EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

NBA Draft stock report: Many exits for top prospects in NCAA Tournament

Mar 22, 2018, 6:04 AM | Updated: Mar 23, 2018, 3:37 pm
(AP photos)...
(AP photos)
(AP photos)
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The NCAA Tournament always meshes well with the timing of NBA Draft talk picking up.

There are 22 days left in the NBA season, and as injuries pile up and younger players get more playing time for teams at the bottom of the standings, some NBA fans are more interested in who their team can draft instead of who is playing for their team at the moment.

With the benefit of some luck in bracket placements, matchups like last year’s Michigan State and Kansas draw can be more about the individual meeting of forward prospects Miles Bridges and Josh Jackson.

Unfortunately, with the combination of no luck and upsets galore, there won’t be any of those high-profile matchups this year.

The Spartans getting bounced prevented us from a second-round showdown between Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr.

Moving forward, there will be players helping their stock and some such as Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith and West Virginia’s Jevon Carter already have, but if those names don’t sound familiar, that’s because most expected to be drafted in the high lottery are not in the tourney anymore.

With that in mind, here is where the stocks lie for some of the top college prospects that got bounced early in the Big Dance.

Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona (EOTS big board ranking: 2)

As ESPN’s Jonathan Givony extensively covered, all of Ayton’s red flags showed in the Wildcats’ loss to Buffalo.

Ayton lacks average instincts in general and a feel for rim protection. Offensively, he tends to opt for perimeter play, not looking to constantly overwhelm smaller bigs.

All of this adds up to a decent amount of concern for Ayton, who despite his physical profile has legitimate weaknesses.

His floor is still very high as a walking double-double. His athleticism and being labeled by many as the top player in this class warrants very high expectations that his specific flaws add worry to.

Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma (EOTS big board ranking: 3)

Oh, how the buzz quickly died for Mr. Young.

Following a nuclear first half of the season, Young ended his season before the tournament by posting 64-of-184 shooting (34.7 percent) in his last 10 games.

This asked for evaluators to make a judgment call. How much of this was on Young’s enormous usage and workload for an Oklahoma team that failed to give him any help? How much of it is on his weaknesses, like his limitations as a finisher and his errant shot selection?

There are two sides to go to. I have chosen the former, and if you disagree, I understand. There’s plenty more to discuss about this in the coming months leading up to the draft, so we will leave that here for now.

As for the tournament, Young had 28 points, five rebounds and seven assists on 9-for-18 shooting against Rhode Island in the first round, playing more composed and in the rhythm scouts wanted to see from him more in the second half of the season.

The Sooners lost, though, preventing what could have been a second wave of the play we saw in November and December. That would have helped him avoid dropping to the end of the lottery in some rankings like he already has.

Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri (EOTS big board ranking: 4)

In a gift for scouts, Porter elected to come back for the end of the season after having back surgery and playing just two minutes all season.

He didn’t leave much of an impression.

Porter played in one game in the SEC Tournament and another in the NCAA Tournament.

While there were brief glimpses here and there of what Porter is capable of, he looked like, well, someone who hadn’t adjusted to the college game and was moving at 60 percent coming off a major back injury.

He had 16 points in the Tigers’ loss to Florida State in round one, shooting 4-of-12 and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Porter could have solidified himself more as a top-five prospect with an inspiring performance, but that would not have avoided the inevitable story: A lot still depends on how his back and medicals check out.

Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State (EOTS big board ranking: 5)

Jackson fouls a lot and college referees also have pretty terrible judgment on those foul calls. Both can be true, and they kept Jackson off the floor in the Spartans’ two games in the NCAA Tournament.

He played 18 minutes against Bucknell and 15 in the loss to Syracuse. Some of this was head coach Tom Izzo electing to play other bigs in certain situations, but Jackson also picked up two quick fouls in the first half of both games.

He had a limited impact in both of those games, posting a combined eight points, 12 rebounds and two blocks while taking seven shots in those 33 minutes.

Jackson’s foul trouble is more of a footnote, as he shows strong intelligence as a defender — but it should be referenced. He only had one two-game stretch this season where he didn’t commit at least three fouls two games in a row.

Jackson has unquestionable defensive upside, but his offense is going to take time, and Suns fans can’t help but think of how empty offensive contributions from Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss have looked as of late when exploring Jackson as the team’s potential top pick.

Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas (EOTS big board ranking: 8)

Bamba put up 13 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in Texas’ opening round loss to Nevada.

He had perhaps the most to gain of any prospect mentioned here from an NCAA Tournament perspective. We’ve been waiting for the Bamba takeover, the stretch of 4-5 games where he averages 20 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks a game, and that could’ve come in March. Anyone who watches him on the floor can see that this is not an outlandish request.

He hasn’t shown that dominance, though, as he didn’t outright own the Longhorns’ defense and looked even more raw than expected on offense in his one-year run at Texas.

His ceiling keeps him in the top-10, but Bamba didn’t do much to make teams feel like there’s a safe floor for him in the NBA.

Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State (EOTS big board ranking: 10)

A tale of two games, it was, for Bridges in the NCAA Tournament.

Following 29 points and nine rebounds against Bucknell in the first round, he was 4-for-18 (3-of-12 from deep) in his team’s loss to Syracuse.

Facing the Orange’s zone, Bridges was forced to shoot, and it didn’t go well, but don’t let that one game deter you from his 38.9 3-point percentage on the season.

It was the one area of Bridges’ game that checked out last year at 36.4 percent, and left many, including myself, wondering if he could prove it was legit with his decision to come back to school.

The question of what his ceiling is and how likely it is for him to get there keeps him out of the discussion among the biggest names in his class, but he’s a rock solid perimeter prospect who could be a versatile stretch-four.

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NBA Draft stock report: Many exits for top prospects in NCAA Tournament