2024 NBA draft notebook: Surprising freshmen and prospects on the rise

Kentucky freshman guard Reed Sheppard is shooting 67% from both inside and outside the arc. Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first NBA draft notebook of the 2023-24 cycle, where our experts Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo will provide the latest news and intel leading up to the first pick in June.

With the first month of the college basketball season nearly in the books, Givony and Woo share their most surprising freshmen so far, their respective rising prospects that are moving up NBA draft boards and three things across the landscape to keep an eye out for in December.

The most surprising freshman has been ...

Reed Sheppard | Guard | Kentucky

Catchall stats have limitations, especially early in the season, with a limited sample size against varying levels of competition as most college basketball teams elect to schedule as many November home wins as possible. Regardless, they can provide some value in identifying early standouts and players to hone in on once teams play real competition.

Box plus-minus is arguably the most useful of the catchall stats. Four of the players ranked No. 1 over the past five seasons -- Trayce Jackson-Davis (2023), Keegan Murray (2022), Evan Mobley (2021), Obi Toppin (2020) and Zion Williamson (2019) -- were top-10 draft picks, with Jackson-Davis being the exception. The player ranked No. 1 this season, Reed Sheppard, might surprise some, making him worthy of a deeper look.

Kentucky has played only one top-100 opponent -- Kansas in the Champions Classic, where Sheppard racked up 13 points and four steals in 16 minutes during a loss -- with the Wildcats' best win coming at home in overtime against Saint Joseph's (ranked 108 per Ken Pom).

Even against lower-level competition (and in limited minutes versus Kansas), it's easy to see how good Sheppard is and why he has been arguably Kentucky's most productive player, averaging 18.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 5.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes while shooting 67% from both inside and outside the arc.