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Nico Mannion of the Arizona Wildcats (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Utah Jazz NBA Draft Prospects: Arizona Freshmen Trio

Nico Mannion of the Arizona Wildcats (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz own the 23rd pick in the NBA draft tentatively set for November 18. To prepare for the draft, we at KSL Sports are breaking down the top draft prospects that will be available when the Jazz are picking at the end of the first round. In this article, we will look at three talented freshmen from the University of Arizona.

Originally rescheduled for October, the draft is being pushed back to November to allow the league additional time when the postseason concludes to set the salary cap numbers for the fast-approaching 2020-21 season. Despite the change, all three Arizona freshmen, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and Zeke Nnaji are expected to remain in the draft.

Nico Mannion: 6’3, 190 lbs PG – Fr – Arizona

14 points, 5.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds 39% FG/32% 3p/79% FT

Pros:

For fans of college basketball, Nico Mannion should be a familiar name. The former top 10 high school prospect attended Arizona with the expectations that he would be a one and done star with a future as a lottery pick.

Mannion has shades of the modern NBA point guard mixed with the traditional floor general tendencies that could make him a fixture in the NBA for the next decade. The guard has good athleticism with quick feet, and a body that when developed ought to be able to handle the rigors of bigger more physical NBA players.

The freshman looks most comfortable in an uptempo game operating offensively in transition, including a dangerous pull-up three-point shot that looks comfortable all the way out to NBA range.

In transition, Mannion is comfortable with his dribble and keeps his eyes up scanning the floor with a strong understanding of where his teammates are running the floor. It’s those types of traits that made Mannion such a dominant prep player.

When the game slows down, Mannion is a good halfcourt guard initiating an offense and running through Arizona’s offensive sets. The freshman has a stellar feel for the game and has a deep bag of tricks as a passer.

While not a stellar defender, his ability to move his feet on the perimeter are cause for optimist that the guard can hold his own at the NBA level, even if he’s relegated to defending mostly smaller backcourt opponents.

His father Pace played at the University of Utah and spent time in the NBA, including with the Jazz, as a result, Mannion has a clear feel for the game that was developed early in his basketball career.

Cons:

Despite Mannion’s apparent quickness and athleticism, he rarely used it to his advantage at Arizona, instead relying on his shooting ability to impact the game offensively.

Unfortunately, Mannion’s shooting numbers didn’t connect at an efficient enough rate for that strategy to keep the freshman in the lottery conversation. Knocking down fewer than 40 percent of his field goals, less than a third of his three-point shots, and shooting below 80 percent from the free-throw line, Mannion’s shooting numbers are a concern heading into his NBA season.

Even before college, Mannion’s shooting numbers were less than reliable, casting doubts on whether he will be a reliable enough shooter at the next level to be an impact player.

When Mannion does try to attack off the dribble his college-level competition was regularly able to stay in front of him which prevented opportunities to shine as a drive and kick creator. When he did get into the paint, he often settled for floaters rather than getting to the rim for easy finishes at the basket.

There are unquestionably tools there to work with, but Mannion is far from a guaranteed NBA player and there will likely be several other safer options in a guard-heavy draft class that could push the once highly touted freshman into the second round of the draft.

Josh Green: 6’6 210 lbs Wing – Fr – Arizona

12 points, 4.6 rebounds 2.6 assists, 42% FG/36% 3p/78% FT

Pros:

In a league looking for long, athletic, perimeter shooters, Josh Green is an easily projectable prospect. At 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan, Green looks the part of the prototypical rotational NBA wing.

When Green was on the floor at Arizona, he appeared comfortable positioning himself to space the floor, attacking overly aggressive closeouts, and doing enough rebounding and playmaking to avoid being just a shooter on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, Green has the size, athleticism, and frame to project as a versatile defender as he advances into his NBA career.

