Top NBA Prospect for Each Team in the Sweet 16
The tournament field has been trimmed from 68 to 16, and we’ve already seen quite a few prominent teams with NBA talent eliminated. Players such as Otto Porter of Georgetown, Anthony Bennett of UNLV, Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, and Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State are considered elite prospects in June’s NBA Draft, but they are now watching the tournament from their dorm room couches. The remaining 16 teams may still have a shot at the title, but most seem to lack that one guy who is capable of going off for 40 in any game, like some of the above players. However, these teams are still chalk-full of NBA talent. I’ve selected one player from each team and ranked them from 1-16 so you can keep an eye on specific players and see if they’d be a good fit for your favorite NBA team. And also, you probably need something to do, considering the fact that your bracket has probably already been busted. It’s March Madness, baby!!!
16. Cleanthony Early, Forward, Wichita State
At the bottom of our list is Early a 6’8”, 215 lbs junior forward for the Shockers, who averages 13.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. A true shooting % of .564 shows his efficiency, as well as his 25.6 PER in his first year out of community college (keep in mind college PER’s are significantly higher than the NBA’s). Early won’t be coming out… early… and likely won’t be drafted after his senior year. However, his size and leadership for Wichita State (16 points in the Gonzaga upset, 21 against Pitt) will probably land him in the D-League and give him a shot at making the league someday.
15. Vander Blue, Guard, Marquette
Blue, a junior, has been the absolute definition of clutch for the Golden Eagles. He scored 16 points, including the game winning layup with 1 second left against Davidson before lighting Butler up for 29 with a barrage of huge 3’s at the end of the game. His regular season numbers are also impressive at 14.8 points, 3 rebounds and 1.8 assists, but his mark of 2.2 turnovers per game is a red flag for a 6’4” guard. However, Marquette seems to produce solid players in the NBA who find roles somewhere, like Jimmy Butler, Wesley Matthews, Jae Crowder, Steve Novak, and… forgetting someone… oh yeah, Dwayne Wade. Blue has a chance to be drafted after his senior season late in the second round, and could have a role on a contender as a high-energy bench guard.
14. Damyean Dotson, Guard, Oregon
While I love me some Arsalan Kazemi, the senior forward is only 6’7” and doesn’t have the athleticism or potential that Dotson does. Damyean is a 6’5” shooting guard who is long and rangy, and whose shot has developed well in as the season has gone by. In 7 games in March (2 regular season, 3 conference tournament, 2 NCAA tournament) Dotson has shot a lights-out .457% from 3. His game against St. Louis was particuarly impressive, going 5-6 from deep and scoring 23 points, leading the Ducks to an upset over the 4 seed Billikens. Dotson is only a freshman and has room to develop, so he could actually end up being better than a lot of players on this list.
13. Ramon Galloway, Guard, La Salle
Galloway is a 6’3” senior guard who transferred after two years at South Carolina to play in his hometown of Philadelphia at La Salle. As a upperclassmen he’s averaged 12.6 points on .438% shooting from the field and impressively .426% from behind the 3-point arc. He’s been clutch in the tournament, with games of 21, 19, and 24 against Boise St, Kansas St, and Ole Miss. Galloway may be undersized but will get a look from teams, possibly in the second round, due to his elite shooting from deep. He reminds me of Andrew Goudelock from the College of Charleston, who is of similar size and shooting numbers, who has played sparingly with the Lakers in two years and is currently in the D-League.
12. Patric Young, Center/Forward, Florida
Patric Young is the junior starting center for the Gators, and stands at a solid 6’9” 250 lbs. A highly recruited, 5 star player out of high school, he hasn’t quite lived up to his hype, but has still had a productive career at Florida with room to grow. The past two years he’s been good for 10 points, 6 boards, and strong defense game in and game out. His production isn’t that far behind former Gator big-man Joakim Noah. Young would actually have almost the same numbers as Noah if his free throw percentage didn’t flirt with the .500 mark. Young is still raw, athletic, and teeming with potential. If he were to leave this year, a late 1st round team would take a long look at him, while he would be more likely to go 2nd round.
