Top 25 Prospects in Sweet 16
The 2014 NCAA Tournament gets back underway tonight with four games in the Sweet 16. By the time the weekend has come to a close, only four teams will be remaining in the hunt for the national championship. Many of the top NBA draft prospects, like Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Creighton’s Doug McDermott among others are simply spectators at this point as their respective teams have been eliminated. So, here’s a look at the top 25 draft prospects playing on in the season’s final weeks.
Julius Randle – Kentucky, Forward
Far too often this year Randle has gotten left out of the top three conversation in favor of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Now that he’s still playing and they’re watching from home, though, he has the opportunity to move past at least one of them, if not more. He’s had a double-double in both of Kentucky’s tournament games, and he had the most double-doubles of any Division I player this season (22). He was actually just four assists shy of a triple-double in the Wildcats’ upset of Wichita State.
Aaron Gordon – Arizona, Forward
All season long Gordon has been strong and steady, but that hasn’t gained him the same amount of headlines as say Randle’s breakout performances or Wiggins’ offensive outbursts. He continues to grow at a rapid rate, though. He looked phenomenal against Gonzaga and if he continues to dominate in multiple facets on both ends of the floor, he’ll bully his way back into the top four discussion as well. Right now, he’s projected to go somewhere in the five-to-10 range.
Gary Harris – Michigan State, Guard
Harris passed on potentially being a first-round pick last year and has not done anything to play his way out of that range. He’s blessed with good size, strength and athleticism for his position. He’s one of the top shooting guard prospects in this class and is a likely lottery pick. If he continues to be assertive and lead the way for the Spartans, the top 10 is not out of the question.
Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky, Center
Cauley-Stein’s sophomore season has been much like his freshmen campaign. All of the tools are there for a really dominant force, but he’s just not able to put everything together on a regular basis yet. The time when he is able to do that may not come until long after his collegiate career is done. That would scare away a lot of teams, but Cauley-Stein is an athletic, mobile seven footer with really great shot blocking skills. He’s still going to go in the first round, probably even the late teens, just because of his defensive potential alone.
Montrezl Harrell – Louisville, Forward
While Harrell is an incredible specimen physically with great athleticism, he’s nothing NBA teams haven’t seen before. What sets him apart is his motor. Harrell doesn’t have an off switch, he goes hard every second he’s on the floor and typically when you combine that kind of hustle and effort with serious natural talent, you have a good pro on your hands. Harrell is a mid-first rounder as of right now, but he’s only a sophomore so it’s feasible that a lottery team could take him before then, especially if Louisville’s run keeps going.
James Young – Kentucky, Forward
Guilty of being inconsistent like all of Kentucky’s freshmen, Young has been all over draft boards this season. One minute he’s a lottery pick, the next he’s on the first round bubble. With the offensive gifts he’s blessed with, it’s hard to imagine him falling past the first round, no matter how Kentucky’s season finishes. However, if Young can show that he can help in other ways even when his shot isn’t falling, he stands a chance to work his way back into the teens as long as they stay alive.
Nik Stauskas – Michigan, Guard
With last year’s leading scorer and playmaker Trey Burke gone and running the show for the Utah Jazz, Stauskas has become the star in the backcourt for Michigan this season. He’s one of the premier shooters in the country, but he’s proving to be a very capable threat off of the dribble as well. Stauskas is now regarded as one of the top shooting guards in the class and a likely mid first round pick.
Adreian Payne – Michigan State, Forward
There’s no denying that being younger is an advantage when it comes to the NBA Draft, but Payne has laid out the blueprint for how to still end up a first round pick if you end up staying around for four years. Payne has gotten better each year and has exploded in his final season of eligibility, looking like one of the best stretch four options in the class. Whereas he was looked at as a potential second rounder before, he’s now a virtual lock to go in the first.
Kyle Anderson – UCLA, Forward
This has been a money making year for Anderson, but a lot of credit is due to Bruins head coach Steve Alford’s willingness to play him to his strengths. A lot of coaches would try to confine Anderson to playing in the post, focusing primarily on rebounding and scoring in the interior. Instead, he’s allowed Anderson to play the point guard position, where he’s consistently flirted with triple-doubles while being the most difficult cover in the game. It’s unknown whether an NBA team will be willing to do the same, but once you get past the first few picks it’s all about the reward outweighing the risk – and with Anderson, the reward could be pretty great.
Jordan Adams – UCLA, Guard
After missing out on the tournament last year due to a broken foot, Adams is making the most of this year’s run. He’s been one of the top scorers in the field, putting up an efficient 20 points a game. As a sophomore who has improved across the board this season Adams is now looked at as a late first rounder. He’ll be strongly by every team outside of the lottery who is looking for instant offense off of their bench, though, because few can fill it up like he can.
Aaron Harrison – Kentucky, Guard
These past, couple of weeks Aaron has found his groove within the Kentucky offense even more so than his brother, Andrew, has. He’s been playing an extremely efficient brand of basketball and is shooting it particularly well from beyond the arc, where he has made 15 of his last 31 attempts. With his ability to play his position at the next level not in question like Andrew, Aaron’s stock may justify leaving at season’s end. He’s a viable selection in the later portion of the first round right now and he can still climb back up even higher.
Andrew Harrison – Kentucky, Guard
This season, Andrew has not provided the immediate impact at the point guard position as hoped. There was the expectation that he would thrive running the dribble-drive offense that helped Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Marquis Teague all become first round picks, but it didn’t have the same effect for Andrew. Instead, it casted doubt on his ability to run a pro-style offense. He’s significantly improved as a facilitator as of late and he showed a lot of toughness by playing so well against Wichita State with a hyperextended elbow. Getting back in the first round is likely going to take a title run, but Andrew’s stock has come back up after plummeting early.
