Fabulous freshmen progress report
A look at the performance of the Top 10 prospects from the 2020 class in college, to date.
In an off-season like no other in college basketball due to COVID-19, the typical summer training program upon matriculation simply did not happen for any of college basketball’s freshmen and transfers. As the new year approaches, it’s a perfect time in a unique season to evaluate the elite newcomers to the game, and the respective boosts they’ve provided each program they selected and arrived at.
In formulating the list of the 10 freshmen prospects to examine, we’ve used long-time player ranking consensus service, RSCIHoops, to ascertain the list of players for this progress report. All stats mentioned are through Christmas (December 25, 2020), and taken from ESPN.
Also notably, the No. 2 ranked player in the consensus rankings, wing Jalen Green of Prolific Prep (CA) is participating in the NBA G League program, which hasn’t produced much publicly available information to date. With Green absent, every player was moved up a slot. Similarly, forward Jonathan Kuminga spent most of the recruiting cycle in the 2021 class, and re-classified late prior to joining the NBA G League. Kuminga unquestionably would have made the top 10 consensus list, had he joined the class prior to its formation.
Cade Cunningham | 6-8 | 220 |PG | Oklahoma State (Montverde Academy, FL)
Stats: 19.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.8 apg (Team 6-2)
Comments: Cunningham has proven draftniks correct in their assessment that it would have been wise to select him as the first pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, had he been available. Cunningham has been a bonafide stat sheet stuffer in the early season, with the type of no-doubt preternatural basketball IQ that pundits expected. His 3.8/3.6 assist to turnover ratio is an area for improvement, but not entirely unexpected as a player that has had the ball in his hands extensively from the minute he hit the college floor. Cunningham came in as a unique talent who went his own route to Oklahoma State, despite blueblood and professional opportunities, and has been nothing short of as tremendous as advertised in the early going.
Evan Mobley | 7-0 | 210 | C | USC (Ranch Christian, CA)
Stats: 17.6 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.2 apg (Team: 4-1)
Comments: From game one, Mobley has been a highly-productive interior player, and certainly the type of big man that is capable of being a dominant big man in the college ranks. Mobley has sent back 3 shots per game, and has converted his shot opportunities with just over 61% effectiveness. With two double-doubles in the first five contests, Mobley really hasn’t indicated he needs an extended adjustment period before being one of the very best players in the Pac-12 as the conference season opens.
Brandon “BJ” Boston Jr. | 6-7 | 185 | SG | Kentucky (Sierra Canyon, CA)
Stats: 14.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 apg (Team 1-5)
Comments: While there’s been a few bright spots, the slow start of Kentucky has been among the biggest stories in the early college basketball season. A star-studded roster hasn’t gelled whatsoever, and the Wildcats have not converted from being a contingent of young future NBA players to a successful college team. As the highest-rated incoming prospect, Boston certainly joins in the overall disappointment. Boston’s immediate counting stats don’t look horrible, but his 17% percent clip from 3-point range and 37% conversion rate from the field have certainly underwhelmed. Boston is certainly no stranger to media and publicity, given his play at Sierra Canyon (who were on TV more than some college programs due to Bronny James and others), and he remains a player with tremendous upside, despite the slow start.
Scottie Barnes | 6-9 | 227 | SF | Florida State (Montverde Academy, FL)
Stats: 10.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.2 apg (Team 5-1)
Comments: On a deep and talented Florida State squad, Barnes has played a unique role. He’s spent time as the lead ballhandler, and shown a versatile and overall game that just screams to be plugged in to an NBA lineup. Recently departed Seminoles had no problems meriting high NBA draft picks despite non-eye popping statistics, and Barnes is expected to continue that trend. At times, Barnes has looked freshman-like as he tries to find the consistency necessary to be a star, but a Florida State team with plenty of options doesn’t need Barnes to do anything other than continue his development at this point.
