Five potential lottery picks for NBA fans to watch in NCAA Tournament
NBA teams doing their scouting right already have a very good picture of a college prospect by this point in the season — they have watched the film, seen him in person, talked to his coach, and have a good sense of what they might be drafting. While the scouts will watch the NCAA Tournament games, it shouldn’t shift the draft board much — until the owner falls in love with a player during the tournament and blows everything up.
The top of this year’s NBA Draft board has a lot of guys not playing in the tournament — Victor Wembanyama is playing in France, Scoot Henderson is in the G-League, the Thomspon twins are with Overtime Elite, and even someone such as Villanova’s Cam Whitmore didn’t make the big dance. However, here are five players that NBA fans — particularly those of you in San Antonio, Houston, Detroit and Charlotte — may want to keep an eye on.
1) Brandon Miller (Alabama)
Thursday, 2:45 vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Let’s start with everyone’s first question about the Alabama forward: Will his off-the-court troubles — police say he brought a gun to former Alabama teammate Darius Miles, who allegedly used it to shoot and kill Jamea Jonae Harris — impact his draft status? No. Multiple front office sources have told NBC Sports that unless Miller is arrested and charged with a crime — he has not been and the District Attorney said there are no plans to do so — it will not change his status.
That status has improved throughout the season to the point he is in the mix for the No.2 pick with Scoot Henderson. What to watch is Miller is maybe the best pure shooter in the draft (39.9% from 3), but what has impressed scouts is his improved finishing at the rim and playmaking. Scouts think he could become an elite offensive player at the next level because of his size and athleticism.
At 6'9" he can play the three or the four in the NBA, high-value positions in the league. It won’t be hard to miss what he does, he is Mr. Everything for Alabama.
2) Nick Smith, Arkansas
Thursday, 4:30 vs. Illinois
Smith has slid down draft boards to the lower lottery over the course of the season because he missed a chunk of the season with “knee maintenance” and shot just 34.4% from 3 while the Thompson twins and others were playing and climbing. Smith, an elite combo guard, is back for the tournament and it’s a chance for him to make a statement and for fans to get a look at him.
He’s a high-upside pick, a catch-and-shoot specialist who can put the ball on the floor and finish or create a little. He’s not a one, but in the best version of himself he can run the point a little — that idealized Smith has a game kind of like CJ McCollum. But Smith has a long way to go to prove he can get there and this tournament can be a first step.
3) Keynote George, Baylor
Friday, 1:30 p.m. vs. UC Santa Barbara
Projected as a mid-first-round pick, George is a 6'4" point guard with a game built more around guile and craft than explosive athleticism. He averaged 15.8 points per game and shot 34.9% from 3, although his struggles inside the arc raised eyebrows. That shooting, particularly from 3, will be his meal ticket at the next level, so he has to prove he can do it under pressure.
George has shown defensive improvement throughout the season, which leads to a good test in Baylor’s tournament opener against Ajay Mitchell[, the Gaucho combo guard who was the Big West Player of the Year.
4) Jarace Walker (Houston)
Thursday, 9:20 p.m. vs. Northern Kentucky
The Houston forward is projected as a top-10 pick and will enter the league with an NBA body — he’s a solid 6'8" but with a 7'2" wingspan that lets him guard up. While the idea of him as a versatile defender is what raised his draft stock — that and his constant energy on the court — but he’s improved as a shooter and a good passer who could thrive at the next level as a fourth or fifth offensive option (but defensive stopper). With star Marcus Sasser nursing a groin injury the first games could be a chance for Walker to shine for the No.1 seed Cougars.
5) Cason Wallace (Kentucky)
Friday, 7:10 p.m. vs. Providence
There is a long list of guards in the NBA who looked okay at Kentucky then thrived once they got out from under Calipari’s thumb — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, and the list goes on — and Wallace could be next in that line. The combo guard has been a quality defender for the Wildcats and on offense is a good shooter (34.7% from 3) who can do some secondary shot creation.
Wallace is projected as a a late lottery player with a high floor — he can help a team — that could surprise if his offensive game is better than expected at the next level.