NBA Prospect Watch: Freshmen Sleepers
Plus our Rookie, Sophomore and Draft Prospect of the Week
During the NBA, college and international seasons, my Tuesday newsletter will focus on NBA rookies and sophomores as well as prospects for the 2022 NBA Draft, especially those who have helped or hurt their stock in the past week.
My reports will be based on my own observations as well as information I receive from NBA scouts, executives and agents.
In 2021, NCAA freshmen (and their G League Ignite counterparts) dominated the first round of the NBA draft, taking 16 of the 30 first-round spots. Sophomores followed next with six, international players took four and juniors and seniors nabbed two spots each.
This season, our Big Board 2.0 continues to be all-in on NCAA freshmen (and their G League Ignite and Overtime Elite counterparts), giving them 19 of our top 30 spots. But there is another group of college freshmen who aren’t yet considered first-round picks but have that kind of potential: the sleepers.
In the 2021 draft, Joshua Primo didn’t emerge as a first-round prospect (let alone a lottery prospect!) until late in the process. So, with that in mind, after conversations with several NBA scouts, here’s a look at three NCAA freshmen who could be Primo-like sleepers.
6’5” | 185 | Wingspan: 6’11”
Age on draft night: 19.3
Draft projection: 15-30
Wesley is one of the hottest names in NBA draft scouting circles right now. He began the season as the sixth man, but his big 24-point performance against Illinois in late November pushed Wesley into the starting lineup. On Saturday, he had his most important game of the season versus Kentucky, scoring 14 points and hitting a pull-up jumper with 11.7 seconds left to seal the win for the Fighting Irish.
In eight games, Wesley is averaging 21.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per 36 minutes and is shooting 49% from the field and 38% from 3 on seven attempts per 36 minutes.
Wesley is a very good athlete with both speed and leaping ability. He is able to get to the line and is an athletic finisher at the rim. He’s not particularly tall, but he has a 6’11” wingspan, elite for his position. Wesley’s 3-point shooting is a major attraction for NBA scouts, especially because he takes more than 30% of his 3s off the bounce. He is unselfish, tries to make the right play and could be a secondary ball-handler in the NBA. He’s also a heady, energetic defender.
Wesley needs to add strength and improve his free-throw shooting and decision-making, but there is a lot for NBA scouts to like.
“I fell in love with him after the Illinois game,” said one NBA scout. “I know he wasn’t the highest-ranked kid coming out of high school, but he just pops every time you watch him on the court. I really like every aspect of his game. Once he gets stronger, he’s going to be a scoring threat from everywhere on the court.”
Wesley has the attributes — athleticism, length, shooting touch — to be a potential late-lottery or mid-first-round pick. Given his increased role at Notre Dame, if he keeps it up, he should be firmly in the first-round mix come Big Board 3.0.