Now that it’s March and the tourney is full swing, many people get their first look at prospects. There will be plenty of overreactions to players who happen to have good or bad days. That said, the tournament still should carry an extra degree of weight due to the increased relevance of games and quality of competition. Coaches will pay extra attention toward exploiting the weaknesses of opposing stars, and some bad performances will show a glimpse of struggles to come in the NBA. It is worth taking every game in context and deciding whether there is any particular meaning to be gleaned. Since I haven’t updated my big board in over a month, I figure I should clue everybody in on my thoughts regarding recent play:
Andrew Wiggins: Wiggins likely hurt his stock more than anybody else in the tourney. He simply had the worst stat line of any expected 1st rounder en route to his team getting upset. 4 pts 1-6 FG 4 rebs 2 assists 4 TOV’s is not what people want to see out of a top 3 pick. Stanford did a great job of getting back in transition and showing a variety of defensive looks to take away Wiggins’ driving ability, and Wiggins predictably disappeared. If anybody has wondered why I have been harping on his half-court splits and poor skill level so loudly this is why. Wiggins leans heavily on transition opportunities and free throws to get his points, and those both translate poorly to higher level of defenses. Once Stanford took those away, Wiggins was relegated to an OK but not great jump shooter, and Kansas finished with just 57 points on 67 possessions in the loss.
Aside from his deficiencies being on full display, this also dispels the notion that he suddenly discovered how to fulfill his potential around the West Virginia game. Further, Kansas struggled mightily without Joel Embiid. They blew out hapless TCU and mediocre Texas Tech at home, but those were their only good performances without their starting center. They lost @ West Virginia by 6 as 5.5 pt faves, they needed OT beat a banged up + tired Oklahoma State team as 3 pt faves, they lost by 11 to Iowa State as 5 point faves, they struggled a large portion of the Eastern Kentucky game and only won by 11 as 13 pt faves, and they lost to Stanford by 3 as 6.5 pt faves. Overall they went 1-3 against KenPom top 70 teams in spite of being clear faves in all 4 games, with the sole win coming in overtime. Joel Embiid was comfortably the best player on that team, and his team’s performance without him helps cement that notion.
Doug McDermott: Truthfully, his box score vs. Baylor wasn’t that bad. He shot 7/11 on 2 pointers and only turned it over once. But when you factor in that he only finished with 15 points due to 0/3 3 point shooting and 1/2 FT shooting and contributed in no other areas as per usual, it’s easy to see how Creighton was blown out. A large part of this is that Baylor made every shot imaginable and Creighton only shot 5/24 from 3, but this nevertheless illuminates concerns about Ougie’s NBA future. This is the 3rd year in a row in which McDermott has failed to exceed tourney expectations, losing by 16 to Duke last year and 14 to UNC as a sophomore (both after winning in round 1). The fact of the matter is that in spite of his gaudy scoring numbers, it did not translate to winning high leverage games vs teams with NBA prospects. This is because defense matters, and it’s much easier to have your dad draw up play after play for you effectively against mid-major competition than it is against future NBA talent.
Rodney Hood: Does anybody still think he’s a good prospect? I gave consideration to the idea that he may justify a late 1st round pick, and now I am quite confident that he is not. He flat out does not bring enough to the table other than shooting to make his horrible defense worth keeping on the floor, and I don’t see how he’s better than a mid-late 2nd round value.
Jarnell Stokes: He is a 6’9 PF who is a bully in the paint, and while I am not particularly fond of the mold his current level of play cannot be ignored. He has played exceptionally well as of late as Tennessee is destroying every team that crosses its path. He is not much of a shot blocker, but he does have solid length and an exceptional combination of speed and strength. Between his rebounding, passing, finishing, ball handling, and improved FT%, he is showing enough skill to merit late 1st round consideration.
Jordan Adams: The statistical beast of the draft that is sure to translate poorly keeps making a case that he just may bring enough to the table to be worth something as a pro. He lacks athleticism, he gets a ton of his points in transition, his steals are padded by UCLA’s zone, and he is a questionable defensive prospect, so inevitably it’s best to not get too carried away with his numbers. But at a certain point you need to start wondering whether his skill level and feel for the game are good enough to become a good pro nevertheless. He had an excellent Pac-12 championship game vs Arizona and followed it up with 2 strong showings vs Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin. Now Adams and his teammate Anderson get another big test vs Florida to further boost their stock. Even if he doesn’t have a good game Adams has likely done enough to establish that he’s worth a 1st round selection.
