clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 9 best NBA prospects in high school basketball today

New, comments

NBA fans should keep a close eye on these teenage basketball phenoms.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Basketball never stops — it isn’t just a phrase fit for a T-shirt, it’s also true in both the literal and figurative sense. When the NBA takes a summer vacation, the future stars of the game are building their skill sets and reputations at the high school level. While the evolution of the sport has taken place on its biggest stages, that influence is being felt all the way down to how our brightest young players are evaluated and developed.

Today’s game demands players who can shoot from distance, handle the ball, make the right pass, and guard multiple positions on defense. Length, athleticism and positional size remain king, but they won’t mean anything without a high motor and a developed feel for the game. These are the traits we’re looking for as we try to identify the best NBA prospects currently in high school basketball.

There are no true point guards on this list and only one nominal big man. Instead, this list largely consists of versatile wings, the types of players who have become even more valuable in the modern era. I also did this three years ago. Every player on that list ended up being a lottery pick with the exception of Harry Giles, whose extensive injury issues pushed him to the backend of the first round.

9. Jaden McDaniels

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

High school class: 2019

Position: Wing

Size: 6’10

McDaniels is the epitome of a late bloomer. He was unranked by Rivals in March going into his final season of grassroots basketball on the EYBL. In April, he debuted at No. 63 in the senior class. By July, Rivals moved him all the way up to No. 4 overall, and buzz started to build that he could have the highest long-term ceiling of any member of the 2019 class. He is the only current high school senior on this list.

At 6’10, McDaniels is the type of oversized combo forward every team wants. He’s a fluid athlete with impressive natural touch who averaged nearly 20 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field on the Nike circuit. He still needs to refine his three-point shot (29 percent) and remains very much in the process of learning how to leverage all of his tools. If he figures it out, he can be an immensely valuable player.

8. Brandon Boston

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

High school class: 2020

Position: Wing

Size: 6’6

B.J. Boston is the type of scoring wing who feels custom built for the modern game. He opened eyes during his first full season on the EYBL, averaging 15 points per game and showing off a versatile offensive skill set that he’s slowly learning how to harness. Boston can get buckets running off screens, spotting up from three-point range, or slashing to the basket to draw contact. He has the type of long, skinny frame that will only benefit from added muscle as he gets older.

It feels like Boston is just starting to learn how good he can become, but evaluators are already taking notice. Rivals had him unranked in March of this year; he now sits at No. 8 overall in the junior class. Duke is interested, and Coach K is invoking the names of Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum during his recruitment. For as much as Boston has risen in the last year, this feels like only the start of his ascent.

7. Patrick Baldwin Jr.

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

High school class: 2021

Position: Wing

Size: 6’8

Patrick Baldwin Jr. comes with an easy sell: he has advanced shooting ability with great positional size. That’s been enough to make Baldwin the consensus No. 1 player in the sophomore class, where he sits for both ESPN and Rivals. One scout told me Baldwin reminds him of a young Klay Thompson, even if he hasn’t flashed that type of high-end athletic ceiling just yet.

Baldwin Jr. has basketball in his blood as the son of Pat Baldwin, the head coach at Milwaukee. All he did as a freshman at Hamilton High School in Sussex, Wisconsin, was average 16 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting from three-point range and 82 percent shooting from the foul line. His ceiling is going to be immense as he continues to gain strength and explosiveness.

6. Jalen Johnson

High school class: 2020

Position: Wing

Size: 6’8

Johnson is a triple-double threat every time he takes the court. A combo forward with great size and a rare comfort handling and passing the ball, Johnson is an unselfish star who is always looking to get his teammates involved.

The Milwaukee native has earned the point-forward label because he excels at the controls offensively, especially when he’s pushing the pace to make plays in transition. He’s also developing into a legit catch-and-shoot threat from three-point range, a part of his game that could ultimately determine how high his ceiling is.

If there’s a criticism for Johnson so far, it’s that he’s almost too willing to pass. When he figures out how to generate his own scoring while still playing a high-IQ game, he projects as a unique offensive weapon teams at every level covet.

5. Scottie Barnes

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

High school class: 2020

Position: Wing

Size: 6’8

Barnes is a big, long wing who plays as hard and as composed as any player in high school basketball. Blessed with a 7’2 wingspan, broad shoulders, and big hands, Barnes has the ideal frame and the selfless mindset to be the type of versatile wing today’s game demands.

