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PULLMAN, WA - MARCH 5: Washington State Cougars Men’s Basketball versus the University of Oregon Ducks at Beasley Coliseum - Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye (35)

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Looking at NBA Draft prospects on the WSU roster

The NBA season started this week, so let’s look at some future NBA players in Pullman.

Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The NBA season tipped off this week, which means there is no better time to think about Coug basketball and the next level.

Washington State is not known for being a powerhouse when it comes to producing NBA talent, but there have been some highlights. The obvious guy everyone points to is four-time champion and future Hall of Famer Klay Thompson. Aron Baynes, Craig Ehlo, and James Donaldson all put together long pro-careers as well, but every other former Coug has gotten little more than a cup of coffee in the NBA. Most recently, Malachi Flynn and CJ Elleby were drafted in 2020, but only one of those players finished their college careers in Pullman.

This year’s team is perhaps the most talented in terms of pro talent in WSU history. There were some past teams with disparate pro talents — such as the 2018-19 team with Robert Franks, Elleby and Flynn, and the 2005-06 team with Kyle Weaver, Josh Akognon and Baynes — but no team has had this much talent up and down the roster. Whether it be transfers, freshman, or returners, Kyle Smith and his staff have built a roster full of professional-caliber talent and guys who are going to get looks at the NBA level.

Mouhamed Gueye

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Archetype: Rim Runner/Stretch Big

Role Comparisons: Daniel Gafford, Mitchell Robinson, Jaxson Hayes, Damian Jones, & Bobby Portis

Gueye tested the draft waters last year before ultimately determining another year in Pullman would be beneficial for his draft stock. The early returns there are positive, as Draft Express’s Jonathan Givony is already referring to him as a projected second round pick. He projects primarily as a rim-runner, a big who will protect the rim on defense and catch lobs on offense. However, he also brings some potential stretchability and skill to that role that is fairly rare for prospects.

Gueye’s fluidity as a mover is his primary sell as an NBA prospect. Whether it be sliding side-to-side on the perimeter or slipping to the rim on rolls, the movement skills for a 6’11 center are impressive. Gueye can also rise above and throw down some massive dunks as the roll-man, which will make him a real threat on lobs and in transition. The potential for Gueye to shoot and attack some closeouts is an interesting wrinkle that could separate Gueye from his constituents. The jumper was not there last year, but he flashed the ability at times and getting more confident and consistent could make the jumper a weapon.

The defense will need to be elite from Gueye this year, not only for WSU to meet their defensive potential, but for Gueye to truly look like an NBA player. We have not seen Gueye as the primary rim-protector because of Efe Abogidi’s presence last year, but he is setup to be the primary big around the rim this year and he will need to excel in that area to be seen as a real prospect at the five. If he does all of that, there is upside for Gueye to hear his name called in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft.

Justin Powell

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Archetype: Sharpshooter

Role Comparisons: Klay Thompson, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Gary Trent Jr., Max Strus, & Doug McDermott

There was a time, about 10 games into his freshman season at Auburn, where Powell was getting buzz as a potential lottery pick. However, he struggled in his only two SEC games as a freshman and then missed the rest of the season with injury. He then played limited minutes off the bench as a sophomore after transferring to Tennessee, so his NBA stock has softened.

However, the skillset is still such that he is going to get looks, especially if he has a great season for the Cougs.

Powell’s NBA projection is different from the role he will be expected to play at WSU. The Cougs are going to ask him to play some point guard, but in the NBA he will likely specialize as a shooter with the occasional play attacking closeouts and making plays for others. His shooting numbers are not elite, but he has wing size and soft touch with a lot of versatility to build off.

The value of elite spacers in the NBA is hard to quantify. The top-end outcome for a player of that skillset is someone like Klay Thompson, but that is a high bar for any player to reach. Even getting to the level of guys like Gary Trent Jr. or Max Strus would require Powell to be one of the best shooters on the planet. The ancillary skills are great and they will help him get on the radar of the NBA, but looking like a truly nuclear shooter is where the real pro upside for Powell lies.

TJ Bamba

NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament - Washington State vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Archetype: Attacking Wing

Role Comparisons: De’Anthony Melton, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Delon Wright, Josh Richardson, & Dillon Brooks

Bamba is yet to truly break onto the NBA radar but, with the growth he has already shown, there is upside for him to break out this year. Bamba’s size and athleticism are the main sell. He has the aesthetics of an NBA player, with a huge frame and major two-foot bounce. The jumper has also gotten to a point where it close to there, and if he takes another step then it will be NBA-caliber.

Bamba’s NBA role is a bit hard to project currently, but there is definitely a range of outcomes for him to provide plus value. The main thing the NBA will expect from Bamba is for him to be a plus defender in a variety of contexts. His 2.2% steal rate from his sophomore season was a sign that he could make plays at a high-level in passing lanes and his strength should allow him to guard most wings on the ball. The main defensive question is what he looks like guarding guards at the point of attack, but if he excels there, then he will be the complete package defensively.

