March Madness asks one simple question: when everyone's chips are all in, who is the best? Who has what it takes to play against the best competition and still succeed?
It's a very simple question, but an important one. It's one that makes such compelling basketball, and it's one that NBA scouts are asking about each one of these players. Here are the ten players most ready to make the jump from prep to pro.
Honorable Mention: Branden Dawson
Senior, Michigan State
6’6”, 225 lbs., G/F
Strengths: Well, other than the fact that he did the dunk above as a freshman (and he’s only gotten bigger and stronger since), Dawson can guard four positions in small-ball lineups because of his great strength. He looks like a man amongst boys – no matter who he’s playing against – and finishes at the rim, like in Michigan State’s Elite Eight win over Louisville, when Dawson tipped in the game-sealing bucket over Louisville’s center, Mangok Mathiang.
Weaknesses: Dude can’t shoot even a little bit. Though he’s only 6’6”, Dawson attempted just 9 three-pointers over a four-year career and made none of them. He’s also just a 56% career free-throw shooter, so there’s that.
NBA Player Comparison: Mini Andre Drummond
Where he’ll probably get drafted: Undrafted.
Where he should get drafted: 2nd Round. Draymond Green has proven that taking a chance on a small-ball four from Michigan State in the second round can be a pretty great idea. Dawson can’t shoot or pass like Green, but he looks like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and can catch baseline lobs in the league.
10. Nigel Hayes
6’8”, 250 lbs., F
Strengths: Other than likeability, Hayes is also a skilled four who does everything well. He rebounds, scores, and passes the ball well, but more importantly, he’s improving rapidly. Last season, Hayes averaged less than 8 points and 2.8 rebounds, shot below 59% from the free throw line, and attempted 0 threes. This year, though, he’s improved his splits to 12.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and an impressive 2.1 assists per game, shot 75% from the line, and made almost 1 three-pointer per game while shooting a nice 38% from deep.
Weaknesses: At 6’7.5” in shoes, he’s a little bit short to be a traditional power forward in the NBA, and he’ll probably never be a great rim protector (averaged just .4 blocks per game this season), but he does have freakishly long arms (7’2” wingspan), which should at least help him on the offensive end getting his shot off.
NBA Player Comparison: Brandon Bass
Where he’ll probably get drafted: Middle of 1st Round in 2016
9. Tyus Jones
6’1”, 190 lbs., G
Strengths: He can really shoot the ball. He doesn’t typically shoot with tremendous range, but he’s great from the college three point line in, meaning he should be able to extend to the NBA line too. In conference, he shot 41% from deep and 88% from the free throw line – that’s ridiculous. He also has a little off the bounce game and an unconventional finishing style that allows him to shoot layups over bigger defenders. He doesn’t turn the ball over much, maintaining a solid 2.9 A/TO line, and he’s surprisingly athletic.
Weaknesses: He’s not particularly impressive on the defensive end, and doesn’t look actively to involve his teammates on the offensive side. He’s averaging almost 6 assists per game, but a lot of those seem to come from post entries to Jahlil Okafor or simple swing passes to Quinn Cook, rather than from driving and dishing.
NBA Player Comparison: Jameer Nelson
Where he’ll probably get drafted: Mid-to-Late 1st Round
Where he should get drafted: Early 2nd Round. I understand that shooting is at a premium in the NBA right now, but that shooting most often comes as a result of drives and penetration. Once Jones gets within five feet of the basket, he’s shooting it, meaning that if teams can run him off the three point line in the league, he’s not going to create opportunities for his teammates. He might really struggle.
8. Devin Booker
6’6”, 205 lbs. G
Strengths: Shooting, shooting, shooting. It’s a bit slow, but Booker has the kind of clean, effortless stroke a coach would build in a lab. He’s the best shooter on the best team in the country – and some scouts think he’s the best shooter in the country. He knocks down 41% of his three-pointers and 83% of his free throws, and he also shows legitimate 2-guard size at the next level.
