As the college basketball season nears, we continue to look at the top talent on the best teams in the country. We’ve already broke down the top prospects on Kentucky and Duke, two of the perennial powers in the college ranks. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at Michigan State.
The Spartans are one of the top five teams in the country this year, bringing back plenty of talent from last year’s team and also landing one of the most talented high school players in the country. With two senior big men earning one more year of eligibility, coach Tom Izzo has as much depth, experience and versatility as he’s ever had to work with.
Who are the top NBA prospects you need to know on Michigan State this season?
5. PG Cassius Winston, sophomore, 6-foot, 185 pounds
Winston was second in the Big Ten last year in assists per game (5.1) despite coming off the bench all season, and has the 3-point touch needed to space the floor in today’s NBA. Winston is a pass-first point guard with the ball skills to probe the defense and make smart, crisp passes to create easy offense. At just a whisker over 6-foot and 185 pounds with a solid 6-foot-4 wingspan, Winston has average physical tools for the next level and will need to add strength and improve defensively. This season will be very telling on his long-term NBA outlook.
4. C Nick Ward, sophomore, 6-8, 250 pounds
Ward was the only true center on the roster last year, with the losses of Schilling and Ben Carter, and had a very solid freshman season (13.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg) with ample opportunity to perform. Ward is a back to the basket big man with great size and a 7-foot-2 wingspan. The lefty uses his frame and footwork to find creases in the defense to finish in the paint.
Ward still has to improve his lateral quickness to defend in pick-and-roll situations while also improving his shooting range. He can still stand to lose some weight, which will do wonders for his defensive ability. Ward might have less opportunity as a sophomore but should still some growth as a prospect with some improvement.
3. SG Joshua Langford, sophomore, 6-5, 210 pounds
Langford is the Spartans’ swiss-army-knife wing who can play all three perimeter positions while providing value as a shooter and slasher. He’s got good size with a 6-foot-7.5-inch wingspan with the athletic ability and ball skills to get to the rim. Langford has an excellent 3-point shot (41.6 percent as a freshman) and can score from the mid-range as well (56.1 percent on two-point jumpers per hoop-math.com).
Langford was incredibly efficient in his limited time off the bench as a freshman and will have to prove he can bring the same type of efficiency in a bigger role. He can stand to improve his versatility as a playmaker for others, as he had a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year. With the departures of shooting guards Eron Harris and Alvin Ellis, Langford will have a chance to prove he’s a legitimate NBA prospect this season.
2. SF/PF Miles Bridges, sophomore, 6-6, 230 pounds
Bridges is arguably the most talented returning player in all of college basketball. The physical and athletic lefty forward has two-way versatility and the ability to shoot from deep (38.9 percent on 3-pointers last year), giving him a high ceiling for the next level. Bridges uses his explosiveness to get into passing lanes and block shots on defense, which makes him a game-changing talent on both ends of the floor.
Bridges still needs to improve his ball skills and playmaking ability, and he’ll have plenty of time to prove himself on the wing this season. He’s a bit undersized to play as a small-ball 4 at the next level, though his leaping ability helps make up for it. He should have be an All-American this season and a likely lottery pick in 2018.
1. PF/C Jaren Jackson Jr., freshman, 6-10, 245 pounds
Jackson is the most talented prospect on this roster with a unique combination of mobility, shooting, size and length. He’s got great range on his jump shot with enough ball skills to get to the rim on closeouts. Jackson stands 6-foot-10 with a ridiculous 7-foot-4 wingspan, giving him two-way upside for the next level.
Jackson will need to show he can bang in the paint against stronger opponents at the college level after adding some weight to his frame prior to this season. Jackson’s role is a bit in question as he’s solid in many areas but not great at one or two. He has the talent to be a top-10 pick in either 2018 or 2019, depending on how fast he develops will determine when he comes out.
Honorable mention: Gavin Schilling C Senior, Matt McQuaid SG Junior