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Players to Watch: East

by Ed Isaacson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

It’s not often you get a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament without at least one major NBA prospect, but welcome to the 2015 East Region, where Villanova is the top seed. Even the number two seed, Virginia, isn’t stocked with a ton of NBA-quality guys. Both are just very good at team basketball, with excellent coaching. The East still has its share of NBA prospects, some of them quite good, including a pair of guys each from Michigan State, Louisville and LSU.


Here is a short breakdown of the best NBA prospects in the East region, with the players listed in the order of their team’s seed. Click here for the West Region. Click here for the Midwest Region. Click here for the South Region.


Justin Anderson, Junior, Virginia, G – Before missing most of February with a hand injury and an appendectomy, Anderson had emerged as one of Virginia’s top offensive options. People may complain about the pace of the Virginia offense, but they work hard to get the best shot they can, and Anderson does that as well as anyone. A career 30 percent three-point shooter heading into this season, Anderson was shooting almost 50 percent from long range when he injured his hand.  He has good size for the shooting guard position, and he is a good enough ballhandler to create his own looks, or get to the rim. A high level athlete, Anderson is also excellent on the defensive end, able to guard multiple positions and uses his length well to deny passing lanes and deflect passes. He moves his feet well, and though he isn’t particularly quick, he understands how to force opponents into bad spots.  Anderson’s injury and surgery derailed his season a bit, but beforehand, he showed a lot of skills that will help him become a very good pro player.


Buddy Hield, Junior, Oklahoma, G - Hield, the Big 12 Player of the Year, has developed into one of the best scoring guards in college basketball. A good athlete with a solid body, Hield can score in a variety of ways, and though not a great three-point shooter, he has hit 176 from behind the arc the past two seasons. He is a good ballhandler, and has excellent body control, and though half of his shots are from long-range, he can be very effective attacking the basket. Defensively, Hield uses his quickness, length and strength to pester ballhandlers, and he is very good at locking down opponents off the ball. At just 6’4, Hield is just average size for college shooting guard, and maybe a bit undersized for the NBA level, but he can score and defend. If he can work on showing better ballhandling and passing skills, there would be a lot of teams interested in how he could help them.


Montrezl Harrell, Junior, Louisville, F - Harrell, a preseason All-American, has had a good season by many standards, but he didn’t seem to show as much improvement as many hoped. Harrell is listed at 6’8, though he is likely closer to 6’7, and has an NBA-ready body to go along with outstanding leaping ability.  He is the all-time leading dunker in Louisville history, and there isn’t much a defender can do if he gets the ball around the rim. Harrell has worked on his mid- and long-range jumpers, and though his form has improved since his freshman year, he’s not consistent enough to be a real threat yet. Harrell runs the floor well in transition, and his ability to get above the rim quickly makes it easy for teammates to just throw passes up to him to finish. Defensively, Harrell is solid on the perimeter and in the post, though his physical nature can get him into foul trouble. He is an excellent rebounder for his size, and he seems to thrive on just clearing out bodies around him to get the ball. Harrell is an interesting NBA prospect because though he is undersized for the power forward spot, he has to strength to deal with longer players on both offense and defense. If forced to the wing, it may take him a while to adjust and would definitely take him away from his strengths.


Terry Rozier, Sophomore, Louisville, G – Rozier, the Cardinals’ leading scorer, is a high-volume shooter with excellent speed. Though his shooting numbers are nothing to get excited about, 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range, when he gets hot, the points add up quickly. Shot selection has been an issue, though the lack of many other offensive options on the team made it tough to get good looks. He uses his speed and ballhandling ability well to create space, and his quick release is tough to stop. After the dismissal of Chris Jones from the program, Rozier moved to the point guard position, and handled himself well. He still looked for his shot first, but the vision and passing ability seemed to be there. Defensively, he is very good on and off the ball, using quick hands and feet to disrupt offensive attempts. Rozier is in the top 25 in steals nationally, and if he gets a turnover at the top of the defense, there is little chance of beating him down the floor to prevent an easy layup. Rozier emerged this season as a real draft prospect, and his handling of the point guard position seemed to help him a bit. He’s just 6’1, so his future will be at that position, so he will still need to put a lot of work in to show NBA teams that they can trust putting the ball in his hands.


Kris Dunn, Junior, Providence, G - After two injury-riddled seasons, Dunn emerged as one of the top point guards in the nation as a junior. A good ballhandler with excellent vision, Dunn can be a spectacular passer, though his decisions can often leave a lot to be desired. He thrives when Providence pushes the tempo, doing a great job getting the ball up the floor quickly and finding open teammates for easy scores. He’s not as good in the half court, though he can be very tough to keep out of the lane. The same goes for his ability to get to the rim and score; Dunn can have a lot of problems finishing around length at the basket. Perimeter shooting has always been thought of as a weakness for Dunn, and though he seems more confident and improved, he still only shot 35 percent from three-point range. On defense, Dunn is much better as a help defender or off the ball, rather than an on-ball defender. He is among the leaders in steals in college basketball, at nearly three per game, and he is very good at jumping passing lanes. He rebounds well for his position, looking to get to the ball quickly and getting the Friars going in transition. Dunn has become a popular name recently when it comes to the NBA Draft, and he could be a good back-up at the NBA level, but there are a lot of areas he needs to improve before he’s able to contribute.


