The NCAA Tournament has passed, and for much of basketball-dom, attention shifts now to the pro ranks, and the playoffs that lurk in just 12 days. Unless, of course, your NBA team is among those without a place in the postseason. In that case, it’s draft time!
With that in mind, we check in with an NBA scout and a general manager to get their thoughts on the tournament that just wrapped up with Villanova’s victory over Michigan, and which players helped boost their draft stock over the past three weeks.
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Should he enter the draft, Brunson will go as an NCAA champion, and though his championship-game performance (nine points on 4-for-13 shooting) was not one for the ages, he was a clutch player for the Wildcats all year. His 27-point game against West Virginia, one of the nation’s best defensive teams, in the Sweet 16 was probably the most important game any member of the champs played this year.
GM’s opinion: “It definitely helps to be a winner going into the draft. Those players, it gives them a confidence. The interviews always go better, the interactions go better, when you’re dealing with a kid who has been through a deep tournament run. It doesn’t mean you run out and draft the guy, but it helps his case...
“Brunson doesn’t have great size, as we all know but he can score, he can shoot, he could be a leader on your second unit. His dad (veteran NBAer Rick Brunson) stuck around a long time because he worked hard and was smart enough to find his role wherever he was. Jalen can probably do better than that. He’s probably an early second-rounder, but I could see him going late first.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
Gilgeous-Alexander was not the top-level recruit that his Wildcats peers were, but he has proven to have the most NBA potential of the bunch. He had already been on his way up draft boards in the six or seven weeks before the tournament started, but he punctuated his rise by averaging 20.3 points (on 48.6 percent shooting) with 6.0 assists and 6.3 rebounds in three tournament games.
Scout’s opinion: “He has plenty of size (6-6) but there is nothing that stands out about his game, in terms of athleticism or shooting or anything you can grab onto and say, ‘That’s what he’s going to do really well in the NBA.’ That will make people nervous.
“But I think he has the potential to be a great defensive player who can learn to be a great shooter, and then keep adding things to his game. He has a great basketball IQ. I have seen him compared to Jrue Holiday, but I think more along the lines of a younger Shaun Livingston.”
Caleb Martin, Nevada
What he lacked in efficiency in the NCAA Tournament (16.3 points on 39.1 percent shooting), Martin made up in guts and toughness. He took 10 3s per game, and made 36.7 percent of them, and though it could be said he was outplayed by his twin brother, Cody, Caleb’s better perimeter shooting and scoring ability makes him the more likely first-round pick.
GM’s opinion: “He has a chance to go late in the first round. I’d be more comfortable taking him in the second round and giving him a guaranteed contract there, but the way he shoots, he could impress in some workouts.
“He is a hard worker, and I think playing for an NBA coach like Eric (Musselman) at Nevada is going to help him over the next couple of months.”
Sagaba Konate, West Virginia
It’s likely that Konate goes back to school for another year, but he has the attention of NBA front offices already. In three tournament games, he showed his upside — 23 rebounds and seven blocks, including a memorable two-hander on Villanova’s Mikal Bridges — but also his downside, as he was in foul trouble in two of his three tourney games.
He came to basketball relatively late, but his defensive instincts and toughness on that end are the base of his potential.
GM’s opinion: “I think a lot of teams are kicking themselves for passing up (Golden State second-rounder) Jordan Bell last year. He was undersized (6-9) so that was a problem, but he has the timing and the athleticism in the paint to where that does not matter now in the NBA.
“Sag (6-8) is much the same way, not really big, but he just has a feel for defending the rim, long arms, good athleticism. You need guys like that. I think teams seeing what Bell has done will only help him.”
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga
Inconsistency is one of the knocks on Hachimura, and his four-point, four-foul opening performance against UNC-Greensboro was a prime example. But he bounced back for 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting against Ohio State in the next round, and had 16 points and nine rebounds in the Bulldogs’ Sweet 16 loss.
There are still plenty of concerns about Hachimura, particularly when it comes to his perimeter shot, but he has the potential of a lottery pick.
Scout’s opinion: “I think of him at worst as a guy like Al-Farouq Aminu, where he has the same kind of size and raw skills, and he can at least develop into a good role-playing starter like Aminu. He is a big (6-8) wing and can guard three or four positions. But I think he has better offensive potential and he showed that as the year went on.
“Sometimes, it’s like he needs to be reminded of that, though — he does not have a naturally aggressive style of play. But the potential is there.”
Malik Newman, Kansas
Newman is only 6-4 and a natural shooting guard, which leaves him undersized in the NBA. The tournament did not, of course, change that problem. But he finished on a high with the Jayhawks, and should he decide to bolt school for the draft, he will find a home as a bench scorer in the NBA.
His clutch 32-point showing against Duke in the Sweet 16 was one of the highlights of the entire tournament, but the fact that he averaged 22.5 points on 52.7 percent shooting in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments combined boosted his stock.
Scout’s opinion: “He is like the poster boy for transferring. He was OK at Mississippi State, but a little disappointing compared with where we thought he would be. He sits out a year, he comes back and he just is so much more mature and polished, his footwork, his shooting, his ball handling, his defense.
“He is going to have to convince someone he can make the transition to combo guard or more of a point guard, and that will be the trick. But he got better all year, and in the two tournaments for Kansas, he looked like a solid NBA player.”