rebounder. He been an offensive force in the low post, and has shown he can stretch the floor as a shooter (despite only shooting the three at 31% clip). As a freshman, he is leading the ACC in both both scoring and rebounding with 22.3 PPG and 11.3 RPG (despite only playing 10 minutes against Michigan State). Back to back 30+ point and 15 rebound games against Texas and Florida highlight just how special of a talent Bagley is. It’s hard to say that the number one recruit being a good player is ever aa surprise, but Bagley’s production thus far is practically unprecedented. With Michael Porter Jr. out for the season, the stage is set for Bagley to establish himself as the number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.


  1. PG) Collin Sexton (Alabama)


PPG: 25.2 RPG: 3.8 APG: 4.4


Through only five games played, Colin Sexton has been the most electrifying player in the NCAA. Sexton is an elite athlete and scorer at the point guard position. He leads the SEC and is fifth in the country is scoring, averaging 25.2 PPG.  He is a great ball handler but thrives off his speed and quickness. Additionally, he’s shown himself to be an excellent defender, and has averaged 1.2 steals per game. Sexton has also displayed highlight reel playmaking ability, but is still struggling a bit with turnovers as a passer and is growing into his role as a true point guard. That being said, he is still sixth in the SEC in APG with 4.4. The story of the season so far has been Sexton going off for for 40 points, 6rebounds, and 5 assists against Minnesota despite playing part of the game 3 on 5. In one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory (perhaps even more so than last year), Colin Sexton will look to cement his standing as a potential top 5 pick in the upcoming 2018 NBA draft.


  1. C) DeAndre Ayton (Arizona)


PPG: 20.3 RPG: 12.0 BPG: 1.3


Despite Arizona’s rocky start to a season that began with great expectations, Arizona’s best players have not been the problem. DeAndre Ayton’s play would likely be generating a lot more buzz if the Wildcats weren’t 3-3, or if his teammate Allonzo Trier wasn’t averaging almost 30 points per game. Although his arrival at Arizona hasn’t come with the same fanfare as other top recruits like Marvin Bagley III, and Michael Porter JR., DeAndre Ayton has sneakily started off his freshman campaign in amazing fashion. Ayton began the season as the third overall recruit in the 2017 class, and has made good on expectations.  Ayton is currently sixth in the Pac 12 in scoring with 20.3 PPG, first in the conference in rebounding with 12.0 RPG. Offensively, he has shown tremendous post moves, coupled with an ability step out and hit perimeter shots. His height and length allow to be both dominant in the paint, and a constant threat on defense as a shot blocker and rebounder. His measurable and Offensive tools make him a shoe in top 5 prospect in the 2018 NBA draft.


  1. PG) Trae Young (Oklahoma)


PPG: 28.2 RPG: 4.2 APG: 8.6


The freshman point guard, Trae Young, has posted numbers, that jump out more than anyone else on this list. It’s easy to ascertain from his stat line that Young has been incredibly successful as both a scorer and a passer. Young ranks second nationally in PPG with 28.2, and is fourth in country in APG with 8.6. Young has one of the best handles in country, and used his dribble incisively on the drive. He has shown an ability to dish, and or kick the ball out when the defense collapses on him in the lane. In addition, to being able to score and assist off dribble drive penetration, Trae has shown to be a very capable shooter with a lot of range. However, young has a tendency to chuck up low percentage deep threes; but to this point he’s made many of them. He has stuffed the stat sheet every game, but his marquee performance came against Oregon where he racked up 43 points and 7 assists.


  1. PG) Trevon Duval (Duke)


PPG: 13.1 RPG: 1.9 APG: 6.5


As the third or fourth option on a Duke team stacked with NBA talent, Trevon Duval has acquitted himself quite nicely through the first few games of the season. He is currently second in the ACC in APG with 6.5, to go along with a 13.1 PPG scoring average. Duval’s greatest attributes are his speed up and down the floor and ability to score in transition.  His athleticism also allows him to be a difference maker on the defensive end. He has averaged 2.4 steals per game so far.  Duval came up big in the Blue Devil’s toughest test of the season with 17 points, 10 assists, and 6 steals. Star senior Grayson Allen even credited Duval’s playmaking ability for his own 37-point performance against the Spartans. The only knock on Duval’s game is that he is at times careless with the ball, especially in late game situations. Highlight reels at the end of the year will surely be filled with amazing dishes from Duval. But his decision making with the ball has been questionable, as he seems to force these type of plays far too often. Nonetheless, he has averaged 6.5 assists to 2.5 turnovers thus far. Additionally, he has shown to be a capable scorer and playmaker off of the dribble, but if he can improve as a shooter, he will be a huge weapon for Mike Krzyzewski. Duval is a high ceiling player on both ends of the floor.


  1. SF) Kevin Knox (Kentucky)


PPG:  16.1 RPG: 5.7 APG: 1.7


On a team full of 5 star recruits, Kevin Knox has shined the brightest. The small forward has assumed the role of the go to scorer for the Wildcats. On a team comprised of Hamidou Diallo, PJ Washington, Quade Green, and Nick Richards, that is no small feat. Knox brings a well-rounded offensive game to the table and attractive measurables for a small forward at 6’9. Knox is capable of scoring in a multitude of ways, but has been relatively inconsistent as a shooter. Despite averaging 16.1 PPG and 5.7 RPG, many believe Knox is merely scratching the surface of his potential. Apparently he has not yet truly found his rhythm. At any rate, an “out of rhythm” Kevin Knox was good enough for 20 points and 7 rebounds against Kansas. Whenever he “puts it together” it will become clear why Knox is regarded as a top ten pick in the 2018 NBA draft.


