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2024 NBA Draft: Getting to know lottery prospects

Here are my top 14 prospects a month away from March Madness

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BUFFALOES VS COLORADO STATE RAMS, NCAA MEN’S BASKETBALL Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

With the NBA trade deadline in the rear view and still needing solutions for the Detroit Pistons moving forward, it may be a good time to take a look at the bigger picture.

Now the draft isn’t a sure thing by any means — whether that means the difference between a No. 1 pick or a No. 5 pick, or the difference between picking the right prospect or wrong prospect — it is a chance to add talent with team control for a long time.

That’s why it’s important to cash in when the opportunity is there. And in a draft that’s so wide open at the top, there’s room for interpretation.

Here are the guys in my lottery right now (regardless of team fit), plus one thing to know about 10 of them.

1. Nikola Topic, 6-foot-6 point guard, Red Star B.C.

After getting the call up from KK Mega (think of it as Serbia’s G League Ignite) to the Euroleague-competing Red Star, Topic played in just three games before going out with a wrist injury that he could return from this month.

In those three games, he shot 5-for-7 from 3 with 12 assists to five turnovers. Not a bad showing at all for an 18-year-old just starting to play in the second-toughest basketball context on the planet.

2. Cody Williams, 6-foot-8 wing, Colorado

Like his older brother, OKC Thunder’s Jalen Williams, Cody is a late bloomer with a steep trajectory. Even taller and longer than Jalen, Cody has an extremely functional handle at his size and could be a two-way star down the line as long as his body and shooting (currently 48.1% on just 2.1 3PA) continue to develop.

3. Alexandre Sarr, 7-foot-1 combo big, Perth Wildcats

Imagine a slightly smaller Victor Wembanyama, and that’s almost what Sarr is defensively. Not nearly the same level of skill and versatility on offense — at least yet — but as a defender, Sarr can nearly go toe-to-toe.

4. Zaccharie Risacher, 6-foot-8 wing, JL Bourg

A guy who could very easily be in play for Detroit no matter how high its pick lands, Risacher is rapidly improving as an offense-first wing and shows flashes on defense as well. He’s shooting 56.1% on 3.4 3PA in Eurocup games this season.

5. Reed Sheppard, 6-foot-3 guard, Kentucky

Sheppard could have the highest floor in the class, but his ceiling isn’t much higher. The Kentucky guard is shooting 53.7% on 4.3 3PA although he doesn’t do much of the shot creation himself and doesn’t get to the rim much either. He does nab 2.4 steals per game and boast an absurd 4.2 to 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Brilliant player, but might not be a ton of upside beyond what he is now.

6. Ja’Kobe Walter, 6-foot-5 guard, Baylor

Currently in a shooting slump (24% on 5.6 3PA over last nine games when Big 12 play started but 41.3% on 5.8 3PA in non-conference), but the tools and flashes are there for Walter to be a solid two-way option at the 2-3 spot in the lineup.

7. Rob Dillingham, 6-foot-2 guard, Kentucky

One of the most fun shooters to watch in the class (36.8% on pull-up 3s and 45.9% on catch-and-shoot 3s), there are question marks about Dillingham’s defense and ability to play off the ball, but he could have the highest upside in the entire draft.

8. Matas Buzelis, 6-foot-10 forward, G League Ignite

Buzelis has struggled to adjust to the physicality of the G League, but he was a great shooter at the prep level and even if the shot doesn’t come around at the pro level, he has the feel to adapt to be more of a role-playing forward as long as the muscle develops.

9. Stephon Castle, 6-foot-6 wing, UConn

Should be an awesome complementary wing on both ends at the NBA level, just don’t expect him to offer much creation in the half court.

10. Ron Holland, 6-foot-9 wing, G League Ignite

11. Isaiah Collier, 6-foot-4 point guard, USC

12. Jared McCain, 6-foot-3 shooting guard, Duke

13. Izan Almansa, 6-foot-10 forward, G League Ignite

14. Donovan Clingan, 7-foot-2 center, UConn

Would feel a lot better about Clingan if he could play more than six or seven minutes straight. It’s the sort of thing keeping him from being a bona fide top-10 prospect for me.