Monday, June 17, 2024

NBA Draft 2024: Pro comparisons for Alex Sarr, Zaccharie Risacher and other top prospects

No NBA Draft prospect has the exact game of any one NBA player past or present, but comparing them to others can be an instructive exercise to get an idea of what to expect and how to shape potential future impact. The idea behind it is to add color to scouting reports and other analysis in the lead-up to the draft and provide a more substantive look at what the future of each player could hold.

We do this not to put a player in a box but to contextualize the complicated. Last year, for instance, we compared Victor Wembanyama to Rudy Gobert’s defense, Kevin Durant’s wiggle and Kristaps Porzingis’ size. That felt like a possible oversell at the time; at present, it feels like a possible undersell. Not to toot my horn — but [toot toot] — but it did provide an idea of the type of player Wemby was and could develop into. 

There is no perfect comparison, and each player has their own distinct traits, similar to a strand of DNA. While some may have the look of one specific player and the calling card of another, the various strengths and weaknesses within a player’s profile can vary so much that each prospect is unique. Keep that in mind as we try to compare players in the space below.

The order below is the order in which I rank them on my own personal Big Board. You can find my latest rankings of the prospect rankings at this link here.

1. Alex Sarr

Pro comp: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Drawing the connection between Jaren Jackson Jr. — a defensive star and anchor for the Grizzlies — feels like the precise path that could pay off a team for taking Sarr at No. 1. There’s holes in his game and he’s not, and likely never will be, a primary scorer and playmaker. But he’s a star in his role as a defensive building block and has shown there’s more to his game than on that end, too.

2. Zaccharie Risacher

Pro comp:  Michael Porter Jr.

At 6-foot-9 with an improved jumper and a shot that looks like it’ll translate, MPJ feels like a solid-case outcome for Risacher. He needs to improve his playing strength and must refine the byproduct of that weakness — in particular his finishing. But if his improved outside shot is sticky, then there’s a real chance he could carve out a big role as a catch-and-shoot weapon with a little more wiggle in his game to grow into an option as a playmaker. 

3. Stephon Castle

Pro comp: Jrue Holiday

Castle consistently drew the toughest defensive assignments for title-winning UConn last season as a freshman and made a name for himself as a defensive stopper who is elite at the point of attack. That has been Jrue Holiday’s calling card as an NBA player. The big leap here is the playmaking ability Holiday has proven over his career. Castle did not show that often at UConn but has the calm and vision to become a viable point guard in time. That, along with his shooting, might be the biggest swing skills that make or break his future NBA stardom.

4. Ron Holland

Pro comp: Mikal Bridges

At Villanova, Bridges molded himself into one of the most reliable 3-and-D weapons at the college level before assuming that role — then much, much more — in the NBA. Holland doesn’t have the same shooting stroke just yet — yet! — thus the comparison here is largely in frame. Bridges, 6-6, has a listed 7-foot-1 wingspan, while Holland, who measured 6-6.5 without shoes, had a 6-10.75 wingspan at the combine. Long and wiry, the two have big frames and big games with star power.

5. Nikola Topic

Pro comp: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The scouting report for SGA as a prospect: crafty, smooth, downright slithery. That’s copy+paste what I see when I watch Topic. He doesn’t win with burst or athleticism. He wins with smarts and leverage and sees the game at a high level. His passing and feel make him one of the most well-rounded players in this class. 

6. Matas Buzelis

Pro comp: Lauri Markkanen

Buzelis doesn’t quite have the size of Markkanen, but their games are similar in that they can play inside and out, play big and win inside the arc while you can add in dynamism with immense skill for his size. Buzelis is more 4 than 3 but has some wing skills that, with 4 size, could make him a useful combo forward. 

7. Reed Sheppard

Pro comp: Davion Mitchell 

Shooting 52.1% from 3-point range as a freshman at Kentucky is the headliner on Sheppard’s resume, but it’s his spectacular defense and playmaking that really shines and helps his projection. That was where Mitchell thrived at Baylor and what has helped him carve out a useful role in the NBA. Sheppard’s shooting and playmaking seem to be in a tier above where Mitchell was, given that Mitchell was a later bloomer.

8. Dalton Knecht

Pro comp: Josh Hart

Both Knecht and Hart were late bloomers who displayed immense shot-making skill at the college level and toughness that translated to winning big. Knecht was an All-American at Tennessee who was one of the best all-around scorers in the game and a dynamic athlete to boot. His shot versatility reminds of Hart in that he can win from every level and has a toughness to his game that coaches will like. 

9. Devin Carter

Pro comp: George Hill

I find Carter to be one of the harder comps in this class, but George Hill as a placeholder is one that I’ve talked myself into. Hill was an NBA-ready defender coming out of IUPUI who had questions about his role on offense — and ditto for Carter. Carter, though, is coming off a career year at Providence where he made strides as a shooter and playmaker and rounded into a two-way terror, similar to Hill. The two also have nasty streaks on the floor and play with an edge. Remember when Hill bowed up to Kobe Bryant? I get the same vibe from Carter that he won’t back down to anyone. 

10. Tidjane Salaun

Pro comp: Jalen Williams

Salaun is quickly rising in NBA circles and could be off the board in the top five if he continues his ascension. That’s a similar rise his comparison, Jalen Williams, made after a late breakout at Santa Clara, eventually landing with OKC late in the lottery. Salaun is also a destructive, borderline chaotic, dunker like Williams, who plays with an edge. Pop in some highlights and you’ll feel like he plays with an edge that borders on angry like Williams does. His goal seems to be dominating on the floor but also breaking backboards and bending rims in the process. 

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