Weaknesses: Defense and athleticism. Despite having good size, Booker has the worst defensive rating among all of Kentucky’s rotation players – pretty significantly worse than the 5’9” Tyler Ulis. He’s blocked just two shots all season and, despite playing with some of the most impressive defenders in the country, has managed less than half a steal per game. Offensively, he rarely creates his own shot, despite showing a polished pull-up game. Most importantly, though, is the fact that he’s making less than 2 three-pointers per game, meaning he can pick and choose his spots to fire away.
NBA Player Comparison: Courtney Lee
Where he’ll probably be drafted: Mid 1st Round
Where he should be drafted: Late 1st Round. Right now, he’s a one-dimensional player who’s going to need to be in the right situation to succeed. A team like Cleveland could possibly use his spot-up shooting, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to help turn around a lottery team.
7. Sam Dekker
6’9”, 230 lbs., F
Strengths: Great size allows Dekker to finish over his opponents. He’s shooting a Jahlil Okafor-like 64% from 2, and has shown the ability to rise over about anyone and shoot his normal jump shot. He combines this size with all-court ability. He can pull up, get to the rim, rebound, and pass. In a time where good wings are sparse in the NBA, Dekker could be really valuable.
Weaknesses: Shooting range. Dekker’s looked like maybe the best player in the entire tournament while knocking down all kinds of shots, but for the season he’s making just 30% of his three pointers, and he’s a career 70% free throw shooter. Those number have to improve for him to reach his full potential in the league.
NBA Player Comparison: Kyle Singler with a more natural position and better handles.
Where he’ll probably get drafted: Mid 1st Round
Where he should get drafted: The Raptors and Wizards are picking mid-to-late in the first round. Toronto’s struggled finding consistent production at the three spot and Paul Pierce isn’t going to be around forever in Washington. One of these spots would probably be the ideal fit for Dekker.
6. Frank Kaminsky
7’0”, 242 lbs., C
Strengths: Well, he’s the best player in the country. He’s a 7-footer who’s improved every year at Wisconsin, and who has exceeded the lofty expectations set out for him this season. He knocks down threes and free throws, passes the ball really well, and is the anchor on one of the best defensive teams in the country. So there’s that.
Weaknesses: Despite his length, he doesn’t have the athleticism to be a killer pick-and-roll guy or shot blocker in the league. The real question is whether he’s going to be able to get his shot off against the best post defenders in the league. There’s a big difference going up against Kaleb Tarczewski and going up against Tim Duncan.
Where he’ll probably get drafted: Late lottery pick, though I could see a shooting-starved team like Detroit or Charlotte taking him earlier.
Where he should get drafted: Houston has the Pelicans’ first round pick (slotted at 14 right now). The Rockets lack a real back-up center behind Dwight and love shooting threes. Kaminsky could be a floor-spreader alongside Dwight in ultra-big lineups or play as the sole center at end of games when the Rockets need free throw shooting.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein
7’0”, 240 lbs., C
Strengths: Despite what Chris Webber thinks, Willie Cauley-Stein is a valuable NBA asset because he has two incredibly important skills. The first is that he’s a great face-up finisher – you can throw him lobs and he can dunk over other centers. Every point guard in the league would love to have a guy like Cauley-Stein rolling hard to the rim, making the hedging bigs hesitate. The second is that he’s a great – not a good – defender. He blocks shots and has proven the ability to switch onto smaller defenders, while showcasing a good motor – something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Basically, he’s just a freak athlete.
Weaknesses: Basically, he’s just a freak athlete. He has shown drastic improvement on his free-throw shooting, but he still only converts about 61% of his tries. He can’t post anyone up, which was especially showcased against Notre Dame.
NBA Player Comparison: Mason Plumlee, but better at defense.
Where he’ll probably get picked: 10th to Atlanta (with the Nets’ pick)
Where he should get picked: Atlanta. He’s not a prototypical player for them, but his lack of shooting should be overshadowed by the fact that the rest of the team can shoot, and the one thing missing from Atlanta’s roster this year has been a rim protector like Cauley-Stein. They’re already the best team in the East, but the All-American will take them even a level higher.