Shabazz Napier – UConn, Guard
Few players in the tournament mean more to their respective teams than Napier does to the Huskies. He’s been their heart and soul this year and he’s coming off of one of his most impressive performances in a Round of 32 upset of Villanova. His stock has been held back by questions about his decision making and inability to finish around the rim, but surviving past this weekend could get him into the late first round conversation.
Zach LaVine – UCLA, Guard
There is enough legitimate interest in LaVine for him to justify being one-and-done. However, his role in the surging Bruins’ rotation has diminished here in recent weeks and they haven’t missed much of a beat despite his contributions dwindling. He’s a first round talent, though, and if he doesn’t believe that he’s going to be the primary ballhandler in the Bruins’ offense next year, he could bolt. If he does so without a breakout game in the tournament, he should prepare himself to potentially enter the league as a second round pick.
Nick Johnson – Arizona, Guard
Johnson has done his draft stock a lot of good this season. One of the most complete shooting guards in the class, Johnson has gone from off the radar to a major factor on it. At 6’3 he has a size disadvantage working against him, but that hasn’t prevented him from getting into the top half of the second round discussion. It’s still not out of the question from him to play his way into the late first.
Jarnell Stokes – Tennessee
Like Randle, Stokes has been a double-double machine. He’s coming off of a monster 17-point, 18-rebound, five-assist outing against Mercer. The Volunteers are playing with the house’s money right now, as they’re further than anyone expected them to be. Many thought they would actually be in the NIT, not the Sweet 16. As a strong, blue collar big man Stokes’ stock now sits pretty comfortably in the middle of the second round, with the potential to keep climbing.
Glenn Robinson III – Michigan, Forward
Robinson likely would have been a first round draft pick had he left last year and his decision to stay hasn’t helped his stock dramatically. In fact, he’s slipped on most draft boards, some out of the first round. Robinson’s perceived upside isn’t as high as it was last year because he’s frankly been average this season. The hope was that he’d shine in a featured role, much like Stauskas has. Instead, he’s regressed in some aspects despite having more of an opportunity. A big game could really provide his stock a much needed jolt, should he decide to leave, which is no longer a given.
Russ Smith – Louisville, Guard
With the size of a point guard but the game and mentality of a shooting guard, the ceiling for Smith’s draft stock has always been low. It certainly doesn’t line up with his productivity and accomplishments. He could legitimately go into the draft with back-to-back Final Four appearances, potentially even championships. That will have him being classified as a winner, not a tweener. The time for him to try and be a point guard is long gone, Smith simply needs to do what he does at a high level. That should help secure him a spot in the top half of the second round.
Dwight Powell – Stanford
After going without a field goal against New Mexico, a team with a strong and physical frontline, Powell could not afford to lay another egg against Kansas. Luckily for his stock, he came up with a strong performance and now his team is a win against Dayton from going to the Elite Eight. Chasson Randle is viewed as the catalyst for their success, but Powell may have the most pro potential. He’s a versatile big man offensively who is currently looked at as a high second rounder.
DeAndre Kane – Iowa State, Guard
Kane’s Cyclones lost a big piece in Georges Niang, who will miss the rest of the tournament with a broken foot. It’s going to be largely up to him and Melvin Ejim to pick up the slack in his absence. Kane is old for a draft prospect (he’ll be 25 in June), but the NBA is a man’s game and at 6’4, 200 lbs he’s certainly that. Concerns about his upside and ability to run a team at the next level have kept him off of most draft boards, but he’s been producing at an undeniable rate and is starting to get some looks as a potential late second rounder.
Jordan McRae – Tennessee, Guard
This season, McRae has posted career-highs nearly across the board. He’s had a particularly strong showing in the tournament so far, going for 20 in two of the Volunteers’ three wins. He’s likely to hear his name called in the second round by a team needing a quality offensive option off of the wing. His lack of strength and ball handling skills make it hard for him to move past the mid-to-late portion, though.
Cory Jefferson – Baylor, Forward
Jefferson is one of those guys who should really impress teams in his workouts with his length, mobility and explosiveness. Proving that he can use those skills to win basketball games is where the real money is made, though, and Jefferson is doing that. He’s been at the heart of the Bears’ turnaround. He’s a surefire second rounder right now, but with a frame that looks like it can support the strength he’ll need to add at the next level, his stock is far from peaked.
Melvin Ejim – Iowa State, Forward
In a conference littered with future lottery picks, Ejim was named the Player of the Year. However, he’s severely undersized for his position at 6’6 without the skillset to make the transition to another position smoothly. That’s kept Ejim out of the draft talk for most of his whole career, but a lot of eyes are on him now with Niang out. He may not be able to play his way into the top 60, but what Ejim does from here on out will certainly help him earn an immediate summer league invite and quality offers overseas.
Isaiah Austin – Baylor, Forward
Austin made waves midseason by admitting that he was blind in one eye. Now he’s making waves with his play as he’s helped lead the Bears into the Sweet 16 after it looked like they may not even make the tournament at one point this season. He’s fallen out of first round conversation, making leaving a risky proposition, but there’s always room for a seven footer with good shot blocking instincts and legit shooting ability to climb.
Patric Young – Florida, Forward
Young came to Florida with high expectations and the belief that he could end up being a high lottery pick. He never developed into that kind of prospect, but he has really come along for the Gators. He’s now one of the premier defensive presences in the country. He may not be looked at as a future star anymore, but he knows who he is and what he does well. That could end up being more important down the line. Young’s stock is toward the bottom portion of the second round currently. If the Gators win a national championship, though, a defensive-oriented team drafting early in the second could see him as a particularly easy piece to fit in.
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