Denzel Valentine, Junior, Michigan State, G - Valentine is a versatile guard, having the ability to score and create for others, as well as being a tough defender. Valentine has showed improved shooting this season, hitting 42 percent of his three-point attempts, while also showing the ability to hit his jumper more consistently off the dribble. While not a great ballhandler, he knows his limitations and doesn’t look to stray out of his comfort zone and also showing that he can do enough to draw help defenders. Once he draws the defense, he uses his strong vision and passing ability to find open teammates; Valentine averaged 4.4 assists per game this past season. Defensively, Valentine is like many who have played for Tom Izzo. Others may be stronger and quicker, but he doesn’t back down and plays smart, hard defense. Valentine doesn’t have great foot speed, but he moves well when guarding the perimeter. He is also a very good defensive rebounder for his position, having a good knack for getting to spots where missed shots will go. Valentine has a skill set which will serve him well at the next level, but he just needs to work on getting a bit stronger and quicker.


Branden Dawson, Senior, Michigan State, G/F - Dawson has been a bit banged up this season, but he still nearly averaged a triple-double, with 12 points and 9 rebounds per game. Dawson is only 6’6, 225, but he plays much bigger, often playing at the power forward spot for the Spartans. He is a strong scorer around the basket, with good footwork and nice touch, and he can be a powerful finisher at the rim. His mid-range game isn’t great, but it’s better than it was a few years ago. Dawson has only attempted nine three-pointers in his college career, hitting none of them. As his college career has progressed, so has his understanding of the nuances of the game, and it has shown well in his court spacing and improved passing ability. Defensively, Dawson often has to guard much bigger players, and he does a very good job. He uses his body well to defend around the basket, but he also shows the technique to easily guard on the perimeter. Dawson is a tremendous rebounder on both ends of the floor, often just outworking others to get the ball. Dawson will need to learn to become more of a wing player for the next level, but he has adapted to so many different things at the college level that it shouldn’t be a surprise when he does the same as a pro.


Jarrell Martin, Sophomore, LSU, F - Though LSU’s season was filled with ups and downs, Martin’s season was a great leap forward from his freshman season. Listed at 6’10, and with good strength, Martin has the skill to play either with his back to the basket, or facing up, out of the post. Though his mid-range game is inconsistent, the ability is there to become much better. Martin is a great rebounder on both ends of the floor, and he has little problem muscling shots up through contact. When LSU looks to pick up the pace, Martin has little problem with it, and he can be an effective scorer in transition. Martin shot 27 percent on 51 three-point attempts this season, but with constant work, he should be able to raise that at the next level. Defensively, Martin has issues both in the post and on the perimeter, but his size allows him to compensate in some ways. He will battle in the post, even against taller, stronger players, and his footwork has improved over the past year. Martin seems unsure of himself when guarding on the perimeter, especially if caught in a situation against a quicker player, but he has good hands and feet, and will rarely give up on a play.   Martin still has a lot of work to do, but he has the size and skills which will be valuable at the next level.


Jordan Mickey, Sophomore, LSU, F – Martin’s frontcourt mate with the Tigers, Mickey is the leading shot blocker in the NCAA at 3.5 blocks per game.  At 6’8, with long arms and great leaping ability, Mickey is a menace in the lane against opposing scorers. He may not have the size to be a true post player, but he is a great weak-side and help defender, and he is also quick enough to react and block some shots on the perimeter. Mickey is very active on both ends of the floor, and he uses his physical abilities well to rebound on the offensive and defensive glass. Mickey’s offensive game has also taken some nice strides forward this season, though it will still need to change a bit more for the NBA level. He makes quick moves in the post, and if given a bit of room, he will finish strong at the rim. Mickey has also shown an improved mid-range jumper, though his shot selection can be a bit wild, and he needs to learn to create more space for himself with his dribble. Like Martin, Mickey has tools that will be valuable for the next level, but his offense will need to adapt to more of a perimeter game.


Larry Nance, Jr., Senior, Wyoming, F – Nance, the son of a former NBA dunk champion, recovered from an ACL injury in his junior year to have a great senior season and help lead the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament. Nance is a skilled post player with good footwork and nice shooting ability around the rim. Like his father, Nance can be a great leaper and a spectacular dunker. He has the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers, though his long-range ability still needs work. Defensively, Nance is fundamentally solid, and his footwork has improved. He can still have problems if drawn out to the perimeter, but he has worked hard to improve there as well. Nance is a tough rebounder, often outworking bigger players to get to the ball.  If Nance can stay healthy, he should have a long, successful pro career, and I wouldn’t rule out the NBA in his future.


Mamadou Ndiaye, Sophomore, California-Irvine, C – Not many may have heard of Ndiaye, but you will notice him when he is on the floor. The 7’6, 300 pound center is college basketball’s tallest player and an imposing figure no matter who he is going up against. As you’d expect, Ndiaye does most of his damage at the rim, and having some bulk on his frame really helps him seal off any defender trying to defend him in the post. He has good hands and continues to improve his touch around the basket, but he really struggles with the constant double, and sometimes, triple-teams he faces when he catches the ball. Ndiaye doesn’t move that well at all, and you can all but take him out of the game if the pace is fast. Defensively, he can make any shot around the basket tough to make, but he can be slow to help if he is on the weak side from any penetration. Ndiaye was limited to just 13 games this season due to a foot injury, and though he has played 20-plus minutes in the last five games, it will be interesting to see how long he lasts against Louisville’s preferred style of play.


Others to Watch: Darrun Hilliard, Villanova; Daniel Ochefu, Villanova; TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma; Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa; LeDontae Henton, Providence; Trevor Lacey, North Carolina State; Cat Barber, North Carolina State; Marcus Thornton, Georgia

Ed Isaacson
Ed Isaacson is in his second year of covering the NBA Draft for Rotoworld.com, while his work can also be found at NBADraftblog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @nbadraftblog.