Zach Edey [608x342]
Zach Edey [608x342] (Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images)

Nats starter Gray set for season-ending surgery

Thirty teams have spent the past year canvassing the globe to make sense of the 2024 NBA draft class, identifying the top prospects and what makes them intriguing.

Scouting reports are filled with details and descriptors to better distinguish one player from another. Evaluation encompasses myriad factors, of course -- but which prospects have earned superlatives? Which players come to mind as the best playmakers, shooters and defenders?

As draft night approaches less than three weeks from now (June 26-27 in Brooklyn, New York, on ABC/ESPN/ESPN+), who is truly the best in the class at each individual skill? 

ESPN draft analysts Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo put together their list of the leading prospects, assessing traits in 20 categories.

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Best pick-and-roll finisher: Zach Edey, C, Purdue

Edey, ranked No. 16 in ESPN's Top 100, is a dream target for playmaking guards to pair with in pick-and-roll actions. He sets wide, bruising screens at 7-foot-5, 298 pounds and is an outstanding mark rolling to the paint and catching everything thrown his way with his huge, magnetic hands and 7-foot-11 wingspan. Purdue's small guards would often throw the ball up in the general vicinity of the rim under duress and let Edey go catch it.

He understands the art of rescreening if his initial pick doesn't achieve the desired outcome, and has improved his ability to operate out of zoom actions/dribble-handoffs, catch-and-make decisions out of short rolls, or mix-in slips to keep defenses off-balance. Even if he doesn't catch the ball rolling to the basket (where he is absolutely devastating), the amount of gravity he attracts sucking in off-ball defenders tagging off shooters often creates wide-open corner 3s for teammates -- a big reason the Boilermakers shot 40% for 3 this season, the second-best rate in college basketball. -- Givony

Best pick-and-roll playmaker: Nikola Topic, PG, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia)

Topic ranked as one of the best pick-and-roll players in European basketball already as an 18-year-old, which is scary considering how point guards typically improve in this area with age and experience. His ability to make instantaneous reads mapping out the court and processing the game with precision is a rare and coveted commodity in today's NBA. Pocket passes, skips, lobs, using the strong or weak side -- he sprays the ball all over the floor with incredible timing and accuracy. He is also patient while probing and putting defenders in a hostage dribble by using or rejecting screens and adjusting on the fly to every coverage.

Topic, ranked No. 10 in ESPN's Top 100, uses his unique, unflappable demeanor no matter how defenses try to slow him down. The fact that he's not only an outstanding passer, but also an absolute force as a driver getting into the paint and finishing aggressively through contact (60% 2P% in 23 games this season) at 6-foot-7 should allow him to shoulder significant usage in the fast-paced NBA, especially as his jump shot continues to improve. -- Givony

Best ball handler: Rob Dillingham, PG, Kentucky

Dillingham's jittery handle, burst and explosive change of gear makes it difficult for opponents to stay in front of him. He has a wide array of elusive moves at his disposal, including herky-jerky crossovers, double crossovers, in-and-out dribbles, behind-the-back dribbles and more, which he combines with sharp changes of speed, accelerating from slow to fast with either hand to take the paint and finish with touch around the rim.

The threat of his pull-up jumper, as well as his ability to probe, use or reject ball screens gives the ESPN Top 100 No. 7 Dillingham great potential manipulating opposing defenses. He will be even more of a threat with the plethora of space he'll enjoy in the NBA. -- Givony

Best pull-up shooter: Cam Spencer, SG, UConn

Spencer is one of the overall best shooters among prospects in the draft, hitting 44% of his 3-point attempts (43% the season before) and 91% of his free throws, but the fact that he's so dynamic in getting his jumper off is worth noting. Spencer, ranked No. 59 in ESPN's Top 100, hit a scorching 47% of his pull-up 3s this season, while also converting more 3s running off screens than anyone in the class. He aggressively hunts pull-up 3s dribbling up the floor in transition, loves pulling up off escape dribbles after sidestepping hard closeouts with his pump fake and regularly punishes defenses for going under ball screens.

