For a lot of NBA fans, the NCAA Tournament is when we get a first good look at guys who are going to go high — or at all — in the NBA draft. That’s not the case for NBA GMs and scouts, if they like a player they have watched all (or most) of his play this season, they have formed their opinions, and what happens in the tournament doesn’t move the needle as much as fans think.
Who should you be watching this first Thursday/Saturday of the Tournament? PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson broke it down by regions for Rotoworld, listing a lot of players to watch. We have culled that into 13 guys to watch on specific days. They are listed in current projected draft order (although that certainly will change), starting with the guy from Duke who could pass Ben Simmons to be the No. 1 pick.
• Brandon Ingram, Freshman, Duke, Forward – Ingram’s name is the one most mentioned along with Ben Simmons for the number one spot in this year’s draft. A long, thin forward, Ingram has the skill to attack off the dribble or knock down long-range jumpers. Ingram shows very good form on his jumper, and at almost 6’10”, he gets a good look most of the time. While not a great ballhandler, Ingram is above-average, and his long strides into the lane make it tough for many defenders to stay with him. He can have some trouble finishing at the rim when the help rotates over, but if he gets just a little space, he can take off quickly and finish with a big dunk. Ingram still needs to work on creating more space for his jumper, but his talent is evident, especially in the open floor. Defensively, his long wingspan can make him disruptive, but in terms of actually defending his man, he still needs a lot of work on the basics.
The battle for the top spot in the draft between Ingram and Simmons should go back and forth until June, but, at worst, it’s hard to see Ingram falling out of the top three, barring something unforeseen.
• Jamal Murray, Freshman, Kentucky, Guard – After an up-and-down start to the season, Murray flourished in the second half of the season once Coach John Calipari altered the offense to run him off of screens to get open for shots instead of letting him try to create. Murray is a great spot-shooter, with NBA range, but he is much worse off the dribble, knocking down just 33 percent of his dribble jumpers. While not exactly the point guard he was touted to be, he is a decent ballhandler, though Murray has a tendency to over-dribble hoping to create something. If he can get into the lane, he can be a creative finisher, with an array of short jumpers and floaters, but he doesn’t always have the speed burst to beat defenders off the dribble, so he relies on screens to get open. Murray can also be frustrating with his passing; he has shown good vision and passing ability, but his decision making is not very good. It’s not often you see someone touted as a point guard have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. On defense, Murray is not very good, and needs works on a lot of the basic concepts, such as positioning. Murray has shown that he can knock down spot-up jumpers, but at just 6’4”, and as a poor defender, it may take a while for him to gain traction at the NBA level.
• Kris Dunn, Junior, Providence, Guard – Dunn emerged as one of the top point guards in the nation as a junior, and even with a good chance he could have gone in the first round last season, he came back to school for another year, winning Big East Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. Due to injuries, Dunn is a redshirt junior. There were two main areas people wanted to see Dunn address this year, shooting and decision-making, but neither changed very much. He is still a very good ballhandler with excellent vision, and he can be a spectacular passer, but his decisions can still be mindboggling. He thrives when Providence pushes the tempo, doing a great job getting the ball up the floor quickly and finding open teammates for easy scores. He did show improvement in the half court, and he can be very tough to keep out of the lane. Getting to the rim and scoring is a different issue; Dunn can have a lot of problems finishing around length at the basket, but if he has just a little space, he can finish in a spectacular way. On defense, Dunn is much better as a help defender or off the ball, rather than an on-ball defender, but in certain match-ups, he can be a problem on the ball. His steal numbers are still high, and he is very good at jumping passing lanes, but he seems to have a green light from his coach to wander around looking to make plays on defense, where he won’t have that luxury in the NBA.
• Skal Labissiere, Freshman, Kentucky, Forward – Other than Ben Simmons, no freshman faced the scrutiny that Labissiere did, and except for a few bright spots late in the season, his play did nothing to dispel the negatives about his game. 6’11”, with a 7’2” wingspan, Labissiere is long and lanky, but he does possess a nice shooting touch out to 20 feet. Around the basket, his touch can be evident, but his moves are slow to develop, and he shows little aggression or determination to get to the basket. Labissiere is awkward in the pick-and-roll, though his shooting ability allows him to be a good “pop” option. His size and length should give him some advantages on the offensive glass, but he has been too timid this year and gets pushed around easily. On defense, Labissiere has a lot of potential, but he is nowhere close to realizing it yet. It was expected that Labissiere was going to be very raw coming into college, and even with it being worse than expected, NBA teams will still be intrigued by his raw talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go in the lottery nevertheless.
• Jakob Poeltl, Sophomore, Utah, Center – Poeltl built on his strong freshman season, becoming an All-American as a sophomore, though not many of his strengths or weaknesses have changed. Poeltl doesn’t have good strength or speed in the post, he is fundamentally sound and is very efficient around the basket. He plays well in the pick-and-roll, opening up well to the ball while moving to the rim. Poeltl works hard on the offensive glass, and if you don’t look to put a body on him, he can make you pay with an easy put back. Defensively, he is a good help defender around the basket, and he shows very good extension and timing as a shot blocker, but his body isn’t ready yet to truly battle in the post.