11. Shane Larkin, Point Guard, Miami (Fl)
Larkin leads the Hurricanes in points and assists per game in their best basketball season in recent memory. The junior point guard may only stand 5’11”, but he shoots a staggering .486% from the field and .406% from beyond the arc. Larkin had a huge ACC tournament, scoring 20, 23, and 28 points while also only sitting for four minutes combined all 3 games. Shane never came out of the championship game against North Carolina. His leadership, resilience, and shooting ability will makeup for his short stature, but not enough to make him a guaranteed NBA starter. He does however have the potential to be a first round pick and to have a productive career for years to come.
10. Nick Johnson, Guard, Arizona
Another very highly touted high school prospect, Johnson, a 6’3” sophomore has the potential to develop into an Eric Gordon type player, as an slightly undersized shooting guard who not only finds ways to score, but also rebounds and distributes well. Nick improved vastly from his freshman year, jumping from a .369 shooting % all the way to .450%. For all his talent, Johnson only had the 3rd most shot attempts for Arizona this year, a number that’ll increase with leading scorer Mark Lyons’s graduation. If he flourishes in the main role with the Wildcats, Johnson could potentially be a lottery pick.
9. Sherwood Brown, Guard, Florida Gulf Coast University
Admittedly, I may have a slight man-crush on the long-dreaded shooter from this year’s biggest surprise Cinderella, but I think he has a real shot at the NBA following his special senior year at FGCU. A career .384% shooter from 3, with his 6’4”, 200 lbs frame, has an NBA body and skillset. His 24 point, 9 rebound game against the mighty Hoyas of Georgetown came with Otto Porter, one of the best all-around players in the NCAA, guarding him. Brown doesn’t have the elite athleticism or shooting ability to likely be a starter in the NBA, but there’s something about Sherwood that makes him special.
8. Deshaun Thomas, Forward, Ohio State
The leading scorer of the Buckeyes is one of the nation’s top players, but has still not quite lived up to expectations this year. Thomas is averaging 19.7 points per game, but on a not very efficient 15.7 shots. His field goal % dropped from .520 down to .445, but some of that is due to the increased shot output. His 3 point % has stayed steady, and actually raised his free throw shooting by a whole 9 percentage points to 84%. While he hasn’t suffered a free-fall, his draft stock has slipped, and Thomas is generally seen as a mid first rounder at best, and a likely fringe 1st-2nd by many. Deshaun still could provide NBA teams value as a backup small forward with solid shooting abilities and good athleticism.
7. Gorgui Dieng, Center/Forward, Louisville
The junior starting center for the Cardinals is the junior Dieng from Senegal. Gorgui has almost averaged a double-double the last two years, and if you’re a fan of rounding up, then he accomplished that feat this year (10 points, 9.5 rebounds a game). Dieng is a solid 6’11”, but has a terrifying 7’6” wingspan (take a shot, everyone). Raw offensively, he’s generates most of his points in the pick-and-roll and by putbacks. Where he really has some NBA scouts interested is in his athletic ability, motor, and defensive potential, as Dieng has been the Cardinals anchor the last few years, playing on two very good defenses. But his biggest downside is that he is already 23 years old, so it’s unlikely he’ll make a big leap developmental wise. Gorgui is still however a solid first round talent that could go in the teens.
6. Michael Carter-Williams, Point Guard, Syracuse
Carter-Williams is one of the more interesting prospect left in the tournament should he chose to leave after his sophomore season. Standing at 6’5”, his height makes him an unusual fit as a point guard, but once you watch him play, that doubt is laid to rest. Michael has a great handle and is a natural distributor, as evidenced by his 7.6 assists per game. He’s gotten some comps to Kendall Marshall, but that’s not really fair, as Marshall looks like he runs in quicksand while C-W isn’t Ty Lawson, but he does have good speed and footwork. He disappears at times, and is only shooting an alarming 39% from the field, but if this kid figures it out, he’s a lock for the lottery.
5. Mason Plumlee, Forward/Center, Duke
The middle Plumlee just barely edged out Carter-Williams to be our first player in the top 5. Mason has exploded in a huge senior year, leading the Blue Devils in points, rebounds, and blocks, as well as being the emotional leader and the face for a team without any true stars, which is uncommon for Duke. Perhaps most impressive of the change in Plumlee’s game is his 15 percentage point jump in free throw shooting, from an abysmal 52% last year to a respectable 67% this year. That big change shows how dedicated he is to improving his craft and being the best basketball player he can be, which is something that the NBA scouts have taken notice of. Plumlee could very well go in the lottery for a team looking for a solid third big man, similar to a less athletic version of Derrick Favors. These are sorts of players that you look back on 10 years later and wonder why your favorite team passed on.
