NBA prospects in NCAA Tournament: Seven guys to watch Thursday/Saturday

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The NCAA Tournament, with its orgy of games the first weekend, is a hoops junkie’s dream. It is also when a lot of fans of an NBA team — particularly lottery-bound NBA teams — fall in love with a particular player they hope their team can draft come June. NBA scouts and GMs already have far more formulated opinions on players by this point; they want to see how players react to better competition, and under the pressure of a lose-and-go-home situation.

While watching your bracket disintegrate (you know it will), here seven NBA prospects to keep an eye on from the Thursday/Saturday games. We reached out for some expert opinions from Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog, as well as Rob Dauster of our NBC sister site CollegeBasketballTalk.

Of course, any tour of potential draft picks starts in Kentucky.

1) Karl Towns, Kentucky: Half of the most-watched front line in college ball, Towns is a potential No. 1 pick (depending on who lands the top spot in the lottery). He’s got an NBA body, and defensively is solid on-ball, plus can block shots and protect the rim. Offensively he knows how to score in the post, but also he shoots 82 percent from the free throw line and shows that he could have an impressive midrange game (or beyond) game as well. He could take a couple years to develop but in three to five years could be the best player out of this class.

From Ed Isaacson: “He can move. In a lot of ways, he moves like a wing when he gets the ball in his hands. And he’s skilled. He’s a very skilled player, especially on the offensive end. When he gets the ball, he has a lot of options. He can back you down, he can face you up.”

2) Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: It’s hard not to love his athleticism and defense — he’s a 7-footer who can show out off a pick and switch onto a guard without losing a beat. He is the key reason Kentucky’s defense is fearsome, plus he can get back and block shots. His offense is raw, but think of Cauley-Stein like a more athletic Nerlens Noel.

From Ed Isaacson: “If you’re going to have him on the floor at the NBA level you’re going to have some things you have to work around. But in terms of a raw, long, athletic big guy it doesn’t get any better than him in this draft.”

3) Devin Booker, Kentucky: This is a 6’5” two guard who could slip down draft boards after the combine — he’s not long, he’s not mind-blowingly athletic. But the name of the game is getting the leather ball through the metal ring, and that Booker can do that — he is a pure shooter. He provides the floor spacing that the Wildcats need with those bigs.

From Ed Isaacson: “He’s probably a better athlete than people give him credit for. He’s a very good defender, especially out on the perimeter he can contain…. What makes Booker so attractive is the guy can shoot. There are very few shooters like him in this draft. Whether it’s off the dribble, off the catch, coming off screens, he’s as competent a shooter as you’re going to see in this group.”

4) D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: He is a guy who can score — 19.3 points a game, shoots 41 percent from three — but also is a gifted passer with great court vision. He’s also a big guard at 6’5” and it’s easy to put him in the Russell Westbrook mold of combo guards (although he’s not Westbrook athletic).

From Ed Isaacson: “I’m not as high on him as a lot of people. A lot of teams have found ways to be successful in pretty much stopping him — in all aspects, whether it be distributing the ball or scoring…. In games against the top 60 we’re talking about a guy who was shooting 36-37 percent, even less from three, was getting his assists but also was turning the ball over a lot more…. On the bright side, in a big spot he wants the ball, very aggressive, always looking to make something happen.”

5) Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. He’s one of the top two seniors in this NBA draft (along with Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin), and his game seems to have matured after missing the end of last season due to academic issues. At ND, he has shown both the ability to score and set up teammates.

From Ed Isaacson: “The Notre Dame offense runs through him, and after he had to leave for a year he definitely came back with a different mindset, becoming more aggressive. He’s done very well in pick-and-roll situations, especially finding guys — although it helps a lot when you have the shooters Notre Dame has on the perimeter… The problem with Grant is there is still a lot of that dribbling around, waiting to make something happen, which you see more in younger point guards. The thing that separates Grant though is you can move him over to the two — he’s a very good perimeter shooter, he can attack from the wing… the problem is he doesn’t have a lot of those natural point guard skills.”

6) Stanley Johnson, Arizona: At 6’8”, 240 he comes with an NBA body, and that plus his defensive skill set will make him a Top 10 pick for sure (DraftExpress has him No. 5 currently). This is not a guy with the perimeter shot or finishing skills to come in and put up numbers immediately in the NBA, but he has the potential to get there.

From Rob Dauster: “Stanley is a tough, versatile and physical wing. I think he has he potential to be an excellent defender at the NBA level, and his perimeter stroke has looked better as the season has progressed. He had a bit of an attitude issue early in the year, but he’s seemed to embrace the role he’s been asked to play now. My biggest concern with Johnson is his ability to finish around the rim. He tends to struggle finishing against length.”

7) Myles Turner, Texas: This guy passes the eye test as an NBA big at 6’11” and with a solid frame. He has a good shooting touch and plays a very high IQ game — he reads plays well. What holds him back is a lack of athleticism that could be exposed at the next level.

From Rob Dauster: “I love Turner’s skill set. He’s 6-foot-11 with long arms and solid timing when it comes to blocking shots, but he also has a nice stroke for someone his size. He hits three at the college level and can probably extend that range to the NBA line. He’s never going to be a bruising low post player, but he’s got a good feel for where he is around the paint and has shown off a nice turnaround/faceup jumper. But the concern with Turner is that he just doesn’t move all that well. He runs like it’s painful, and that’s never a good thing to hear about a freshman you’re going to invest millions into.”