Also, Kentucky's Reed Sheppard deserves mention in this category. He hit 51% of his pull-up 3s, but did so on nearly half the sample size of Spencer's, being more judicious with his attempts. -- Givony

Best spot-up shooter: Reed Sheppard, PG/SG, Kentucky

Sheppard gave defenses headaches at Kentucky with absurdly consistent shot-making prowess, hitting 56 of his 109 catch-and-shoot attempts (per Synergy) and shooting 51.4% on the season from long range. His release is compact and consistent, with minimal dip and wasted motion, and his lower-body balance and shot-prep habits are excellent, giving him a high-level skill that should translate to NBA range.

Sheppard, ranked No. 4 in ESPN's Top 100, looks comfortable from all over the arc, and has a great baseline to keep improving, with room to hone his shot even more off the bounce if he can gain separation at a higher level. His ability to space the floor away from the ball simplifies his path into a role quite a bit, with his ceiling tied to how much he can expand his game as a handler. But there's a very legitimate shooting profile here that could also see him become more of an off-ball threat if needed. -- Woo

Best movement shooter: Dalton Knecht, SF, Tennessee

Tennessee gave Knecht all the work he could handle as a scorer this season, and he proved quite dangerous working away from the ball, making 39.7% of his total shots off screens and 36.8% of 3s. He has developed a good understanding of how to set defenders up and can knock down jumpers cleanly on the move or off one dribble. Knecht has excellent directional footwork and never works in too much of a hurry, helping him save time and create space setting up his jumper. The key for Knecht, who is ranked No. 8 in ESPN's Top 100, isn't just consistency of release, but also knowing how to receive the ball, stay balanced and work quickly with defenders in pursuit.

There's also an argument here for Creighton's Baylor Scheierman, who has transformed himself into a dangerous off-ball scorer since transferring from South Dakota State. He hit 40.6% of 3s off screens, with a quick left-handed release that will make him dangerous out of the gate. -- Woo

Best offensive rebounder: Ariel Hukporti, C, Melbourne (Australia)

On a per-minute basis, Hukporti is the top rebounder among draft prospects, averaging an impressive 16 boards per-40 in 36 NBL games. Having returned to better health after a series of lower-body injuries, the 22-year-old 7-footer brings a solid motor on the glass and the sheer size to hold his position and rebound missed opportunities. With a 7-2 wingspan and 9-3 standing reach, the ESPN Top 100 No. 64 prospect takes up quite a bit of room on the interior.

Though his prospect status diminished to an extent after last season's torn Achilles, and then his inability to participate in the draft combine or conduct workouts because of a minor knee injury, his offensive rebounding numbers are on par with Edey in this draft, giving NBA teams something to think about as they search for second-round value. Hukporti's limitations will land him in the second round at best, but his prowess on the glass offers sleeper appeal. -- Woo

Best leaper/dunker: Matas Buzelis, SF/PF, G League Ignite

Buzelis had 38 dunks this season, showing off his 38-inch vertical leap in a variety of ways off cuts, in the open court, as a pick-and-roll finisher, with put-backs and getting downhill with either hand out of isolation. Not many 19-year olds at 6-10 have the audacity to pull off in-game windmills like Buzelis did in the G League this season, but that combination of explosiveness and bravado is a big part of his appeal.

As Buzelis' frame continues to fill out and his ballhandling improves, it would not be surprising at all to see him poster many more highlight-reel finishes, as it appears that he is still at an early stage of development physically and athletically. Do not be surprised to see Buzelis, who is ranked No. 5 in ESPN's Top 100, try his luck in the NBA dunk contest next February. -- Givony

Best defensive playmaker: Ryan Dunn, SF/PF, Virginia

Dunn's strongest selling point is his phenomenal block and steal rates, using his 7-1 wingspan, quick hands and instincts to shrink the floor as a disruptive perimeter presence. Averaging 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game on the wing last season, despite Virginia's low-possession style, was quite an achievement, giving him a pathway to an NBA niche as a defensive specialist.

It's the type of outlier production that makes you consider best-case scenarios for the No. 34 prospect in ESPN's Top 100, even though there's a good amount of risk if he doesn't develop as a shooter. His offensive game remains a major work in progress, but Dunn's knack for blowing up plays and winning the ball back sets him apart from his peers and makes him a real consideration as a development pick. -- Woo

Best shot-blocker: Donovan Clingan, C, UConn

Clingan's combination of elite size (7-3, 7-6¾ wingspan, 9-7 standing reach), coordinated footwork and feel for positioning and timing makes him the draft's top rim-protector, having drawn Rudy Gobert comparisons from his more optimistic fans in NBA front offices. Once he worked back into better conditioning and health, his season turned around in a major way, as he walled off the paint in the NCAA tournament and showed the defensive impact he can make.

