By Kevin Sweeney
The 2017 NBA Draft cycle is finally over, meaning that we are officially allowed to look ahead to the 2018 draft class. As we saw this year with guys such as Cam Oliver (Nevada), it is increasingly difficult for mid-major players to work their way onto draft boards. Still, there are plenty of guys coming from non-power conferences that I believe have a real shot at walking across that stage donning a semi-ridiculous-looking suit and fulfilling their lifelong dream of being drafted into the NBA. Here’s my early take on which mid-major players have the best chance of being drafted in 2018.
Mitchell Robinson (Western Kentucky)
The one mid-major guy I 100% guarantee will get drafted next June is Mitchell Robinson, Rick Stansbury’s prized recruit at Western Kentucky. The 5-star center is a top-10 player in the 2017 recruiting rankings and is considered a lottery pick in most early 2018 mock drafts. Robinson has tremendous upside and already is an excellent rim protector as the second-best shot-blocker in NIKE EYBL history. He also has a solid stroke from midrange that will improve over time. Robinson will likely be the anchor of a WKU squad expected to compete for a Conference USA title in what will probably be his only season in Bowling Green.
Alize Johnson (Missouri State)
A year ago, most of us had no idea who Alize Johnson was. A junior college product, Johnson impressed in his first season at Missouri State, earning first team all-MVC honors. Now, he’s one of the most intriguing prospects in this 2018 class. At 6-9 with freakish athleticism, Johnson is a force on the glass, averaging a double-double this season with 14.8 ppg and 10.6 rpg. However, he’s also more than capable of stretching the floor, as he drained more than one triple per game at a 38% clip. To me, Johnson is the perfect modern NBA power forward and will find his way onto draft boards next June.
Peyton Aldridge (Davidson)
If you thought Aldridge’s numbers this past season were impressive (20.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) were impressive, imagine what he’ll do this season now that he’s the primary option on offense. With Jack Gibbs graduating, Aldridge will now be the star for a Davidson team that should be a factor in the A10. Aldridge’s NBA prospects will likely be dependent partially on how he measures: if he comes in on the taller end of 6-8, he will be able to project as an NBA stretch 4. For now though, we know Aldridge has at least 1 NBA trait: he is an ELITE shooter. I could see him as a 50-40-90 guy in the NBA.
Kevin Hervey (UT-Arlington)
Hervey was definitely on track to be an NBA draftee before he tore his ACL midway through the 2015-16. He came back in the 2016-17 season and still put up good numbers, but at times wasn’t himself. With a offseason to improve his game and get more comfortable on his knee, Hervey should be even better in his senior campaign. His long wingspan and floor-spacing ability at 6-9 makes him an interesting prospect, assuming there are no lingering concerns about his knee.
Jaylen Adams (Saint Bonaventure)
There was only one player in college basketball this season who averaged over 20 points and 6 assists per game. That wasn’t #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, polarizing UCLA star Lonzo Ball, or another top-5 draftee in De’Aaron Fox. It was Adams, the star at St. Bonaventure who is returning for his senior season in Olean. One of the players who explored the draft process this season before electing to return to school, I expect Adams to get serious looks from NBA squads next June. While Adams isn’t an explosive athlete for an NBA guard, he is an excellent passer and shooter who is capable of making plays off the bounce and in transition. When Adams gets hot from deep, he’s capable of taking over games, and he’s going contend for every major award in college basketball this season.
Johnathan Williams (Gonzaga)
For the sake of this piece, I’ll consider Gonzaga a mid-major because of the conference they play in. Williams seemed to be on the fence about returning to Gonzaga or turning pro for the 2017 draft, but elected to remain in Spokane for his senior season. With a loaded frontcourt that featured mammoth center Przemek Karnowski and top 10 pick Zach Collins, Williams didn’t have to do too much offensively. Still, he was an efficient scorer and an excellent defender, ranking 7th nationally in defensive win shares. Now, with Collins and Karnowski gone, Williams will be the alpha-dog up front, and will put up huge numbers as a result. Look for Williams to be a guy hearing his name called next June.
Mike Daum (South Dakota State)
Daum will be one of the most interesting players to watch in college basketball next season. While Daum is undoubtably one of the best players in the country and has little left to prove in the Summit League, his game isn’t a perfect fit in the NBA. While a tremendous shooter and rebounder, he isn’t as agile as most NBA 4’s, but he’s not truly an NBA center either. The question will be whether Daum elects to stay at SDSU for his senior season, chooses to enter the draft, or use the grad transfer rule (he redshirted as a freshman and will likely be on track to graduate next spring) to go up to a power conference school. Should he enter the draft, I still believe that a guy who averaged perhaps 30 ppg and 10 rpg would get draft consideration in the second round despite his imperfect fit in the NBA.
Other names to watch: Markis McDuffie (Wichita State), Landry Shamet (Wichita State), William Lee (UAB), Jock Landale (St. Mary’s), Jonathan Stark (Murray State).
Which mid-major stars do you think will get drafted next season? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@CBB_Central).