With the NCAA tournament kicking off this Thursday, college basketball is top of mind. We are reading articles, visiting psychics, and throwing darts to perfect brackets. For the more NBA-focused hoop fans, the tournament also provides a huge first dose of exposure to the upcoming draft class.
After scouring the top eleven national draft analysts’ boards1, I’ve compiled a consensus top 30 for draft-watching purposes. This provides a good look at where these prospects are currently viewed by pundits, including those who could interest the Jazz, who pick twice in this June’s NBA Draft.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each player from the consensus top 30 who will be on display in the tournament.
Seven of the players in the consensus top 10 will appear the NCAA tournament this year. This class is an incredibly deep and young class, especially strong in this range. The average age of the top 10 is 19.3 year, all freshman. In fact, our first sophomore doesn’t show up until No. 16. Here is a quick breakdown on each of the players in this range that are in the tournament.
This young point guard is the best passer in the draft. He has fantastic size that will allow him to play both guard positions. While his shooting mechanics are very ugly, it works for him as he has hit 41.0% of his threes this season. Ball’s defensive instincts, when combined with his size and length, are tantalizing, though he will need to add strength as he makes the transition to the NBA. He is only 19 years old, but Ball seems to still be learning how to use his athleticism to score efficiently. The biggest potential issue with Ball is his motor. He often seems to play without urgency, which could signal a “too cool for school” mentality that will delay development. Ball has the physical tools to be a franchise-changing point guard, and leading UCLA on a tournament run would be a nice way to gain momentum as the number one pick.
Jackson doesn’t get enough talk as the number one pick, but he should strongly be considered. This wing is one of the most athletic players in the draft, has a high motor, and competes on offense and defense. At 7.2 rebounds per game, Jackson is a very capable rebounder, which almost always translates to the next level. All that being said, the thing that is so alluring about the Kansas wing is his passing. He has the ability to pass and run an offense from the forward position, similar to how Utah’s Gordon Hayward does for the Jazz. Jackson is a jump shot away from being a superstar, which is why I would take him over Ball. Make sure to pay attention to Jackson this tournament.
Duke could go all the way in the tournament, so chances are you will get to see Tatum play. He has good size and is a decent athlete. Tatum is a very good isolation scorer, which could lead to him having a great tournament. Tatum pairs this ISO game with a decent midrange game, but this often causes him to be a bit ball dominant. The range on his jump shot is questionable but he is shooting 88.6% from the free throw line, which shows potential. Tatum could be a big-time scorer in the NBA, but he will have to learn to pass and create for others, be more consistent on defense, and be more efficient on offense if he is going to shoot as frequently as he does.
Scouts love Isaac’s potential because he is a 6’11 small forward who can also play the power forward position. Isaac has shown three point range while also averaging 1.5 blocks per game. At 205 lbs., he is rather skinny and will need to add some weight in the NBA, but the allure is definitely there as he has a similar physical build to Kevin Durant. Isaac’s production has really slowed lately, so anything out of him in the tournament will be big for his draft stock.
Monk is one of my favorite players in this class and will certainly end up higher than seventh on my big board. Monk is the leading scorer of this group at 20.4 points per game. He is one of the best shooters in the draft, and though he can be a bit inconsistent, flashes potential to be one of the best shooters in the NBA. Unlike many shooters, Monk is not purely a spot up guy. He attacks the basket and uses his incredible athleticism to finish at the hoop. The biggest limitation to Monk is the fact that he is only 6’4″ and is not a point guard. He has the handles to play point at times, a la Lou Williams, but he is a scoring guard better suited at the two. Make sure to watch Monk this tournament, as you never know when he could go off. He scored 47 points against No. 1 seed North Carolina, so he does not shy away from the big stage.
I was a little shocked at how little notice Markkanen was getting by basketball fans, but he made sure to change that with a huge conference tournament that included a 29-point game versus UCLA. Offensively, Markkanen is very similar to Porzingis. He is incredibly mobile and can move with the ball in his hands. At 7’0″, Markkanen shot a sizzling 43.2% from three and 82.4% from the free throw line. The difference between Markkanen and Porzingis is the defense. Markkanen has the tools to be a good defender, however, he was not a great rim protector with only 0.5 blocks per game. You would also hope for more than 7.1 rebounds per game from a guy with his length. If Markkanen can improve his defense and rebounding, he has the chance to be special.
Fox is the last point guard on the big board, proving that point guard is very top heavy this year. Fox loves to use his top-knotch speed to push the ball in transition where he is hard to stop. This speed will be even more valuable in NBA spacing. The defense that Fox plays is just as attractive as his speed. He doesn’t back down on the offensive end and has decent size come go up against NBA point guards. He is a decent distributor and will be able to run an NBA offense. The biggest issue for Fox is his lack of shooting range: 24.2% from three.
Again, this group of players is incredible young, 19.4 years old on average. There are only two non-freshman in this group and the oldest is a 20.1-year-old sophomore. This is extremely rare for a draft class, as this is generally the range where the good young prospects are off the board and scouts either have to pick older players or players with warts.
Patton is the first center to appear on our board at number twelve. This is a weaker class for big men, and that makes Patton all the more interesting to scouts. Patton is very efficient offensively with an eFG% of 70.8%. A big reason he is able to maintain this high efficiency is that he gets himself open for dunks and lobs. He is constantly running in transition and is a threat to roll to the basket. Patton has some good post moves, so he is not solely a Rudy Gobert/Tyson Chandler type offensively. He has good athleticism and shows defensive potential, but his rebounding numbers are concerning.
