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UK's Reed Sheppard a projected Top 5 pick in NBA draft

FILE - Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard (15) looks to pass the ball as he is defended by Tennessee forward Tobe Awaka (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Knoxville, Tenn. Sheppard is considered to be among the top prospects in this month’s NBA draft. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)
Wade Payne/AP
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FR23601 AP
FILE - Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard (15) looks to pass the ball as he is defended by Tennessee forward Tobe Awaka (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Knoxville, Tenn. Sheppard is considered to be among the top prospects in this month’s NBA draft. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)



Players move up and down every year based on workouts and interviews in the weeks leading up to the NBA draft. This year’s draft, which starts with Wednesday’s first round, has no consensus No. 1 pick and could be the weakest in recent memory, but at least one former Kentucky Wildcat could learn his fate in relative short order.

French 7-footer Alexandre Sarr has widely been projected to follow the footsteps of fellow countryman Victor Wembanyama as the No. 1 pick, yet is by no means a lock to go in the top spot.

UConn big man Donovan Clingan has risen up draft boards in recent weeks and could end up going in the top five. Serbian guard Nikola Topić, once considered a lottery pick, has fallen after suffering a partially-torn ACL this summer.

Southern California's Bronny James is still an intriguing choice, potentially in the first round, but could go to another team instead of the Los Angeles Lakers, where his father LeBron plays.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in Brooklyn on Wednesday night, but perhaps even more so in a couple of years, when there's been a chance to see which players were a hit and which ones were a miss.

1. ATLANTA HAWKS: Alexandre Sarr, center, FranceSarr doesn't have the all-around skills of Wembanyama, but then no one really does. He's still extremely talented, an athletic 7-footer who can wreck rims and the hopes of opposing shooters. Sarr's shot still needs some work, but he could end up becoming a franchise player in the next few years. Atlanta fans should love watching him throw down lobs from Trae Young.

2. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: Zaccharie Risacher, forward, FranceMany NBA mock drafts have Risacher going No. 1 — and for good reason. The 6-foot-9 forward has the skills of a guard and should be a perfect fit for today's NBA. Risacher is a superb catch-and-shoot wing who can beat defenders off the dribble and has a huge defensive upside with his length and athleticism. He may end up being the franchise player the Wizards need in their rebuild.

3. HOUSTON ROCKETS: Reed Sheppard, guard, KentuckyThe Rockets need shooters and Sheppard is certainly that. The 6-3 guard may be the best shooter in the draft — his 52% mark would have led Division I last season if he had enough attempts to qualify. He has a high basketball IQ — both parents played at Kentucky — and averaged 12.5 points as a freshman.

4. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Stephon Castle, guard, UConnThe Huskies were loaded with talented players in their title defense last season and Castle had no trouble fitting in as a freshman. The 6-6 guard is a solid playmaker who can get his own shot and is a hard-nosed defender. His size and athleticism could end up making him one of the best players of the draft, particularly if he improves his outside shot. Even at 19, he’s already a proven winner.

5. DETROIT PISTONS: Donovan Clingan, center, UConnClingan’s a proven winner as the massive anchor to UConn’s back-to-back NCAA titles. Though he doesn’t fit the NBA mold of a perimeter-shooting big man, the 7-2, 280-pounder is a load for opponents inside at both ends of the floor and would be a great fit for a Detroit team trying to bounce back from a difficult 2023-24 season. Clingan also is excellent at finishing on lobs, which could be a great fit with Cade Cunningham if he stays healthy.

6. CHARLOTTE HORNETS: Rob Dillingham, guard, KentuckyThe Hornets have a solid core with LaMelo Ball, Brandon Miller and Mark Williams. Dillingham could give them an extra shooting after connecting on 44% from 3 his lone season in Lexington. Though small at 6-1, 165 pounds, Dillingham has a big game with an ability to score at three levels and has the quickness to beat defenders off the dribble. His size could be a liability on defense.

7. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: Cody Williams, guard, ColoradoHe’s a thin 6-8, but has the size and athleticism to shoot over or get around defenders. Williams can create his own shot, is an excellent finisher and has good playmaking skills for a shooting guard. He shot a respectable 41% from 3 during his freshman season and has a huge defensive upside with his length and agility.

8. SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Ron Holland II, forward, G League UniteHolland could end up being the best defensive forward in the draft. The 6-7 forward has a nose for the ball defensively — he averaged more than 2 steals a game in the G League — and is excellent in the open floor. Holland can create his own shot, but needs to make more after shooting 24% from 3 on 3.6 attempts per game last season. The Spurs are at least in a position to wait for him to develop.

9. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Dalton Knecht, guard, TennesseeA knockdown shooter, Knecht could be a great complement to Ja Morant. The 6-6 shooting guard is superb at shooting off screens and can fill it up in a hurry, like he did while scoring 37 points against Purdue in the Elite Eight. Knecht is close to a finished product already, a 23-year-old who should contribute right away.

10. UTAH JAZZ: Matas Buzelis, forward, G League IgniteBuzelis bypassed college basketball to play in the G League and improved his draft status by gaining muscle while rounding out his game. The 6-8 forward is an excellent playmaker who can see over defenders and finishes strong at the rim in transition. Buzelis will need to work on his perimeter shooting, though: He hit 27% from 3 for the Ignite last season.

11. CHICAGO BULLS: Tidjane Salaun, forward, FranceSalaun can make it three French players as lottery picks in this year’s draft. The 6-9 forward fits the NBA style of play. He can shoot it from deep and improved his game — not to mention his frame — while playing in the French LNB Pro A, the same league as Wembanyama before his move to the NBA. Salaun may be a longer-term project, but has massive upside.

12. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: Isaiah Collier, guard, USCWhile Bronny James got much of the hype in Southern California, Collier was the higher-rated prospect out of high school. Once projected as a lottery pick, his draft stock took a bit of a hit during an inconsistent lone season with the Trojans. Even so, Collier has the type of game and solid frame that could translate well in the NBA. The 6-3 guard plays hard with the strength and quickness to get past defenders, but needs to work on his perimeter game after shooting 34% from the college 3-point line.

13. SACRAMENTO KINGS: Devin Carter, guard, ProvidenceThe 6-3 guard has a massive wingspan and vertical leap, which helped allow him make a big jump from 13 points to 19.7 last season. Carter has a high basketball IQ, is a hard-nosed defender and an excellent rebounder for a guard. The son of former NBA player Anthony Carter, he was the Big East player of the year in a league that included Clingan and Castle.

14. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: Jared McCain, guard, DukeHe was Duke’s toughest competitor during his lone season in Durham and is an elite shooter who could fit in on any team. McCain is an excellent shooter off screens and in the pullup game, but can also run the point if needed. He has a high basketball IQ, so should pick up the NBA game fairly quickly.

15. MIAMI HEAT: Nikola Topic, guard, SerbiaAt 6-6, Topic is a superb passer with great vision and size to see over defenders. He also has the strength to get into the lane and can finish strong at the rim, making him able to control a game even without being a great 3-point shooter. Would be projected to go higher — maybe with the Spurs’ first pick at No. 4 — but medical tests showed he has a partially torn ACL in his left knee, which he injured twice last season in Europe.

16. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Ja’Kobe Walter, guard, BaylorThe 6-5 guard was not shy in putting it up from 3 for the Bears as a freshman, taking more than four a game while shooting 34%. His long wingspan and athleticism give Walter the potential to become a defensive stopper at the next level. Shot selection and adding a bit of muscle to his 197-pound frame will be the biggest adjustments in the move to the NBA, but he’s only 19, so there’s plenty of time.

17. LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Kel'el Ware, center, IndianaThe 7-footer with a 7-5 wingspan has the length and game to have an immediate impact in the NBA. Ware quickly moved up NBA draft boards during team workouts and is a strong rim protector. He's also excellent on lobs and shot 43% from 3 last season, making him the type of stretch big man NBA teams covet.

18. ORLANDO MAGIC: Carlton Carrington, guard, PittsburghThe player known as “Bub” gets buckets in bunches and loves the pull-up J. The 6-4 guard has good size to play point guard and, at 19, has plenty of time to develop. His biggest downside: perimeter shooting. Carrington didn’t lack for confidence in his freshman season, attempting 6.1 3s per game, but shot 32% from the arc.

