Jaxson Hayes needed only a year at Texas to put himself at the front of the class of big men in Thursday’s NBA draft.
The freshman could go late in the lottery, headlining a list of intriguing players as the role of the big man has evolved in the NBA to embrace more flexibility and ability to roam outside the paint.
Here’s a look at the prospects:
Jaxson Hayes, Texas: There’s a lot of long-term potential in the Longhorns’ freshman. Strengths — Hayes measured nearly 7-foot with a more than 7-3 wingspan, which was among the best at the combine. That length gives him the potential to develop into a strong shot blocker after swatting 2.2 shots per game at Texas. He averaged 10 points per game in a complementary role, but just turned 19. Concerns — He’ll have to do more than just dunk at the next level. Hayes shot 72.8% from the field (he didn’t make enough shots to qualify for the national stats leaderboard), but 74 of his 123 field goals came on dunks (60.2%). He was prone to foul issues and was a mediocre rebounder (five per game), failing to record a double-double while cracking double figures on the glass just once.
Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga: The 6-foot-8 junior provided Gonzaga with a strong rim presence at both ends to become a first-round prospect. Strengths — Clarke put up big numbers in his last two college seasons, first as a sophomore at San Jose State (17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds) and then at Gonzaga as a transfer (16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds). He shot a national-best 68.7% while improving significantly at the line (69.4%, up from 57.3% in his last season at San Jose State). He was also a versatile defender, averaging 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals to be named WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Concerns — Clarke is a bit undersized as a power forward. He also has yet to show significant range on his outside shot, making just 6 of 24 3-point tries.
PJ Washington, Kentucky: The 6-8 sophomore brings production inside along with the ability to step out of the paint, which could have him go late in the lottery. Strengths — Washington improved in every major area last season. That included increases of at least 30% in both his scoring (15.2) and rebounding (7.5) output, along with shooting 52% from the floor and extending his range (42.3% from beyond the arc, up from 23.8% as a freshman). He also has a better than 7-2 wingspan, which could help his rebounding and shot blocking translate to the NBA level. Concerns — Washington lacks the height to stay confined solely to the post, so he’ll have to continue to extend his shooting range. He also shot 63% from the line.
Bol Bol, Oregon: Bol put up big numbers in a brief Oregon career with an unusual skill-set and is a first-round wild card. Strengths — He has the size to play in the paint that includes a 7-7 wingspan matching the height of his late father, former Warriors center Manute Bol. He averaged 21 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, including shooting 56.1% overall and 52% from 3-point range. Concerns — How will he hold up physically? He could use some strength on his 208-pound frame to bang against stronger players inside. He played just nine games before going down for the season with a foot injury, raising uncertainty as to whether he will be injury prone with his unique physique.
Others to watch: Goga Bitadze, a 6-11, 250-pound center, is a first-round prospect who turns 20 next month and averaged 12.1 points in his first season in the EuroLeague. … Nicolas Claxton, a sophomore from Georgia, is a first-round prospect who thrived last season (13 points, 8.6 rebounds) and measures at nearly 7-foot with a nearly 7-3 wingspan. … Bruno Fernando, a sophomore from Maryland, is a first-round prospect who measured well (6-10 height, 7-3 wingspan) at the combine after averaging a double-double (13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds). … Mfiondu Kabengele, a 6-10 sophomore from Florida State, has a 7-3 wingspan and inside-out versatility (13.2 points, 36.9% from 3-point range last season) to be a first-round prospect.
Photo: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press
Aaron Beard is an Associated Press writer.