The NCAA Tournament starts today at 12:15 Eastern Time. So, whether you’re a die hard college fan or just checking in for the first time all season, this is the final stretch to get a look at some future NBA talent. For those who haven’t checked out my Big Boards before, keep in mind this is my evaluation of prospects as potential Dallas Mavericks, so team needs and overall draft philosophy are taken into account. The top point guards remain absent from my board, as I don’t think one can make a strong argument for selecting a point guard (one without positional flexibility anyway) given the presence of Dennis Smith Jr. Send hate mail to Tim Cato.
Without further ado, the rankings:
1. Luka Doncic, Real Madrid (previous ranking: 1)
Doncic remains at No. 1 despite a thigh injury that will keep him out a bit and some spotty play of late. The injury does not appear to be anything serious, and given that there’s more useful game data on Doncic than any other major prospect, I’m not going to panic over a few bad games. Luka projects to be a dynamic offensive weapon well suited to the modern NBA. There will be plenty of attention given to all the big men in this draft, but I contend a big wing who can shoot, handle the ball, and pass like a point guard is a lot rarer and more valuable.
2. DeAndre Ayton, Arizona (previous ranking: 2)
Ayton played like a man possessed down the stretch for Arizona, perhaps fueled by the negative press surrounding the team and his coach, Sean Miller, who has reportedly been implicated in an FBI probe into improper benefits given to NCAA players. Ayton will be the top guy on some big boards, I’m sure, and the fact that an international prospect has gone first overall just twice before (Andrea Bargnani and Yao Ming) may push Ayton above Doncic in the actual draft. He is perhaps as physically imposing a figure as college basketball has seen since Shaq, and even if he’ll enter the league with questions about his defensive acumen, teams will feel just fine gambling on that end catching up with his offense eventually.
3. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri (previous ranking: 3)
Porter Jr. had an underwhelming return after missing nearly four months with injury, but for the time being he keeps his spot on the big board. I give him credit for working hard to come back in time to help his team in the conference tournament, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned. He has great size for a combo-forward and his shooting and ability to move without the ball could make him a great fit with Dennis Smith Jr. If he can demonstrate more skill at creating offense off the dribble, he might have a scoring title in his future.
4. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State (previous ranking: 4)
Jackson has been in a bit of a slump shooting the three ball but he’s still just below 40 percent from the college line. He’s also just under 80 percent on his free throws, suggesting his shooting is very much for real. Jackson’s game is not tremendously diverse, but he brings the two most important NBA traits in one elite package: three-point shooting, and rim protection. The only real change he’ll need to make in transitioning to the next level is cutting down his foul rate. Right now, he looks like a championship-level role player, with room to grow considering he’s the youngest player in this group.
5. Mohamed Bamba, Texas (previous ranking: 6)
Bamba returned from a short absence in the loss to Texas Tech and will have a tough matchup as Texas takes on Nevada in the first round. The game tape will show a promising player still learning where to be on the floor (especially on offense), but expect to hear Bamba’s name a lot when the combine and team workout period rolls around. His reported length is already the stuff of legends, and with an improving face-up jumper to go with surprising athleticism, it wouldn’t surprise me if a team or two has him at the top of their board.
6. Marvin Bagley III, Duke (previous ranking: 5)
Bagley is tremendously fun to watch play, and I don’t think he’s received quite the proper credit for being so phenomenally productive despite skipping his senior year of high school. Still, in an ultra-deep class of big men, Bagley’s flaws do stand out a little; namely, his lack of length and feel for defending in space. He’s caught out of position fairly regularly, and without Wendell Carter Jr. behind him to clean up mistakes, Duke’s interior defense would be a catastrophe. There’s plenty to like about Bagley, and NBA stardom is absolutely within his capability, but whoever drafts him will need to have a plan to address the rubs.
7. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke (previous ranking: 8)
Speaking of Carter, here he is. Perhaps no player won me over this season to the degree Carter has. When the season began, I pegged him as a mid-late first guy who will do well in college but be best as a backup big at the next level. He’s not the biggest guy out there, nor the best athlete, but his intelligence and diverse combination of skills (he rebounds, defends, and passes well out of the high post) make it hard to find an easy answer for why he fails. The real kicker is his outside shooting, which he’s flashed in spurts. If it’s legitimate, it will go a long way toward helping him make good on the Al Horford comparisons I’ve seen tossed around lately.
