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Auburn’s Williams, UAB’s Gaines headline state’s 2024 NBA Draft prospects

Over the past few years, the state of Alabama has become one of the nation’s basketball hotbeds, producing a total of nine first-round picks in the NBA Draft since 2018. Although the state lacks elite prospects in 2024, local fans still have several reasons to watch this year’s draft, which begins on Wednesday and runs through Thursday night.

According to expert consensus, Auburn forward Jaylin Williams is the in-state player most likely to hear his name called later this week. The 6’8″, 230-pound super-senior spent five years on the Plains, adapting to a variety of roles and leading the Tigers to 114 total victories, a school record.

“Fifth-year guy, graduate senior, all-time-winningest player in the history of Auburn basketball, graduate of the university, and finally an All-SEC player,” Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl said of Williams in March. “We don’t see enough of those kind of role models. Guys that stick it out. Guys that are great toward the end of their career.”

Williams graduated from Auburn holding career averages of 9.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game. Advanced metrics painted him as one of the Tigers’ most consistent all-around players.

Alan Lu of NBA Scouting Live describes Williams as a “versatile scorer that can make plays on both sides of the ball.”

“[Williams] has a variety of skills but can tend to fade into the background too much at times,” Lu adds. “He is a skilled forward that could end up being a second round pick in the 2024 draft.”

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Williams has been lauded for his locker room presence and off-the-court charity work — qualities that draft analyst Ersin Demir says raise his stock in the eyes of NBA GMs.

“He got selected to the SEC Community Service Team last season and is an impact-maker off the court as well. Culture-setters and team-first players are crucial for NBA franchises to build a winning team around,” Demir writes. “With franchises valuing the above-mentioned, Williams should have his foot between the door already without his basketball to back it up.”

Williams has participated in pre-draft workouts with the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, and Phoenix Suns, among others. He will almost certainly sign with an NBA team as a free agent if he goes undrafted.

UAB point guard Eric Gaines is another in-state player with NBA aspirations. The 6’2″, 155-pound Georgia native began his career at LSU before transferring to UAB in 2022, where he quickly became the Blazers’ primary ball-handler. During his time in Birmingham, Gaines consistently made headlines with a dynamic, dunk-filled style of play.

“Gaines is an absolutely electric athlete with special speed and leaping ability. Learning to harness this athleticism and develop his play-making skills will take his game to a new level,” writes NBADraftRoom.com. “It’s rare to see a 6-2 player attack the rim with such a vengeance and bring the hammer down on defenders the way Gaines does. He’s one of the more exciting players to watch in the country.”

Lu describes Gaines as an “athletic, energetic combo guard” that can “throw down some impressive dunks.”

“He will need to significantly improve his jump shot and show that he can reliably run the point,” Lu adds. “His vast athleticism, combined with his scoring and defensive potential, makes him a second round prospect.”

Gaines wowed scouts during pre-draft athletic testing, recording a 3/4-court sprint time faster than those of John Wall, Damian Lillard, and Stephen Curry. If he goes undrafted, he is expected to be signed as a free agent.

Charles Vaughan is a contributing writer and sports analyst for Yellowhammer News. 

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