10 Players to Watch Before They Go Pro

March Madness is officially here, bringing your last chance to watch these stars before they jump to the NBA.

10. Kevon Looney, UCLA

Why you should watch: UCLA was lucky to even make the tournament, and they’re an underdog against Larry Brown’s SMU team. That said, if they have any sort of success in March, it will probably be in large part because of Kevon Looney, the lanky, 6’9” freshman forward who averaged 11.8 points (on 46% from three), 9.2 rebounds.

Which NBA team might draft him: Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets seem like they’re ready to move on from either Kenneth Faried or Wilson Chandler (or both), and Kevon Looney can play either forward spot at the next level. His length and athleticism projects well as a defender and effort guy, and he’d look good playing next to Jusuf Nurkic.

9. Myles Turner, Texas

Why you should watch: Texas is not a very good team, and Myles Turner is not the player he will be one day. But watch him for just one game – and that’s probably all the Longhorns will get – and you’ll see the undeniable talent. He’s 6’11” and shoots 84% from the free throw line. Oh, and he blocks nearly 3 shots in just 22 minutes per game.

Which NBA team might draft him: Orlando Magic. The Magic are a weird, semi-positionless team with young guys who don’t really fit a normal mold. Turner can be another piece, filling in as a power forward next to Nikola Vucevic or playing as a center next to Channing Frye. He also gives the Magic their first real rim protector – a must when you have a ground-bound cornerstone like Vucevic.

8. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State

Why you should watch: If the Buckeyes had won a few more games this year, Russell might be the favorite to be the National Player of the Year. He’s a triple-double threat every time he steps on the court, averaging over 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. Oh, and he’s knocked down 42% of his 217 three-point attempts.

He might only be in the tournament for one game, as the Buckeyes are a 10 seed playing the 7th-seeded VCU, but he might also be the number one pick in the draft.

Which NBA team might draft him: Philadelphia 76ers. GM Sam Hinkie traded their presumed point guard of the future Michael Carter-Williams at the deadline, meaning the position’s still open. D’Angelo Russell is the best point guard in the draft, and he has one thing in common with most of Philadelphia’s recent picks – he’s really long. One thing that’s different, though? He can really shoot it, too.

7. Bobby Portis, Arkansas

Why you should watch: The SEC Player of the Year led the Hogs to a second-place finish in the SEC, both in the regular season and in the tournament. Although he probably would have been a first-round pick last season, he decided to return to school and has improved on every aspect of his game. He’s a big guy (6’11”, 242) who does a bit of everything and just helps his team win.

Which NBA team might draft him: Indiana Pacers. David West has been great for the Pacers, but he’s nearing retirement. Portis can hit the midrange jump shot and is a good 3” taller than West, meaning a frontcourt of Paul George, Bobby Portis, and Roy Hibbert could be the longest in the league.

6. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

Why you should watch: It’s been a magical season for senior guard Jerian Grant and Notre Dame. Most recently, the Fighting Irish knocked off both Duke and North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament Title, and with some luck, they have a legitimate chance to make a deep run. Grant, a 6’5” point guard and fifth-year senior, should be selected in the mid-to-late first round after scoring 1,682 points so far in his career.

Which NBA team might draft him: Chicago Bulls. The Bulls like to take older guys in the draft (since Derrick Rose, the only freshman they’ve selected in the first round was Marquise Teague), and Jerian Grant is a big guard who can score, rebound, and distribute. He’s not Derrick Rose, but he can do some Derrick Rose things.

5. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Why you should watch: Frank Kaminsky is going to win nearly every National Player of the Year award, and he deserves all the credit he’ll get. It’s rare that a guy comes into the season as the preseason favorite for POY and never relinquishes it. He’s been the leader the entire season while leading Wisconsin to the Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Championships.

Plus, he did this.

Which NBA team might draft him: Houston Rockets (via New Orleans). The Rockets shoot more threes than anyone else in the league, and with Dwight Howard’s recent injuries, they need a solid backup center who’s ready to play for a contender right away. Kaminsky might be the best shooting big in college basketball, and he’s as polished as any prospect in the draft.

4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas

Why you should watch: There’s no question Kelly Oubre, Jr. is an intriguing talent. Most mock drafts have him going in the top 10, and he might be Kansas’ best player. He shows flashes of greatness, like when scored 25 points in just 10 shots against TCU, but those flashes are rare.

For the season, he’s averaging just 9.4 points per game – the least of anyone on this list. If Kansas wants to succeed in the tourney, they’re going to need the high-flying, southpaw swingman to show out.

Which NBA team might draft him: Boston Celtics. James Young’s a bust, Evan Turner’s still inefficient, and the Celtics still don’t have a legitimate perimeter player over 6’4”. Oubre might be that guy.

3. Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Why you should watch: He hasn't totally figured everything out yet, but he's still the leading scorer for the Pac-12 Champion Wildcats. 6'7" and stacked, he looks more like a stud tight end than a basketball player, but Johnson can shoot and defend and boasts great athleticism.

Watch him now, and you can't help but wonder what's next for Johnson.

Which NBA team might draft him: Atlanta Hawks (via Nets). DeMarre Carroll will be a free agent this offseason, and he’s due for a huge raise (he’s making a little over $2 million this season). Whether the Hawks can keep him or not, Johnson provides great, two-way, wing depth for one of the deepest teams in the league.

2. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky

Why you should watch: Throw stats out the window – Towns is the Wildcats’ best player. He’s stupidly long and showcases some really nice touch around the basket. Reminds of a young Andrew Bynum – you know, the one people thought was going to be the best center in the league. Not the one that went crazy.

He’s shooting 81% from the free throw line, 56% from the field, and he’s averaging 19 points, 13 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes. What more could you ask for?

Which NBA team might draft him: Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves already have Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic on the roster, but Towns can shoot well enough to create spacing on the offensive end while providing the type of rim protector the Wolves have been missing.

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Why you should watch: Make no mistake: Jahlil Okafor is the best player in college basketball. At 6’11”, 270, he’s like the kid in middle school that’s a couple years older and just more physically developed than everyone else... except he’s a freshman and the guys he’s going up against are future pros.

The basketball gods must have decided they didn’t want to have a sport without Tim Duncan, because as one nears retirement, another gets set to make his NBA debut.

Which NBA team might draft him: New York Knicks. Every team in the draft could use a guy like this, and the Knicks have the number one pick in the draft. Phil Jackson has already found success with a great wing and a dominant big man when he coached Kobe and Shaq – he might be able to find something similar in a Melo/Okafor pairing.



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