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2015 NBA Draft Stock Watch

A look at which 2015 NBA Draft prospects have helped and hurt their stock entering March Madness.

EJ Ayala

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It’s a great time to be a basketball junkie with March Madness around the corner. The NCAA tournament is not only exciting to watch but also presents yet another opportunity to see the best college players in the country display their skills. There will be many eyes keenly focused on NBA prospects, and we’ve seen that a strong tournament showing can help boost a player’s draft stock. Every player is in a different situation. While some are looking to cement their status as top pick, others are looking show they are worthy of first-round pick for some guaranteed money or hoping just to get drafted at all to fulfill a lifelong dream.

As we’ve been keeping a pulse on things from the beginning of the NCAA season, there’s been plenty of movement draft stock wise as the season has progressed. This is yet another year where there’s a few guys who could be selected as the top overall pick – there’s no consensus number one regardless of what anyone might be saying at this point. Big man Jahlil Okafor out of Duke has lived up to the hype, Emmanuel Mudiay held things down balling overseas in China, but there has also been the rise of Ohio State’s silky smooth point guard D’Angelo Russell and the intriguing two-way play of Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. Today, we’re going to talk about some of these prospects as well as a few others whose draft stock has risen or fallen as the college basketball season has developed.

Rising Up

D’Angelo Russell
Position: PG/SG Height: 6’5’’ Ohio State Buckeyes
19.3 PPG 5.1 APG 1.6 SPG 5.6 RPG .458 FG% .415% 3 PT FG%

While Emmanuel Mudiay has been receiving a lot of the attention throughout the season after his impressive play in China, it’s the freshman Buckeye star who has risen to the top of the draft boards and taken perhaps the biggest leap. Mudiay was anointed as a potential top-five pick by most before he even stepped on the court in China. Russell, on the other hand, was thought to have the potential to be drafted in the first round with a decent season but nobody was talking about him being at the top of the lottery. While high school rankings don’t mean everything, it’s a little unusual to see a guy who was ranked by Rivals as the 18th-best prospect in his class all of the sudden have NBA executives getting fined by the league for talking about how great of prospect he is (I’m looking at you, Phil Jackson). Despite being a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, it was clear his work was cut out for him when it was the big men on the roster (Okafor, Towns, Turner and Alexander) that received all the hype.

So what’s changed? Since day one, it was clear that we hadn’t begun to see who the real D’Angelo Russell is after being somewhat overshadowed by highly talented and heavily recruited teammates on his Montverde Academy high school team. In his first game on the hardwood for the Buckeyes, he dropped 32 points in 25 minutes against Sacred Heart. He followed up that game by scoring 22 points against Campbell. While you may be thinking those were some cupcake teams, Russell’s game did not falter much as the season progressed against stronger Big Ten opponents. It became quickly evident the he possesses not only great scoring prowess but incredible court vision that pairs well with his passing ability. Despite not having out of this world athleticism, it’s hard not to come away impressed watching him play as he displays a combination of confidence and poise rarely seen in such a young guard. While he has the ability to play both guard spots in college at his size, he’s shown himself to be more than capable of developing into a point guard at the next level. This is a guy to watch heading into March Madness.

Karl-Anthony Towns
Position: PF/C Height: 7’0’’ Kentucky Wildcats
9.8 PPG 6.8 RPG 2.3 BPG 1.1 APG .556 FG% .250 3PT FG%

Playing for an undefeated Kentucky Wildcats, it’s hard not to be in the spotlight and even more so when you’re a seven-footer with a 7’3’’ wingspan. While the consensus around the league is that Duke’s Jahlil Okafor may be the most NBA-ready big man in the draft, it’s Towns who may have the higher ceiling and end up with the better pro career in the long run. In addition, while Okafor’s game most closely resembles that of the traditional big men of yore that concentrate mostly on a well-rounded low post game, Towns displays the potential to be more of your modern big man of today with the potential to develop into a stretch-four. It’s that type of versatility, in combination with his defensive tools, that make him such an interesting prospect and really separate him from Okafor.