Report: Steve Clifford strongly urged Hornets to draft Donovan Mitchell over Malik Monk

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The Hornets have been taken through the ringer for rejecting a monster trade package from the Celtics, who wanted Justise Winslow, for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft. Instead, Charlotte kept the pick to take Frank Kaminsky.

Though they weren’t alone in erring by refusing to trade with Boston, the Hornets added another catastrophic missed opportunity to their ledger last year.

Charlotte picked Malik Monk No. 11 over rising star Donovan Mitchell (whom the Jazz selected No. 13) and apparently over protests of then-Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

The Lowe Post podcast:

Jonathan Givony:

Charlotte, I had them projected to take Donovan Mitchell, because I heard that Clifford was on the table in the war room saying, “We need to draft Donovan Mitchell.” And he was overruled on that, and they took Malik Monk instead. And it’s interesting how that played out in hindsight.

Zach Lowe:

Cliff was 100 percent trying to get them to take Donovan Mitchell.

I rated Monk ahead of Mitchell, but unlike me, the Hornets had an opportunity to work out the players. Mitchell performed so well in his Charlotte workout, he believed the Hornets would pick him. They have to own that mistake.

It’s unclear who overruled Clifford – then-general manager Rich Cho or owner Michael Jordan. But Clifford and Cho paid the price, both getting fired this year.

It’s easy to believe that, if Charlotte took Mitchell, both Clifford and Cho would still have their jobs there.

To be fair, it’s also easy to believe we’ll never hear about the draft calls Clifford would have gotten wrong.

Five undrafted players to keep your eye on

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At any given point, about 15 to 20 percent of the players in the NBA were not drafted. Some guys just fly under the radar, take longer to develop, and just mature later and find how they can fit into a team.

This year is no exception, some guys who didn’t get their name called are going to stick in the NBA.

Here are five guys to watch in Summer League and beyond:

• Malik Newman, 6’4” guard (Kansas). In a league where teams are always looking for scoring he is a player who can just get buckets — he’s got great range as a shooter and can slash to the rim as well. He’s not a true playmaking point guard and he’s undersized for the two in the NBA. That size issue leads to concerns on the defensive end. Still, seems worth a second round gamble.

Kenrich Williams, 6’7” power forward (TCU). The 2017 NIT MVP likes to play physically, and is solid at shooting, rebounding, and defending — he can do everything well but does not have one elite, standout skill. That limits his ceiling, but as a high IQ player he has the potential to develop into a solid role player. He will play in the NBA Summer League with Denver.

Rawle Alkins, 6’5” shooting guard (Arizona). Tough, high-motor player who defends well and has the potential to be a good scorer (he’s already a good finisher in transition and can knock down threes). He needs to develop his skills to go with his power and athleticism, he has to work on his passing, and he has to play in control and not turn the ball over. Good potential for a rotation wing player. The Toronto Raptors are giving him a shot at Summer League and maybe into training camp.

• Brandon McCoy, 6’11” center (UNLV). He was heavily recruited out of high school and he did average 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a game for Las Vegas last season. He’s not a great shot blocker for his height, and there are concerns about his feel for the game, but he still produced last season. Usually big men with that kind of frame and potential at least get a look from NBA teams.

• Trevon Bluiett, 6’6″ guard (Xavier). The guy can shoot the rock, and that should get him more of a look than he did so far. He averaged 19.5 points per game and shot 41.7 percent from three last season. He’s a senior, there’s a question about his defense and who he guards at the next level. He’s not an elite athlete. But he can shoot and that should get him some attention.

• LiAngelo Ball. 6’5” guard (Vytautas Prienai-Birstonas in Lithuania). Just kidding. He’s not an NBA player, no teams thought so. The Lakers aren’t even going to bring him on their Summer League team (and not wanting to deal with LaVar is part of that).

Report: Danny Green opting in with Spurs for $10 million

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Danny Green loooves the Spurs.

He re-signed with San Antonio for a discount in 2015. Lately, he has been trying to defuse tension at every turn of the Kawhi Leonard saga.

That’s not working.

But Green can handle his own business with the Spurs.

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

League sources tell the Express-News Green will likely forgo free agency and exercise the final year of his contract with the Spurs

By exercising his player option, Green will earn $10 million next season. It was hard to see him leaving San Antonio regardless, but that’s probably more than he’d earn on the open market.

Green brings a lot of value as a 3-and-D shooting guard. But the league is stuffed with bad contracts against a barely rising salary cap, leaving little money for 2018 free agents.

At least Green already secured a healthy salary in a place he likes.

PBT Podcast: NBA Draft breakdown with winners, losers, sleepers

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The Phoenix Suns didn’t screw up the No. 1 pick landing DeAndre Ayton, but they also made an interesting — maybe safe — move getting Mikal Bridges in a trade to give them a promising young core.

The Atlanta Hawks got their man in Trae Young, but the Dallas Mavericks did better getting theirs in Luka Doncic with the trade between those two teams.

The Sacramento Kings got their man in Marvin Bagley. Michael Porter Jr. and Robert Williams fell down the draft.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all of it in this latest podcast: Who were the winners and losers, who were the sleepers, and what it means heading into free agency this summer.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.