Frank Kaminsky: He keeps failing the face test and passing the basketball playing test. After a big game vs Oregon’s soft defense, he gets to match up with Baylor’s beasts Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. If Wisconsin can get past them, he gets another big test as Arizona or San Diego State lies next and they both have elite defenses.
Rock Solid Performance
Nik Stauskas: Pop quiz for Rick Barnes: how do you slow down an elite shooter and passer with questionable speed and quickness when you have a roster full of athletes? If you answered “zone defense” (spoiler alert: you did!) it’s no wonder why you are regarded as a horrible coach and your team got sent home early. Stauskas’s big day vs. Texas comes as no surprise, as he finished with 17 points, 8 assists, and 0 turnovers in Michigan’s 14 point win. On one hand he didn’t hit a single 2 point shot, but on the other hand he didn’t need to because he was so dominant with his shooting and passing, as he was making exceptional deliveries to his teammates all game long. This game was definitely good for his draft stock, but I don’t believe it proves anything about him that wasn’t already known. A big game vs Tennessee would be more meaningful, as their defense is tailored to take away Michigan’s strengths.
Jabari Parker: His game vs. Mercer certainly doesn’t help his standing, but I do not believe that it is necessarily anything more than a bad game. Mercer is not a particularly strong defense, and he had plenty of good games vs better competition so I do not believe Mercer exposed any new flaws. Also it’s worth noting that Duke hit 15/37 3 pointers against Mercer’s zone, which was the hefty price paid by Mercer to slow down Jabari in the paint. But it does illuminate some translation concerns that I have been monitoring, as his rim finishing has been lackluster against good competition. He isn’t particularly athletic but is aggressive nevertheless, and often runs into trouble trying to finish against players who can physically match up. While I greatly enjoyed watching him dunk all over Boston College’s woefully soft defense, that performance is less predictive toward his NBA success than other games and need be given limited weight. It looked like he may have been ready to turn a corner with a big performance vs North Carolina in Duke’s regular season finale. But then he struggled in the ACC tourney against Clemson and UVA’s stout defenses followed by the Mercer game, which largely dispels that theory. He still has the skills and attitude to become a great NBA scorer, but he is a bit more reliant on bullying smaller players in the post than people realize. I am going to keep him as the #3 prospect for now, but this is why I had him below Exum to begin with, and I now feel particularly good about ranking Exum higher.
Montrezl Harrell: He is an exceptionally fun college player, but what does he bring to the table other than dunking? He hasn’t shown much in the first two rounds of the tourney, as Manhattan and Saint Louis both limited his dunking opportunities and he struggled to produce in both games. To his credit he finished the weekend with 24 rebounds and 5 blocks so he wasn’t completely taken out of the games, but it would be nice to see him do some damage in the half-court this tourney.
Aaron Gordon: His shot is still a major, major wart, but he is trending in the positive direction nevertheless. His steal and block rates have seen big upticks lately, with 11 and 10 respectively in the past 5 games. This makes it a bit easier to feel good about him as a defensive stopper, as they were surprisingly low entering the Pac-12 tournament. He’s so young and brings so many positive qualities to the table, I really don’t feel comfortable writing him off entirely due to his poor shooting. He will still be a pain to fit into NBA lineups, and he badly needs to ditch the long 2’s, but he still makes for an interesting project nevertheless.
Greatest Failure to Solidify himself as a Prospect
Taylor Braun: He had two chances to show the world that he can do more than style on inferior Summit league competition, and he failed twice. Taylor Braun finished the weekend with 18 points on 5/25 FG with 4 assists and 5 turnovers against Oklahoma and San Diego State. It is possible that he just happened to have bad games, but he turns 23 in July and his upside did not appear to be exceptionally high to begin with. He still does have 21 points vs Ohio State earlier in the season to hang his hat on, but this clearly hurts his odds of getting drafted.
Julius Randle: I have to give Randle credit- he has cut down on his grotesque turnover rate big time down the stretch, and it has vastly improved his team’s play as Kentucky is finally starting to play as well as everybody hoped that they would. But he cut his turnover rate by drastically cutting down on his post-up attempts, when that was intended to be his main appeal as a prospect. If he is at his best not posting up, then what purpose does he serve to an NBA team? He still does have an interesting blend of passing, handling, and shot making ability to work with, but he is also still prone to defensive lapses. He needs to make a significant impact on the offensive end to make his defense worth stomaching, and it is difficult to envision him achieving that goal if he is only going to be a medium usage player for his college team. I still have him as a 1st rounder and perceive his adaptation as a positive development, but I won’t be skyrocketing him too far up my board because of it.