While the Wildcats big man’s stats may not seem eye popping on the surface, he’s sacrificed for the good of a stacked team with championship aspirations and is getting things done on both ends of the floor playing only 20.9 minutes per game. What really intrigues NBA scouts at this point is his tenacity and instincts on the defense end – his advance stats currently have him as the player with the top defensive rating in the country (76.1 DRtg). He’s also an excellent free throw shooter, hitting 79.6 percent from the line for the season, which is not something to take for granted when it comes to big men. That indicates his shooting stroke isn’t broken, which bodes well for his development as a pick-and-pop player down the road (and he’s already shown some flashes throughout the year). If you are thinking he’s just your typical plodding big man then think again. Towns moves with a fluidity and speed that will be hard to match up with even at the next level, especially as his body continues to fill in. In the end, while he may take a little longer to reach his potential, he may very well be worth the wait.

Justise Winslow
Position: SF Height: 6’7’’ Duke Blue Devils
12.3 PPG 5.9 RPG 2.0 APG 1.3 SPG .489 FG% .396 3PT FG%

It’s hard to watch this Blue Devil forward’s game and not be reminded of the Charlotte Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in some aspects. In Winslow, you have an uber-athletic wing player with a chiseled frame that’s a tenacious defender, consummate team player and excellent transition guy, with an incredible motor on both ends of the floor. Unlike Kidd-Gilchrist, who has a shaky jump shot, Winslow has shown great promise with his shooting stroke. Currently, he’s the third best shooter among draft eligible forwards. Defensively, he shines particularly well guarding the pick and roll where, according to Synergy Sports, he’s holding down opposing PnR ball handlers to .487 PPP (points per possession). In the NBA, where the pick and roll is prevalent, this skill will surely not go unnoticed.

While he certainly seemed to hit the freshman wall for a stretch around the beginning of this year, he sure has come on strong to finish the season. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and nearly two steals per game since the loss to Notre Dame at the end of January. While his teammate Jahlil Okafor may be getting the majority of the limelight and deservedly so, Winslow is hitting his stride at the right time leading up to the tournament. Keep an eye on this Blue Devil to see if he can continue his strong play into the NCAA tournament.

Sliding Down

Cliff Alexander
Position: PF/C Height: 6’9’’ Kansas Jayhawks
7.1 PPG 5.3 RPG 1.2 BPG .4 APG .566 FG% .671 FT%

As a highly touted high school prospect, Alexander was pegged in the same company as the other big men who were thought to be lottery picks come June. But a lot has changed for the Kansas big man. After a rocky season in which he struggled against tougher competition, his stock has practically fallen off a cliff. He’s failed to show much development and has been exposed by players with length who challenge him in the post. Without much of a jumper, when he’s not playing well in the post his contributions diminish quickly on the offensive end. This is particularly important for him because he’s undersized to play the center position at the next level and there’s not a big market for undersized centers who can’t shoot from outside the paint.

To make matters worse we’ve most likely seen the last of him at the collegiate level as he’s currently battling the NCAA for his mother allegedly receiving impermissible benefits from a company known to loan money to athletes. He’s hasn’t suited up for the Jayhawks since Feb. 28, missing four games to date and even Kansas coach Bill Self has essentially indicated the program will move forward without him. That’s a huge blow as a good tournament showing would certainly help him turn things around, but now it looks as though he may not even get the chance. Our friends at Draft Express currently have him as a bubble first-rounder at the 30th pick.

