One-and-done talent still dominates the picks at the top of the NBA Draft but that doesn't mean teams can't hit the jackpot banking on older, more experienced college players.
More and more front offices are looking at the polish of NCAA juniors and seniors as an opportunity to insert NBA-ready talent into their rosters.
Younger players may offer more upside in some scenarios and general managers will always look prefer freshman phenoms but older players offer something different. Their resumes are more established and oftentimes you don't have to squint to see what kind of player they'll become, they've already carved out a role that scouts can more easily project to the NBA.
In 2020 the lottery will feature primarily 18 and 19-year-old players but when you look back on the draft in a number of years it could very well be some of the older players that have a bigger impact.
Here are five of the best upperclassmen in the draft you should know about.
Tyler Bey | Guard | 6-7, 218lb | Colorado
Once upon a time 6'7" players that floated between the small and power forward positions were labelled as "tweeners," a name with negative connotations. Nowadays, those players are looked at as modern, positionless weapons that can be deployed in a number of ways.
Tyler Bey spent three years at Colorado proving himself as a workhorse defensively, someone who excelled both on the ball and as a help defender. He's got the athleticism NBA teams long for and the defensive IQ that comes with diagnosing offensive attacks for three seasons in the Pac-12. A ready-made improvement to any team's defence he'll be ready to slide into a number of roles and it should make him attractive in the bottom half of the first round.
Not a good outside shooter, Bey gets his points off of offensive rebounds and cuts. No, his scoring prowess isn't going to blow you away, but his ability to score off the ball without needing plays called for him makes him a projectable role player. In a lot of ways, Bey is the perfect example of an upperclassman NBA Draft prospect--he may never be a star, but he's ready to step in as a rookie and contribute.
Grant Riller | Guard | 6-3, 190lb | College Of Charleston
When NBA teams look at freshman guards in the draft, they can only hope that one day they will develop the offensive intelligence of Grant Riller.
An outgoing senior, Riller used every year of his eligibility to steadily improve his game and add scoring tool after scoring tool. As it stands he's arguably the most polished offensive guard in the class.
Riller isn't a great athlete but it doesn't limit him at all when it comes to beating defenders one-on-one. He's got an incredibly sudden first step that gets him advantages against taller, more athletic defenders and if he needs to string together multiple dribbles he can use them to get his man off balance. Every movement on the court Riller does is with purpose, and that purpose is usually to put the ball in the bucket. Teams that draft based on length and athleticism might not be tempted by the 6'3", below-the-rim game of Riller but teams that covet players with a feel for the game and scoring touch will fall in love with him.
Nick Richards | Forward | 6-11, 247lb | Kentucky
Nick Richards did something that not many Kentucky players do--he hung around for three seasons.
A star out of high school many expected the bouncy 6'11", 250-pound center to go one-and-done but his freshman season saw him struggle with the pace of SEC basketball. Then, as a sophomore his role decreased as he went from 15 minutes per game to 12, completely eliminating him from a lot of NBA team's radars.
Instead of giving up, Richards spent the summer of 2019 working on his body and pouring over film and he arrived for his junior season a brand new player.
As a junior Richards showed a variety of new skills on offence, particularly as a short roll passer and distributor. He also showed a better understanding of the defensive side of the ball. He was one of the best shot blockers and defensive rebounders in college hoops this season, something teams will be looking for in a backup center role on their rosters.
In some circles, Richards is viewed as a disappointment because he wasn't able to be a one-and-done out of high school but his time in college was well spent and he looks like a big man ready for the NBA spotlight.
Payton Pritchard | Guard | 6-2, 190lb | Oregon
The NBA is more heavily pick and roll oriented than ever, this we know.
So, looking at one of the best pick and roll decision-makers in the draft would make sense for a lot of teams and in this case, it's Oregon senior Payton Pritchard. Starting in 140 of 144 games in four college seasons Pritchard is as experienced a college guard as you're going to get and he used that time to become a master playmaker off of ball screens.
Pritchard was a 42% 3-point shooter on nearly 7 attempts per game as a senior and many of them came off the dribble as he sat behind a screen. His threat as a pull-up shooter instantly concerned defences when a big came to set a pick and when they blitzed him to eliminate the possibility of a shot he knew just what to do with the ball. Whether it was a skip to the opposite corner or a smooth bounce pass to the corner he thrived at reading the primary and secondary levels of the defence and making the right read.
As an experienced college player who can initiate offensive sets, he looks ready to transition into a backup point guard role in the NBA, something you can look for on draft night.
Jordan Nwora | Forward 6-7, 225 pounds | Louisville
Every team needs 3-and-D players in their rotation and perhaps no one in this draft is as proven in that role as Jordan Nwora.
For three years in college, Nwora has guarded the other team's best perimeter talent on defence and then sprinted to the other end and spaced the floor with his 39% 3-point stroke. At 6'7" and 225 pounds he has the height to get his shot off at the NBA level and can handle the power wings he'll be guarding.
Nwora will be viewed by some organizations as a small forward where he can add length to passing lanes and physically overwhelm teams that like three-guard lineups. Other teams will see him as a stretch four and in that role, he has the muscle and rebounding ability to hold his own.
The knock on Nwora will be that he lacks the ball-handling ability to be a big-time scorer at the NBA level.
While that could be the case, he profiles like a perfect 3-and-D option and he has a resume that most similar wings in the draft don't have. Nwora has been a consistent shooter and defender in the best league in college basketball (the ACC) for three seasons and teams looking for a safe pick will feel secure in selecting him.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.