Five NBA Draft Prospects to Adore in the Sweet 16
The Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday, and sadly, we’ve lost a lot of the best NBA prospects already. Trae Young, Jaren Jackson, Miles Bridges, and Deandre Ayton all were sent packing in the first weekend. To get you through, here’s a look at just five of the many good NBA prospects still kicking in March Madness
Marvin Bagley III, Duke
The Blue Devils’ star began the year in the conversation with Luka Doncic (Real Madrid), Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri) for the No. 1 pick. But a lot has happened since then, and among the big-man prospects in this year’s draft, Jaren Jackson and Deandre Ayton have jumped ahead of him on most boards.
Still, there’s a ton to like with Bagley (pictured above). My big fascination with him is what he can do as a passer off the roll, in a Draymond Green-type fashion:
Here he finds a nice shovel pass out of the post:
Here’s the big one: A pick and roll where he finds the underneath man off the short roll.
The question is whether he can find those same passes to the corner for shooters, or if it has to be all underneath stuff. My biggest concern with Bagley is how traditional he is. He’s a big. A big ol’ old-school big. He’s super-athletic and quick, but his game is mostly inside. Can he play in today’s modern NBA?
The 3-point numbers say he can: He’s shot 38.6% from deep this season. In the tournament, he’s hit a couple of triples. You can see the rigidness and tightness of his motion, but the shot drops:
Bagley shot 16-of-39 from the field on catch-and-shoot opportunities this year, which was just 10 percent of his total possessions. My point here is that Bagley has the skills you want to see; he’s just used them so little you worry about whether they can be applied more generally. What you don’t want to see is him get pigeonholed into being a traditional big in the NBA, because in today’s game, that only has so much usefulness.
Against Syracuse and the … ugh … zone, it’ll be interesting how much of Bagley’s ability to drive and create we see, or if we’ll once again be left going “wow, he’s big and athletic,” which is nothing we don’t already know.
Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Knox’s NBA floor is likely one of those random wings who has a few good years midway through his career. His ceiling is something that’s hard to see from here as he’s not elite at anything. But his range of outcomes mostly fall in the 3-and-D category, and man, does he look good from that perspective.
At 6-9, he’s got the mobility and athleticism to create on the run, and in transition he can be a total nightmare to stop:
There are questions about his shot, but he landed a decent 34 percent of his 3-point shots this season, and there are a lot of times when his release looks quick and smooth enough to be a real weapon:
Knox gets trashed for his defense, but I think there’s a lot of potential there. He allowed just 13 points on 25 isolation possessions this year, and while he can fall asleep, watch how he manages multiple assignments here, and then instinctively calls out for the switch so he can recover on the shooter. He overplays the close out to the spot-up man’s right, but even if he doesn’t travel, he’s forced into the defense. It’s stuff like this that’s promising:
There are issues, and questions about whether he’ll be an NBA small or power forward, but there’s enough there to warrant a good look at.
Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Shooter, shooter, shooter:
Shooter… shooter… shooter…
If we concede that shooting has become the No. 1 most valuable asset in today’s NBA, and it has, then Bridges is probably being undervalued. He has shot 71.4 percent eFG% on catch-and-shoot guarded jumpshots this season per Synergy Sports. That’s absurd.
His handle is loose, and that’s an issue.
But he does have the finishing ability in pick and rolls where in certain situations you can see him being really good down the line:
Bridges ranks in the 78th percentile or higher, nation-wide, in six different playset categories. He’s 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan. Most drafts have him outside the top 10. I’m all for being wary of players cashing in on NCAA tournament runs. (Evan Turner, anyone?) But Bridges has done this all year. He’s elite, and should be regarded as such, despite already being 21.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
I always tend to value Kentucky guards. There are misses: ex. Archie Goodwin and Brandon Knight (arguably). But overall the players that Calipari targets tend to be good NBA players. At 6-6, SGA has all the tools to model himself after a young, healthy, Shaun Livingston, who would have been a heck of a player. An important key: SGA knows how to use his size to create passing angles, something that a lot of athletic college guards ignore in favor of getting to the rack:
Gilgeous-Alexander has a profile that’s great for the modern NBA. He’s a solid shooter off the dribble (45.1% eFG, which in college ranks in the 73rd percentile) and great at spot-up (67.9% eFG). He can create and run offense. There’s a lot to like here.
Wendell Carter Jr., Duke
I’m not entirely sure where Carter’s going to fit in the NBA. He’s 6-10, so big, but not dominantly so like so many of the modern premier bigs. He’s nimble, so he projects as a big that can switch on the perimeter, but I’m not certain that’s going to be quite good enough. He’s a fine finisher, but he’s not super explosive, or at least he hasn’t seemed that way for Duke most of the time. He can cover ground but it doesn’t leap out at you.
He’s got great length, though, with a 7-3 wingspan, and there’s promise to his shot, which might make him an able stretch-5 at the next level.
He’s projected really high for a guy who is so bound to post moves. He’s got all the passing and basketball IQ stuff you could ask for though. Our own Bryan Mears compares him to a modern David West. If he can be that efficient shooting and expand to mid-range where West never did, he can be a key pickup.
One issue: his understanding offensively of how to set screen seems a little rough. He’s not a habitual slipper, which is good, but sometimes, in the rare instances the Blue Devils ran pick and roll, he looked a little clunky.
Top Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports