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Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham has been the favored No. 1 NBA draft pick for the majority of the college season. Right behind him is USC center Evan Mobley and Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs. Cunningham had an early exit in the tournament after Oklahoma State lost to Oregon State in the second round but both Mobley and Suggs are still dancing, leading their teams to the Elite Eight. All 30 NBA teams have been filtering in and out of Indianapolis to see the top three prospects play in person. Unlike the NBA draft two years ago when Zion Williamson was clearly the No. 1 draft pick, that doesn't appear to be the case this year.
“I don’t think there’s a consensus No. 1 overall pick in this draft class. It’s going to come down to team need and who has the No. 1 pick,” one NBA executive told Yahoo Sports. “There’s a lot of young talent at the top of the draft. It’s a good problem to have.”
The NCAA men's tournament is the biggest stage in college basketball. Which player has impressed scouts the most and who is the safest pick at No. 1? Yahoo Sports breaks down the top three draft prospects and how they have fared in the tournament.
Ht./Wt: 7-0, 210
Tournament stats: 12.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.6 bpg
What an incredible run for No. 6 seed USC. The Mobley brothers, Evan and his older brother Isaiah, have been unstoppable in the frontcourt, giving opponents all sorts of problems with their length and size. Evan Mobley is the best shot blocker in the Pac-12 with his 7-foot-5 wingspan and great timing on defense. He had 95 blocks this season, the second most in the country, and averaged three blocks per game.
NBA personnel knew what Mobley could do in the low post, but it’s what he’s shown off the block and in transition that has impressed scouts. He’s a threat in the pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll, stepping outside the key to make a play. Mobley handles the ball extremely well for his 7-foot frame and can extend the defense with his one-dribble pull-up off the elbow. He has the ideal physical frame of a modern-day NBA center and has the potential to be a franchise player down the road.
“Evan Mobley is better than James Wiseman and Wiseman went No. 2 last year. He definitely has a chance at going No. 1,” one NBA scout said after watching Mobley twice in the tournament. “He’s been the most impressive prospect I’ve seen in the tournament.”
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 29, 2021
Ht./Wt: 6-8, 220
Tournament stats: 19.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2 apg, 3.5 spg
What an incredible season for the star freshman out of Arlington, Texas. Oklahoma State was young and gritty. The Cowboys had 10 Quad 1 wins entering the tournament and beat six ranked teams to close out the season. Cunningham was the leader of the team, taking over games when needed. He didn’t shy away from big moments, hitting a 3-pointer with a hand in his face to tie the game against No. 6 Texas. Cunningham was named the Big 12 Player of the Year and the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists during the season.
“I sometimes have to remind myself that he’s 19. Obviously he came in with a lot of hype, deservedly so,” head coach Mike Boynton told Yahoo Sports. “I think he’s the best player in the country, period. What he’s done for and with our program is still under-appreciated. I’m very thankful that he stuck with us, that he believed in us and had the humility to go about it the right way.”
Cunningham has drawn early comparisons to Luka Doncic. He has great size at 6-foot-8 and can create well for others off the dribble. He’ll need to work on his on-ball defense and there are concerns at the next level that he won’t be able to keep quicker, stronger guards in front of him on defense. Scouts can’t ignore his all-around game and what it could bring to an NBA team next season. Because of his size and versatility, teams can plug him into any position in the backcourt and he can make an instant impact. Cunningham is still the safest pick for the No. 1 spot.
Ht./Wt: 6-4, 205
Tournament stats: 10.3 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2 spg
Gonzaga remains undefeated as it coasted through the first three rounds of the tournament. The Zags' next challenge will be Mobley and USC in what will likely be a battle inside. What Suggs brings to the team is balance in the offense. He’s a phenomenal passer off the pick-and-roll, utilizing both sides of the court. Suggs is excellent off the cut with his speed, averaging 1.5 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. The freshman point guard is a streaky shooter, going 1-for-10 from 3-point range in the tournament and shooting 32% from the 3-point line this season. That’s an area he will need to improve on at the next level.
Suggs is tenacious on defense and one of the best on-ball defenders in college hoops. He never backs away from guarding the best player on the opposing team and isn’t afraid to dive after loose balls. He is deadly in transition after turning defense into offense and loves to finish above the rim.
“People are going to throw around the Russell Westbrook or Brandon Roy comparisons and it might not be too far off,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “I can see his upside being a two-, three-, four-year All-Star guy that impacts both sides of the floor.”
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