While taking in the Maryland at Michigan game in person over the weekend, I couldn’t help but notice all the NBA prospects on the floor. It didn’t matter that both teams are in the top 25 in Division I hoops, because quite a few top-25 teams don’t have more than one or two NBA prospects. Maryland and Michigan just happen to be chock full of them.
Of course, locally, Michigan has been the college basketball power for a while now, and this year is certainly no different. There’s three surefire NBA guys on the current roster — Charles Matthews (redshirt senior), Ignas Brazdeikis (freshman), and Jordan Poole (swaggy sophomore). Then there’s at least two to four other players that will be in the discussion not very long down the road. An Isaiah Livers comes to mind, as does a Jon Teske and, much further down the road, Brandon Johns Jr. One could make a reasonable case with Zavier Simpson next year as a senior — if his shooting takes another step — that he, indeed, could have NBA teams interested.
For Maryland, I think most are at least somewhat familiar with sophomore 6-foot-10 big man Bruno Fernando, a guy who has a ton of potential on the boards and on defense, and also a guy who just loves to dunk everything. Overall, Bruno plays with passion and a nastiness that will probably annoy the hell out of players and fans at the next level. Bruno is a fantastic lob option and a prime rim-runner with his excellent hands. He also is a dependable free-throw shooter (75-percent). In the 2019 draft, he’s looking like a shoo-in to be a top-15 pick.
I’m not sold on his post game progress yet, but these three plays make me a believer that there’s a lot to like about the growth in his game:
Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala are all heralded freshmen for Maryland.
Jalen Smith (five-star recruit) is 6-foot-10 and a little raw still. He’s projected to go late in the first round in 2019, so there’s that chance he bolts. His overall game isn’t ready to contribute much in the pros, and he’d benefit from coming back and being ‘the man’ up front next season for Maryland. Smith’s outside shot looks smooth, but it isn’t going in. His postup game needs fine tuning. Smith has good hands, is light on his feet and projects as a Karl-Anthony Towns type of player, if you ask me. Keep in mind, the last five-star recruit for Maryland, Diamond Stone in 2015, is currently in the G League.
Aaron Wiggins is 6-foot-6 and a shooter extraordinaire. He’ll probably be in college for a few more years, but he’s already on teams’ radars. He’s shooting 52-of-122 from deep so far.
Eric Ayala is a 6-foot-5 point guard that can really shoot it as well: he’s nearly at 45 percent from deep in almost 100 attempts. Ayala starts, but at times is taking a back seat in ball handling duties to current junior point guard Anthony Cowan. Ayala projects as a steady backup point guard in the NBA with his size, shooting and smarts.
Charles Matthews is a 6-foot-6 inch guard / forward with a slightly improved jump shot from a season ago to go along with stellar on-ball defensive ability. Matthews always draws the best guard or wing forward on the opposing team and nearly always forces them into a miserable night. He does a great job at moving his feet and contesting jump shots. He takes pride in playing defense, as does the whole Michigan team. Matthews has another year of eligibility, but all signs point to him entering the draft. Matthews has been dangerous recently, and if he keeps it up there’s little doubt he’ll be a second round pick.
Matthews go-to on offense is the dribble drive into the paint and then using his length on a fall away.
Jordan Poole’s game fits the NBA style and while Poole very well could use another season in college, there’s not too many better guard prospects right now in the country. Poole has appeared on some second round mocks — and even a writer from Golden State of Mind just talked about him two weeks ago as being an intriguing fit for the Warriors. Poole is scintillating in the open floor with his handles and vision. In isolation situations, Poole’s jab- step-you-to-death patience mixed with his threat to shoot from anywhere on the court make him a tough guard. There’s a little too much of a settle for the 3-point shot mentality in Poole’s game, however, he’s a 38-percent shooter, so how much complaining can one do about that. Coach John Beilein would probably tell you Poole’s percentage would be a lot better if he didn’t take at least one ‘what were you thinking!’ 3-pointer a game (...at least!).
A bonus Poole move:
I will likely visit a couple of these players again before the NBA draft in June, and will definitely have a thing or two to write about Michigan freshman and leading scorer Ignas Brazdeikis before then. A more in-depth look at Jalen Smith will be top priority as well.