Both the NBA and college basketball are officially underway. While the rookies of the 2023 class are currently taking the spotlight, fans are still looking forward to the 2024 NBA Draft class in anticipation of who the next crop of talent will be.
However, the 2024 class is currently regarded as a weaker class, with no clear number one or transcendent talent. This is contradictory compared to previous years, e.g. Zion Williamson, Cade Cunningham, Paolo Banchero, or Victor Wembanyama. With the 2024 class’s volatility, even considering incoming high school recruits, the sophomore class is ready to take advantage!
Many returning sophomores will make a push to hear their name on draft night. We will focus on the top five prospects with first-round potential, with multiple being considered lottery talents.
Best Sophomore Prospects: 2024 NBA Draft
1. Tyrese Proctor: Duke
Tyrese Proctor has generated some serious buzz in the ’24 NBA draft class. Many mocks are projecting him as high as a top-five pick. Proctor got off to a slow start in his freshman campaign but finished with an incredible stretch to end the season, averaging 11.5 points per game over his last nine games (including March Madness and the ACC tournament).
Proctor is heralded for his ball-handling ability and projects as an offensively advanced lead guard. He has excellent knowledge of the pick and roll and combines this with high-end shooting prowess. Proctor also has good positional size at sic-foot-five and 175 pounds, especially if he remains at the point guard position. To cash in on the lottery and top-five projections, however, he will need to prove that he is a capable defender and increase his productivity/numbers with the higher usage he will be granted this coming season.
With the keys to the offense and what Duke hopes is a better overall team than last season, Proctor looks poised to have a breakout campaign.
2) Donovan Clingan: UCONN
Donovan Clingan is coming off a national championship title with the Huskies this past season. He will attempt to make a run for the top 10 of the draft in his sophomore campaign. The seven-foot-two, 265-pound big man saw three starters move on to the NBA in Jordan Hawkins (New Orleans Pelicans 14th pick), Andre Jackson (Milwaukee Bucks 36th pick), and Adama Sanogo (Chicago Bulls, undrafted).
The departure of Sanogo, however, will have the biggest impact on Clingan. He acted as Sanogo’s direct substitute, limiting him to only 13.1 minutes per game last season. Even with the limited minutes, he averaged nearly two blocks per game with his nine-foot-six standing reach and elite timing ability.
Clingan’s NBA draft buzz comes mostly from his projection as a rim-protecting and play-finishing big on the interior. Expanding his game beyond the paint and improving his poor free throw percentage from last season will be the true swing factors in just how high Clingan can go.
His floor is relatively safe, though, as a true anchor in the front-court on offense and defense.
3) Riley Kugel: Florida
Riley Kugel from the University of Florida is a favorite pick by many analysts to have a breakout campaign. Kugel is another projected lottery talent, a six-foot-five wing with a great skill set. In his freshmen year, he proved he’s a three-level scoring threat. He has an explosive first step combined with numerous advanced dribble moves in his bag.
His NBA draft buzz came towards the end of last season when he was given a bigger role due to injuries, where he averaged 17.3 points over Florida’s last 10 games. He’s a flashy and confident player and will be solidified as a leader at Florida for the upcoming season. With this increased role, we should expect him to prove that the hype is real.
Kugel’s growth and development as a primary ball handler, playmaker for others, and showing more defensive acumen are his biggest areas to improve. Scouts will want to see this to determine just how high his ceiling can be.
At his floor, however, he’s already well suited to become a microwave scorer who can give any team a spark.
4) Kyle Filipowski: Duke
As our second Duke Blue Devil on the list, Kyle Filipowski arguably had the largest role as a freshman. He played 29.1 minutes per game and averaged 15.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, and shot 44.1% from the field last season.
Standing at seven feet and 230 pounds, Filipowski is a very mobile big man who can play from the perimeter. He has a clean shooting stroke with an excellent handle for someone his size. He combines that handle with multiple counter moves on the perimeter.
So why is he returning for another year instead of entering the 2023 NBA draft? For one, Filipowski needs to improve his efficiency and become a more consistent player on offense. His shot and the moves look great, but at times, you would be surprised to see him struggle to get by defenders or score on post-ups when guarded by someone of similar size. Despite fluid mechanics, he also shot an abysmal 28.2% from three-point range on the season. However, there’s reason to ease this concern with his 76.5% mark from the free throw line.
I believe Filipowski has a great chance to show incremental improvement in different facets of his game to become a first-round talent. He could even become a lottery pick after an outstanding season.
5) Kel’el Ware: Indiana
Kel’el Ware is the only player on the list who will see a change of scenery this coming season. He will be moving on to play for the Indiana Hoosiers after spending his freshman year at Oregon. Ware was a highly-ranked prospect coming out of high school, but he never saw himself flourish at Oregon in his freshman season, playing only 15.8 minutes per game.
Standing at seven feet and containing elite bounce for his size, Ware shines as a lob-dunk finisher and shot blocker. He also showed a willingness to shoot the three-ball last year, taking 1.6 attempts per game, although only shooting it at a 27.3% clip.
Ware is one of the most athletically gifted big men prospects in the 2024 class. This makes him a tantalizing talent. However, he does still come with concerns.
For one, Ware tended to disappear from games last season, which made some scouts question his motor. This could be the product of sporadic minutes and Oregon’s system, but teams will look for consistent dominance in his sophomore campaign at Indiana. Ware also can certainly stand to put more muscle on his lean frame to become a more physically imposing player. Lastly, his stock will dramatically increase if he can improve his three-point percentage from last season.
With all that being said, the success of the vertical spacing big man in today’s NBA (e.g. Dereck Lively II 2023 NBA draft) certainly helps scouts see a proven path to success for Ware. He already has the necessary physical tools to fill that role from day one.