The best male basketball players to watch

There are a ton of talented players entering their freshman year of college basketball and a handful are already projected as unique and high picks for the 2022 NBA Draft.

It’s very different from last year, as NBA scouts and front office executives have already hit the road to attend practice and get a first glimpse of some of the top talent coming in.

The G League Ignite team have three potential first-round draft picks in Jaden Hardy, MarJon Beauchamp and Michael Foster, but this list will only focus on college players.

Here’s a look at 10 potential players (and a few more) to keep tabs on this next season of college basketball.

Chet Holmgren shoots a defenseman at a high school basketball tournament in 2020. Holmgren is expected to be a pick of choice in the 2022 NBA Draft. (Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chet Holmgren, Gonzague

Height / Weight: 7-0, 195 pounds

Position: Center

There are few players like Holmgren. He’s a 7-footer who is the best rim protector in the country, who can take out almost any defender from the dribble and knock down all 3 points. The first thing you notice when he walks on the court is his long, light build. It’s something he’s heard his entire career, and he lets his acting speak for itself.

“Most of the people who tell me are people on Twitter and have never seen me play basketball in person or understand basketball to begin with,” Holmgren told Yahoo Sports last year. “At the end of the day, I’m not too worried about what they say. I’m just going to get used to it and keep working on my game.

Gonzague is loaded again this season after adding guards Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis to the roster. Look for Holmgren to lead the Zags to another dominant season as they try to make another great run in the NCAA tournament.

Paolo Banchero, Duke

Height / Weight: 6-10, 250 pounds

Position: Cheeky

Duke struggled last season and was missing a true superstar who could do a little bit of anything on the pitch. Banchero is that guy. Banchero moves extremely well for his size and frame and has excellent vision on the court.

His teammate, AJ Griffin, injured his knee earlier this month during training. There is no timetable for his return. Griffin was another player NBA scouts were hoping to watch this season, but if he’s out for the first few weeks it will undoubtedly expand Banchero’s role.

Banchero is definitely in talks as a potential No.1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, with Holmgren and G League goaltender Ignite Jaden Hardy. There is a additional incentive to send one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, Mike Krzyzewski, with a season he will remember.

Paolo Banchero appears to pass as Bates Jones defends.

Duke forward Paolo Banchero appears to pass as forward Bates Jones defends during Duke Countdown to Crazy at Cameron Indoor Stadium on October 15, 2021. (Rob Kinnan / USA TODAY Sports)

Jabari Smith Jr., Auburn

Height / Weight: 6-10, 220 pounds

Position: Small before

Smith Jr. is the son of former professional basketball player Jabari Smith. Smith played professionally in the NBA and abroad for 10 years.

Her son is the best wing of this first year class. Smith Jr. has a massive height at 6ft 10in and is versatile on both sides of the court. He is an ultra-talented player who can score at all three levels offensively and can keep every position in defense with his length and speed.

In his senior year in high school, Smith Jr. faced off against Banchero and more than held his own. Smith was named to the All-SEC preseason coaching squad and could have a stellar season at Auburn.

Jalen Duren, Memphis

Height / Weight: 6-11, 250 pounds

Position: Center

Duren was the No.1 player in high school basketball before graduating in late summer and joining Penny Hardaway’s team. Shortly after Duren’s signing, Emoni Bates also moved up and signed up at Memphis, giving the Tigers the No.1 recruiting class coming this season. (Due to Bates’ age, he will need to play two years in college before being eligible for the NBA Draft.)

In his first exhibition game against LeMoyne-Owen, Duren looked comfortable on the pitch and wasn’t really challenged on the edge. He finished with 15 points and five rebounds in a resounding victory. Duren is in the top five picks in the 2022 draft and already has a body ready for the NBA. What the NBA scouts are looking for this year is if he’s mobile enough outside the block and can expand his game outside the 3-point line.

Caleb Houstan, Michigan

Height / Weight: 6-8, 205 pounds

Position: Small before

Juwan Howard was one game away from qualifying for the Final Four last season and has a solid class ahead led by Houstan, Moussa Diabate, Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin.

Houstan played high school basketball at Montverde Academy powerhouse and is Michigan’s highest rated rookie since Glenn Robinson III in 2012. Houstan is an excellent rebounder, reliable 3-point shooter (40% in high school) and has a average of 13.2 points per game.

Patrick Baldwin Jr., UW Milwaukee

Height / Weight: 6-9, 220 pounds

Position: Small before

Baldwin Jr. chose to stay home and play for his father at UW Milwaukee rather than schools like Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. The small school may not have a lot of TV time, but the NBA scouts will be heading to campus to check out the qualifying long wing.

Baldwin Jr. comes on as a point guard and excels at playing pick-and-roll defense. His mid-range two-dribble pull-up is difficult to defend thanks to his size and high clearance on his jumper. Baldwin Jr. is no stranger to fierce competition and plays alongside top players; he played AAU basketball with former Duke forward and current Atlanta Hawks rookie Jalen Johnson.

Peyton Watson, UCLA

Height / Weight: 6-8, 200 pounds

Position: Guard / forward

Watson is tall and tall with his 6ft 8in frame and is a dynamic shooting guard who can drop low in mismatch situations. Defensively, he can hold positions 1-4 thanks to his athleticism and 7-foot wingspan. UCLA are the No. 2 ranked team heading into the season, and the Bruins’ offense will go through Watson and Johnny Juzang, who had a stellar season last year after leading UCLA to the Final Four.

Matthew Cleveland, State of Florida

Height / Weight: 6-7, 200 pounds

Position: Guardian

Leonard Hamilton and his team have had two full players in the NBA Draft Lottery in consecutive seasons. Cleveland could keep that streak alive thanks to his size as a shooting goaltender, his high basketball IQ and how well he finishes the transition. He has a solid all round game and all the physical tools to be a hard-hitting player for Florida State. Cleveland averaged 22.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.0 robbed him of his final year of high school at Pace Academy in Georgia.

JD Davison, Alabama

Height / Weight: 6-3, 195 pounds

Position: Guardian

Davison is a top-flight guard who could win the NBA Slam Dunk Contest later. Basketball fans will be in for a treat anytime Davison has a clear lane in transition. He shows flashes of Sharife Cooper in an offensive way and is one of the highest-rated rookies to ever sign with Alabama. He’s a dynamic scorer averaging 32.4 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. In the first exhibition game against Louisiana, Davison finished with 19 points, three assists and four steals.

TyTy Washington, Kentucky

Height / Weight: 6-3, 197 pounds

Position: Guardian

A year ago, Washington was a secret recruit who was previously hired at Creighton. He rose through the recruiting ranks throughout his senior season and placed in the top 15 prospects, pulled out of Creighton and chose to play his college career in Kentucky. Washington is one of the fastest guards in this freshman class. He has elite vision on the pitch and is a true floor general. Rated at just 6ft 3in, it has a 6ft 9in wingspan and can defend any position on the wing. His tenacity is palpable on the court, and he is the leader who can turn this Kentucky team back on its feet after a disappointing season last year.

The next 5

Daimion Collins, Kentucky

Hunter Sallis, Gonzague

AJ Griffin, Duke

Kendall Brown, Baylor

Kennedy Chandler, Tennessee

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