Andrew Harrison
Position: PG/SG Height: 6’5’’ Kentucky Wildcats
9.0 PPG 3.8 APG 2.2 RPG 1.0 SPG .369 FG% .366 3PT FG% (14-15 Season)

Once thought to be a lock as a top-10 pick entering college, things have certainly turned out a little differently. After a rather lackluster freshman campaign and coming off a tournament run last season that ended with them falling short of winning the NCAA championship to the UConn Huskies, it was determined that he may have been better suited to return for his sophomore season to work on his game. At the time, he looked more like a mid-to-late first rounder as he still had shown the ability to create his own shot and had shown some poise to hit buckets during crunch time in their run to the title game.

He returned his sophomore season to join a crowded backcourt as a new crop of talented freshman guards joined fray in Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis to go along with his twin brother Aaron, who also came back. With playing time hard to come by, Harrison saw his minutes drop from 31.7 MPG to 25.5 MPG this season. The real knock on him at this point is that he really hasn’t made a leap in his development for the most part. He’s improved his defense with his length and size, averaging 1.6 steals per 40 minutes, but it’s the rest of his game that has essentially remained the same. This has concerned scouts, as his younger teammates have shown more promise at times. The good news is the NCAA tournament is just around the corner, with the Wildcats rolling. If he can string together some strong performances, it may remind scouts why he was such a promising NBA prospect in the first place. He’s currently being projected by many as a mid-to-high second round pick.

Today is Selection Sunday and there’s some exciting basketball up ahead. There will be many players who we haven’t talked about today that will surely be on the NBA draft radar by the time March Madness ends. Watching it all unfold is half the fun and a big reason why it’s one of the best times of the year to be a basketball fan.

E.J. Ayala is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah covering the NBA, NCAA, and international basketball. Currently serving as a newsline editor for Basketball Insiders.

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College Headlines

Sources: Jontay Porter Re-Tears Right ACL

Basketball Insiders

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Jontay Porter’s NBA stock has taken a turn for the worse.

Porter, the Missouri power forward who missed his sophomore season after tearing ligaments in his right knee during a preseason scrimmage against Southern Illinois, recently re-tore his right ACL while in Denver, multiple sources told The Star. The Missouri basketball team confirmed the injury.

Porter was in Denver rehabbing his first knee injury. Sources told The Star the injury didn’t come directly from rehab but happened while he was on the court working out. It’s unknown if Porter was cleared for activity when he was injured.

Source: Alex Schiffer of The Kansas City Star

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March Madness

NBA Daily: Four Prospects Ready To Rise In NCAA Tournament

Every March brings a collection of mock draft risers ahead of combine season, but there are four names worth your attention this spring, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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Ah, it’s almost that time of year, folks.

No, not just placing a bet on college basketball or filling out the winning bracket.

With conference tournaments set to wrap up this weekend, and Selection Sunday not far behind, the mental preparations for the big dance have already begun. Each season, like clockwork, a group of players seemingly raise their stock amongst fans ahead of workouts and the combine. Last season, of course, the largest beneficiary of the bright spotlight was Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo. During the NCAA Championship, DiVincenzo torched Michigan for 31 points on 5-for-7 from long range — then once he measured out well, it was all but settled. In a matter of two months, DiVincenzo had gone from a near-lock to return to college to a potential lottery selection.

But as Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler pointed out alongside his most recent mock draft, importantly, it was a combination of everything that vaulted DiVincenzo into the cultural forefront. With much of the collegiate sphere transfixed, rightfully, on Zion Williamson’s return to Duke, plus his renewed efforts with top prospects Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett, most of the collective draft class has just slipped on by. So although scouts may have a handle on the NCAA’s very best prospects, there are plenty of other cases worth adding to join to the pre-tournament hype conversation.

Given that March Madness kicks off on Tuesday, there’s no better moment to investigate the portfolios of some potential risers. Again, a stellar showing in the tournament won’t do it alone — but, regardless, these are four players that could do a ton of damage between now and the NBA Draft in June.