Offensively, he is never going to be a high-volume playmaker, but if he can hit jumpers at a solid clip, get to the rim against closeouts, and move off the ball well, then he could be an excellent 3-and-D two-guard. The question that always comes with players like Bamba is just how good they are at individual things. The NBA is a game of margins and players like Bamba, who are not offensive or defensive engines, have to be incredible at almost every marginal skill. Bamba can absolutely do it, but he will need to separate himself from his contemporaries to get that look.

Andrej Jakimvoski

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Archetype: Connector

Role Comparisons: Nicolas Batum, Otto Porter Jr, Bojan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, & Cam Johnson

Jakimovski might be the rare player who makes for a better NBA prospect than he is a college player. Jakimovski is in for a big junior year, but his archetype grows in value when playing next to the best in the world in a way that does not always scale down to the college level. His ability to hit shots at a high clip, make reads as a passer, and get busy on the offensive glass combine with his 6’8 frame to make an interesting NBA prospect.

Connectors are increasingly valuable in the modern NBA, with them filling the roles next to the main gravity wells within higher level offenses. They are the players who play off the drivers and roll-men, spacing the floor and moving the ball efficiently. Jakimovski is already an elite shooter at his size, but taking a step-up in overall efficiency and making more plays for others will boost his chances of making the league.

The areas to watch that will determine whether or not Jakimovski gets looks to join the NBA are almost all defensive. Scouts will want to see him stay in front of opponents consistently and continue to grow as a rotational defender. He will likely never be the defender that someone like Nicolas Batum is, but getting to the level of Bojan Bogdanovic or Saddiq Bey would make him playable at the next level. If things click, he could end up drafted after his career in Pullman.

Kymany Houinsou

LDLC Asvel Villeurbanne v Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Romain Biard/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Archetype: Funky Big Guard

Role Comparisons: Dejounte Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, & Will Barton

Houinsou was a late addition as a freshman, but he is already ready to contribute and his skillset is built for the next level. He is an athletic driver who is comfortable and creative with the ball. That would be enticing enough for a guard, but when you combine it with his 6’6 frame, the upside is out of this world. The NBA has strongly moved to value wings who are comfortable with the ball and who can make plays for others. Houinsou has the burst to consistently create advantages as well as the creativity to handle multitudes of situations.

Houinsou’s stock is boosted by his play for the French U19 team. He played so well this summer that he came onto my radar as a draft scout well before I thought he could be a Coug. He played point guard for that team and he will likely be asked to do the same for WSU in some capacity. He brings a two-way presence to that position and the upside to create at a high-level.

His overseas track record and NBA-caliber skillset could make him the first one-and-done player to ever come through Pullman. While him being a Coug for a couple seasons is more likely, the possibility of him getting drafted is there. If it does happen, it would be a true sign of just how impressive the recruiting has been under Smith and his staff.

Adrame Diongue

2021 Hoophall West - AZ Compass v Oak Hill Academy Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Archetype: Roll-Man Extraordinaire

Role Comparisons: Wendell Carter Jr, Robert Williams III, Isaiah Hartenstein, Precious Achiuwa, & Richaun Holmes

Diongue is one of the best recruits in WSU history and the question when it comes to the draft is when, not if. His size, athleticism, and skill combination is rare and it will show up on both ends early in his college career. There are some questions about physicality and readiness that could keep him in Pullman past his freshman season, but there is also a world where he works himself into a starting spot and ends up getting looks as another potential one-and-done prospect.

Diongue’s main sell is how athletic he is as a true seven-footer. He can get above the rim with ease, possessing an uncanny ability to get off the floor quickly, and that makes him deadly both as a lob threat and when protecting the rim. He is also fast in a straight-line, consistently beating opponents down the floor to get easy buckets. His side-to-side movements are also well above average for his height, giving him the potential to be scheme versatile on defense at the next level.

The skillset present with Diongue is a step-above most rim-runners though. He can pass the ball well out of the post and on short rolls while occasionally missing in some dribble moves or jumpers that will intrigue every scout watching him. The upside for him to transcend being a traditional rim-runner and be scheme versatile on both ends is the real upside that could make Diongue a first round pick down the line.

Even beyond these six players, this WSU roster is full of pro talent. DJ Rodman, while likely a step below NBA level, could bring value to a few teams overseas with his size and hustle; Mael Hamon-Crespin could develop into a prospect with time; if Jabe Mullins is a truly elite shooter he could get some G-League looks; and even Dylan Darling could shock us all and find his way on an NBA roster someday. This team is incredibly talented and Smith and his staff have done wonders to change the culture of basketball here in Pullman.

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