The first Illinois basketball exhibition game is less than a month away, and there are plenty of reasons to watch the Orange and Blue.
I believe the Illini enter the season with one of the deepest, most talented, and most experienced rosters in all of college basketball. From top to bottom, we are going to have an extremely dangerous team.
Most of the conversation surrounding the Illini is bout the incoming transfers and freshmen. The group of newcomers will be important for team success. In a normal year, it would be tough for Illinois to be competitive right after losing six out of the top seven scorers from the season before. But with the new additions, this program shouldn’t miss a beat.
While six out of the top seven scorers did depart, the one player who is returning is Coleman Hawkins.
Hawkins showed flashes of brilliance last season. He would finish the year averaging 5.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists, but his development throughout the 2021-22 campaign was evident. He also came up clutch in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Heading into his junior year, Hawkins is going to be one of the main drivers of this program. His game looked great toward the end of last year, and even the national media is taking notice of the talented big man.
On Tuesday, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress put together an updated 2023 NBA Mock Draft. He put both of the rounds together, and since it is a paid product, I don’t want to give too much information out. I will say this, Givony has the Atlanta Hawks picking an Illinois player with pick No. 46 of the 2023 NBA Draft. Who is that player?
Other Illinois basketball players could emerge as potentially NBA Draft picks.
I completely agree with Givony that Hawkins is an NBA target. He has great length at 6-foot-10, and he can stretch the floor with his offensive game. The only issue I had with Hawkins was his defense, and he developed that throughout last season.
With all of the talent Illinois had on the team in 2021-22, Hawkins still managed to finish No. 3 on the team in both steals and blocks. That is just another note on how well his defense came along during the season.
2023 mock draft update on ESPN, including a preview of the Victor Wembanyama vs Scoot Henderson matchups, Amen Thompson emerging as a potential No. 1 pick candidate, GG Jackson’s mock debut and early observations about the international draft class.https://t.co/aseJZi1vSK
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) October 4, 2022
Hawkins’ three-point shooting continues to improve as well. His numbers jumped from 23.1% two years ago to 29.2% this past season from behind the three-point arc. In the last nine games of the 2012-22 campaign, Hawkins was actually shooting 34.7% from three-point range. Look for these numbers to get even better this season.
I am excited to see what Hawkins can do this year, but I don’t think he is the only player who is on the radar of NBA franchises.
It wouldn’t shock me to see Terrence Shannon Jr. sneak into some mock drafts along the way. He has raised his three-point shooting from 25.7% to 35.7% to 38.4% over the last three seasons. He is a certified bucket-getter who can do a little bit of everything on the basketball court.
Another player I am keeping an eye on for the NBA is RJ Melendez. I know some of you might not like to hear that, but Melendez showed flashes of what he can do on the court last season.
Melendez had some of the best per 40 minutes numbers on the Illinois roster last season. If you stretched his numbers out to him playing 40 minutes, Melendez would have averaged 18 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. His shooting ability is what really jumps off the page, as he shot 60% from three-point range and 85% from the free throw line.
It is exciting to see Hawkins’ name mentioned in an NBA Mock Draft. He has the potential to do some special things this season. Don’t be surprised if he is joined by a teammate or two in those mock drafts in the coming months.