Barnes plays with a non-stop motor, which makes him an effective defender both on and off the ball. Offensively, he’s most comfortable as a facilitator, proving himself to be a willing and gifted passer both in transition after he grabs a rebound and also in halfcourt sets.

Barnes is a reluctant shooter at this point, but he did hit 12-of-33 threes (36.4 percent) in 17 games in the EYBL this season. There are also questions about just how athletic he is, both in terms of his lateral quickness and vertical explosiveness. If you’ve seen Barnes play, it feels like nitpicking. This is the kind of player every coach wants to go to battle with.

4. Evan Mobley

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

High school class: 2020

Position: Center

Size: 7-foot

Mobley is just scratching the surface of how good he can be. He soared up the rankings over the offseason to put himself in the conversation for the No. 1 player in the junior class, starring on Adidas circuit powerhouse Compton Magic and helping lead USA Basketball to a gold medal at the U17 World Cup by averaging 9.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

Mobley is a hyper-fluid big man with a 7’4 wingspan, impressive coordination and agility and a burgeoning natural skill level that includes soft touch and a developing comfort with the ball in his hands.

At this stage, Mobley is an effortless athlete who runs the floor like a gazelle and appears to have good instincts on both ends. A 7-footer who can get off the floor this quickly and move this well immediately demands your attention. His ultimate ceiling will be determined by if he can beef up a thin frame, and if his skill level can catch up to his quickness and agility.

3. Anthony Edwards

High school class: 2020

Position: Guard

Size: 6’5

Anthony Edwards is a scoring machine. A powerfully built combo guard out of Atlanta, Edwards has drawn early comparisons to James Harden and Donovan Mitchell for his advanced ability to get to the rim combined with deep range on his pull-up jump shots off the dribble.

Edwards’ numbers on the Under Armour Association speak for themselves: 20.4 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field, 47 percent shooting from three (on 5.7 attempts per game), and more than four assists per night. With a polished skill set and imposing physicality, Edwards is essentially unstoppable at the high school level. He’s risen as high as No. 3 in Rivals’ junior class rankings.

NBADraft.net currently has him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, even though he’d have to reclassify to make it happen.

2. Jalen Green

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

High school class: 2020

Position: Guard

Size: 6’4

Green possesses the greatest raw athleticism in high school basketball. He’s a rocket with the ball in his hands, flying down court with unmatched speed and launching himself in the air off one foot before defenders know what hit them. His elite explosiveness comes paired with a hyper-aggressive mindset that could make him an alpha dog scorer down the line.

Green used the 2017 FIBA World Cup to prove his production can match his talent. He was the MVP of the tournament for the gold medal-winning USA team, averaging a team-high 15 points per game on 73.5 percent shooting on two-point shots and 34.1 percent shooting on threes.

What you didn’t see in that highlight video? A pass. Green has all the talent in the world, but he’ll need to prove he can see the floor and make the right pass to truly be an offensive superstar. Still just 16 years old, he has plenty of time for that.

1. Emoni Bates

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

High school class: 2022

Position: Wing

Size: 6’8

Emoni Bates hasn’t played a high school basketball game yet, and he’s already drawing legitimate comparisons to Kevin Durant from ESPN and being hailed by insiders as perhaps the best prospect in the country regardless of class. All of this for someone who is just 14 years old.

Bates averaged more than 40 points per game as a seventh grader, and then skipped his eighth grade year to train for high school. He begins at Lincoln High in Ypsilanti, Michigan this year after burnishing his reputation as future stud at USA Basketball minicamp in October. Bates showcased a combination of explosive athleticism, pull-up shooting with range and confident ball handling that is so rare for someone at this age with such immense positional size.

The NBA is rumored to abolish the age limit in time for the 2022 draft, which could make Bates the biggest prize in the first draft since 2005 that allows high school players to enter. There is obviously so much time before then, and it only takes a quick at the history of the game to find plenty of examples of young players who failed to live up to unfair expectations at such a young age.

Still, there is no doubt Bates is a monster talent who has done everything he can at this stage to put himself on the map. He’ll be a name the entire basketball world is keeping tabs on for the next four years.