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This year’s class of freshmen is particularly strong, with several players that could turn out to be NBA lottery picks. Since it is so popular now for draft prospects to leave college after just one season to play in the NBA, the new freshmen have a chance to play a big role on their new teams right away and meaningfully impact their team’s winning chances. Let’s look at who in our eyes have established themselves the top 5 freshmen to watch in men’s college basketball.
1. BRANDON MILLER (ALABAMA)
Brandon Miller ranked as the 15th best prospect coming out of high school due to some inconsistent performances. Nevertheless, he was deemed one of the most-skilled all-around talents in his class. Miller is not the most athletic player among his peers, but he can still play in a solid, quick point-forwards style of play thanks to his passing ability and high basketball IQ.
The forward has a solid jump shot but is also a matchup nightmare and can get to the free throw line. So far, he has played four games with the University of Alabama and dramatically exceeded expectations. Miller is currently averaging 20.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while shooting 50 percent on field goals, 51.7 percent from three and 80 percent from the free throw line. In other words, Miller’s shooting is extremely efficient and his averages in points and rebounds are team highs at this point of the season. Miller started all four games, played over 25 minutes, scored double-digits and helped Alabama to four straight wins.
Before the start of the season, he was put on the watchlist for the Naismith Trophy and for the Julius Erving award. While he is on his way to make his case for each award, Miller was just recently named the SEC Freshman of the Week.
If he keeps this kind of play up for the rest of the season, we will surely see plenty of great things from Brandon Miller, as he walks into his future in the professional basketball world.
2. CASON WALLACE (KENTUCKY)
Cason Wallace is one of the best defenders in this class of freshman, if not the best one. Wallace can lock down opposing ballhandlers, comfortably switch onto bigger players and guard positions 1-3. Over five collegiate games so far, he recorded a total of 17 steals, with a high of eight in Kentucky’s loss to Michigan State University.
Although his defense is undoubtedly his biggest asset, Wallace is also skilled offensively. The most important thing he brings to the table offensively might very well be his ability to drive to the basket and kick the ball out to open shooters.
At the University of Kentucky, Wallace became a starter right away and has been racking up minutes ever since. Currently, after a five-game stretch, he is averaging 12.6 points, 4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.4 steals in 33 minutes of playing time. He is also shooting pretty well, with a 58.1 field goal percentage and 55.3 percent from three. Wallace is a well-rounded player who impacts the game on several levels and seems to have found his place on this new team already.
Before the start of the season, Wallace was put on the watchlist for the Jerry West award. As the season continues, Wallace will continue to dazzle with his defense while also proving that he can be a high-level scorer and has a solid case to win the award.
3. AMARI BAILEY (UCLA)
Amari Bailey is the best player of this class to come out of California. Just like Wallace, he is on the Jerry West Award Preseason Watchlist. Since 2015, three freshmen have won this award: Malik Monk, RJ Barrett, and D’Angelo Russel, to whom Bailey is often compared and not just because he is left-handed.
Bailey is a quick and shifty combo-guard who is effective off the ball, can hit jumpers and make his way to the rim. The guard is certainly a talented rim-attacker, but he seems to grow a little more in that department. Sometimes, he finds himself suck in awkward situations in the paint, but that will all figure itself out in due time.
Bailey took on a starting role at UCLA right away and has played at least 20 minutes in every game up to this point, even though his scoring has been rather inconsistent. In the first three games of the season, he put up double-digits and then only 1 and 5 points in the next two games. Over five games, he has been shooting various percentages on field goals, 40 percent being the lowest and 83.3 percent the best. This inconsistency is reflected in his stats.
His 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals are not mind-blowing numbers, but Bailey has a high ceiling. He is definitely one of the players to watch this season, as he hopefully finds his footing in UCLA’s system and grows accustomed to the college lifestyle.
4. GRADEY DICK (KANSAS)
Gradey Dick came out of high school as the 2022 Gatorade Player of the Year and one of the most efficient shooters in this class. Now, he was recently named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week, as he is showing off his talent and high ceiling at the University of Kansas.
The small forward is currently averaging 16.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 55.1 percent on field goals and 50 percent from behind the arc in almost 30 minutes of playing time. He has helped his team to four wins and a solid start to the season.
His assist number could certainly go up a little, but Dick is already doing plenty for the Jayhawks. He is not afraid to take on responsibility and is confident enough to make the big shots when it matters. When the Jayhawks faced Southwest Utah, Dick won his team the game with an important, well-timed three-pointer.
With time, he will only grow more comfortable on the court and establish his place as one of the best players in this class of freshman.
5. KEYONTE GEORGE (BAYLOR)
Keyonte George was deemed the best pure shooter of this class and was named the Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year. Despite all the hype around his shooting and scoring abilities in high school, George has been struggling a little, as he is five games deep into his college career.
His averages of 14.4 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.4 steals are good, but he is only shooting 38.1 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from three. This inconsistency is represented in his game-to-game scoring, as he is putting up numbers ranging from 4 points to 23. There is no reason to panic yet, though. George probably just needs to find his rhythm in this new environment.
On the bright side, however, George has been looking good defensively by moving quickly and playing physically. He also looks like a much better passer, which his average of 5 assists shows. So, even though he is struggling to score consistently, his defense and passing are important improvements because it shows NBA scouts that he is capable of expanding his game quickly and efficiently. Now, it will be interesting to see how good he can be when he gets his shooting back on track.