4. Jeff Withey, Center/Forward, Kansas
My inclusion of Jeff Withey in this article means that I’m leaving Ben McLemore out, despite the fact that he’s projected by most to go in the top 3. The reason for this is two fold; one, he’s played pretty awful in the tournament, and two, WITHEY HAS PLAYED AWESOME AND I LOVE HIM. He could very well be the next LARRY SANDERS! Yeah, JEFF WITHEY! looks pretty good. The fifth year senior was a complete unknown until he exploded in his junior year, jumping from 6 minutes to 25, and the production came with it. Jeff’s final year in Lawrence has produced an impressive 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and of course, 3.9 blocks per game. While Mason Plumlee may have more impressive numbers, I have Withey ranked higher mainly because of that last statistic. To delve further into it, Withey’s block percentage (number of shots taken while he’s on the court divided by number of blocks by Withey) is an incredible 13.7%. That is the same percent that the single man block-party known as Anthony Davis had at Kentucky last year. Jeff is also a legit 7 footer, and he’ll make some NBA team very happy for years to come with WITHEY! roaming the paint. Shot-blocking is an elite skill that translates at the NBA level, meaning Withey will end up a first round selection.
3. Trey Burke, Point Guard, Michigan
If Trey were a few inches taller (he’s listed at 6’0”), there’s a good chance he’d be at the top of my list. Burke is one of the four finalists for the Naismith Award, and rightfully so. He’s lead Michigan to it’s best season since the Fab Five days on 18.8 points, 6.7 assists, and 1.6 steals a game. My favorite part of his game is that from his freshman year to this year he upped his assist total (4.6 to 6.7) while dropping his turnovers (2.8 to 2.2), all while playing one less minute per game! That is truly impressive improvement. It shouldn’t even be a question as to if Burke is a lottery pick. I don’t want to throw a Chris Paul comparison out there, because that’s not fair to anyone, but his game certainly reminds me of CP3 at times. A much more likely scenario is Ty Lawson. If I’m an NBA GM picking in the top 10 and need a true point guard, I’d pounce on Trey Burke as soon as I can.
2. Gary Harris, Shooting Guard, Michigan St
Gary Harris is awesome. Simple as that. On a pretty experienced Spartan team, Harris is second in points as a freshman at 13.1 points a game and has a very impressive True Shooting Percentage for his age, at 60%. He’s been pretty consistent all year long, even scoring 18 points on 7-13 shooting in his second game of his career in a victory against Kansas. But Gary’s best game of the year came in the 3rd round against Memphis, where he scored a career high 23 points on just 9 shot attempts. He’s still developing on the defensive end, but he has the work ethic, quick feet, and strength to be a good defender in the NBA. If he leaves this year, Gary might not be a lottery pick, as scouts would like to see another year of him against the tough Big 10, but if he takes a step in the right direction, look for Harris to go in the top 5 of the 2014 NBA Draft.
1. Victor Oladipo, Guard/Forward, Indiana
Really, all you need to know about the Naismith Award favorite is the posted video. But seriously, Oladipo is the real deal. A 6’5” guard with length, and an incredibly high motor, Oladipo has been the source of consistency throughout the Hoosiers season. His lockdown defense and improved jumpshot has catapulted him into the discussion of the number one overall pick, along with Marcus Smart, McLemore, and Nerlens Noel. Let’s just rattle off some of Victor’s stats, here; 59% shooting from the field, 43% from 3, 67% true shooting, 7.7 win shares, 126.3 offensive rating and 86.7 defensive rating. Basically, he’s been unstoppable on both ends of the court this year for Indiana. While his offensive game likely won’t stay this boiling hot forever, and won’t translate perfectly to the NBA, in a draft class full of not very many sure things, Victor is the type of player who is almost bust-proof because of his defense. Worst case scenario is that he ends up a level headed version of Tony Allen, which any team would LOVE to have. I see quite a bit of Andre Iguodala in Oladipo. A long, productive NBA career awaits him after this season, likely his last as a Hoosier. Essentially, there is no Hasheem Thabeet in him. Since Creighton, my hometown team, was eliminated against Duke, and assuming that Florida Gulf Coast finally succumbs to being a 15-seed, I’m pulling for Mr. Oladipo to cut down the nets.