There has been a lot of excitement concerning this year’s NBA Draft, especially given the lackluster pool of prospects in last year’s edition. NBA executives, scouts, and experts continually extol players like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Fans have begun to suspect that their beloved teams are tanking in order to land one of these rare talents. Indeed, this year’s NBA Draft looks like it will be glutted with talented players, and teams do not want to miss out on the chance of drafting a potentially valuable player.
The NCAA Tournament has often allowed NBA prospects to showcase their talents and improve their draft stock. Tyrus Thomas, for instance, was not projected to be a lottery pick when his LSU Tigers entered the Tournament back in 2006, but his play in the Tournament led to him being selected fourth overall. Of course, Thomas has not developed into the player that some envisioned, but the example shows how important the NCAA Tournament can be for a player’s stock. Aside from players whose positions atop draft boards are immutable, NBA teams weigh a player’s success in the NCAA Tournament heavily when appraising their value. A player can undermine or improve his draft stock with his play in the postseason.
This list looks at ten exciting NBA prospects in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The majority of these players are underclassmen, having come to campus for a year before jilting school for the NBA, but this list also features talented upperclassmen—players who have spent the last three to four years honing their basketball skills. Since a given prospect will appeal to one team over another, there is no rhyme or reason to these rankings, though Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are undoubtedly the top prospects on this list.
10. Tyler Ennis – Syracuse
Tyler Ennis, a Brampton, Ontario native, played exceedingly well in his freshmen season. For a good deal of the season, Syracuse was the top ranked team in the nation, and Ennis’ singular playmaking ability and clutch shooting helped the team earn that ranking. He hit a heroic buzzer-beater from half to win a game during the season, and in Syracuse’s final game, the rest of the team relied on Ennis to help them overcome Dayton. Unfortunately for the Orangemen, Ennis’ missed the game-winning shot to beat Dayton, but the team’s reliance on Ennis calls attention to his potential going forward. Given the importance of point guards in the NBA, Ennis has sparked the interest of several professional teams. Amongst all NCAA players this season, he finished in the top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio, a stat that NBA teams highly value. Indeed, Ennis looks like he will be a high draft pick when he declares for the NBA Draft by virtue of his efficiency and playmaking abilities.
9. Andrew Wiggins – Kansas
A native of Thornhill, Ontario, Andrew Wiggins entered the 2013 season with a tremendous amount of hype surrounding him. For the most part, Wiggins delivered. Throughout the season, Wiggins showcased his elite athletic ability—his head always seems to get above the rim when he dunks—and his scoring touch. Kansas struggled at times, but the team finished the season strong. In what was his final game, Wiggins scored a paltry four points, but that shouldn’t affect his draft stock. What makes Wiggins a tantalizing prospect is his potential. Indeed, Wiggins may not be as refined as other freshmen phenoms, but he will continue to improve and hone his skills. It will come as a shock if Wiggins does not end up being drafted in the top 5 of the upcoming NBA Draft.
8. Jabari Parker – Duke
Jabari Parker is one of the most refined NBA prospects in this year’s NCAA Tournament. That is to say, he already has an NBA-ready set of skills. He can shoot the ball effectively, break his defenders down off the dribble, and can dominate from several areas on the floor. Though he does not possess the freakish athletic abilities that Andrew Wiggins does, Parker is still a fine physical specimen. This season, he led the Duke Blue Devils to a 3-seed ranking in the NCAA tournament, but Mercer upset them in the round of 64. Nevertheless, Parker played well all season, surprising NBA scouts with his shooting efficiency, as he shot just under 40% from beyond the arc. If he declares for the draft, which seems likely, Parker will be drafted in the top 5.
7. Julius Randle – Kentucky
Although he has not attracted the same level of excitement that Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins have, Julius Randle is another player in this year’s NCAA tournament whom NBA executives have their eyes on. Like Parker, Randle is a versatile player, and he dominates in the paint and on the glass. This season, he has had over twenty double-doubles, as he has helped Kentucky bounce back after a disappointing season last year. Randle’s play in Kentucky’s round-of-32 matchup against Wichita State helped his team knock off the unbeaten Shockers. Now that Wiggins and Parker are out of the Tournament, more eyes, especially eyes belonging to NBA scouts and executives, will be on Randle, as Kentucky will play Louisville in the Sweet 16. How Randle plays down the postseason stretch might have a significant effect on his draft stock. Regardless, Randle will be a highly valued prospect come the day of the Draft.
6. Aaron Gordon – Arizona
Aaron Gordon has quietly been a dominant freshman on his Arizona Wildcat team. His athleticism, low-post dominance, and defense have all attracted NBA scouts and executives. Some experts have compared him to Shawn Marion and Blake Griffin, which is high praise for an eighteen-year-old. However, Gordon has decidedly struggled shooting the ball. He is virtually a non-threat from beyond the arc, and his free-throw shooting percentage hangs below 50%. Arizona is still in the Tournament, which gives Gordon time to improve his draft stock. If he does declare for the Draft, though, he will be a top 15 selection.
5. Doug McDermott – Creighton
Doug McDermott is one of the most decorated basketball players in NCAA history. He finished his collegiate career in the top 10 for all-time points scored. Indeed, his offensive abilities are what impress NBA scouts the most. McDermott is capable of torrid displays of shooting, and his efficiency underpins these performances. NBA scouts will question McDermott’s abilities to play defense, though. At 6’8, 230 pounds, McDermott is too short to effectively defend power forwards and probably not quick enough to stay in front of nimble small forwards. However, he fits in some systems and has the potential to become a valuable role player on an NBA squad. Unfortunately for McDermott, his Creighton Blue Jays lost in the NCAA Tournament this past week, so the NBA will probably be the next step in his basketball career.
4. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart is a fascinating NBA prospect when one considers the vicissitudes of his collegiate career. At his best, Marcus Smart is one of the most effective scorers from the point, with his ability to penetrate defenses and finish at the rim. At his worst, however, Marcus Smart is a sub-par outside shooter, and his incident this season with a fan at a Texas Tech game did not help his draft stock. Nevertheless, Smart’s slashing ability impresses NBA scouts and executives. His assists are up this season and his turnovers are down—two improvements that also attract NBA scouts. Unfortunately for Smart, his season came to an end when Oklahoma State lost to Gonzaga in the round of 64 this past weekend. His next step will be the NBA.
3. Adreian Payne – Michigan State
Adreian Payne is a classic player to come out of Michigan State. Indeed, the Spartans’ coach, Tom Izzo, has a singular ability to mould raw players into excellent basketball stars. The senior power forward has put up stellar number this season, as he has improved his outside shooting and low-post scoring to become one of the nation’s most well-rounded NBA prospects. Scouts love Payne’s offensive versatility, and he certainly has the frame to keep piling on the weight. He will need to keep putting on weight, if he does not want to get dominated by big men in the NBA. He has a chance to up his draft stock, too, as Michigan State will play in the Sweet 16.
2. Nik Stauskas – Michigan
A year can make a drastic difference, especially in a collegiate basketball player’s game. Nik Stauskas served as a role player on Michigan’s Final Four team from a year ago, but he is the team’s best player this season. Stauskas can absolutely light it up from beyond the arc, shooting over 4o% from three-point range. His all-around shooting ability has caught the attention of NBA scouts and executives, but his defense negatively affects his draft stock. Given his tremendous improvement this past offseason, however, Stauskas has shown that he possesses the mental fortitude to succeed in the NBA. Stauskas will certainly be a key factor in Michigan’s attempt to return to the Final Four.
1. Gary Harris – Michigan State
This season, Garry Harris has climbed up many experts’ draft board. But the jury is still out with regards to where he will actually get picked. Indeed, though Tom Izzo has increased Harris’ role on the Spartans this year, putting the ball in his hands far more than last year, Harris’ shooting percentages have dipped. Last season, it was Harris’ shooting ability that most impressed scouts, so his declining shooting percentages do not bode well for his draft stock. However, Harris has shown that he can play solid defense, an eternally valuable skill in basketball. He will have the chance to raise his draft stock, as Michigan State is still alive in this year’s NCAA Tournament.