Eric Paschall, Villanova

Speaking of DiVincenzo, the Wildcats have sent a handful of players to the NBA over the last three years and senior Eric Paschall appears to be next in line. The 6-foot-8 forward bided his time alongside stars like Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, but the former All-Tournament selectee has bloomed as Villanova’s main man. Over 32 contests, Paschall has averaged 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 three-pointers per game, helming his now-depleted squad to 23 wins.

Although he hasn’t collected the same awards that Brunson did last year, NBA teams tend to love ready-to-contribute Wildcats, no matter their age.

Paschall will be 23 once his rookie year begins in the fall but he’s got big-game confidence and oodles of experience already. On Thursday, Paschall scored 20 points and 10 rebounds to pace No. 25 Villanova past Providence in Big East Tournament play. There are some concerns over his pro-level fit as a power forward, but his massively improved three-point conversion mark will definitely have scouts back on board.

Of note, Paschall was unanimously named to the All-Big East First Team and he’s currently heating up ahead of another deep Villanova run. Paschall’s fantastic put-back helped the Wildcats force overtime against Xavier on Friday, while his clutch three-pointer and subsequent free throws then iced it.

Jaxson Hayes, Texas

Texas’ newest rim-protecting impact player is the 6-foot-11 Jaxson Hayes — a well-executing shot blocker and walking highlight reel… sound familiar? While the comparisons to Jarrett Allen are simply unavoidable at this point, Hayes has been a worthy target alone based on his slow, but steady improvement throughout the 2018-19 campaign. Through 32 games, the freshman has averaged 10.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks on 72.8 percent from the field. Those standout numbers — blocks and field goal percentage — rank as 23rd and second-best in Division I, respectively.

In Hayes’ best performance yet, the big man pulled down 15 points, six rebounds and five blocks during a mid-season victory over rival Oklahoma. Earlier this month, Hayes was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, an honor recently bestowed upon Trae Young, Josh Jackson and Myles Turner. Along with Allen and Turner, Haynes joins Mohamed Bamba as highly-rated former Longhorns with huge professional-level projections — that’s not bad company to keep.

Unfortunately, at 16-16, Texas now faces an uphill battle to even reach the big dance. Much worse, Hayes played just 14 minutes before leaving the game with an injury during their loss to No. 3 Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday. Head coach Shaka Smart said he hoped “it’s not extremely serious” but a status update has not been revealed as of publishing. However, as an athletic leaper and instinctual defender, Hayes remains one of the top long-term projects, injured or not.

And with moments like these, it won’t be long until the country takes notice as well — even if he’s sadly done for the season now.

Tre Jones, Duke

Of the names on this list, Tre Jones’ line is certainly the least jaw-dropping — 8.9 points, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals — but he’s been the fourth mouth to feed behind the Blue Devils’ trio of future top five picks. Still, Jones has been a steadying force for the star-studded side, even seeing a healthy uptick in the three weeks that Williamson was sidelined. During Duke’s slim loss to North Carolina a week ago, Jones chipped in with nine points, five rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

With Williamson back in the lineup versus Syracuse on Thursday, Jones dropped 15 points and eight assists — which, long story short, proves the court general is good no matter who is on the floor. While those statistics aren’t enough to push Jones into lottery territory, the 19-year-old point guard has some promising upside for a team with less ball-dominating assets already.

Although head coach Mike Krzyzewski‎ dreams of a sophomore year return, Jones’ laser-sharp distribution and above-average defense will make him a popular name this spring. Jones’ 3.73 assist-to-turnover ratio is third-best in the entire nation and his ability to drop picture-perfect passes to Duke’s sky-walking dunkers has made them appointment viewing all season.

And if you’re feeling some slight déjà vu right now, that’s for good reason. Back in 2014-15, Tyus Jones, Tre’s older brother, was an electric playmaker for a Blue Devils team that won it all. But if you see Tre knocking down important, pressure-laden shots like Tyus once did, don’t be surprised — that clutch gene still runs in the family.