There isn’t a harder player to evaluate in this draft that Bridges. Everything about him screams NBA player. When you watch Bridges, you notice his NBA athleticism, perfect size, and physicality. He has a pretty good handle that allows him to score easily in one-on-one scenarios. His passing has improved throughout the year and looks like a real weapon. Bridges is averaging 1.6 blocks per game and is proving to be a good defender. Averaging 2.5 turnovers per game is a concern for a non-point guard. Every once in awhile he makes a key turnover that really makes you question his thought process. Bridges’ jump shot has begun falling recently, but there is some doubt that he will ever be a consistent three-point shooter in the NBA.
Collins leads the consensus draft board in PER at 36.4 and is nearly averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. At 6’11 and 225 lbs., Collins has good size for an NBA power forward. He is a great rebounder and a decent shot blocker (1.6). Collins moves well without the ball as he cuts to the hoop frequently. He has a decent midrange jumper, but he missed the only three he took in his two years at Wake Forest. He does shoot 76.1% from the free throw line, but it is unlikely that he ever becomes a three point threat.
Leaf is the best stretch four in this class besides Markkanen and hit 45.3% of his threes. The UCLA Bruin is athletic and can finish well at the rim. Leaf is also a fantastic passer, who you can envision being used as a bit of a point-foward in the NBA. He averaged 2.6 assists per game, which is pretty good considering they have such a ball-dominant guard in Ball. A 6’9″, 215 lbs., he is a bit of a tweener and needs to add some muscle if he is going to have further success in the NBA. Defensively, he is inconsistent. He has had piled up a decent amount of blocks, but also has some terrible defensive moments.
Giles was the top recruited player out of high school and may thought there was no way he wouldn’t be the top pick in the draft. Chris Webber was the common comparison thrown out. Two ACL injuries later, the future is now foggier for Giles. Because he is recovering from a knee injury, Giles has only played in 24 games this season and is averaging 11.9 minutes per game. He hasn’t looked like he did before the injury in these limited minutes and that is causing scouts concern about taking Giles in the top ten. A strong tournament or a strong combine could easily vault Giles back up the draft board because of his skill set. When healthy, he is the most athletic big man in this draft. Giles has an insane motor and plays extremely hard on both offense and defense. He can defend and rebound at a high level, while also scoring in the paint. The only real question around Giles is whether he’ll fully recover from injury setbacks. If he does, he has the talent to be the best player in this draft.
Other than Giles, Collins is getting the least minutes of any player to this point in out consensus draft board at 17.1. Unlike Giles however, he continues to impress with every single one of those minutes. He is a mobile seven footer who can shoot from deep while also finishing at the rim. Collins is averaging 13.3 rebounds per 40 minutes even though he lacks strength. Defense isn’t Collins’ strong suit, but he shows effort and potential. If Collins continutes to put up solid minutes in the tournament and has a good combine showing, he could end up going in the lottery due to the lack of big men in this draft.
When you see Bam Adebayo, you instantly think he looks like a young Dwight Howard. He plays fantastic defense and is a great shot blocker. Bam has the amazing explosiveness that allows him to finish at the rim efficiently. For whatever reason that explosiveness and strong body is not translating to rebounds, which is concerning. Bam still seems to be learning the game and if he can develop his basketball IQ he could become a starting big in this league. Jazz fans should pay attention to Bam during the tournament because he could be on the board for one of their picks, and there many not be a higher upside guy in that range. With Derrick Favors pending free agency in 2018, Trey Lyles struggling, and Boris Diaw a possible cap casualty this summer, the Jazz could be looking to fortify their big man rotation.
Jackson is a combo forward playing for the No. 1 seed North Carolina. The Tarheel is incredibly strong and you can see that he has the makes of an NBA player in his body alone. Jackson has improved his shot and is shooting 0.24 PPP better on pullups and 0.25 better on spot ups in his junior year compared to his freshman year. He isn’t a great athlete, which is the biggest knock on his game.
Abigbogu may be the rawest prospect in the tournament. He is strong, athletic, hustles non-stop, and has the NBA body that general managers dream of. The young Bruin is a great shot blocker averaging 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes. However, as mentioned he is insanely raw.
Kennard is a really fun wing to watch as he can shoot it from anywhere and has high basketball IQ. The Blue Devil is averaging 20.1 points on 49.9% shooting and 44.3% shooting from deep. While he does not have the ideal size of athleticism, he hustles and knows where he needs to be at all times. The question with Kennard is will he be able to guard shooting guards in the NBA. They are going to be faster, bigger, and stronger than him so he will have to learn to defend players with a nightly advantage.
This Junior from Baylor may be a bit of a tweener, but he is a fantastic rebounder. Motley is a bouncy four that can finish above the rim with his athleticism. He has some great potential on defense and could eventually guard both threes and fours in the NBA thanks to his size and athleticism. Motley has a developing face-up game and a mid-range jumper that will pair nicely with his athleticism. Currently Motley has no semblance of a three-point shot, and his free throw shooting has not been great either.
Mitchell is insanely athletic, though he is undersized for a shooting guard. The sophomore makes his money by slashing and driving to the basket. His three point shot is not broken and he hit 36.3% of his 6.6 attempts per game, and his 80.0% from the free throw line point towards potential to improve. Mitchell uses his athleticism well to make himself a great rebounder for someone of his size. Defensively he has the potential to be great as his motor runs non-stop and he has the speed to keep up with NBA guards. The real issue with Mitchell is his size, he is really a shooting guard in a point guards body.