  1. PF) Jaren Jackson (Michigan State)


PPG: 10.0 RPG: 8.2 BPG: 1.8


Jackson’s numbers don’t jump off of the page like some of the others on this list, but his physical profile and freak athleticism have been highly impressive in the early going of this season. His long wingspan allows him to function well at either the four or five spot. This length coupled with his tremendous leaping ability make him a constant threat as a shot blocker. In addition to being rim protector, these attributes also add up to Jackson being a tremendous offensive and defensive rebounder. Offensively, he’s left a bit to be desired and certainly needs more seasoning. But his measurable make him a prospect with remarkable upside. It is also important to note that Jackson is clearly not the first option for the Spartans on the offensive end. Fellow lottery prospect and player of the year candidate, Miles Bridges, is firmly entrenched in that role. Michigan State also has a slew of sophomore scoring options they go to more often than Jackson, including Josh Langford, Nick Ward, and Cassius Winston. With more touches, and more plays ran for him, Jackson will have the opportunity to blossom more as a scorer.


  1. PF) Wendell Carter (Duke)


PPG: 12.8 RPG: 9.1 APG: 2.0


Wendell Carter is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the 2017 recruiting. As such I am tempted to put him much higher on this list. Unfortunately for Carter, he plays power forward for Duke team that also has Marvin Bagley on the roster. Individually, he has been very impressive for the Blue Devils, even with less touches than a player of his skill level would normally command. Despite garnering less minutes than the Blue Devils’ starters, Carter has been very efficient on both ends of the floor, on his way to averaging almost a double (12.8 PPG 9.1 RPG), and 2.4 blocks per game. He has displayed a very well rounded offensive game in the post as a back to the basket scorer and as a passer. The only negative thing I will say is he is not a particularly explosive athlete. What he lacks in brawn, he makes up for with brains. Carter is considered one of the most intelligent young men in the college game. That is evident in his high basketball IQ and tremendous feel for the game. For all of these reason, he is considered a surefire lottery prospect, likely in the 7-14 range. I not for the presence of Bagley, he might have a shot to crack the top 5.


  1. PG) Tremont Waters (LSU)


PPG: 20.0 RPG: 2.4 APG: 5.0


Tremont Waters is the first player in my top 10 who was not a five-star recruit. Yet, his great play is not necessarily a surprise. Waters was a four-star recruit who initially committed and then de-committed from Georgetown. He is extremely clever with the ball, and the most adept at creating his own shot of any guard in the class. He is an outstanding ball handler, a willing and able passer, and a great shooter. 20 points per game and 5 assists per game will tell you all you all need to know about well Waters has played thus far. If you’re not sold, take a look at hus performance against Marquette where he dropped 39 points on the Golden Eagles. The glaring knock on Water’s game is his lack of height, and resultant inability to play above the rim. At only 5’11, Waters will likely be overlooked by many NBA scouts. However, if his hot start lasts through the season, he’ll likely sell himself as a late first round or early second round prospect.


  1. SG) Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky)


PPG: 12.9 RPG: 4.6 APG: 2.6


I contemplated throwing Jaylen Nowell and his 20.5 PPG in the last spot. But every guard to come through Washington recently has put up big numbers (ie: Dejounte Murray  and Markelle Fultz). What Hamidou Diallo is doing for Kentucky is more impressive to me. Diallo was slated to be one of the first “none-and-done” prospects we have seen since the NBA prohibited getting drafted out of high school. What is more is impressive is that he may have a been a lottery pick had he left his name in the 2017 draft. That is almost entirely due to his explosive athleticism. Only a few games into the season, we have already have an entire highlight reel’s worth of dunks to marvel at from Diallo. His speed, strength, and leaping ability have allowed him to do a lot of damage in transition. While not a great perimeter shooter, Diallo has still managed to average 12.9 points per game. If he can improve his jump shot, he will be an enticing prospect for NBA GMs. Defensively, he has all the physical tools to defend ones or twos at the next level. As it stands, he is a clear cut first round talent, with the potential to ascend the ranks as the season goes on.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. SG) Jaylen Nowell (Washington)
  2. C) Brandon McCoy (UNLV)
  3. PG) Nickeil Alexander Walker (Virginia Tech)
  4. C) Mohamed Bama (Texas)
  5. SG) Gary Trent Jr. (Duke)
  6. SF) Kris Wilkes (UCLA)
  7. SG) Josh Petty (Alabama)
  8. C) Dan Gafford (Arkansas)
  9. PG) Quade Green (Kentucky)
  10. PG) Jaylen Hands (UCLA)
  11. SF) Rayshaun Hammonds (Georgia)
  12. PG) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentcuky)
  13. PF) Jontay Porter (Missouri)
  14. PG Lindell Wigginton (Iowa State)
  15. PG) Ethan Thompson (Oregon State)

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