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Three NCAA prospects to watch out for as conference play heats up

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An early peek on the prospects Hornets fans should be zeoring in on in college.

San Diego State v Nevada Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

As we head into the new year, it brings forth a time of excitement for basketball fans. Not only is the NBA now in the full swing of things, but college basketball finally gets “serious.” No longer are NCAA teams playing in out-of-conference matchups, where there wasn’t much even talent, alongside the top-25 matchups. The new year is the unofficial start of conference play across the league. This is a time where NBA scouts, in particular, start to learn more into the college basketball scene. This is when teams go up against the best of their best in their respected conference, and it’ll be interesting to see how they will match up against their heated rivals.

As it pertains to the Charlotte Hornets, this time gives us an opportunity to take a closer look at the potential prospects on the team’s June draft board. By understanding some of these new and rising young players early in the draft process, it gives us a better overall evaluation of a player rather than learning the information a few weeks before the big day.

This is also a time for Hornets fans to recognize the sheer depth that the 2019 draft class will bring. This year’s draft, like many others recently, projects that the group of talent available goes beyond the fourteen lottery selections. If the Hornets do manage to capture the postseason this year, they will still have a reasonable amount of talent to choose from.

With all that said, here are three NBA prospects to keep an eye on in college basketball.

Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Fernando has been generating hype from the NBA media for two years now. After a solid freshman season where he averaged ten points and 6.5 rebounds per game, he decided to return to school for another year of development.

That decision has proven to be the correct choice as Fernando has become a drastically better player this season. He looks more aware on both ends of the floor and is most evidently seen in the pick and roll game. Being his specialty move on offense, Fernando is able to use his 6-10, 240 lb size to set excellent screens allowing him to receive easy opportunities at the rim.

These screens have expanded in off-the-ball situations, which has allowed him to become a big and reliable alley-oop target cutting inside. His tremendous leaping ability has allowed him to become a targeted lob finisher in the paint, which has certainly generated some of the hype surrounding his profile.

Here’s a quick montage of his screen game being used.

Fernando is also keen on the defensive end and positions himself well to alternate his opponent’s shots. Whether that’s through help defense or attacking face-on, he has found an effective way to use his body to cause a distraction on the shot attempt. This body has not only lead to opponents missing shots inside, but it’s also translated into the blocks category. He currently ranks second in the BIG 10 in blocks per game and is the staple rim protector for the Terrapins.

Having recently received both the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week and Big Ten Player of the Week, Fernando is off to an explosive 2019 campaign. If this Clint Capela mold of player is available for the Hornets, there may be little hesitation to grab the big man off the board.

Louis King, Oregon

Coming off a knee injury during his senior year in high school, freshman forward Louis King is finally getting back on the hardwood after missing a significant amount of time. The five-star recruit has shown success in his limited run so far, averaging eleven points and six rebounds in the eleven games he’s played.

King possesses great mobile ability both on and off the ball. He’s been a pest on the defensive end, being able to come away with a high number of steals. This pickpocketing ability should prove to be a key tool in Oregon’s defense as they continue their play without their star player Bol Bol, who’s been ruled out for the year with a foot injury.

King’s handle is above-average compared to his peers at the four spot. He is able to maintain his composure in that area and has shown to create plays off the dribble. The deep-range area is still a key point in his offense, as he’s currently knocking down a modest 36 percent from three.

With the PAC 12 earning harsh criticism recently as being one of the worst basketball conferences this season, Hornets fans should definitely tune in to and see how well King performs to play against this competition.

A project piece at just 19 years old, he could very well, in time, produce the skills needed to be the Hornets next stretch four.

Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State

McDaniels might have the most upside out of the three listed, but he comes with the most question marks.

On the positive side, his height brings a multitude of advantages as he’s currently listed as a 6’10” small forward. A true treasure to have this height at the wing position, McDaniels is able to use this length to his advantage. It has allowed him to become a total mismatch on the offensive end. Whether that be a simple pull-up jumper or bodying his defender inside, there is a clear edge given to McDaniels in the one-on-one situations.

McDaniel’s height along with legitimate scoring from the three spot is almost certain to draw comparisons to those other similar-framed players in the association. Those of Kevin Durant and Brandon Ingram come to mind as having the overall profile similar to the Aztec forward, although McDaniels is nowhere near that level of efficiency on the floor just yet.

When it comes to shooting, McDaniel doesn’t shy away from letting it fly from deep. Although his jump shot looks to be okay mechanically, the shot isn’t falling from three as hoped for. He is shooting a career 26 percent from that area, and that should be the key point of improvement if he wants to increase the versatility he offers on the court.

The two major setbacks that have caused less hype surrounding McDaniels is the conference he plays in, and his weight. Playing at San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference is definitely a step back in competition compared to the other prospects in the draft, who have to play against the rugged ACC, BIG 10 etc. Playing at a lower-tier conference puts in the eyes of many scouts that players in that situation will be “exposed” to the heightened group of competitors in the NBA. Simply put, there is a general rule that small-school players wouldn’t adapt as well as players with experience under heightened competition.

To rebuttal that narrative, we have seen players who have defined that general consensus and perform well in the NBA. Players like Stephen Curry, who played in the Southern Conference, and C.J. McCollum, who played in the Patriot League, have found success in the pros despite their level of competition in college being “worse” than others heading into the draft.

When talking about McDaniels’ weight, there is an obvious cause for concern. He’s only 190 pounds, which is incredibly thin for a modern forward. This is a major red flag if he wants to expand more of his game in the paint. In order for him to become the ideal, all-around basketball player he transpires to be, gaining around fifteen to twenty pounds seems like a reasonable number to reach in a three to a four-year window.

He may look like a project player at first glance, but his potential is certainly tantalizing.

Here’s what McDaniels was able to do against Xavier this year.

There you have it, my list of key college basketball players to watch out for.

All three players are likely to remain on the board whenever the Hornets end up selecting.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments below!