The top overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft will make over $14.9 million during the first three years of their professional career. The last pick of the first round will take home a little less than $2 million in that same span. Second round picks will make considerably less. So it’s safe to assume that there’s a lot on the line for the NBA prospects in March Madness this year.
Ironically, the player pegged as the best player in the country is Ben Simmons of LSU. The problem was that Simmons has proven to have character issues due to poor grades, and never got anything significant rolling with the Tigers. His team was so bad despite his presence that he won’t even be a fixture of the tournament.
That’s the case for a lot of players who hope to have their names called at the draft in June. So without further ado, here’s a list of the best prospects to keep an eye during the Dance To End All Dances. Apologies if I omitted your favorite, future player. It’s a lot of guys to cover and I only have so much space.
Brandon Ingram (Duke) – Everyone’s favorite pick to go first overall now that Simmons proved to be too stupid to attend classes and too incapable to get his team in to the 68-team tournament, Ingram needs a bonkers effort to become the best NBA prospect in March Madness. He has the numbers (44.3 percent from field, 41.3 percent from range) but needs to make up for his overall lack of size. At 6-foot-9, you’d probably like your NBA players to weigh more than 190 pounds. To give you an idea of how light that is, Jose Calderon is listed at 210 pounds and he’s only 6-foot-4.
Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb (California) – The freshman duo from California can do themselves absolute wonders if they’re able to brush past Kansas in the Round of 16. Brown is the more talented of the two, and is a dream athlete at 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds. Rabb is more of a project, but it’s hard to ignore just how dominant he’s been in the Pac-10. Rabb will get in based more so on size than anything else, but Brown has a shot to be the third pick overall. That is, of course, as long as he can do enough to hold off Buddy Hield.
Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) – Buddy has already done plenty to cement his standing in the lottery, and is surrounded by a familiar core. His best game of the season came in a 46-point explosion during a 111-68 point win over Kansas, a team that the Sooners seemed destined to face again in the Final Four.
Hield is a little on the lighter side but his polish and ferocious athletic ability will absolutely shine at the NCAA tournament. Playing alongside Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler will also help. The top four scorers at Oklahoma have been a starting unit for three years now.
Technically Hield has the most to lose and gain as an NBA prospect in March Madness. Draft boards have him going anywhere from 3rd overall to 9th depending on who goes ahead of him. He is the definition of proven talent, and it would be shocking to see him fall anywhere below 5th despite what the order of the draft is. You don’t pass up on proven scoring.
Jamall Murray (Kentucky) and Brice Johnson (UNC) – To put it simply, this pair have been two of the hottest hands in college basketball. Murray has long been a lottery bound NBA prospect in March Madness, but Johnson has really come on strong as of late. Murray is a freshman so general managers will be banking on his potential, while Brice Johnson’s status as a senior means he’s more of an established entity. If they can shoot the lights out in Curry-esque performances that they’re capable of, you can bet they’ll steal the attention of a few NBA scouts. UNC and Kentucky are headed for a hopeful clash in the Sweet Sixteen.
Jakob Poeltl (Utah), Skal Labissiere (Kentucky), Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga) – All of these guys are huge. No matter what they do in the tournament, they’re going to appeal to professional teams because general managers can’t help themselves when it comes to big guys. Sabonis plays for Gonzaga, but is the spawn of Arvydas Sabonis. Teams can do a lot worse than drafting a guy who has the pedigree of the greatest European center of all time.
Denzel Valentine (Michigan State) – The leader of the MSU Spartans is an elite combo guard. Scouts have been squeamish about his overall ability, but Valentine does something that NBA teams should start coveting – he plays seamlessly well in a solid infrastructure. Valentine can fill big gaps, or be a go-to player in years to come. He’s not going to revolutionize the franchise, but he’ll be an incredible role player. A lottery bound talent for sure, Denzel could go as high as the top-5 if he shows well as an NBA prospect in March Madness. Plus, his name is super fun to announce in Michael Buffer fashion.
Perry Ellis (Kansas) – The senior forward for the top ranked Kansas Jayhawks is going to get automatic love by being the leader of the tournament favorites. His scouting sheet has always listed him as a tweener, which is usually death when it comes to developing a professional career. It also doesn’t help that he looks like Carlos Boozer’s little brother.
