While last week’s spotlight evaluated the NBA hopes of three Wisconsin seniors, this week we will focus on a more uncertain group of players: the underclassmen. Many of these players still have quite far to go in their development, so much of what is said will be purely guesswork. However, certain players have displayed skill sets that if they are expanded could turn them into NBA prospects. Three such players are sophomore forward Ethan Happ, sophomore guard/forward Khalil Iverson, and freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice.
Ethan Happ, F
Happ is a player that excels in many areas of his game. He dominates in the low post, seems to be a rebound magnet, passes with precision, and displays proficiency in forcing opponents to turn the ball over, as he led the Big Ten in steals in 2015-2016. So far this season, Happ has been the Badgers go-to scoring threat, as much of the offense is centered around feeding him the ball in the post, with him subsequently going to work and getting a shot up or dishing the ball outside for a shot or new offensive set. His importance and effectiveness was on full display in last weekend’s overtime thriller at Minnesota, as he poured in 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished six assists, and blocked five shots. He followed this up with yesterday’s hero-like performance against Rutgers at Madison Square Garden, as he posted 32 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and four steals. He is developing into an elite level player, and he still is only a sophomore.
The one problem with Happ is that his weaknesses are extreme. He has no inkling of an outside shot in his game, and even if he does develop a jump shot, I do not it could be anything that could make him that much more effective in the NBA. Happ is also athletically limited, and rarely plays above the rim. Frank Kaminsky made up for this same deficiency with his three-point prowess, and Happ somewhat makes up for it with his bevy of moves and acrobatics in the low post. However, I still see this being a glaring issue, as the NBA is growing to value the center position as more athletic and explosive players, such as Rudy Gobert and Karl Anthony Towns. Finally, given his level of athleticism, Happ is undersized for an NBA center at 6’10”, 232 lbs. Many centers that are undersized in the weight department, like Nerlens Noel, make up for it with their length and athleticism, neither of which Happ possesses. This could create matchup issues down the road.
Happ undoubtedly will finish his career at UW-Madison as a Big-Ten standout, if not on the national stage. I think Happ can certainly develop into an NBA level player. Just look at the jump Frank Kaminsky made from his sophomore to junior season, and remember that Happ is light years ahead of where Kaminsky was at this point. He will need to focus on maintaining his strengths and finding ways to compensate his weaknesses.
D’Mitrik Trice, G
This one is a bit of a stretch, as I try to look more than three years into the future with a player that I have only seen for half of a season, but Trice has displayed some signs that he could one day make a run at an NBA roster. After a red-hot start to the season Trice has cooled off some, but he continues to be an effective and productive player for the Badgers. Trice leads the team in three-point shooting at 51.2% and has emerged as a floor general, directing the team with poise and making the slowly churning machine that is the Badgers’ swing offense run smoothly. Trice also has held his own on the defensive end, and will only continue to improve as he matures and fills out his frame.
The one area in which Trice will struggle most in trying to make it to the NBA is his size. He is listed at a generous 6 feet tall and weighs 178 lbs., both of which are undersized at the pro level even for point guards. There are players that have made very successful careers at the NBA level being undersized guards, but these guys have often been electric offensive weapons, athletic specimens, or have displayed some other “can’t miss” attributes (think Isaiah Thomas, Nate Robinson). A player with similar size to Trice is former Duke guard Tyus Jones, whose skill set as a freshman was far and away superior than Trice’s… and Jones is currently riding the pine for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Trice must find a way to compensate for this lack of size, or his already long road to the NBA will be out of the question. While he certainly will be an important Badgers contributor for the next three years, it will be fun to see if he can make the adjustments and improvements necessary to make dreams reality.
Khalil Iverson, G/F
Khalil Iverson is certainly the biggest wild card on this list of three. Iverson is an athletic stud, as he plays with more speed and bounce than any other Badgers player in recent memory. Iverson has carved out a nice role as the Badgers’ sixth man this year, and has certainly been efficient. He is averaging 4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and is shooting 57.4% from the field, all in only 15.6 minutes per game.
While his stats don’t pop off the page, his intangible skills are what provide the potential that could eventually turn him into an NBA prospect. He is a defensive stopper, and his outstanding leaping skills make him an advanced shot blocker and rebounder for his size. In an NBA that is becoming more and more centered around athleticism and versatility, it is feasible to see how Iverson could offer value to an NBA team in the future.
However, Iverson must work extensively on his offensive game to get even within shouting distance of making it to the league. He currently is exclusively a slasher, and gets the clear majority of his points by out jumping opponents for offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line. A player as one dimensional as him cannot be hidden on the court in the NBA. A player that I think Iverson could model his game from is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist, like Iverson, does not have a very reliable jump shot, but he is good enough at other facets of his offensive game that he still can be an effective contributor on that side of the floor, while providing elite level defense and rebounding on the other end.
It is quite the road that these three players face to becoming NBA prospects, but each of them house the potential to make it big time in the coming years.