Monday night will crown a new NCAA champion, as first-timer Gonzaga faces title game regular North Carolina. After a wild tournament with several big upsets, and a lot of new faces reaching the Final Four, a pair of #1 seeds will decide the big game.
Compared to recent games, however, there won’t be an excess of future NBA talent on the floor for either squad.
For UNC, one of college basketball’s premiere programs, this will go down as one of the less dynamic successful teams under recruiting icon Roy Williams. On the other side, Gonzaga concludes a gradual rise from lovable Cinderella story to legitimate powerhouse — but representing the lesser known West Coast Conference, the chance to lure top talent really isn’t there.
So, long story short: is the Mavericks’ next draft pick likely to be out there Monday night? Probably not. However, there are a pair of names worth remembering, because you never known what’s going to happen between early April and late June.
Like most of Mark Few’s best squads, this Gonzaga team is an experienced group of upper-classmen, but they have a big, not-so-secret weapon: Seven foot Freshman Zach Collins. Coming off the bench, Collins stands out with a tantalizing combination of size, skill, and athleticism. He made his mark against South Carolina in the Final Four, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking 6 shots. Collins can play above the rim by throwing down some thunderous dunks, but he’s also made 10 of 21 threes on the season, suggesting he has true stretch 5 potential, as well.
Back in early February, before Dallas acquired Nerlens Noel, when Dallas was winning games and looked like they might end up picking in the late lottery (or maybe even in the playoffs — LOL), Collins was a guy I was very interested in. With Noel presumably slotted in as the center of the future, Collins is less of an obvious fit now, though that in of itself probably shouldn’t be a deterrent.
The real issue is that Collins is a bit player right now, playing less than 20 minutes a game, and to pull the trigger on a top 10 pick for a guy like that is a huge gamble. Collins is a tool chest of possibility, but he will need lots of seasoning before one can reasonably expect him to contribute in a regular rotation. In fact, this lack of experience may end up causing him to withdraw from the draft, though with each strong tourney performance that looks less and less likely.
On the other side, the Tar Heels are led by Justin Jackson, a Junior who arrived in Chapel Hill as one of the top recruits in the country, and needed three years to live up to that promise. The 6’7 swingman always had a smooth game, as a quality ball-handler and distributor from the small forward position, but this season he took a major step as a shooter, and morphed into a complete offensive player capable of taking over games as a scorer. He may not be an elite athlete, but his decision making and versatility would fit really well in a modern offense, like the one Rick Carlisle employs in Dallas.
On paper, I like Jackson as a prospect, but something is holding me back. I’m often reluctant to overreact to sudden dramatic improvement in shooting lines (Jackson shot just under 30 percent from three his first two seasons, and over 38 percent in his third). And if he’s only a good shooter rather than a great one, he takes a big hit as a prospect, because as I mentioned above, he won’t overwhelm anyone at the next level athletically.
Jackson is also very thin, and that plays into his problematic defensive profile. If he can defend NBA small forwards, I think his offensive game becomes a plus, but if he can’t, he may end up just being a quality bench piece. In the end, I think there will be better players left on the board when Dallas goes on the clock, as Jackson looks more like a mid-to-late first rounder, but his skill set is such that he’s worth keeping in mind as a dark horse pick (we know the Mavs love to trade back, after all).