This is the time of year when casual basketball fans usually get the first glimpse of the up-and-coming NBA talent that has been dominating college basketball since November. We all were robbed of an NCAA tournament last year and missed seeing high draft picks like Patrick Williams, Obi Toppin and Isaac Okoro play in March. Luckily, this year’s NBA draft class is loaded and there’s plenty of talent playing on the big stage the next few weeks.
We broke down the 10 best NBA prospects you won't see in the tourney last week. Here’s a look at the 10 best NBA prospects we will see in the NCAA tournament.
Draft range: 1-3
Cunningham has been exceptional down the stretch for this young Oklahoma State team. He averaged 23.6 points, four assists and two steals and shot an impressive 44% from the field during the Big 12 tournament. The 6-foot-8 guard was the No. 1 player coming out of high school and chose the Pokes over North Carolina and Kentucky. Mike Boynton was the first coach to offer Cunningham when he was in eighth grade and later hired his older brother, Cannen, to the OSU coaching staff.
“Coach Boynton was the first coach to ever offer me and he was an assistant coach when I got that offer. He just stayed consistent throughout the whole process so we built a really great relationship,” Cunningham told Yahoo Sports.
Cunningham is drawing early NBA comparisons to Luka Doncic thanks to his high-level passing and playmaking ability in iso situations. He ranks in the 90th percentile in isolation, averaging 1.1 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. If the last three games are any indication of what Cunningham can continue to do in March, look for him to distance himself as the consensus No. 1 pick over players like Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs.
Draft range: 1-4
Mobley is the best shot blocker in this draft class and led the Pac-12 with 87 total blocks and averaged three blocks per game. The 7-foot center boasts a 7-foot-5 wingspan and can handle the ball outside the perimeter better than last year’s No. 2 pick James Wiseman, who went to the Golden State Warriors. Mobley has improved on his shooting percentage out of the pick-and-pop and scored 26 points in back-to-back games to close out the season. He runs the floor extremely well for his size, and he has been compared to former Miami Heat center Chris Bosh.
Mobley doesn’t necessarily dominate the paint with his frame but his footwork and length give him a slight advantage on the block, and he’s proven he can step outside the 3-point line and knock down shots.
Draft range: 2-5
Suggs is the best recruit Mark Few has ever landed at Gonzaga and he was even a highly rated high school quarterback with multiple offers before choosing basketball. The 6-foot-4 point guard took over the last four minutes of the WCC championship game after being down 12 points to BYU at halftime. He had eight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put the dagger in a BYU team hoping to hand the Zags their first loss of the season.
“There's a lot of NBA players, a lot of good players that run from the ball at the end of the game and what Jalen did in the last few minutes against BYU spoke volumes about what type of player he is,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “I don't think it will shock you at all to hear he's going to be a top-five draft pick.”
Suggs is the floor general who could lead this Gonzaga team to its first NCAA championship and become the first undefeated team to do so since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
Draft range: 5-10
Barnes is a 6-foot-9 point-forward who can play and defend multiple positions on an athletic Seminoles team. Ninety percent of the time, he’s the one bringing the ball up and has the ability to get to the rim whenever he wants with his size and speed. Earlier in the season, FSU was trailing Wake Forest by two points at the end of regulation with five seconds left. Barnes got the ball a quarter of the way up the floor and got to the rim in four seconds for a layup to send the game into overtime.
“Scottie is very quick and fast with the ball, he finishes with those long arms,” head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the game. “We were very fortunate to finish that play and put us into overtime.”
FSU won the game in overtime but it’s not the only time Barnes has taken over games. In a 80-75 loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC championship, Barnes had a season-high 21 points off the bench, including two 3-pointers and shooting 80% from the field.
“Scottie Barnes is going to win a lot of games for an NBA team at the next level,” an NBA executive told Yahoo Sports. “You can’t teach that and that’s why you’re seeing so many of Leonard Hamilton’s guys go so high in the draft.”
Draft range: 7-12
What a year for the 6-foot-6 shooting guard who scored in double-digits in all but three games this season. Moody played alongside Cunningham and Barnes at Montverde Academy on what was arguably the best high school basketball team of all time. He’s shooting 38% from 3-point range and is excellent in spot-up shooting, averaging 1.13 points per possession. Moody is also great with the ball in his hand, ranking in the 98th percentile in scoring when he’s the ball handler in a pick-and-roll situation, according to Synergy Sports. He is the leading scorer on a loaded Arkansas team, averaging 17.4 points per game.
Draft range: 6-10
Johnson didn’t start playing consistently until early February but once the game slowed down for him, he started showing everyone why he’s a projected top-10 pick. The 6-foot-5 guard is the most athletic guard in the draft class and had one of the best dunks this season on Georgia’s Toumani Camera.
“Coach [Rick] Barnes told us that there’s a play in the game that no one uses anymore and it’s called a give-and-go. So I saw [John] Fulkerson down there sitting so I just had to give it to him and we got the play accomplished,” Johnson said of the dunk after the game.
Johnson has tremendous pace in the open court and has a similar game to Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant. If Tennessee makes a big push in the tournament, Johnson’s draft stock will continue to rise.
Draft range: 7-13
Bouknight missed five weeks after suffering an elbow injury in January. Prior to that, he posted 40 points in a win over a tough Creighton team, hitting five 3-pointers and shooting 54% from the field. UConn has lost only two games since Bouknight returned and his shooting could carry them far in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies haven’t made the tournament since 2016 and Bouknight could provide some Kemba Walker-like magic in the next few weeks. The 6-foot-5 guard has a high basketball IQ averaging under three turnovers per game and is also sneaky bouncy, demonstrating that with a put-back dunk in his first game back.
WELCOME BACK JAMES BOUKNIGHT pic.twitter.com/sdiAusruDL
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) February 16, 2021
Draft range: 8-15
Kispert is the best 3-point shooter on a deep Gonzaga team, hitting 72 3-pointers so far this season and averaging 45% from 3-point range. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard tested the NBA waters last year but elected to come back to play alongside Suggs in the backcourt. Kispert went from a projected second-round pick last year to a potential lottery pick this year. He is averaging 19.2 points per game and ranks in the 97th percentile in spot-up shooting.
Draft range: 10-17
Like his teammate Johnson, it took a couple months for Springer to get comfortable on the court and playing in a tough SEC conference. Since Feb. 6, the 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 16.5 points per game and is shooting 45% from the field. It’s Springer’s midrange game that has been most impressive down the stretch for the Vols. His two-dribble pull-up in the lane is deadly due to his high release and the way he creates separation between himself and the defender. Springer has continued to improve as the season goes on and there’s no doubt he’ll continue to play well in the NCAA tournament, elevating his draft stock.
Draft range: 15-25
Point guard Dosunmu could end up being a huge sleeper in this draft class. He’s averaging 21 points per game and is one of the best passing point guards in college basketball, averaging 5.4 assists per game and dishing out nine or more assists three times since early February. Dosunmu posted a triple-double twice this season with his best game coming in a win against Wisconsin where he finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Illinois is more than capable of being in (downtown) Indianapolis in April, and the way he’s leading this team, he could shoot up draft boards.
“I thought last year we had a chance to do something special but this year we have a chance to be great,” Dosunmu told Yahoo Sports. “I knew with the coaching staff, the recruits coming and the players returning we have a chance to do something special.”
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