For a lot of NBA fans, the NCAA Tournament is when we get a first good look at guys who will fill up the NBA draft boards next June. For the record, that’s not the case for NBA GMs and scouts. If they think they may take 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 Friday/Sunday 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 lists of players to watch (here is the Thursday/Saturday version). They are listed in current projected draft order (although that certainly will change).
• Jaylen Brown, Freshman, California, Forward – The 6’7”, 225 wing was a consensus top five high school recruit last year, and though he has had typical freshmen rough patches this year, he didn’t disappoint. Solidly built, Brown loves to use his body to attack the basket, often leading to an above-average amount of free throw attempts. He relies on his physical ability more than skill right now, but once he has some momentum on the way to the rim, he is hard to stop. His shooting, both mid- and long-range, isn’t particularly strong right now, but it’s not like his shooting form and motion are broken. With his body, Brown is also able to move to the low post in the right match-ups, using his strength to bully his way to the rim. Brown has improved as a defender this year, and is capable of guarding multiple positions, though he still needs some work on the basics.
• Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma, Guard – Hield, the two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, was also one of the top two players in all college basketball this past season. Last year, when writing about Hield, I noted that he wasn’t a strong perimeter shooter, but he took care of any problems over the summer, emerging as one of the top long-range shooters in the country, hitting 127 threes at a near-47 percent clip. He can hit his jumper in a variety of ways, and it doesn’t matter how closely he is guarded, Hield is confident he will knock it down. While jumpers are much of Hield’s offense, he is also capable taking the ball off the dribble to the basket, showing a quick first step and a nice speed burst, though he can have some troubles finishing. On the defensive end, Hield has the potential to be good, though the focus and effort aren’t always there.
• Demetrius Jackson, Junior, Notre Dame, Guard – Jackson shared the backcourt a year ago with Knick first-rounder Jerian Grant, but he took over the sole point guard duties this season, and the results have been almost as good as expected. At 6’1”, Jackson doesn’t have great speed, but he has a solid build, and he uses his quickness and body well to attack the basket. He does a very good job running the Irish offense, and he is an excellent distributor in the pick-and-roll offense. Jackson’s shooting has been inconsistent this year, but in prior years, he did show the consistent ability to knock down the long-range shot as well as the mid-range jumper off the dribble. His decision making still needs some work, including in transition, but he has the playmaker gene. Defensively, Jackson has some lapses on the ball, but he has improved each season, and larger point guards don’t cause a significant problem for him.
• Deyonta Davis, Freshman, Michigan State, Forward – A long, athletic freshman, Davis became a major piece for the Spartans as the season went on. He has been effective in the low post, using his good footwork and length to create some easy looks around the rim. Davis is also great working along the baseline, cutting to the rim off of penetration and using his reach to get the ball and finish up around the basket. He has a nice feel for hitting the offensive boards. Defensively, Davis has been solid defending in the post, but he has been very good as a rim protector, again showing a nice feel for being able to get into position quickly and extend to get at the shot.
• Ivan Rabb, Freshman, California, Forward – Another heralded freshman in Berkley, Rabb made steady progress throughout the season to become an important part of the Bears’ rotation. While his low post offense is decent at this stage, he uses his long frame to hit the offensive glass to create extra possessions and easy second-chance opportunities. Rabb hasn’t shown much offensive ability stepping away from the basket area yet, but he hasn’t looked terrible on his few opportunities shooting the mid-range jumper. Rabb has the potential to be a force on the defensive end with his long frame and 7’2” wingspan, though he can get pushed around in the post by stronger offensive players.
• Diamond Stone, Freshman, Maryland, Center – As the season went on, Stone became a force in the middle for Maryland, giving them strong play on both ends of the floor. 6’11” and 255 pounds, Stone can be an imposing figure in the post, and he showed impressive skill and footwork for his age. He uses his body well to make his way to the basket, and he has no problem getting physical when hitting the offensive boards. Stone built a good on-court rapport with point guard Melo Trimble, and the duo became very tough to stop in pick-and-roll situations, as well as Stone getting open space around the basket off of Trimble’s penetration. Defensively, other than what seemed like normal freshman lapses, Stone more than held his own in a conference with some quality big men.
• Melo Trimble, Sophomore, Maryland, Guard – Trimble burst onto the scene as a freshman last year, and while there were some rough patches throughout the season, he showed decent growth. Trimble has good size, 6’3”, and great speed. He is a strong pick-and-roll ballhandler, both as a scorer and passer, though his decision-making can be questionable at times. Trimble is a better shooter than his numbers show, especially from long-range, with poor shot selection being a big culprit. He has the speed to beat defenders off the dribble in isolation, and while a creative finisher around the rim, he isn’t afraid to take some contact, drawing fouls at a good rate. On defense, Trimble can be a pest with his activity, though he can be prone to taking risks, and as a result, can find himself out of position. Still, don’t get sloppy with the ball around him.
• Tyrone Wallace, Senior, California, Guard – Wallace, the senior leader for the Bears, battled injuries this season, but came up big down the stretch as the team made a big run towards the postseason. The 6’6” point guard doesn’t dazzle you in any particular area, but he does a great job running the California offense, while adding a scoring punch when needed. Wallace uses his size well against opposing defenders, especially when looking to get to the basket, where his long strides are an advantage. Perimeter shooting has never been a strength, but he is capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers consistently, especially off the dribble. Defensively, Wallace’s size and long arms can cause problems for opponents’ passing lanes, and while he doesn’t have great speed, he has very good instincts.
• Gary Payton II, Senior, Oregon State, Guard – Payton, the son of the NBA Hall of Famer, made an immediate impact last year after moving to Oregon State from junior college, and he followed it up by leading the Beavers to the tournament this season. At 6’3”, Payton has decent size, but he has good speed and control, which allows him to knife through the defense almost at will. He is at his best as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, using great pace to beat primary and help defenders, and either getting to the basket or finding an open teammate. Payton can have some problems finishing around the basket, so he relies on angles to try and find his shots. His jumper is a problem for him, even though he does a great job clearing space for good looks, and he’ll often hesitate on open looks because he’s not confident in the shot. Payton can be a very good defender, though he is better off the ball than on. .
• Prince Ibeh, Senior, Texas, Center – Used sparingly in his first three seasons, Ibeh stepped up as a senior to become a defensive force for the Longhorns. 6’11” and 265 pounds, Ibeh showed the ability to defend the low post well, while also being able to protect the rim as well as anyone in the country, averaging two blocks per game in just 18 minutes per. Ibeh moves well for his size, evident in his improvement defending the pick-and-roll, and he is a quality rebounder on both ends of the floor. There isn’t much to say about him on the offensive end other than he still needs work. He doesn’t show many moves in the low post, and his touch isn’t very good, but he does a good job scoring when a couple of feet from the rim.