What will boost Ellis’s value in the draft is a strong showing of character, something seriously lacking in the modern NBA. Don’t believe me? Well ask glue guys like Kendrick Perkins, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem if they enjoyed their careers. Ellis has been through a lot in four years at Kansas, playing with the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. All of those guys are currently in the association and general managers will get to hear lots about Ellis as a phenomenal team player.
He’s the type of teammate you’d go to war with. Of course, his teammate Wayne Selden might be the talent you prefer to have next to you in the lineup.
Wayne Selden Jr. (Kansas) – Selden is already well known in basketball circles, but he’s now Internet famous thanks to the Dunk of the Year against Baylor. He’s a monster athlete, and has already become everything a scout could want. Selden could bust in to the first round with an outstanding tournament performance. He’s put up 13.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while recently flashing the type of NBA ruthlessness that scouts absolutely love.
Grayson Allen (Duke) – Allen is one of the toughest NBA prospects in March Madness to properly nail down. He qualifies as a terrific spot-up shooter, and fills that lovely pest role that players like Matthew Dellavedova have embraced. There’s a place in the NBA for him, I’m just not sure where. What Allen lacks is defensive ability. He would get scorched by the association’s best guards. He might even get dusted by the league’s average players. Allen needs to go bananas from range and show consistency in the tournament to be worthy of a first round pick. He did it last year, there’s no telling what he’s capable of this year.
Gary Payton II (Oregon State) – Is the NBA ready for a second coming of The Glove? Well some general manager is going to find out the hard way. Payton is the son of you-know-who and offers an interesting upside, but lacks the surreal talent of his father (a second overall pick in 1990). The Beavers get a crack at VCU, one of the better defensive teams in the tournament, in the opening round and are pretty much not expected to get past them.
Kris Dunn (Providence) – Dunn is perhaps the most difficult guy to get your head around when it comes to NBA prospects in March Madness. He’s an ideal talent at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, but has really had an up-and-down career. At its height there have been flashes of brilliance, but there have been more lows in Dunn’s strange arc at Providence. Players should dominate a lesser conference with ease, and Dunn has failed to do that. He is slated as a top-7 pick by most boards, but could slip well out of the lottery with a poor showing against USC and the rest of the tournament. Dunn has millions of dollars at stake in the tournament.
Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame) – Ever since the explosion of Isaiah Thomas (the guy on the Celtics, not the former Pistons legend), general managers have been more willing to give shifty, little guys a closer look. Enter Demetrius Jackson. At 6-foot-1 and just 200 pounds, Jackson isn’t going to win anyone over with his physical metrics. But the guy can score and he’s excellent off the pick-and-roll, an absurdly popular trend in the NBA these days. Good enough to be a second round pick, Jackson could worm his way in to the first round, which could be the difference between playing for a bottom feeder or bolstering the guard position for a contender.
Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa) – At 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds, Uthoff’s not going to jump off the page at anyone. He’s also playing for a Hawkeyes team that seemed to go backwards through February and in to the tournament. Here’s the funny thing though – Iowa has a strange run through to a potential Elite Eight appearance. If they play to their potential, they can steal the bottom half of the South Regional from Villanova, Wichita State or Miami. They can’t do that without Uthoff playing at his very best. If he starts shooting like he’s capable of, Uthoff goes from a late second rounder to a sure thing in the draft. Think Sam Dekker of Wisconsin last year.
Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall) – Seton Hall has seriously made a name for themselves in recent weeks, and Whitehead has been the catalyst for it all. Averaging 18.4 points per game during the season, Whitehead exploded for 26, 20, 24, 33 and 27 in his last five games. Those included wins over Xavier and Villanova. At 6-foot-4, he has ideal height for his combo-guard position. Currently unranked on most draft boards, a continued push by the defensively diligent Pirates could see Whitehead’s stock soar through the roof. There are a lot of notable players currently making appearances on draft boards that aren’t even in the tournament. Whitehead could supplant one of them to become one of the NBA prospects in March Madness if he continues his astonishing play and gets his team to a Sweet Sixteen date with the MSU Spartans.