The Sweet 16 is set to kick off this Thursday, and chances are your bracket isn’t what you hoped it would look like. Michigan State’s gone, along with West Virginia, Xavier, and Kentucky; these great teams with great players haven’t been able to to escape the madness of the NCAA Tournament.
Fortunately, there are still a bunch of spectacular teams left, and the subsequent games will be featuring some of the best prospects in this year’s NBA Draft. The following will contain a ranking of the top-seven prospects still competing for a chance to cut down the nets in Houston.
7. Thomas Bryant, C, Indiana
*USA TODAY Sports*
Tournament Stats: 16 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 73% FG
Bryant, like a lot of other young big men, will be drafted because of his physical tools, and potential to be a monster on the glass. Standing around 6’11 with a 7’5.5 wingspan, there’s also potential for Bryant to develop into a solid rim protector. He got limited time for Indiana this year and averaged around 22 minutes per game, so his stats aren’t going to be earth-shattering. Looking at his per 40 minutes stats, however, shed some light on what kind of player he can be.
Per 40 he’s tallying more than 20 points (21.2) and ten rebounds per game (10.2) while maintaining a field goal percentage of 69. As usual, a kid with this skillset has a strong motor and Bryant is no exception. Despite great physicals and intangibles, Bryant has a lackluster game on offense. He doesn’t have much of a post game, and he isn’t overly athletic and his best case scenario is a less-athletic DeAndre Jordan.
Projection: Mid-second round.
6. Grayson Allen, G, Duke
*USA TODAY Sports*
Tournament Stats: 26 PPG, 6 RPG, 3 APG, 52% FG, 45% 3P FG
Oh, Grayson Allen, the NCAA’s most hated player. I’m unsure of how much the other players dislike him, but fans loathe him. He plays with a chippiness that Duke has seen before with J.J. Redick and Christian Laettner. No matter how much you hate him, if you don’t acknowledge his talent, you’re being disrespectful. Like it or not, this two-guard can play and play well.
He gained most of his notoriety before arriving at Duke when he won the Powerade Slam Dunk contest as a high school senior, so we know he’s a superb athlete. Since Duke doesn’t really have a true point guard, Allen has shown his ability to handle the ball and is incredibly effective off the bounce. He has a lightning quick first step, and his body is big enough to where he can do a decent job of absorbing contact. From downtown, he’s just as deadly and is currently shooting 42% on the year — he finished 5/7 from three in Duke’s win over Yale.
Defensively is where Allen’s draft stock is pulled down. He’s a mediocre defender but has all the physical tools to be almost elite. It’s similar to what happened with James Harden in Houston. Allen plays so many minutes (36.5 per game), and does so much for the offense; it’s almost like he’s running on fumes when it comes to defense.
Projected: mid-to-late first
5. Brice Johnson, F, UNC
*Gerry Broome / AP*
Tournament Stats: 19.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5 BPG, 70% FG
Brice Johnson is someone who made a great decision by staying at school for four seasons and working relentlessly to improve himself. As a senior, he averaged 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and emerged as one of the ACC’s most dynamic players.
He plays well within himself and doesn’t do things that he knows aren’t a part of his game — in 144 career games, Johnson hasn’t attempted a three-pointer. He shot 62% from the field this year and is one of those players who’s energy leads them to the ball. He’s a terrific rebounder and shot-blocker for someone who’s roughly 6’9″ and that’s going to be the reason he makes money as a pro.
Him being undersized might also be a detractor for NBA teams. He plays power forward for UNC but has a small forward’s body, and not a small forward’s play style. Johnson is incredibly reluctant to shoot from the outside and isn’t a great playmaker. This year, he had just three games where he recorded more than three assists.
Projection: late first round
4. Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame
*Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports*
Tournament Stats: 14.5 PPG, 4 RPG, 63% FG
With the exits of Kris Dunn and Tyler Ulis, Demetrius Jackson is the top point guard prospect left in the field. Jackson, a junior, is similar to Ulis because he is going to get overlooked because he’s on the smaller end of the height spectrum.
Jackson stands somewhere around 6’0 and is 6’1 at the tallest. GMs are, of course, going to be hesitant about him because of his height, but Jackson makes up for it with his strength and athleticism. He’s right around 200 pounds, giving him a very solid body structure. That same composition allows him to play above the rim at times and move forward, backward, and laterally with ease.
Offensively, Jackson’s decent. He’s not a stellar playmaker or scorer, but he’s reliable enough to get the job done. His 4.7 assist per game average is a career-high, but his 44% from the field is six points lower than his sophomore year.
Projection: Mid-to-late first round
3. Domantas Sabonis, C, Gonzaga
*Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports*
Tournament Stats: 20 PPG, 13 RPG, 3.5 APG, 53% FG
After putting up modest numbers as a freshman, Sabonis emerged as a top player in the WCC, and a great compliment to Kyle Wiltjer. He led the conference in field goal percentage (61%), total rebounds (409), and PER (29.0), a testament to his tremendous efficiency.
Rebounding is where Sabonis truly separates himself from other big men in the country, and that ferocity on the glass comes from a motor that never stops. Roughly 6’10, 240, Sabonis is on the larger side when it comes to frontcourt players, especially in today’s game. His athleticism is average, and his wingspan is just 6’11, an oddity for centers. Luckily, those are the only two areas where Sabonis lacks.
His motor is a great counter for his weaknesses, and he’s superb at using it to his advantage. When in the post, offense or defense, that motor and strength allows Sabonis to fight for position and prevents his opponents from getting deep position.
Projection: Mid-first round
2. Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma
*Mark D. Smith / USA TODAY Sports*
Tournament Stats: 31.5 PPG, 6 RPG, 56% FG, 45% 3P FG
Another player who trusted the process, Buddy Hield transformed himself into the most lethal scorer in the country. His offensive game is incredibly refined, and Hield can score from all three levels, something not seen from many college players.
A little undersized for a two-guard at 6’4, Buddy has the athleticism to offset that and a jump shot that defenders must respect; if you don’t, he’ll knock outside shots down with ease, evidenced by a 46% clip from downtown. While not a proficient ball handler, he’s good enough to put it on the deck when necessary and has worked tirelessly with Isaiah Cousins to be better with the ball.
Turnovers and defense are two of the Hield’s biggest concerns. He led the Big 12 in TOs with 98, and hasn’t reached full defensive potential. It’s very similar to Allen’s case, a player with good size and athleticism to be an effective defender, but Hield’s high usage inhibits him to a degree.
Projection: Mid-to-late lottery
1. Brandon Ingram, F, Duke
*Lance King / Getty Images*
Tournament Stats: 22.5 PPG, 7 RPG, 44% 3P FG, 45% FG
With Kevin Durant’s potential, and a lack of Ben Simmons in the tournament, Brandon Ingram is the best prospect remaining in the field. While I’m not sold on him being KD 2.0, I know that Ingram will have an immediate impact on whatever team drafts him.
He’s long and slender, but showed a tremendous toughness as the season’s dragged on. Shooting ability is where Ingram draws a lot of scouts’ attention, and boy can he stroke it. To put it simply, his offense game is like Hield’s, but rawer. Once Ingram adds more size, he’ll be an above-average defender because of his freakish length.
Not even the best prospect is perfect, and Ingram’s main area of concern is free throw shooting. For someone who shoots well from the outside, it’s odd to see them be poor free throw shooters, and 68% leaves a lot of area for improvement. A worry for Ingram that the others don’t have is the pressure that comes with being a top-two selection.