March Madness is upon us! With the tourney field set, we can begin preparing to be shocked by the latest NCAA Tournament Cinderella. We are also beginning to get a clearer picture of the major players for the 2015 Draft, as well as players to watch for future years. Here we highlight some of the top prospects to watch for in the postseason.
Karl Anthony Towns 7-0 250 C Kentucky Fr.
No one can take away what Willie Cauley-Stein has meant to this undefeated Kentucky team, particularly on the defensive end. But a case can be made that Towns has been even more valuable to the team since conference play began. Towns has become much more comfortable as an offensive option, especially close to the basket. With this increase in offensive productivity, many have posed the question as to just which big is the better prospect between Towns and Jahlil Okafor. Towns has been the better overall rebounder and is absolutely the better rim protector on defense. Okafor’s advanced low post skill set makes him a more sure bet and tough to pass up, though Towns has shown more improvement from the beginning of the season. His improvement has been evident, and many feel with a Kentucky National title and a perceived higher ceiling than Okafor, he has the inside track now on the top overall pick.
DAngelo Russell 6-5 180 PG/SG Ohio St. Fr.
Phil Jackson let it be known that Russell was a “great prospect”, getting fined for making a public comment on a player that has yet to declare themselves eligible for the draft. It is a feather in the cap of the freshman to have a legendary coach and current president of the New York Knicks (owners of a likely top 5 pick) give him this type of praise. Leading all freshmen in the country at 19.3 ppg (1.5 ppg more than the next closest freshman), he is averaging over 5 rebounds and assists per game as well. His ability as a jump shooter is enhanced by his great ability to use fakes to create space. He lacks explosive athleticism but still manages to get out in transition to make a difference. As Golden State’s Steph Curry has proven this season, sheer run jump athleticism can be overrated. Russell also has been excellent in pick-and-roll situations, with a handle and court vision that will make him a viable NBA combo guard if he doesn;t make it as a full time point. He was a consensus All-American and his skill level and having proven himself in college, gives him a leg up on Emmanuel Mudiay to be the first guard taken in this years draft.
Kelly Oubre 6-7 200 SF Kansas Fr.
After getting off to a very slow start coming off Kansas’ bench, Oubre showed flashes just before conference play started. After a scoreless game against TCU, he averaged 12.9 ppg and 4.7 rpg over his last 7 contests. He even avenged his earlier donut with a career high 25, including 15-19 FT, when they played TCU in the conference tournament. Another positive sign is that he has relied less on the three point shot, using his tremendous length to his advantage. Oubre still needs to work on his ball skills, but he has been showing a lot of potential as a perimeter defender. With some added strength, it is not hard to see his potential impact on both sides of the court at the wing spot. Once thought to be a possible 2016 returnee, he has played himself into lottery consideration.
Bobby Portis 6-10 240 PF Arkansas So.
Portis took home SEC Player of the Year over a bevy of Kentucky contenders, with his added strength making him a much bigger factor on the boards and in the post. He grabbed only 6 fewer offensive rebounds in conference play as a sophomore than he did defensive rebounds as a freshman, in only a couple more minutes per game. A threat to shoot the jumper, he also has nice versatility with vision as a big man who runs the floor very well. While he struggles defending the post at times, he possesses size and athleticism to be a possible factor defending power forwards. With the improvement he showed in his 2nd year along with his skill set at his size, Portis looks like a viable late lottery selection.
Olivier Hanlan 6-4 190 PG Boston College Jr.
Hanlan was the ACC’s top scorer this season at 19.5 ppg for the year. He really shined in conference play, averaging 21.9 ppg while shooting 43.6% 3PT, with almost three made triples per game. With a great change of speed and offensive arsenal that is dangerous in transition, one could envision him being a very nice change of pace player as a combo guard at the next level. It would be nice to see what the Quebec product could do if surrounded by players closer to his talent level. He does not possess top-notch athleticism and is more crafty than fast, but he is a smart, aggressive player who made strides this season. In a draft thin at PG, Hanlan could be a nice value pick at the right spot. He’s considered a bubble first rounder by scouts and despite a rough start to the year, a problable early entrant.
Cameron Payne 6-2 190 PG Murray St. So.
Payne is a player who has really impressed scouts with his point guard skills and physical attributes. He’s a prospect with first round talent who has jumped into the 2016 mock draft following a tremendous season and standout play in the Ohio Valley Conference, despite Murray State falling short of an NCAA tourney bid. He averaged over 20 points per game and a better than 2 – 1 a/to ratio, displaying both great scoring ability, plus the ability to run a team. He knocks down over 2 three pointers per game (2.3 / 6.2 pg) at a solid 37%. Scouts feel he would benefit with another year, but would be tough to pass over for a spot in this year’s first round. Payne faces UTEP in a televised game in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday.
