The 2018 NBA Draft lottery will be highlighted by an array of athletic bigs, a European star, and two true point guards who have separated themselves from every amateur in the world. Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton may be stars at the next level. Where they land will depend on what teams value at the guard position, but both provide skills the NBA demands.
So who are these guys?
For those who haven’t paid much attention to college basketball, welcome to Young’s world. He’s the hottest name in college basketball, whose to-the-minute stats have warranted air time on the bottom line every ESPN channel. He’s the leader in the race for the Player of the Year award, as he leads the nation in points per game (28.3) and assists (9.2).
Sexton is a little more under-the-radar, playing for an unranked Alabama that lacks the flare of what Young does on any given night. He lacks the unstoppable long range that’s built Young’s celebrity, but has a well-rounded game that makes it easy to see how he’ll produce at the next level. He’s no bore either, and is third in the SEC in points per game (18.1).
NBA fans should be excited at the prospects of either player come draft night.
So what’s to like about them?
Trae Young can shoot from anywhere off a quick release
The future of the NBA at the guard position calls for unlimited range, elite vision and playmaking skills, and the ability to get to the free-throw line. See what MVP candidate James Harden (10.7 3-point attempts, 9.9 free-throw attempts) is doing on a nightly basis with the Houston Rockets.
Young is doing that already.
Young is shooting 36.6 percent from three-point range on an NBA-like 10.2 attempts per game. He’s comfortable firing from anywhere on the court, and his presence shifts every team’s defensive scheme.
Despite being the center of attention as the focal point of every opposing team’s defense, he leads the nation in percentage of possessions used (39.3) and has still maintained his efficiency, save for a current rough stretch.
Young is shooting off the dribble, off the catch, wide-open and with defenders in his face at incredible accuracy. There’s reason he’s been compared to Golden State’s Steph Curry, though fans should be cautious in holding him to those comparisons.
Even in games where he can’t find range, he holds up Oklahoma’s No. 18-rated offense, according to KenPom, with his ability to get to the free-throw line. In the Big 12, he gets to the line the sixth-most frequently of all players, at nearly 1 free throw for every 2 field-goal attempts, according to KenPom. Considering he takes 19.6 shots per game, that’s unbelievable, and he’s sinking free throws an incredible 85.8 percent of the time.
He’s as good as it gets as a shooter.
Collin Sexton is an all-around scorer who can shoot, get to the paint and draw fouls
As great as Young is at getting to the line, Sexton as even better, getting there more than once for every two field goal attempts he takes. That’s one of the best 100 rates in the country. Sexton isn’t as accurate from the stripe, but still hits free throws at 77.5 percent, which should only improve.
He uses quick shifts to make his way to the paint, where draws contact. He may have the most devastating hesitation move in the nation, often forcing his defender off-balance as he bolts to the rim.
Sexton can shoot from range, too. He’s nowhere near Young in that regard, but he’s taking 4 per game and connecting at 32.6 percent. He has a smaller sample size to make absolute judgments on (he’s only taken 95 3s this year), but his shot mechanics check out. He has a swift, quick motion, and even off the dribble, he maintains balance and looks the part of a natural shooter. His solid free-throw percentage also backs that up.
Trae Young has excellent court vision
We’ve seen excellent shooters bust in the NBA before. Think Jimmer Fredette, who won Player of the Year in college behind 40 percent three-point shooting and 29 points per game. He was drafted No. 10 overall, but was out of the NBA in five disappointing seasons.
Young offers more with his skill set that Fredette couldn’t, though. He’s an elite passer who can see plays before they happen.
Couple his vision with the panic he draws from defenses just by dribbling around the 3-point line, and he’s the ultimate offensive threat. Because teams can’t leave him an inch of room, one of his teammates can spot-up, and he’ll find him by playing the role of the decoy. That’s part of the reason Oklahoma ranks No. 85 in 3-point percentage in the country.
Collin Sexton is a devoted on-ball defender
If anything stood out in Sexton’s individual matchup with Young in late January, it was his intensity on the defensive end, helping hold Young to just 17 points on 17 shots. He was attached to Young’s hip, showing that his offense isn’t the only skill he has to offer.
Sexton’s often the fastest player on the court, and can stay with any guard off the dribble because of it. He’s a pest who stays down in a defensive stance, shadowing wherever the ball goes. He’s fouled out of three games this season, but given the top-level talent he’s asked to defend, that’s impressive. He only averages 2.5 fouls per game.
His defense makes him more of a complete player than Young, and his 6-foot-3 body with a 6-foot-6.5 wingspan gives hope that he’ll have a future at the next level on that end as well. Sexton is averaging 1 steal per game.
Both Sexton and Young are as skilled as it gets for teenage point guards, and it’s hard to see either becoming total NBA busts.
But where can things go wrong for them?
Trae Young lacks NBA-length; that could haunt him at the next level
If Curry’s size created doubts, Young’s should cause more concern. He stands just 6-foot-2, and has a wingspan to match it. He’s very thin, and doesn’t project as a very good defender in the NBA because of it. He isn’t a very good defender now, either.
It’s easy to see how NBA guards will blow by him past the 3-point arc, and that’s worrisome. His Oklahoma team is barely a top-100 team in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and he’s a big part of the problem on that end. It’s no wonder why the Sooners have dropped six consecutive games.
At 19 years old, he has plenty of time to figure out how to compensate his frame, though, just as Curry did. His shooting will have to be automatic, and he’ll need to play within a system that lets him run off screens and fire a will. That isn’t how every team in the NBA plays though, and drafting Young isn’t for everyone. It won’t be easy to mask Young’s defensive flaws, and he won’t be great on just any team.
Finding the right fit will be everything for Young’s success.
Collin Sexton isn’t a playmaker for others yet
Sexton is a scoring-minded guard who is already pretty damn good at that. He isn’t much of a creator, though, averaging just 3.5 assists per game, and he’s never had more than 6 in a game.
Sexton isn’t demanded to play a pure facilitator role, but every elite NBA guard is expected to create for others. And that wont come as naturally for a pure scorer like Sexton.
So who should my team draft?
With just over a month left in the college basketball season, neither has separated far enough from the other to become the obvious selection, and it’ll likely stay that way. My choice would be Sexton, though.
NBA scouts love to make ceiling and floor comparisons, and Sexton has the highest floor with comparable star potential. He isn’t as flashy as Young, but Sexton could be a star on both ends of the court. His speed is undeniable, his ability to draw fouls will stand out, and his commitment on the defensive end is exciting.
It’s unfair to expect any rookie to be an immediate NBA contributor, with this current class of rookies becoming the outlier rather than the norm. Any draft class is lucky to have just one Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell or Jayson Tatum playing at an elite level from the jump. But there’s reason to believe the Alabama point guard can get there.
Young has a real chance to thrive at the next level, too, but stands a much riskier lottery selection than Sexton given the unknowns of how his size will translate, and how he’ll fit on a team that doesn’t operate solely around him.
Sexton is the all-around safer choice, but in all likelihood, the NBA is months away from gaining a pair of quality point guards.