Jaylen Nowell, Washington

This foursome has covered nearly every corner of the scouting conundrum checklist thus far: Hayes? Too raw. Paschall? Too old. Jones? Too underutilized. While those are all things that front offices may eventually look past when drafting those three in June, Jaylen Nowell falls into zero of those buckets.

Nowell is 19 years old, just won Pac-12 Player of the Year and seems poised to lead Washington to their longest tournament run in over a decade. Heading into the postseason, Nowell is leading the Huskies in points (16.5), assists (3.1) and three-point percentage (44.9), while the guard is their runner-up in rebounds (5.4) and steals (1.2) too. Uncoincidentally, Washington’s 25 wins are the most the college has finished with since Isaiah Thomas led them to 26 and the Sweet 16 in 2009-2010.

In 2018-19, Nowell has topped 18 or more on 15 separate occasions, including a massive 26-point, six-rebound effort against the likely No. 1 overall-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. Nowell is an incredible dribbler and the sophomore has put plenty of talented defenders on skates — but he’s also been largely hidden in a subpar conference this season. Fundamentally strong, Nowell has shot below 40 percent in just five of Washington’s 32 games so far.

Consistent and reliable, he’ll be their go-to star in the NCAA tournament without a doubt. Before long, the rest of the country will recognize him as one too.

Zion Williamson has been deservedly tough to look away from this season — but collegiate basketball’s biggest showstopper has robbed onlookers of some other incredible narratives as well.

Whether that’s the scrappy lead guard throwing alley-oops to Williamson on the daily, a forgotten National Champion or a budding first-rounder on the opposite coastline, March Madness is shaping up to be another worthy runway for takeoff. Unfortunately, Hayes will likely miss out — even in the now-unlikely circumstance that Texas is selected — but his agile, smooth skillset as a near seven-footer will make him a sought-after interview come draft season.

Between now and April — through a mix of their tournament efforts and combine measurements — an elite group of prospects will rise up mock draft boards once again. Who will it be this year?

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NBA

NBA Daily: Uncovering The Next Rodions Kurucs

The Brooklyn Nets struck gold with second-rounder Rodions Kurucs last year. Which under-the-radar prospect could be the next steal of the draft?

Ben Nadeau

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Zion, Zion, Zion.

With a splash of Ja Morant and R.J. Barrett mixed in for good measure, this college basketball season has been all about Duke’s Zion Williamson. The flash card-worthy facts are astonishing — 18 years-old, 6-foot-7, 285 pounds — but his highlight reel moves, both offensively and defensively, have everybody drooling. And although collegiate and professional onlookers alike wait to hear news of a potential Williamson return — or lack thereof — most franchises won’t have a shot at adding the prodigal teenager during draft season. For others, even picking in the lottery isn’t possible and, for a rare few, selecting at all in the first round is entirely off the table — looking at you, for now, Toronto, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Denver and Dallas.

In those cases, they’ll look for uncut gems and low-profile lottery tickets to take a swing on in picks past No. 30 overall. Recent years have brought renewed plaudits to the second round steal, most notably in regards to Isaiah Thomas’ rise to prominence (No. 60), Malcolm Brogdon’s Rookie of the Year campaign (No. 36) and Nikola Jokić’s MVP-worthy efforts in Denver (No. 41). Still, Thomas was a standout at Washington for three seasons, Brogdon the same over four at Virginia, while Jokić — albeit passed upon by every team in the 2014 NBA Draft at least once — averaged 15.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and earned Adriatic League MVP before he even joined the Nuggets.

Nowadays, there’s Rodions Kurucs. Everybody wants their own Rodions Kurucs.

For those somehow still under a rock, Kurucs has been a welcomed revelation for the Brooklyn Nets in their surprisingly win-laden campaign thus far. The Latvian-born baller was once-hyped as high as a potential lottery selection back in early 2017 before withdrawing from that season’s draft. But as his on-court time waned with Barcelona, his stock dropped so harshly that he would’ve likely gone undrafted just one year later if not for previous scouting by the Nets. Thankfully, the Nets snagged Kurucs at No. 40 overall and expected him to play an entire season with Brooklyn’s G League affiliate on Long Island.