The area the No. 3 prospect in ESPN's Top 100 covers and the visual impact he has on the floor can make scoring a daunting task for opposing offenses. While not a vertically explosive help-side rim-protector, Clingan has the length and hand speed to contest everything in his area and make bigs and drivers alike uncomfortable. He's well-suited to drop coverage and has the potential to be one of the NBA's premier defensive bigs if all goes well for him. -- Woo

Best off-ball defender: Zaccharie Risacher, SF, Bourg (France)

Off-ball defense is a skill that takes most players years to learn because of the intricacies of simultaneously tracking the ball as well as their man, being aware of low-man rotation responsibilities, knowing when to deny, when to fill gaps, when to gamble for steals and how to best effectively communicate with teammates on the fly, etc. In Risacher, ESPN's Top 100 No. 1 prospect, an NBA team will be getting a player who is well ahead of his years on the defensive end, particularly regarding his ability to navigate screens.

Bourg, the No. 1-ranked defense in both the French League and EuroCup, often tasked Risacher with guarding the other team's best scorer, even diminutive point guards, which you rarely see from a 6-10 teenager at this level. Risacher's activity staying connected to opponents off the ball, fluidity "getting skinny" fighting through or over the top of screens, and quickness covering ground to get back into plays to contest shots with his 8-11 standing reach (on par with most NBA power forwards) made him uniquely effective with his high-level awareness, instincts and intensity level. As he fills out his 195-pound frame, he should continue to improve. -- Givony

Best on-ball defender: Stephon Castle, PG/SG, UConn

Castle, ranked No. 6 in ESPN's Top 100, combines excellent size, at 6-7 and 210 pounds with a 6-9 wingspan, with great agility and quickness in pursuit, allowing him to stay close to ball handlers, take away space and create problems at the point of attack. He can sit low in a stance, get beaten and still recover in time to get a quality contest. He also does an excellent job navigating ball screens and staying involved in the play when at a disadvantage.

Castle's ability to stay attached, switch and match up with guards of all sizes creates a major advantage for defensive scheming, something UConn utilized to great effect during its title run. Having a defender of that quality who can adequately slow down both guards and wings is a luxury for NBA teams. -- Woo

Best full-court defender: Jamal Shead, PG, Houston

A notorious pest for ball handlers to deal with, Shead is fearless and disruptive picking up the ball and applying pressure up and down the floor. A huge part of Houston's success, Shead's ability to slow down guards, shave time off the clock and disrupt the flow of opposing offenses proved special by the end of his college career.

Physical and highly active in spite of his smaller stature, Shead can even give taller guards problems by taking away angles, deflecting passes and covering ground with sheer effort and anticipation. It's difficult to bully him or move him due to his low center of gravity and his toughness in embracing that role while applying pressure. Shead, ranked No. 51 in ESPN's Top 100, will be challenged by bigger NBA players, but his combination of motor and defensive chops will help him carve a niche. -- Woo

Best clutch player: Devin Carter, PG/SG, Providence

Carter has vaulted up the draft board this season for a range of reasons; his defense, improved scoring and strong intangibles are among them. The No. 13 prospect in ESPN's Top 100 has built that reputation with strong play when it matters, helping to carry a Providence team that wasn't the deepest or most talented to 21 wins and an NIT berth.

He has a knack for showing up on both ends of the floor when it counts, with a steely, focused approach -- his 10 overtime points in a win over Butler on Dec. 23 was a signature moment. The success he and Providence had, despite the Friars arguably over-relying on Carter at times -- was a testament to the way he showed up when it mattered. -- Woo

Best motor: Adem Bona, C, UCLA

No player in this draft plays harder than Bona, who flies up and down the court with incredible purpose, hedging screens well beyond the 3-point line and chasing down blocks in transition with track-star-type speed. He and Dunn are the only players in our Top 100 to average over 1.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes, a testament to his ability to flip his hips, cover ground and get off his feet with superb quickness, aided by his 7-4 wingspan and 40-inch vertical leap.