4. Trey Lyles
6’10”, 250 lbs., PF
Strengths: He’s 6’10”, 250 lbs., but he moves and shoots like a guard. He’s been bricky from deep this season (just 4 of 29), but his stroke looks good and he’s made an encouraging 73% of his free throws. He’s the most versatile player on the best team in the country, and he’s just a freshman. Also, he’s got a clear position at the next level, because he’s not coming in thin like a lot of other rookies.
Weaknesses: He looks to be a solid defender at the next level, but he won’t be spectacular. He doesn’t jump quite well enough (despite his 7’3.5” wingspan) to be a great rim protector, and he doesn’t quite shoot well enough to be a stretch four at this point. Anyone who drafts him is betting that he’s going to improve from deep in the pros, but will he ever knock down the NBA three-pointer on a consistent basis?
NBA Player Comparison: Terrence Jones
Where he’ll probably get drafted: Somewhere between #4 and #10
Where he should get drafted: #11 Indiana is probably the best fit for Lyles, but I doubt he’ll fall that far. Instead, he might look good spreading the court as a third big alongside Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe (if he’s still there) in Detroit.
6’6”, 230lbs., G/F
Strengths: He might be the best wing in the entire class, and it’s only the amount of talent present in the Final Four that’s keeping him from being number one. He’s shooting above 40% from three, he defends and rebounds like a demon, and he has an NBA body.
Weaknesses: He’s a pretty awful free throw shooter (just 63% on the season), which makes you wonder whether his hot shooting from deep or his foul shooting is the real Winslow. He also has some mental lapses, like when he kept kicking North Carolina players or when his man scored in transition because he was too busy celebrating a three.
NBA Player Comparison: Victor Oladipo
Where he’ll probably get picked: Top 7
Where he should get picked: Orlando and Sacramento are currently slotted to pick 5th and 6th in the draft. He could slot into either city nicely.
6’11”, 250 lbs., C
Strengths: Okay, fine, that was pretty clearly goaltending. But how many other players in the country make that block? It might just be his teammate, Willie Cauley-Stein. Unlike Cauley-Stein, though, Towns has all kinds of skills. He’s shooting over 80% from the free throw line with a clean, smooth jumper, posts up, and defends at a very high level. There’s pretty much no question that, health permitting, he’s going to be a really good player in the league. The thing I like about him most, though, is the way he buries his defender in the post. He works hard to get great position to make things easy for himself, rather than rely on pure talent. That’s going to be a valuable asset at the next level.
Weaknesses: He’s not Jahlil Okafor.
NBA Player Comparison: Young Andrew Bynum
Where he’ll probably get drafted: 2nd overall.
Where he should get drafted: Minnesota is projected to get the second pick. They’d be lucky to snag him.
1. Jahlil Okafor
6’11”, 270 lbs., C
Strengths: A lot of people are saying that Karl-Anthony Towns’ recent performances in the NCAA Tournament make him the best prospect in the NBA, but you know who else looked great against Notre Dame? Jahlil Okafor, who went for 23 points and 17 rebounds in the loss against Notre Dame. He’s gigantic, his standing reach is longer than Anthony Davis’, he has handles, and he’s shooting almost 67% from the FIELD. That doesn’t happen for anyone, let alone a guy averaging 17.5 points per game.
Weaknesses: He’s great running the floor, but his lateral ability isn’t the best, and he might not have won a jump ball all season. Some people worry that this means he might struggle as a rim protector at the next level. His most glaring weakness, though, is his free throw shooting. He shot an airball this weekend, and he’s converting only 51% of his tries on the season.
NBA Player Comparison: Tim Duncan
Where he’ll probably get picked: 1st overall.
Where he should get picked: 1st overall. Either the Knicks or the Lakers could start building a franchise around Okafor. With the salary cap set to spike in the summer of 2016, Okafor could turn around any big market team that’s been in the dumps the past few years.