Updated: Jan 12
I love the modern era of positionless/small-ball basketball we are currently in, which started in the NBA and has since trickled down to college and now high school. Phil Jackson once said that an ideal starting five in the NBA would consist of everyone being between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-9, and they would all have the ability to dribble, pass, shoot, rebound and defend multiple positions. With that said, I would like to list the three-players I saw this past weekend at the Tip-Off Classic that are the best NBA prospects based on the current era.
Matthew Cleveland - Physically, he has great positional size and length, coupled with elite athleticism, physically he fits the build. He has gotten drastically better since I first saw him the summer after his freshman year at The Hoop Seen Fall Preview. He is a lot stronger now, grown a couple of inches, and carries himself with humble confidence like he knows he has put in the work behind the scenes.
Offensively, he is typically one of the most athletic players in the country. Most dangerous in transition when he can catch a pass and explode to the basket and utilize his elite athleticism as a finisher above the rim. In the half-court, he is most effective in the mid-post where he can get off his turn around the mid-range shot, or in DHO action where he can turn the corner and get downhill in a hurry.
Defensively, when he is engaged, he is highly effective due to his elite physical tools. He has good quickness and recovery speed, coupled with exceptional lateral quickness to go along with his rapidly improved strength. He is capable of defending multiple positions both on the perimeter and the interior. He plays the passing lanes well, which often leads to fastbreak points for his team. And, he is an above-average shot-blocker because of his length, timing, and explosiveness off the ground.
Areas of improvement, he needs to improve his ball-handling to create for himself off the dribble. Continue to stretch his shooting range out to the 3pt line, which I do not foresee any issues with as he has a solid shooting stroke. Lastly, defensive intensity, if he can stay focused, he has the physical tools to be a lockdown
Brandon Huntley-Hatfield - Physically, Huntley-Hatfield has a great combination of size and skill; which makes him a versatile player on both ends of the court. I saw him in person two times last season first at USA Basketball, in October and second at the Memphis HoopFest, in January. In both settings, he played with tons of energy and did most of his work on the interior, where he has a soft touch around the basket. His game as evolved a lot since then.
Offensively, he can do a little of everything. He can put the ball on the floor to create for himself on the perimeter. His mechanics on his jump shot off the dribble or the catch are solid. Huntley-Hatfield can ban on the interior if the game calls for that but, he seems most comfortable on the wing creating for himself and his teammates off the dribble. He is a mismatch nightmare for opposing teams if you put a big on him he will take him on the perimeter and create. If you put a small on him, he can punish them in the paint.
Defensively, Huntley-Hatfield has outstanding physical tools, with his solid frame, great size, and long arms, he can defend the three, four and five. He has good instincts and timing playing the passing lanes and challenging shots at the rim. He has good lateral quickness and agility to cover a lot of ground defensively.
Area of improvement, he needs to improve his shot selections while he can shoot it from the 3pt line I would like to see him create and get in the mid-range a little more. His game can benefit by increasing his strength if he is going to be banging on the interior that extra muscle will come in handy later in the game.
Jabari Smith, Jr. - Physically, Smith is the prototypical modern-day power forward, standing at 6'10 210, he has the agile movement of a guard and the size and length of a big. I first saw him at the South Atlanta Fall Showcase in October 2018. I could see the potential then, his size and ability to shoot the ball stood out immediately and, he has continued to improve every year since then.
Offensively, Smith can create his shot with ease from the mid and high post, using a series of jabs and shot fakes before he shot over the top of his defender with his high release. He has range from behind the three-point line where he shot a tad under 38% last season. He also has the ability to defensive rebound and push the ball in transition to ignite early offense for his team. He can also operate in the low-post were he can make turn-around jumper or short right-hand hooks in the lane.
Defensively, he has the ability to defend one through the five, he is long, laterally quick, and vocal. He gets in his stance and seems to take on challenges when presented. With the game geared towards a lot of pick and roll actions, he is a big that I feel comfortable switching onto a ball-handler and having no problem staying in front of them. He is also very good on the interior as he blocks and contests shots at the rim all while staying vertical to stay out of foul trouble.
Areas of improvement, I would like to see him work on his handle more, although he can get it off the glass and push, he tends to look for a guard once he crosses half court. If he could keep it and create from time to time it will only make him more dangerous as he improves. Also, I still would like to see him continue to get stronger and lock in more on the defensive end. I believe he could be one of the best defenders in the country.
There is no exact science to predicting a high school basketball player's future, but I do believe that the players listed above possess the physical attributes and skill-sets that translate to the NBA right now. If they stay on this upward trajectory I see no reason why all three of these guys won't hear their names called in the NBA Draft in a few years.