Khaman Maluach projected top pick in the 2025 NBA Draft

Khaman Maluach, projected top pick in the 2025 NBA Draft, commits to Duke

International center Khaman Maluach, a potential top-three pick in the 2025 NBA Draft, has committed to Duke, he announced Wednesday.

Maluach was not ranked by traditional scouting services because he plays for the NBA Academy Africa in Senegal, but the 7-foot-2 big man is considered a five-star, top-10 talent in the 2024 recruiting class. A further proof of how much potential Maluach has? Last summer he was named MVP of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders Africa Camp, and then in February at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis – where Maluach spent time with his idol, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo – he was named both the Playoff and Defensive MVP of the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp.

Maluach chose Duke over fellow finalists Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA, as well as offers from the NBA G-League Ignite and Australia's NBL Rising Stars program.

The 17-year-old Maluach is Duke's sixth commitment of 2024. He joins five-star winger Cooper Flagg (No. 1 overall player), five-star guard Isaiah Evans (No. 11) and five-star Winger Kon Knueppel (No. 16), four-star center Patrick Ngongba (No. 17) and four-star wing Darren Harris (No. 49).

With the signing of Maluach, Jon Scheyer has officially completed his second No. 1 recruiting class in three offseasons as coach of the Blue Devils. Duke had the top-ranked class in 2022 and its current group of freshmen ranked second-best in the 2023 cycle.

How important is this commitment to Duke?

It's huge, and even that might be an understatement. Maluach was clearly the best “high school” player still on the board – we'll see what happens in the transfer portal later this spring – and would have been one of the top five recruits nationally had he played in America. Just because he's not a household name yet doesn't mean he won't be one… because he will be. At 2.70 meters, Maluach is exactly the type of rim-protecting finishing center that Scheyer showed a preference for at the beginning of his tenure; The last similar player Duke had, Dereck Lively II, was selected in the lottery and is currently starting for the Dallas Mavericks. Maluach's potential could be even higher. He's an immediate starter and will give Duke two projected top-five picks next season.

Something else worth noting: Duke already has one NBA Academy player on its roster — second-year point guard Tyrese Proctor from Australia — but the program's latest international signing is further confirmation that Scheyer is expanding his recruiting reach. International prospects from Europe have been infiltrating college basketball for several seasons now — particularly on the West Coast, at schools like Gonzaga, UCLA and Arizona — but before Proctor, it wasn't a common path the Blue Devils followed. But as the game of basketball grows in popularity around the world, Scheyer has shown he will reach beyond America's borders to snag game-changing talent. Proctor was one, but Maluach is even on another level. – Brendan Marks, Duke Beat writer

How is Maluach's game?

Any Duke fans worried about the current team's rim protection won't have those fears next season. Maluach is a shot-blocking machine, similar to Lively. This length obviously makes him an excellent rebounder as well. But what's fascinating is Maluach's offense. Of course, he'll provide tremendous rim pressure in pick-and-roll scenarios, but he also has real shooting potential, even as a center; This should work well in Scheyer's perimeter-oriented system, in which the five often plays outside the post.

Maluach joins Flagg as an immediate starter who can play either the three or four at the college level. That will give Duke one of the best and most athletic frontcourts in the country next season… and that's without potential returnees like current sophomore Mark Mitchell. Duke was always going to be in good shape next season, but Maluach takes that to a new level. Depending on who returns, the Blue Devils could once again be one of the top three preseason teams in Scheyer's third season. – Mark

What's next for Duke?

Figuring out how all the pieces fit together. Six commitments in the 2024 class is more than Scheyer originally intended, and it's not inconceivable that one or more of those recruits will look elsewhere before enrolling this summer. (Five-star forward Mackenzie Mgbako, for example, decommitted last April and is currently a freshman at Indiana.)

Beyond that, Duke has to figure out who's coming back. Kyle Filipowski and Jared McCain appear to be the two players most likely to enter this summer's NBA draft – both were projected as first-round picks in The Athletic's latest mock draft – but there could be more to come. Depending on how his season ends, could Proctor also choose to leave? And then what about the team's other returnees? Senior Jeremy Roach, for example, still has a COVID year of eligibility that he could use if he wanted, but has yet to decide on his future plans. (Roach has developed into one of America's best shooters, so Duke would probably take him back.) And what about the program's other young talent? Both Caleb Foster – currently sidelined with a lower-body injury – as well as TJ Power and Sean Stewart would be highly sought after in the transfer portal if they decided to leave, but would also be valuable returnees next season.

Scheyer needs to get through this season first — the Blue Devils can win a share of the ACC title if they win their regular-season finale against rival UNC on Saturday — before addressing those future decisions. But he can't sign six new returnees this season and get everyone back. There are not enough scholarships. Something has to move. – Mark

What does Maluach's commitment to Duke mean for the 2025 NBA Draft?

Duke has a very real chance of being one of the top two picks in the 2025 draft. Flagg is considered the favorite to take the No. 1 spot because he is one of the best high school basketball players to go to college in the last decade. However, Maluach and Rutgers are committed. Ace Bailey is considered by NBA scouts to be the two players most likely to threaten the position at the top of the class. Maluach is an incredibly impressive athlete all over the court with real length who is elite around the rim. On offense, he has a great soft touch, great agility and excellent footwork.

Maluach's ceiling peaks through the roof and the scouts are excited to get a glimpse of him as he begins his college journey. Back in February during the All-Star break, they got a taste of what he can do on Basketball Without Borders. After that event, he became the talk of the NBA community, as scouts who spoke to The Athletic spoke with the same breathless words usually reserved for future All-Stars.

The last time a school had two top-three picks in a single draft was in 2019, and it was also Duke with Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. However, the past comparison that several scouts have given me is actually to the 2014 Kansas team that featured Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. At the time, Wiggins was considered one of the best prospects since LeBron James, and Embiid was quickly seen as the up-and-coming big man who was just scratching the surface of what he could become. Embiid probably would have gone No. 1 if there weren't questions about his future injury potential. Instead, he went third and Wiggins went No. 1. In my opinion, Flagg will most likely surpass Wiggins' performances in college and I expect his overall NBA career to be significantly better. This is not to compare the two. However, Maluach's trajectory could very well match that of Embiid's pre-draft if things go well for him next season. — Sam Vecenie, senior NBA draft writer

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(Photo: William West / AFP via Getty Images)