Simply put, there are lots of players like Green at the NBA level, and while that may seem like a drawback, it makes him a relatively safe option for teams who want to add a role player at the end of the first round.

Cons:

While Green was relatively reliable for a freshman at the college level, he rarely wowed those who watched him at Arizona. As a result, there were very few eye-popping moments that led to high upside projections that have allowed similar prospects like Tyler Herro and Devin Booker to breakout at the next level.

Additionally, while Green has a pure shot, he wasn’t truly a knockdown shooter as a freshman connecting on just 36 percent of his three-point shots. His jump shot is by no means broken, but he lacks the consistent form that has allowed other PAC-12 players like Klay Thompson and Kevin Martin to reach the upper echelon as shooters in the NBA.

Green is a strong defender but wasn’t always tasked with matching up against the opposition’s best offensive player. He may develop that reputation in the NBA, but he won’t be a day one defender a la Arizona State’s Lu Dort.

Again, it’s easy to project Green as an NBA player, and for many teams that is plenty when drafting at the end of the first round. However, compared to other wings, he may lack the upside or elite individual skill that allows him to take a leap beyond a journeyman in the NBA.

Zeke Nnaji: 6’11 240 lbs Center – Fr – Arizona

16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds 0.8 assists, 57% FG/29% 3p/76% FT

Pros:

It’s not difficult to see why Zene Nnaji was a top 40 recruit in the country heading into Arizona with good height at 6’11 and a very fluid athletic game. Nnaji runs the floor well for a player his size and looks comfortable with his frame despite being just 19 years old.

Additionally, when the big man was on the floor, he was producing, averaging 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Nnaji scored in double-digits in all but three games for the Wildcats as a freshman, posting remarkable consistency for a freshman big man.

The former high-level prep prospect is very effective around the rim, gathering the ball quickly and exploding to the basket for easy finishes above smaller college defenders. With his height and a good frame, Nnaji should be able to continue to fill out his body to continue that efficiency at the NBA level.

Nnaji only attempted 17 three-point shots at the college level, making just five, but does seem to have some sense of touch that could develop into long-distance shooting with some patience from an NBA team.

Cons:

While Nnaji was unquestionably effective, he rarely dominated games despite scoring consistently. At his best, the freshman simply beat up on small less athletic big men in the PAC-12. Unlike Washington freshman Isaiah Stewart or USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu, Nnaji lacks a clear identity regarding his strengths and how they will project to the next level.

It’s very possible that if the Arizona product succeeds in the NBA, it’s because he develops a new skillset as a floor spacer that was less than obvious at the college level. That’s not unheard of for NBA players, especially for athletes as fluid as Nnaji, but it’s a hard what-if to bank on with a first-round draft pick.

Additionally, Nnaji doesn’t show the other strengths that have lent themselves to success from modern NBA bigs. Averaging just 0.8 assists despite having two fellow NBA prospects draped on the wing, it’s clear opposing defenses weren’t entirely concerned about Nnaji’s playmaking with the ball in his hands. Most of his scoring came opportunistically rather than through a show of domination. That didn’t cause opposing defenses to pay enormous attention to the freshman and didn’t open opportunities for his teammates.

Furthermore, despite his size and athleticism, Nnaji averaged less than a block per game in college. That included 14 games when the freshman failed to record a block, while never blocking more than two shots in any appearance at the college level.

Blocking shots is not proof of a great defender (see Hassan Whiteside), but it supports the appearance of Nnaji being a less than willing rim protector at the next level. When asked to defend in space, the freshman was slow to move his feet despite his above-average movement skills.

Ultimately, Nnaji will get drafted and could hear his name at the end of the first round, but without a clearly identifiable strength at this point in his career, he may require an overhaul to his game before he can make an impact in the NBA.

Additional Prospect Breakdowns:

Jaden McDaniels: 6’9, 200 lbs Wing – Fr – UW

Isaiah Stewart: 6’9, 250 lbs PF/C – Fr – UW

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