NBA scouts will be paying close attention to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16, despite many big names having already been knocked out of March Madness.
Each of our top 10 prospects remaining could still generate first-round interest. Six could be lottery picks. And all of them are still looking to strengthen their case and credibility as pro prospects.
Outside of our top 10, the next tier of prospects would include: Duke’s Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo, Kansas’ Devonte‘ Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Udoka Azubuike, Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle, Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo, Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie and Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver.
10. Jalen Brunson (Villanova, PG, Junior)
The NBA eye test may reject Jalen Brunson, but his college success and intangibles are strong enough to bet on after the top 20 picks.
His matchup with West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, an NBA-caliber defender, should earn plenty of scouting departments’ interest. Brunson isn’t an exciting athlete, but at 6’3″, he has good size for a point guard to match one of the highest skill levels in the country.
According to Synergy Sports, he ranks in the 90th percentile or better (points per possession) in pick-and-roll ball-handling, spot-ups, isolation, post-ups, off screens and overall jump-shooting. And despite underwhelming leaping ability, he finishes 66.2 percent of his shots at the rim.
There are obvious questions about how he’ll execute or defend against quicker and explosive NBA point guards. Scouts see more of a backup game manager at the next level. However, finding a reliable one in the draft should still be considered a win, assuming it’s late in the first round or anywhere in the second.
9. Grayson Allen (Duke, SG, Senior)
Grayson Allen’s drop-off in per-minute production this season shouldn’t be overly concerning, particularly since his 20.8 percent usage rate is the lowest of his career. Duke is loaded and Allen naturally has a reduced role as a result.
He’s still an explosive athlete and dangerous shot-maker drilling at least 2.4 threes per game for the third straight year. Allen has also taken on more playmaking duties, dishing out 4.6 assists and generating 1.053 PPP as a pick-and-roll passer (67th percentile) and 1.667 PPP as a passer out of isolation (97th percentile).
In the NBA, however, he’ll play mostly off the ball. And he’s been successful in college working off spot-ups (1.054 PPP, 76th percentile) and screens (1.051 PPP, 69th percentile).
But even after 140 games since 2014, it still seems Allen has something to prove. Finishing at the rim (41.7 percent) and weak defense should ultimately be considered bigger drawbacks than his questionable maturity and decision-making.
8. Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, SF/PF, Sophomore)
Coming off a 25-point game against Ohio State in the round of 32, Rui Hachimura has eyes on him again.
They started looking elsewhere earlier in the season, since he remained in a bench role and never took off as a shooter following his standout performance over the summer at the U19 World Cup (20.6 points, 11.0 rebounds).
Hachimura‘s strong games still highlight his intriguing athleticism and offensive versatility. At 6’8″, 225 pounds, he’s an exciting run-and-jump athlete with face-up scoring ability from the 3 or 4. Per 40 minutes, he averages 22.7 points and shoots 61.7 percent inside the arc.
But is it too early for him to leave or for general managers to draft him in the first round? NBA teams may feel more confident in a decision after seeing him face Florida State’s upperclassman forwards, Phil Cofer, Braian Angola and Terance Mann.
7. Zhaire Smith (Texas Tech, SF, Freshman)
Zhaire Smith has scouts’ attention, and now each game he plays can impact his draft stock, given his late rise and flashes over consistent production (11.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists).
Scouts are deciding whether he’s more than an explosive leaper and if he’ll be worth a reach in this year’s first round. Smith’s matchup with Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and Vince Edwards will be monitored closely.
He had one of his best games of the season last round against Florida, finishing with 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two threes.
For a 6’5″ guard or wing, Smith’s ball skills are undeniably weak. He’s 6-of-24 out of isolation this year, and he’s generated just seven total points in pick-and-rolls.
Interest remains because of his elite athleticism, impressive passing, shot-making potential (16-of-36 3PT) and defensive playmaking (1.0 blocks, 1.2 steals per game). NBA teams will have to decide how much they expect the 18-year-old’s ball-handling and shooting to improve over the next few seasons.
6. Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Sophomore)
Robert Williams didn’t make the sophomore jump scouts were hoping for, but he’s still flashing the explosiveness and mobility that generated NBA attention a year ago.
Through two NCAA tournament games, he’s a combined 9-of-12 from the floor with 27 rebounds and four blocks in 47 minutes, playing to his strengths as a finisher, low-post scorer and overall athletic presence around the rim.
He even made an outside jump shot against Providence, though it’s late to try to convince scouts he’ll be a shooter, being that he’s 0-of-12 from three and making 47.8 percent of his free throws.