Ziaire Williams | 6-8 | 185 | SF | Stanford (Sierra Canyon, CA)
Stats: 12 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.1 rpg (Team 5-2)
Comments: A high school teammate of the aforementioned Boston, Williams’ arrival at Stanford was highly-touted for a reason. Williams scored 19 points and grabbed 8 boards in the season opener against Alabama, but has had off games as well. Williams is seeing heavy usage for the Cardinal, and as a result put up back to back games where he shot 1-10 and 2-12 from the field. Williams is capable of playing minutes in college at both the “3” and the “4,” and as the Cardinal face a meatier schedule, should have the opportunity to fully demonstrated his overall potential as a multi-positional player and inside-outside offensive threat.
Jalen Suggs | 6-4 | 205 | PG | Gonzaga (Minnehaha Academy, MN)
Stats: 16.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.8 apg (Team 6-0)
Comments: Perhaps no player has garnered the deserved media attention that Suggs has gained, in the 2020 class. Suggs’ rates as the only A+ grade on our list and emerged as a star following his performances against three elite foes in Kansas, Iowa, and West Virginia. While playing on perhaps the best college team in the country has its advantages, and provided him with quality teammates to mix and match with, there’s no doubt Suggs has used his frame, ball skills, and alpha dog mentality to demonstrate why there’s plenty of validity for him being strongly in the conversation as a potential No. 1 draft pick next Spring.
Terrence Clarke | 6-7 | 194 | SG | Kentucky (Brewster Academy, NH)
Stats: 12.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.2 apg (Team 1-5)
Comments: As above with Boston, Clarke came into Kentucky with a full head of steam, but hasn’t found the shooting touch necessary to reach his expected potential. Through 6 games, Clarke is 26% from 3-point range and 47% from the free throw line, albeit in limited opportunities. Clarke has played against strong competition, particularly in comparison with some of the other players on the list, and that will certainly help. While the Wildcats are in a position that nobody expected going into the season, as he finds his role, gains experience on and off the ball, and refines his overall game to promote consistency, Clarke’s potential remains very high. To say the opening of the season has been less than a disappointment, however, would be untrue at this point.
Greg Brown | 6-9 | 205 | PF | Texas (Vandegrift, TX)
Stats: 12.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 0.1 apg (Team 7-1)
Comments: Brown stayed in Austin for college, despite many other attractive offers, and has been just fine. The Longhorns came into the season heavy on experience, at every position, and didn’t need Brown to jump in as the star right away. He’s found a bit of a groove as the season progressed, and shown himself as an overall productive player in both scoring and rebounding, and there’s also reason for hope with his shooting touch. Brown seems likely to stay in lottery range in most mock drafts, as he continues to develop versatility within the confines of a team with strong depth and optionality. Going forward, the Big 12 looks like a juggernaut, and Brown will have the opportunity to show his wares against high-level competition.
Josh Christopher | 6-5 | 215 | SG | Arizona State (Mayfair, CA)
Stats: 16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.1 apg (Team 4-3)
Comments: Arizona State and Christopher jumped on the scene early and with both feet into the deep end, participating in the televised 2K Empire Classic, and starting the season with a Top 25 national ranking. Christopher has showcased his high-volume scoring game, as he’s put up 10 shots or more in all but 2 games. Christopher has shot nearly 50% from the field, but his 23% production from 3-point range will have to improve. There isn’t much mystery what Christopher intends to do when he takes the hardwood, but he’s shown early on that he’s translated his high school scoring to college, and will be hard to stop going forward.
Jalen Johnson | 6-9 | 220 | PF | Duke (Nicolet, WI)
Stats: 11.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.8 apg (Team 3-2)
Comments: With four games played, Johnson has participated in less games than anyone else on this list. Johnson is currently out indefinitely with a foot injury, after playing in 9 games as a high school senior (due to transferring back to Nicolet (WI) from IMG Academy (FL), where he didn’t actually play. Johnson reasonably could have been graded an incomplete, due to playing in half of the games of some of his peers, but did flash some of the talents that made him an elite prospect in his class. It remains to be seen how and when he will return, given Duke’s bypass of future non-conference games, and Johnson’ cloudy injury outlook at this point.