Alfes: Five most intriguing players in 2019 NBA Draft class

Oregon center and NBA draft prospect Bol Bol's season ended after just nine games because of a foot injury.

Grainy footage inside a dimly lit, empty gym was all that existed of Giannis Antetokounmpo prior to the 2013 NBA Draft.

There was an intriguing element to the Bucks’ No. 15 selection, as a relatively unknown prospect was given an NBA opportunity before becoming one of the game’s best six years later.

Who is the next name to jump from shadow to spotlight?

Here are five names packed with the potential to do so…

1. PG Darius Garland, 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Vanderbilt freshman

Garland is represented by Rich Paul and, although far from an unknown player, he is still a fit for this list, as his intrigue stems from what’s been done in limited action.

The point guard underwent left knee surgery in November 2018, limiting him to only four full games this past season. In that small sample, he shot 47.8 percent from distance and tallied 33 points against a No. 12 Liberty team that eventually upset No. 5 Mississippi State in the NCAA Tournament. 

Garland is no Kyrie Irving, but the tape shows he can score off the dribble and shoot better than most (if not all) other highly touted names in the 2019 class. Those qualities make him a fit for teams like the Lakers at No. 4 and Suns at No. 6, whose backcourts failed this past year.

Prediction: Lakers take Garland at No. 4, an instant boost to a team deprived of quality shooters.

2. SF Nassir Little, 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, North Carolina freshman

Like Garland, Little never had much of an opportunity in his first and only collegiate season. He averaged just 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds over 18.2 minutes despite being a top recruit out of high school.

But Little broke out of his shell when it mattered most, registering 19 points against No. 16 Iona and 20 points against No. 9 Washington in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. That momentum has extended into NBA workouts, where Little is reportedly looking more like the player scouts thought he would be, raising his draft stock along the way.

There are many question marks surrounding Little, and his minutes under the legendary Roy Williams are evidence of that. A team with multiple picks, like the Celtics or Hawks, might be better suited for a name that still has a lot to prove.

Prediction: Celtics take Little at No. 14, providing an insurance plan for Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown if they were to be traded for Anthony Davis.

3. C Bol Bol, 7-foot-2, 210 pounds, Oregon freshman

The name speaks for itself. The size speaks for itself. The basketball abilities, though, are still waiting to show.

Bol averaged 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks before left foot surgery derailed a promising start to his collegiate career. With a 9-foot-7 standing reach, there is a lot to like for a prospect who was once in the top-10 before the injury dropped him out of that range in most mock drafts.

Aside from health, the concern for Bol is whether he can effectively switch one-through-five and guard beyond the paint. He shot 52 percent from three-point range and can be offensively versatile, but the defense — especially after foot surgery — is going to be a focal point. 

Prediction: Cavaliers take Bol at No. 26, as they are one of the few teams with a late first-round pick that can afford to take a gamble on a player with a longer developmental timeline.

4. SF Darius Bazley, 6-foot-9, 210 pounds, No team, 19 years old

Perhaps no player has climbed the draft board over the last two months more than Bazley, who filled the stat sheet throughout both scrimmages at the NBA Combine. An athletic specimen, Bazley just needed more exposure to fulfill his NBA dream.

Why?

Well, Bazley didn’t play any organized basketball this past season, opting to train and prepare for the NBA Draft instead. The Ohio high school standout originally declared for Syracuse before de-committing and choosing the G League, which he eventually decided to forego, too.

Another prospect represented by Rich Paul, Bazley has certainly taken a unique path, recently signing a $1 million, three-month internship deal with New Balance. Shooting is the biggest area of improvement for Bazley because he has shown he can do a little of everything else.

Prediction: 76ers take Bazley at No. 33, using one of their four second-round picks to help surround an established core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and whoever else joins the fold in free agency.

5. SF Brian Bowen, 6-foot-7, 200 pounds, Sydney Kings, 20 years old

If you haven’t heard of Bazley, then you certainly haven’t heard of Bowen, who played professionally in Australia after Louisville suspended him for a national college basketball corruption scandal.

Bowen was a top-20 high school prospect in 2017 before averaging 6.3 points and 3.2 rebounds on 45 percent shooting over 15.3 minutes with the Sydney Kings in the National Basketball League (NBL). He has had few opportunities to play in the United States, but did participate and show a solid offensive skillset at the NBA Combine in each of the last two years.

Unrelated to former champion Bruce Bowen, Brian Bowen will need to polish his game on both ends of the court if he wants a chance at the NBA. Similar to the other four names, there are a lot of unknowns with his game, but that can be a good thing if given an opportunity under a coaching staff that thrives in developing players.

Prediction: Warriors take Bowen at No. 58, adding a name from the professional level to a second unit that needs all the help it can get.

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