19. TORONTO RAPTORS: Zach Edey, center, PurdueEven with a lack of mobility and perimeter shooting, Edey was still the first repeat AP national player of the year since Ralph Sampson. At 7-4, 300 pounds, he dominated the college game and will be a handful even in the NBA. The Canadian would be a popular pick by the Raptors.

20: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Tristan da Silva, forward, ColoradoAny team could use a steady, do-it-all type of player and da Silva is just that. The 6-8 forward doesn't have eye-catching athleticism, but he is smart and has the size and strength to endure the rigors of the NBA. He also can guard multiple positions and may be the most NBA-ready player in the draft after playing four years in Boulder.

21. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: Tyler Smith, forward, G League IgniteSmith was born in New Orleans, moving to Texas after Hurricane Katrina, and would fit nicely back there now. Smith has a long reach and ability to stretch the defense, shooting 36% from 3-point range last season. The 6-9 forward needs work defensively, but will have time to develop that part of his game.

22. PHOENIX SUNS: Tyler Kolek, guard, MarquetteThe Suns have plenty of firepower led by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker but could use a true point guard to help get them organized. The two-time All-American can certainly do that and also provide points when needed, and should be a familiar name to new coach Mike Budenholzer from his time coaching in Milwaukee.

23. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: DaRon Holmes II, forward, DaytonThe 6-9 forward is good in the pick-and-roll game and a strong finisher at the rim. Holmes has improved his outside shooting, hitting 39% from the 3-point arc after shooting 32% the season before. He can defend multiple positions, but would be undersized as a center in the NBA. He also isn’t much of a shot creator, but his pick-and-roll skills may offset that.

24. NEW YORK KNICKS: Kyle Filipowski, center, DukeNew York is loaded with Duke fans and Filipowski could be an instant favorite. The sturdy 6-11 center may not be an elite rim protector nor a consistent 3-pointer shooter, but he has good footwork and plays hard. The Knicks had a solid run into the second round of the playoffs and Filipowski could be another piece to help push them deeper.

25. NEW YORK KNICKS: Terrence Shannon, guard, IllinoisShannon can flat-out score and has shown he can do it in big moments. Sexual assault accusations might have made teams leery of taking the dynamic guard in the first round, but the Knicks might be willing to take a chance following a not guilty verdict earlier this month.

26. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: Johnny Furphy, guard, KansasThe 6-8 Australian has a smooth shooting stroke and gets his shot off quickly. He also has good touch around the rim and good instincts on defense, often leading to steals. Furphy is not much of a shot creator off the dribble and needs to work on his individual defense, so he could need a year or two of development.

27. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: Yves Missi, center, BaylorMissi knows his game and sticks to it. A high-motor 6-11 forward, he is a rim runner and shot blocker who didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer last season. The Cameroon native should transition well to the pick-and-roll game of the NBA and is a thunderous dunker, as he proved during his lone season with the Bears.

28. DENVER NUGGETS: Jaylon Tyson, forward, CaliforniaDenver's bid to repeat as NBA champions hit a wall in the second round when its top players were stretched to the limit. Tyson could give them a solid boost off the bench. The 6-6 guard has good size, finishes strong at the rim and is a decent perimeter shooter. He increased his scoring average nearly 10 points to 19.6 last season, so has shown the ability to develop his game.

29. UTAH JAZZ: Bobi Klintman, forward, Wake Forest/AustraliaThe back end of the first round is typically filled with potential projects and Klintman is an intriguing one. The 6-9 stretch forward from Sweden has good length, both physically and shooting ability. Klintman moves more like a guard and is a good passer for a big man. He will likely need a few years of development before becoming ready, but is worth the risk late in the first round.

30. BOSTON CELTICS: Bronny James, guard, USCThe champion Celtics already have a loaded roster, so there's room to take a chance on LeBron's son. Bronny James has an incredible feel for the game after learning from his father and has a solid 6-4 frame. He had a so-so freshman season at USC, averaging 4.8 points and 27% shooting from 3-point range, but has the potential to be a solid pro. James also could come with a huge bonus if his father follows through with his intention to play at least one season with his son.