Freshman sensation Josh Green continues to creep up the NBA mock draft boards. The Arizona Wildcat is *close to a breakthrough, getting close to the lottery in ESPN's latest mock draft, where he is projected to go 15th. Green was ranked 16th in the previous update, and 22nd in the edition prior to that.
On the other hand, NBL Next Stars LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton have fallen. This comes as little surprise, given that both prospects were dogged by injuries in the past month. Ball has gone from first to third, whereas Hampton slid from fifth to eighth.
Green: No wins, no worries
In spite of Josh Green's best efforts, the Arizona Wildcats have struggled in the past month and a half. After starting the season with an 9-0 record, the previously-undefeated Wildcats won just two of their next seven games, and now sit at 11-5.
In fairness, three of Arizona's five losses were narrow defeats against ranked opponents, all with a margin of five points or less. Their loss to St. John's was a similar story, as the Wildcats fell by three points. However, they then suffered a shock 82-65 loss to the unranked Oregon State Beavers on the 13th of January.
Arizona coach Sean Miller will have a major headache following their convincing defeat at the hands of Oregon State. Previously ranked 24th, the Wildcats are in serious danger of losing their top-25 status. However, Arizona's form hasn't stopped Josh Green from building on his draft stock. The Aussie has continued to impress NBA scouts with his defence and athleticism.
Green only managed to score nine points in Arizona's loss to Oregon State, but logged double digit points in five games prior to that. Most notably, he recorded 17 points on two occasions against ranked opponents Oregon (#9) and Gonzaga (#6). The 19 year old showcased his defensive hustle in the dying seconds against Oregon, scoring the go-ahead bucket off an incredible steal. This would have been a worthy game winner, but unfortunately Oregon came up with an answer at the other end.
Green's defence sets him apart from other prospects. He is a ferocious competitor, and takes pride in his off-ball play. The Sydney native spoke about his commitment to defence in a December interview with ESPN:
"I've really taken pride in my defence," Green said. "I feel like not many people will get up and take pride in defence like I do."
Green is also adept at disrupting passing lanes, as shown by his average of 1.6 steals per game.
His athleticism also underpins his upside as an NBA player. The Aussie has an explosive vertical leap, impressive speed in the open court and a 6'11 wingspan - attributes that NBA scouts have taken note of.
While the 6'6 shooting guard often positions himself towards the perimeter, he made the highlight reel with an explosive alley-oop dunk against Gonzaga.
To consolidate his position as a lottery draft prospect, Green undoubtedly has some things to work on. Although he projects as a "3-and-D" player in the NBA, the Arizona Wildcat is shooting three-pointers at a 32.6% rate thus far. His volume is also relatively small, with just 2.9 three-point attempts per game on average.
If Green can improve his stroke from beyond the arc, the sky is the limit. Given the importance of spacing in the modern NBA, elite off-ball players are highly sought after. The Sydney product is already a tenacious defender, and merely needs the jump shot to match.
Injury woes for Ball and Hampton
While Josh Green was making moves, LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton both lost ground. ESPN previously projected Ball as the first overall pick, but he has now dropped to third. The 6'6 point guard is currently nursing a foot injury, having played his last game for Illawarra on the 30th of November.
Per Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated, the expectations are that Ball will not play another game for the Hawks. Although this is a disappointment for the NBL and Australian basketball fans, the 18 year old has already established himself as a leading NBA draft prospect. He may feel that he has little to gain by playing additional games for the last-placed Illawarra.
R.J. Hampton has also missed time due to injury, but returned for the Breakers' January 5 clash against the South East Melbourne Phoenix. After missing roughly a month of NBL action, he has fallen from fifth to eighth in ESPN's mock draft. If Breakers head coach Dan Shamir continues to provide ample opportunity, Hampton could break back into the ESPN's top five.
*Edit: An earlier version of this article stated that the 15th projection would put Josh Green in the draft lottery. This is incorrect, as the NBA lottery runs from 1 to 14. The headline and introductory paragraph has been fixed for accuracy.