Kurucs, of course, had other plans.

Through an aggressive, fast-paced style of play, Kurucs has been a massive bright spot for the Nets through their first 60 games. After an injury bug hit Brooklyn hard, Kurucs joined the starting lineup and the Nets instantly rattled off 13 wins in their next 18 contests. All in all, he’s averaged 8.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game, including a breakout 24-point performance on 5-for-8 from three-point range against the rival Celtics in January. Those unexpected contributions led Kurucs to a well-deserved spot in All-Star Weekend’s Rising Stars competition, where the 21-year-old finished with 10 points, five assists and four rebounds — and, most importantly, looked the part.

As of today, Kurucs has outside odds on reaching the 2018-19 All-Rookie Second Team and the playoff-hopeful Nets look infinitely more athletic and modern game-ready with the forward on the floor. Perhaps in the know about Kurucs from the get-go, the Brooklyn gave him a fully guaranteed four-year contract, with a team option on that final season, shortly after he was drafted. In no uncertain terms, Kurucs is one of the biggest victories of the 2018 class so far. Kurucs was cheap, young and ready to chip in from opening night, a rarity from second-rounders with very little overseas achievements.

Which is all to pose one simple question: Who is the next Rodions Kurucs?

In order to answer that, there are three important pieces of criteria to hit upon before creating such a list of candidates. First and foremost, the player must be a projected second-rounder — if he’s locked into a guaranteed contract, that’s not a draft day steal, that’s a commitment. Building on that, the player must be a relative unknown to some extent. For instance, everybody knew Thomas’ name after he averaged 16.8 points and 6.1 assists, led the Huskies to the Pac-10 tournament championship and then the NCAA’s bracket-busting second-round back in 2010-11.

Ultimately, Thomas slipped to No. 60 because of concerns over his height — not because he was under-scouted or off radars altogether.

Finally, the next Kurucs must be a natural fit in today’s NBA landscape. Jokić was a unicorn-in-waiting, whereas Kurucs is a 6-foot-9 uber-athletic floor-runner that can provide on both sides of the ball. If Kurucs adds a consistent three-point shot to his repertoire, something he’s focused on all season long, he’ll be a lock in Brooklyn’s young rotation for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, here’s a short-list of contenders that could have a Kurucs-level breakout in 2019-20: Abdoulaye N’Doye, Cholet; Brian Bowen, Sydney Kings; and Darius Bazley, USA.

More popular names like Sekou Doumbouya, Luka Šamanić and Goga Bitadze will continue to garner buzz — particularly following the instant adjustments made by Luka Dončić this season — but all three international prospects have been ranked as a potential first-rounder in the early editions of draft boards, so they don’t qualify for now. Which leaves us with three options — one genuine overseas prospect and two Americans with a couple of unique circumstances.

N’Doye is a 6-foot-6 guard from Dunkirk, France, a 21-year-old that sports a strong physical stature already. Coincidently, he’s garnered comparisons to Frank Ntilikina, another French-born defensive-minded and similarly-sized point guard. Although he’s struggled to find his footing under two different head coaches in two years, Ntilikina still went No. 8 overall not too long ago and N’Doye could project on the same wavelength.

For Cholet of the LNB Pro A, N’Doye has averaged 6.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game on 43.8 percent from three-point range. And for an athlete that puts up a little less than five shots every contest, N’Doye’s jumper looks sturdy, all things considered. Physically, N’Doye frequently appears as if he’s in an entirely different stratosphere against his competition, often using his quick hands and ridiculously adapt wingspan to spring one-man fastbreaks.