8. Mikal Bridges, Villanova (previous ranking: 7)
I have gone back and forth on Bridges and Carter quite a bit, and may flip these two again before it’s all said and done, but for now I’m slotting Mikal second in that race. I’ve made no secret that I firmly believe Dallas wants and needs a wing, even with all the quality big men that seem littered throughout this class. This Bridges (there’s another) has all the credentials you’d look for in an elite 3-and-D guy, with long arms, strong steal rates, and several seasons shooting the ball well. How high do you take a guy if that’s all he is, though? If Dallas believes Mikal is capable of diversifying his offensive game, the answer is easy, but the Mavs need a second perimeter playmaker who can take pressure off DSJ, and it’s not clear Bridges is necessarily that guy.
9. Miles Bridges, Michigan State (previous ranking: 9)
This has pretty much been Miles’ spot all season, somewhere in between an elite prospect and a mid-tier guy. He is a fantastic athlete capable of highlight reel dunks, and his transition from combo-forward to strictly perimeter player has actually been somewhat of a success. His assists went up and his turnovers went down, he took slightly more threes and his true shooting percentage stayed steady, thanks to a significant jump in his free throw makes. Of course, in the strange world of prospect evaluation, minor improvement is somehow a negative, because the expectation was for Miles to make huge leaps across the board and dominate. He’s a gamble, but there is certainly enough here to roll the dice on.
10. Robert Williams, Texas A&M (previous ranking: 10)
There are other big men gaining on him, but for now Williams holds on to the last spot in the top 10. Williams fits the mold of rim protector and pick-and-roll finisher, which every team needs. I have concerns about consistency (and there are off-court questions, as well), but on a per-minute basis few guys match Williams’ production. He’s nearly averaging a double-double in just 25 minutes, with lots of blocks and steals, and his assist rate blows the other bigs in the top 10 out of the water.
11. Daniel Gafford, Arkansas (previous ranking: 13)
Gafford has come from gone unheralded freshman to likely top-20 pick for the Razorbacks. He doesn’t play heavy minutes, which may make some question his high placement here, but with his size and athleticism, Gafford is yet another option should Dallas wish to develop a young shot-blocking rim roller. I’ve tried really hard to come up with reasons to slot some wings ahead of Gafford, but it’s becoming more evident this isn’t a deep crop for wings.
12. Lonnie Walker IV, Miami (previous ranking: 12)
Walker’s game is still more hype than results, but the tournament will give him one last chance to make a statement. I’ve seen Walker flash all the elements of a complete offensive game, but rarely at the same time, which is frustrating, but a patient team might get a steal outside somewhere in the teens. His length, athleticism, and skill are there, but assertiveness seems to be his bugaboo.
13. Troy Brown, Oregon (previous ranking: 14)
Brown is another freshman wing who came in highly recruited, and while I like Brown’s skillset as a point forward whose length helps him grab rebounds and create turnovers, his outside shooting is far behind the rest of his game. If he could space the floor better, he’d probably be threatening the top 10, but for now I’ll err on the side of caution.
14. Jacob Evans, Cincinnati (previous ranking: N/A)
Evans is the first new name on this list, and while he actually struggled mightily in the AAC tournament, he’s built a strong resume in three years at Cincinnati. A 6’6 wing who leads his team in assists and has shot close to 40 percent combined the last two seasons, Evans has an advanced, versatile game, and he’s been a key player in what is perennially one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. There may not be superstar upside here, but tell me all that doesn’t sound like the kind of prospect Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks love?
15. Jontay Porter, Missouri (previous ranking: N/A)
Another new name, Jontay Porter rounds out my big board as the ninth big man out of 15. Jontay’s brother is Michael Porter Jr., the high school megastar who was expected to completely turn around Missouri athletics. Instead, Michael has watched as Jontay has helped Missouri stay relevant without their star recruit, all while assembling a shockingly strong draft resume. Porter placed first in Kevin Pelton’s recently released “stats only” draft projections, and while I don’t think anyone is talking up Jontay as a top-three pick, his play has likely moved him into first-round discussion. The younger Porter has a deceptively effective game that isn’t built on size or explosiveness, but skill and timing. Porter has great hands, and knows how to play, helping him make nifty passes from the high post and rack up steals at the other end. He’s also really turned it on as an outside shooter, knocking down over 50 percent of his threes since the new year.