• Taurean Prince, Senior, Baylor, Forward – Coming off a strong junior season, Prince was expected to have a big year, though he was a bit too inconsistent to really take the next step. 6’8” and solidly built, Prince is a capable scorer in a couple of different fashions. His long-range jumper had improved significantly as a junior, but he didn’t seem to be getting as many good looks this year, and his numbers suffered. When he puts the ball on the floor, he can be elusive trying to get to the rim, and though not always a great finisher, he is efficient. On defense, Prince is a versatile defender who has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his length allows him to play passing lanes well.
• Domantas Sabonis, Sophomore, Gonzaga, Forward – Sabonis, the son of basketball legend Arvydas, showed this season why everyone was excited when he showed up at Gonzaga last year, finishing the season averaging a double-double. Sabonis is a skilled forward who plays with toughness that the college game lacks these days. He is an efficient scorer around the basket, with good footwork, a nice touch and an array of post moves. Though he doesn’t take many mid-range jumpers, he has looked good when he does, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do the same at the next level. Defensively, he has improved in all areas, though Sabonis still needs to work on some the little details of how to defend around the basket or on the perimeter, and he can pick up some poor fouls.
• Tyler Ulis, Sophomore, Kentucky, Guard – When discussing Murray’s emergence at Kentucky, much of the credit needs to go to Ulis, the Wildcats’ point guard, for his ability to get Murray the ball at the right time and in the right spots. Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, was the spark that kept the Kentucky offense going, and along with his leadership, Ulis showed a penchant for hitting big shots when the team needed them. Small, 5’9”, and quick, Ulis is a tremendous ballhandler with great control. He is a threat in the pick-and-roll where he can disappear behind a screen, and he has the space to knock down the jumper or try to get into the defense. He has very good vision, and while not a flashy passer, he is a smart one, and he knows where to get teammates the ball in spots where they can score quickly. Defensively, Ulis is a pest, and he can create chaos with his ability to seal off the perimeter. As for the NBA Draft, Ulis doesn’t have the strength or athleticism of say an Isaiah Thomas, so the NBA will be a major adjustment, but he is smart and could be a decent back-up at the next level.
• Grayson Allen, Sophomore, Duke, Guard – After emerging in the NCAA Tournament last season, Allen took over the Blue Devils from day one of this season, on his way to becoming one of the top scorers in the country. Allen has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, and his quick first step to the rim is tough to stop. He is an efficient finisher around the basket, with the need to be creative when the situation warrants it. Allen is also a good long-range shooter, almost 42 percent, but doesn’t take many mid-range jumpers, preferring to take it all the way to the basket or look to draw contact, which he is very skilled at doing. He has shown skill as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, and while his control can use some work, his ability to force help to rotate opens up teammates. On defense, Allen can be a nuisance at times, but he also can be sloppy and doesn’t show the same quickness he does on offense.
• Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina, Forward – Johnson has been an important part of the Tar Heels for the past few years, but he took a big step as a senior, becoming one of the team’s go-to offensive options. A wiry, athletic forward, the 6’9” Johnson has made great strides on the offensive end since getting to Chapel Hill, has shown much of the same low post and baseline offense that made John Henson and Ed Davis so effective in their careers there. His offense isn’t very versatile, mostly short hooks and jumpers, along with dunks, but he has improved his touch, and he shows potential to eventually move his game out to the mid-range area. Johnson is a great leaper and is quick off the ground, allowing him to be a problem on the offensive boards. Defensively, he is average at best, as he tends to lose his way if dragged out to the perimeter, and he lacks the strength to defend the low post effectively.
• Cheick Diallo, Freshman, Kansas, Forward – Diallo’s college career got off to a rough start after he missed the beginning of Kansas’ season while an NCAA investigation took place. Even once he was cleared and able to play, Diallo often had trouble with much of what the team was trying to do on the floor, but the raw ability that made him a big high school recruit would force its way through. 6’9”, with a 7’4” wingspan, Diallo is a bundle of energy on the floor, rushing around trying to make plays on both ends. There isn’t much to his offense right now, especially as a halfcourt scoring option, but he runs the floor very well for his size, and he always looks to finish strong when he has the ball around the basket. Diallo’s bigger impact comes on the defensive end where he can be a good rim protector and rebounder, though some of the finer points of playing defense are still a work-in-progress for him.
• Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia, Guard – The ACC Player of the Year, Brogdon is the leader on both ends of the floor for the Cavaliers. He is a good long-range shooter, knocking down over 40 percent of his three-point attempts this year, and he is at his best coming off the screening action in the Virginia offense. Though just 6’4”, Brogdon can be tough to stop when he looks to get to the basket, using his body well to muscle his way to the rim where he is an efficient scorer. While just an average ballhandler, he does a good job creating looks behind the arc and in the mid-range area, though he’s not a great shooter off the dribble. Defensively, Brogdon does a terrific job locking down the perimeter, even if he isn’t the quickest guy on the floor. He has a great understanding of team defense and knows exactly where his help is at all times.
• A.J. Hammons, Senior, Purdue, Center – After three inconsistent years, Hammons seemed to really put together a strong season from start to finish this year. He is a long, skilled big man, who has the potential to take games over on both ends of the floor. One of the top shot-blockers in the country, the 7-foot, 260 pound Hammons has the body and the wingspan to be a next-level post player. When engaged, he has a knack for making plays. Hammons has improved as an offensive player over the past few years, adding some secondary post moves and a reliable mid-range jumper, though I really want to see him become more aggressive on the offensive end.