Bona, ranked No. 37 in ESPN's Top 100, has a combination of power, explosiveness and intensity that is difficult to come by. Pairing those skills with his sheer hustle is something he can hang his hat on in the NBA as his offensive skills and feel for the game hopefully improve over time. -- Givony

Best backstory: Enrique Freeman, PF/C, Akron

Coming out of St. Martin De Porres High, a small Catholic school in Cleveland, Freeman had zero offers to play college basketball at any level of the sport. So he enrolled at Akron on an academic scholarship, and then an opportunity to try out as a walk-on emerged, which led to a spot on the Zips' scout team. Freeman played 13 total minutes in his first season of college basketball but developed into a three-time all-conference player and MAC Player of the Year in his final season of eligibility.

Freeman worked his way up from the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament to the G League Elite Camp to the NBA draft combine with his tenacious play on both ends of the floor, while hitting a strong 8-for-16 on 3-pointers through seven games -- a welcome sign for NBA scouts. While undersized at 6-8½ in shoes, he has a 7-2 wingspan that helped him lead all of Division I in rebounding. Ranked No. 59 in ESPN's Top 100, he's firmly on teams' radars to hear his name called on draft night. -- Givony

Best unicorn potential: Alex Sarr, PF/C, Perth (Australia)

Every team in the NBA is looking for a unicorn -- loosely defined as a big man with guard skills -- such as current players Kristaps Porzingis, Chet Holmgren, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Victor Wembanyama. They warp the court with their ballhandling, passing and floor-spacing ability on one end, and anchor a team's defense on the other, allowing a coach to play them in double-big men lineups alongside more traditional centers.

This year's best unicorn candidate among prospects is Sarr, who led the Australian NBL in block percentage, hit 22 3-pointers in 35 games and had some enticing moments pushing off the defensive glass, passing on the move and attacking slower-footed opponents off the dribble in small doses. Scouts have some questions about his toughness and feel for the game, but the physical tools and flashes of two-way versatility give the No. 2 prospect in ESPN's Top 100 a high upside to tap into long-term. -- Givony

Best frame: Tidjane Salaun, PF, Cholet (France)

NBA teams might be intrigued to learn Salaun has nearly identical measurements to Kevin Durant at the same age in terms of height (6-10 in shoes), weight (218 pounds) and standing reach (9-2). The 18-year-old's frame has added 11 pounds in the past year and will likely top out in the 235-pound range ultimately, a la an Aaron Gordon, who weighed 220 pounds at the same age at the 2014 NBA draft combine.

Salaun, ranked No. 9 in ESPN's Top 100, made 82 3s in 60 games this season and shows superb activity and mobility covering ground on the perimeter and contesting shots all over the floor. His combination of tools, shot-making and defensive versatility gives him one of the highest upsides of any player in this class. -- Givony

Best competitor: Tyler Kolek, PG, Marquette

Well-known for his fiery and occasionally thorny on-court disposition, Kolek has a good amount going for him as a playmaker, but it's the way he sets the tone with his mentality and actions that makes him a unique pro prospect. A big part of running a team in the NBA isn't just directing traffic, but getting others to follow -- and various stories have circulated out of Marquette about Kolek's inability to switch off that competitiveness.

You see it in the way Kolek, ranked No. 26 in ESPN's Top 100, carries himself on the floor, and while it's sometimes hard to describe these things without veering into cliché, suffice it to say he detests losing. The Big East had a few players cut from similar cloth this season, including the aforementioned Carter and Spencer. -- Woo

Best intangibles: Jared McCain, PG, Duke

It's hard to find anyone with a bad thing to say about McCain, who has been revered behind the scenes at Duke and elsewhere for his work ethic. His shooting prowess and skill level, despite average athletic gifts, are a testament to that. While notorious to an extent for his huge following on social media, McCain's actions when the cameras are off back up the notion that he'll get the most out of his talent in the long term.

Duke coach Jon Scheyer told ESPN that McCain, who is ranked No. 15 in ESPN's Top 100, is the most disciplined worker he has been around in his entire time with the program as both a player and coach. McCain's intel as a worker and competitor with understated toughness has helped strengthen his case as a potential late-lottery pick, and as a player who should stick in the NBA for a long time. -- Woo