As NBA fans watch many college teams for the first time this weekend, here is a guide for the future prospects to keep an eye.
March Madness is one of the best sporting events of the entire year, but the enjoyment for NBA fans goes beyond the gambling and buzzer beaters. The NCAA Tournament is the first time that many NBA fans have gotten a chance to watch some of the top prospects in next year’s draft play in an extremely high-pressure environment.
You may be slightly disappointed you won’t get to see more of Trae Young, DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and the Michigan State guys, but there is still a ton of NBA talent remaining in the tournament. While it’s possible not every player mentioned will enter the NBA draft this summer, they all have a future in the NBA. Here are the players you should keep an eye on during the second weekend of March Madness.
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After all the upsets in the South, Kentucky is the only team left with major NBA talent. One player not on UK it might be worth watching, though, is Nevada’s Kendall Stephens. Stephens is a 6‘7 senior wing with second-round talent, but he has a good-looking jump shot and has made 44% of his threes so far in the tournament. A productive weekend for him and his team could bump his stock up to the late first round.
When Kentucky is playing, you should be watching its two lottery talents: Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Knox was the more heralded prospect coming out of high school, but has had an up-and-down season in Lexington. He’s a strong 6‘8, but too often settles for perimeter jumpers rather than attack the rim. Knox is the most talented offensive player left in the South and should prove that this weekend.
On the other hand, Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the fastest risers in the entire class. The former four-star recruit came off the bench to start the season but quickly emerged as a star. He’s been extremely productive so far in the tournament both on offense (23 points and 6.5 assists) and defense (3.5 steals) and has a rare combination of size and smooth athleticism that projects him to become a productive two-way point guard at the next level.
The final Kentucky prospect to watch out for is Hamidou Diallo. Diallo isn’t nearly as highly regarded as either Knox or Gilgeous-Alexander, but he shows flashes of promise. His explosive athleticism and strong defensive instincts are already clear, but his lack of consistent offense make him a likely second-round pick.
The Florida State-Gonzaga matchup doesn’t hold a lot of future NBA talent outside of the Zag’s Rui Hachimura. Hachimura is a 6‘8 super athletic hybrid forward, but he’s extremely raw on both sides of the ball. His size and physical traits make him a likely late-first round pick should he declare, but a strong tournament could push him up even higher on draft boards.
The other matchup in the West features two future NBA forwards. Moritz Wagner is Michigan’s best player and an intriguing talent. The 6‘11 German was a knockdown shooter during the regular season but has shot just 46% from the field in the tournament. Wagner has the body and skillset of a stretch-four in the NBA, but if he continues to be ineffective against improved defenses then his stock may fall.
On the other bench, Texas A&M’s Robert Williams is one of the most entertaining players left in the tournament. His game needs work on both sides of the ball, but his off-the-charts athleticism makes you hold your breath whenever he’s in the open court.
While he’s not a consistent offensive threat in the half court nor a reliable post defender, Williams is a very good rebounder and shot blocker. Before the season he was looked at as a potential lottery pick, and while his stock dipped a bit in the middle of the season, he’s started to climb back up draft boards once again.
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There are quite a few names to keep an eye on out East. West Virginia’s Jevon Carter has taken Perry Ellis’ mantle as the “That guy’s still in college?” guy, but he doesn’t do enough on offense to be a first rounder. Villanova’s Jalen Brunson is similar to Carter in that he’s had an outstanding college career, but he doesn’t have the potential that would make him worth more than a second-round selection.
The Villanova player to really key an eye on is Mikal Bridges. Bridges is the rare 21-year-old that has a good chance at getting picked in the top 10. He doesn’t have that one defining skill, but he’s good at everything and looks to be a prototypical 3-and-D wing. While Brunson would get the deserved credit should he lead Villanova to the Final Four, Bridges is the player NBA teams should be more closely watching.
Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith may be a new name for a lot of NBA fans, but he’s also a new one for a lot of NBA scouts. Smith went under the radar for much of the recruiting process and regular season, but he’s started to make a name for himself these past few weeks.
Smith is a remarkable athlete and has the strength and length to play multiple positions in the NBA. While his size (6‘5) and lack of a consistent jump shot are concerning, he has a great feel for the game and should be a mid-late first round pick.
It’s somewhat surprising that Kansas doesn’t have a lottery talent, but they do have a couple guys to watch for in the early second round. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk isn’t just a nightmare to spell, he’s also an outstanding shooter. He made 45% of his threes this season and has the skillset of a guy that sticks around the league for a long time. While his limited athleticism could cause him to drop, he could become a steal for a team in the second round.
Devonte’ Graham is the name more NBA fans are familiar with, but his game doesn’t clearly translate to the NBA. He’s a smaller point guard without the elite speed or strength he’d need to compete at the next level, and the fact that he’s already 23 years old ensures he will fall to the second round.
That leaves Duke, the team with the most NBA talent of any squad left in the tournament. Whether you love or hate Grayson Allen (we all know you hate him), it’s difficult to deny he has NBA talent. He’s a solid shooter, a sneaky good athlete, and a shot creator for others which means he could get picked as early as the late first round.
While Duke’s other two guards are less well known, both will find a spot in the NBA. Trevon Duval is a big, athletic point guard and Gary Trent Jr. is a fantastic off-ball shooter. While Duval’s inconsistent shot creation for others probably pushes him to the second round, Trent fits into any rotation has a great chance at hearing his name called in the middle of round one. Keep an eye out for Trent on Friday as he could have a huge shooting night against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.
Duke’s final two prospects make up the best college frontcourt in some time. Marvin Bagley III is as athletic and refined an offensive big man in college we’ve seen in years. He’s 6’11 with great touch around the rim and the ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line. While his defensive limitations are often masked by Duke’s zone, Bagley’s offensive potential makes him a fantastic prospect and guaranteed top-five pick.
While Bagley’s frontcourt partner isn’t as highly regarded, Wendell Carter Jr. is a fantastic prospect in his own right. Carter isn’t as explosive an athlete, but he’s a 6‘10, 260-pound center that can be a defensive anchor and a versatile offensive weapon at the next level. Carter’s an inconsistent shot blocker, but he has outstanding defensive instincts much like Al Horford on the Celtics. If Carter’s 44.2 3pt% even partially translates to the NBA, he has a chance to become the best player in this entire class.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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