‘Tis the season in which all college sports fans turn their eyes away from the gridiron and toward the hardwood to focus on basketball season as football crowns a champion. With this, the NBA draft nears closer, looming just six months away. Naturally, more mock drafts will surface, with everyone having their own opinion on who deserves to see their name called and shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand. There are a number of consistencies across these various mocks, with Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren sitting in the top three, Johnny Davis shooting into the lottery from out of nowhere and a noticeable absence of UConn players. How can it be that a top 25 program could have no draft prospects on their roster? Let’s take a look now at two guys who I think deserve a spot.
The first feels obvious. Adama Sanogo has been an absolute beast this year, even putting up monster stats on his “off days.” This season, the Mali product has scored 15.7 points per game, while adding 8.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and just under an assist and a steal, while still shooting 53.6% from the field. Sanogo also rises to the occasion, averaging 24 points and 11 boards per game against ranked opponents. This includes his masterclass in the Bahamas versus current No. 2 Auburn, who had their entire frontcourt healthy, where he scored 30, grabbed six rebounds and swatted two shots in the win. How could someone with such a performance against a team of Auburn’s caliber go so unnoticed? Not to mention the fact that Sanogo just became the first major conference player to have 15+ points and 3+ blocks in three straight games since Tim Duncan, as per Stats by Stats.
So, where does Sanogo fit in an NBA system? In the modern NBA, there is a huge emphasis on shooting the ball and players needing to have a proficient three point shot. The best players in the league do, and, unfortunately, this is an area where Sanogo does fall short. However, the NBA has gotten noticeably softer in the past decade or so and with his low center of gravity and nifty post hook, does Sanogo even need a jumper? Against the teams with big NBA talent, Sanogo not having a shot hasn’t hurt the Huskies. A few player comps that I could see working are Pistons center Isaiah Stewart, Warriors center Kevon Looney and maybe even Hawks’ big Clint Capella. All have classic back to basket games that don’t require a jumper to be successful. Sanogo’s soft touch and great footwork place him in the talent company of any of those bigs, which is why he should be drafted and could contribute immediately in the league.
Although he’s no Adama Sanogo right now, Andre Jackson has emerged as a huge breakout player for UConn. The wing started the season off weak but has really turned on the jets as of late. In the past seven games (all against high-major level competition), Jackson is averaging 10 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals in 32.7 minutes per game on an incredible 76.7% from three. The area behind the mark is by far the most incredible improvement to Jackson’s game, as he shot just 11.8% from long range last year. He has hit a three in his past five games and with the defenders giving him as much space as they are, he will continue to make them pay. If they do start to guard up on him, the high flier will have space to get by the defender and drive, with the ability to either throw down a ferocious slam or use his elite vision to dish the ball out to a shooter in the corner if he draws help.
In the NBA setting, if Jackson is able to shoot at any sort of respectable clip (maybe >35%?), he will be at least a serviceable role player. He is only going to get more athletic and as long as his confidence stays, he will continue to become a better shooter. Everything about Jackson’s game translates to the NBA. He is an elite athlete, a good passer and rebounds the ball well. The only remaining piece is his 3-point shot, which is coming along nicely. Although far from the king himself, Jackson’s skillset does somewhat resemble LeBron James’ and, if he makes enough of a jump, could serve as a ball-dominant small forward. Maybe a less outlandish comparison is Ben Simmons with a bit more of a shot. Simmons’ athleticism is similar to Jackson’s, and they both pass and defend at a high level. The idea that there are 60 players with more NBA potential than Jackson in college basketball feels like complete lunacy and hopefully as time goes on, teams will begin to notice.