Even if it takes a few seasons for the offense to catch up with the rest of his body, envisioning N’Doye as a day one asset on defense doesn’t feel like a major stretch. The French circuit isn’t as competitive as Spain or Turkey, for example, but it’s still the league where Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Clint Capela all earned their stripes before heading stateside — in fact, Cholet was the team that birthed the early beginnings of Rudy Gobert from 2010-13.

So N’Doye, capable of moments like this and this, might be somebody worth keeping an eye on through the springtime.

For Brian Bowen, however, his long-winding journey is far from over, it appears.

Bowen, best known for his involvement in Louisville‘s recent scandal, is trying to claw his way back into draft contention. The quick-fire SparkNotes for the uninitiated: After Bowen was deemed ineligible to play for the Cardinals in 2017-18, the talented scorer tried to transfer to the University of South Caroline, where, following a two-semester NCAA transfer sit-out policy, he could begin rebuilding his NBA resume in early 2019. Instead, Bowen declared for the 2018 NBA Draft despite not participating in any collegiate games, went to the combine, didn’t sign an agent and eventually withdrew before the international deadline.

While this move effectively killed any lingering NCAA dreams, it left the G League and overseas route open as well as his NBA Draft eligibility. So, long story short, Bowen then signed with the Sydney Kings of the Australian NBL and has been working there since August in hopes of jumping back on front office radars with a full season of experience under his belt. Bowen may not have become the breakout star the Kings expected, but the 20-year-old has held his own in a decently competitive league.

The 6-foot-7 forward has tallied just 6.5 points and 3.1 rebounds over 28 games for Sydney — still, it’s far too early to give up on Bowen. Remember, it’s only a few years removed from Bowen being ranked as ESPN’s 14th-best high schooler in an absolutely stacked class that once included Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr. and more.

Or, in other words, if Bowen declares for the 2019 NBA Draft and sticks with it this time, he’s got the makings of a perfect second-round homerun swing.

Lastly, there’s Darius Bazley, perhaps one of the most interesting cases in recent draft memory. Bazley, 18, was a former five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American that originally committed to play for Syracuse in 2018-19. At the last moment, Bazley decided to skip college altogether with plans to head to the G League for a season before jumping to the NBA. Before long, the 6-foot-9 southpaw forewent that intermediary league too, announcing that he’d spend the entire year training for the draft instead. And… that’s pretty much where things stand in early January.

Bazley has some impressive high school-level highlights that exhibit his above-average court-running abilities and slender frame — but, as always, those clips can be incredibly deceiving. For now, Bazley has taken up a million-dollar internship at New Balance but he’ll certainly land somewhere in second round come draft season. Of course, this path is close to that of the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, a ceilingless rookie that withdrew from Western Kentucky to train in private for the draft just last year. In order to keep the air of mysteriousness surrounding his on-court talents, Robinson dropped out of the NBA Draft Combine as well.

Ultimately, Robinson fell to No. 36th overall, where the Knicks were more than happy to grab the potential-laden center. If Robinson hadn’t missed a 14-game chunk already — and stayed out of foul trouble a bit better — he’d be spoken of as highly as Kurucs has been so far. Of note, over Robinson’s 43 appearances, he’s already brought in 26 multi-block efforts — for a second-rounder, that’s playing with house money. Naturally, Bazley has a tremendous distance to go before he even reaches Robinson territory, but even this path to the NBA has found recent triumphs — he’ll just need to land in the right spot.

Zion Williamson is an otherworldly, once-in-a-generation prospect, just like Luka Dončić was before him. But while fans and general managers deservedly salivate over those teenagers, most franchises must dig far deeper to unearth under-the-radar contributors. Kurucs’ immediate accomplishments will bode well for front offices that continue to do their due diligence on late-round rookies. The Nets’ savviness has landed them a talented youngster at a multi-year cost-controlled price — but now it’s an outcome that the other 29 other teams will all look to replicate come June.

Between now and the NBA Draft, it’s all about uncovering the next Rodions Kurucs or Mitchell Robinson — but who will it be?

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