Williams must win them over by staying energized and impacting the game with his monstrous tools, speed, power and bounce. He’ll have a good chance against Michigan’s Moritz Wagner, who isn’t a physical interior defender.
5. Kevin Knox (Kentucky, SF/PF, Freshman)
Kevin Knox has been Kentucky’s go-to option for offense most of the year. He opened the NCAA tournament by pouring 25 points on Davidson, and that was without his three-ball falling (0-of-3).
At 6’9″, 215 pounds, he averages 1.6 threes per game, mixing power forward size and wing perimeter skills, including a jump shot off the dribble (43.1 percent) and runner (24-of-57).
Knox needs to improve as a shot-creator (4-of-18 in isolation), playmaker (1.5 assists per game) and defender (1.5 steal percentage). But for an athletic 18-year-old averaging 15.7 points, teams will overlook the holes in his game once the top names come off the draft board.
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky, PG, Freshman)
One of March’s biggest risers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has carried Kentucky, whether it was with 29 points against Tennessee in the SEC tournament final, a 19-point, eight-board, seven-assist game against Davidson in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64 or his most recent 27-6-6 line versus Buffalo on Saturday.
It’s becoming easier to overlook that Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t a standout athlete. Ranking in the 36th percentile in transition offense, he isn’t likely to ever be an exciting, open-floor, easy-basket weapon. But Gilgeous-Alexander has been highly effective with the ball in the half court, generating .956 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (86th percentile).
At 6’6″, he uses his height to play above defenses and his change of speed to penetrate through them. He’s too crafty—unpredictable off the dribble using his tight handle and hesitations.
He’s also made six of his last nine three-point attempts. Given initial questions regarding his jumper and limited explosiveness around the basket, that’s a key development.
3. Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke, C, Freshman)
After going 6-of-6 from the floor in 19 minutes against Rhode Island, Wendell Carter Jr. will face Syracuse’s zone, which he previously carved up for 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists (plus four steals and two blocks) during conference play.
Scouts have been high on Carter all year for his consistent effort and production, as well as his sharp fundamentals in terms of post footwork, shooting touch (he’s gone 19-of-43 from three-point range) and rebounding technique (13.7 per 40 minutes).
Hs physical tools (6’10”, 259 lbs, 7’3″ wingspan), efficiency (56.9 percent shooting) and skill level cast little doubt over his NBA potential, even if his old-school, back-to-the-basket game and limited explosiveness don’t scream upside.
2. Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SF, Junior)
After torching Alabama for 22 second-half points, Mikal Bridges will get West Virginia in the Sweet 16, setting up another opportunity to improve his draft stock.
Shooting and defense were the signature strengths he flaunted in the round of 32. He drilled five threes, showing the ability to elevate and fire right over defenders in position. And he helped slow down Collin Sexton, one of the country’s hottest scorers.
Bridges’ athleticism and three-and-D skill set continue to drive his impact and overall appeal. But he’s also made 46 more two-point field goals this season compared to last, flashing better shot-creativity and scoring versatility.
His 1.222 points per possession on overall offense ranks in the 99th percentile.
He’s converting 59.1 percent of his attempts inside the arc and 44.2 percent from three. And he rarely makes mistakes (9.2 turnover percentage).
With wings in demand and a big-man overload at the top of this draft, Bridges is a candidate to sneak into the top six on June 21.
1. Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)
Iona and Rhode Island didn’t stand a chance at containing Marvin Bagley III’s quickness, explosiveness and coordination around the basket. Syracuse didn’t, either, when it faced Duke back in February.
Bagley, who shot 8-of-9 against the Orange zone the first time around, could be in for another productive day against Syracuse in the Sweet 16, particularly if he’s making open threes like he did through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
He’s still best around the rim, generating 1.40 points per possession on basket cuts (98th percentile) and 1.33 points per possession on putbacks (85th percentile). Bagley has converted all 10 of his pick-and-rolls to the hoop this season, and he’s shooting 73.4 percent at the basket.
From an NBA scouting perspective, there is still concern with his defense and ability to create shots or shoot with consistency. He’s also struggled against double-teams in the post, generating just .657 points per possession on those possessions (22nd percentile).
On the other hand, he just turned 19 a week ago and is averaging 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds on 61.3 percent shooting as a freshman.
Regardless of what happens Friday night, Bagley‘s athleticism, production, potential offensive versatility and room to improve skill-wise should help lock him into the top five of the draft.