Xavier Rathan Mayes 6-3 200 PG/SG Florida St. Fr.
Rathan-Mayes had one of the most incredible one man comeback attempts the NCAA has witnessed in a game against Miami last month. With FSU down 62-47, Rathan-Mayes scored 30 points over the last 4:38. Yes, 30 points in less than 5 minutes. Talk about instant offense! Even though the Noles lost 81-77, it has to be one of the most impressive short span scoring displays along with the likes of Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter against the Kings this year. Thompson got 12 minutes to get his 37, the X-man had 7 fewer points, in less than 5 minut He needs very little room to create his shot and was adjusting to a new position as a point guard. His growth as the season progressed is a nice sign for next season, where he should have a more efficient sophomore season and should move his way up the ACC scoring chart.
Devin Robinson 6-8 180 SF Florida Fr.
The skinny wing is definitely in need of Florida’s famous summer weight training program. He took his lumps on a young Florida team as a rotation player; with potential for much more with some added strength. Possessing a 7-foot wingspan and effortless leaping ability, his shooting mechanics should lead to a big boost in proficiency with a year of repetition. His most efficient area has been as a cutter, he can be a very dangerous player without the ball, which will surely be a focus moving into next season. His body will undoubtedly be a huge factor as far as living up to his current Mock Draft ranking (top 10 pick in 2016) and his athleticism leads us to believe he could make a very nice jump next season.
Isaiah Taylor 6-2 170 PG Texas So.
A player with rare open floor speed, Taylor went from an unheralded recruit to a star freshman and standout when we saw him at the LeBron James Skills Academy. He broke his left wrist three games into the season and it took him a while to get back on the floor and into the swing of things. He turned the corner over a solid five game stretch, however was plagued with inconsistency shooting the ball and his need for strength to finish better in transition is still quite apparent. His lack of girth also led to difficulties on the defensive end, where a player with his extraordinary quickness should be more of a factor. He did improve as a FT shooter and he showed more PG acumen as a sophomore, which is a good sign of progression. His jump shot still is something that will be crucial going forward and his slight frame needs time to fill out. Here is hoping that Taylor has an injury free junior year and comes back to lead a Texas team that will hopefully be more cohesive following a lackluster 2014-15 season. Taylor has been moved from the 2015 to the 2016 mock draft.
Myles Turner 6-11 240 C/PF Texas Fr.
Turner’s roller coaster season has not had a strong finish with four straight single digit outcomes. He has averaged less than 15 minutes in his last three games and averaged just 5 ppg over his past four. His stats on the year remain solid for a freshman, and his ability to protect the rim and make plays in the half court give him intrigue. He has slipped out of the lottery on the mock draft recently. The good news is that Turner has a golden opportunity to shine in the tournament with Texas being picked by most to defeat Butler and have at least two games to showcase himself in the Big Dance.
Terry Rozier 6-2 190 PG Louisville So.
Rozier did take a nice step forward as a sophomore, finishing as Louisville’s leading scorer at 17.1 ppg in the regular season, with strong rebounding numbers for a guard at 5.3 rpg. Even so, his place in the NBA will be as a point guard and there are still question marks about how efficiently he can run a team. He has had a brief window to take on more responsibility as the primary ball handler following Chris Jones dismissal and it is hard to say he alleviated the concerns regarding his role at the next level. His scoring ability is evident and he shows a nice midrange jump shot, but he only shot 31% from 3PT range while averaging only 2.8 apg compared to 2.2 topg. Rick Pitino seemed to point to Rozier leaving early for the draft but also said he felt he could develop into a lottery pick with another season. And while he does possess qualities that translate well to the next level, he might want to take a page from Montrezl Harrell’s book and work on his future positional skills during his junior season.
Terran Petteway 6-6 215 SF Nebraska Jr.
Nebraska was a team ranked firmly in both preseason Top 25 polls, coming off a season where Terran Petteway had led them to their first NCAA Tournament since 1998. Along with fellow junior returnee Shavon Shields, expectations were for Petteway to make a return Tourney appearance and be an All-American candidate. While his 18.2 ppg was almost identical to his average the year previous, he has struggled mightily shooting the ball, especially during conference play. The Cornhuskers also fell well below pre-season expectations, finishing 5-13 in the Big Ten, losing their last 9 games. Petteway did handle the ball quite a bit more and upped his assist numbers, though it is still uncertain whether he has the ability to move to the 2-guard at the NBA level. Age wise, Petteway would be an older senior, so he may very well enter the draft as opposed to trying to re-package Nebraska’s 2013-14 magic. Even with Nebraska’s obvious lack of ball movement and talent being an issue, he will have a lot to prove in workouts to move back up the draft board.
Follow Michael on twitter @NBADraftMikeyV or feel free to send him an e-mail at email@example.com