Draft Watch: NCAA Opening Rounds
Now that the field of 68 has been determined for the 2013 NCAA Final Four tournament, it’s officially time to start filling out brackets and figuring out how to sneak a few streaming telecasts in during your workday.
For basketball fans that primarily follow the NBA, however, there’s another reason to get invested in this year’s tournament: all those top NBA draft prospects.
So many players make or break themselves in the NCAA tournament, and NBA teams absolutely do take into consideration the way a young player performs when the pressure is on. It’s no coincidence, then, that many of the players projected as first-round picks in this coming June’s draft play for teams that are projected to win at least a couple of games in the tourney.
However, as we’ve seen with impending Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, whose Weber State team didn’t even make the tournament last year, players don’t necessarily have to get out of the first round to have a tremendous NBA impact.
This year, there are a number of players projected as first- or second-round picks that probably aren’t going to make it past their first game of the tourney, so if you’re hoping to get a look at some really solid NBA prospects from one of those teams, you had better tune in on Day One and enjoy them while you can.
The following is a list of the most talented players who aren’t likely to make it very deep into the bracket:
C.J. Leslie, SF/PF, North Carolina State
There is a lot to love about Leslie, who is one of only a very small handful of players on this list who was considered a lottery pick at one point, mostly because he’s long and athletic enough to transition his game to the NBA pretty smoothly. He’s a great finisher and is explosive enough to get the rim at will, and with a wingspan over 7’1”, he’s long enough to defend a number of different positions at the next level. He’s a little stringy, so there will have to be some weight training at some point in his near future, but he’s incredibly fun to watch and absolutely should be a first-round selection come June.
Lorenzo Brown, PG, North Carolina State
Leslie’s teammate at N.C. State also seems destined for the NBA, as 6’5” point guards with his athleticism and court vision absolutely are assets in the pro game. He does turn the ball over a lot, though, and doesn’t have a great jumpshot, but he has improved enough in both areas to warrant first-round consideration for teams at the end of the first round/top of the second round looking for help at the one.
Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego State
Along with Leslie, Franklin is probably the best player we’ll barely see in this upcoming NCAA tournament, and that’s a shame considering his offensive talent. Franklin’s calling card is his scoring, and he can do it from all over the floor. The problem is that he’s not a terribly consistent scorer, and some of his decision-making has been called into question over the course of his college basketball career. Despite that, he has gotten better at finding open teammates, and he rebounds well for a guard. Plus, he’s still relatively raw, which means he’s got plenty of room to grow. It’s easy to see teams getting more and more excited about Franklin as the draft gets closer.
Allen Crabbe, SG, California
Crabbe is the purest of shooters on this list, and one of his strengths has always been the flawless mechanics of his jumper. Not only does he move well without the ball, but he’s also tall enough to get his shot off over most college defenders. He’s an efficient scorer, including from deep, and that’s the sort of thing that gets NBA scouts excited. He does struggle to create his own shot, and he’s not particularly athletic, but he’s definitely good enough to get drafted, perhaps even at the tail end of the first round.
Mike Muscala, C, Bucknell
On the one hand, Muscala, who is just a shade under 7’0” tall, has absolutely dominated the competition on the mid-major level over the course of his three seasons at Bucknell, but on the other hand, Bucknell really doesn’t see the cream of the crop in terms of opponents, which means it’s hard for scouts to gauge just how good he’ll be against tough NBA talent. In any event, his back-to-the-basket game is above average, and despite his size he can do some scoring from farther out, as well. He’s also a good rebounder and defender, and there will be plenty of organizations that hope optimistically that he can do those things well at the pro level.
Phil Pressey, PG, Missouri
Pressey is a really talented pure point guard, as evidenced by the fact that five his teammates averaged double-digits in scoring this season. The best point guards are the ones that make their teammates better, and that’s absolutely the case with Pressey, who by the way also averaged double-digits in scoring himself this year. He’s undersized for an NBA point guard, but that hasn’t kept the even-smaller Isaiah Thomas from wreaking havoc in Sacramento, has it?
Brandon Paul, SG, Illinois
Paul is very fun to watch when he’s at his best, but when his hot streaks cool off, things can get pretty ugly. Generally speaking, Paul is a great competitor with a nose for scoring, and he’s athletic enough to get to the basket pretty easily despite being only 6’4”. However, he’s painfully inconsistent, and that’s what will likely push him to the middle of the second round come draft time. The Illini have the potential to be a sneaky good tourney team, so a win or two over the course of the next few weeks would go a long ways towards helping his draft stock, but that’s less likely than a one-and-done situation for U of I.
Andre Roberson, PF, Colorado
After having averaged a double-double for two straight years playing small forward, it’s no wonder Roberson is gaining steam as a potential first-round selection this summer. He’s a high-energy guy that loves to crash the boards and defend, but since he’ll be playing small forward at the pro level he’s going to have to develop more of an outside game. He’s a hard worker, though, and NBA teams love guys like that.
Nate Wolters, PG, South Dakota State
As one of the rare NBA draft prospects that has actually played all four years of college ball, Wolters is something of a rarity in this class. There are only maybe five or six seniors with first-round potential, and while nobody believes Wolters will be taken that high, he has been one of the most productive players in the country over the course of the last few seasons. At 6’4” he’s got great size for an NBA point guard, and he’s proven he can absolutely fill it up at the mid-major level. He’s a smart player, but he’s not all that athletic or quick. He also didn’t fare particularly well against tougher competition this past season, which means he’ll slip down the board in the second round. Despite all that, he’s an exciting college player and should be very to watch in round one.
There’s a very good chance that all of the aforementioned players will be drafted by NBA teams later in the summer, but the likelihood that any of them is still playing by the round of the Sweet Sixteen is not particularly good. Still, we can enjoy them for a game or two during the first weekend of tournament play and see for ourselves what their NBA chances look like.