Welcome to March Madness, a month of chaos that can feel like a hurricane, but a Prospect Watch dream. This week nearly every conference plays a mini post season tournament to either improve their seeding, or try to bust into the NCAA or NIT tournaments that start next week.
For these editions of Prospect Watch, we’re breaking it down in to three parts. Today we’ll give you seven NBA prospects that project to be in this summer’s lottery. In the final two installments we’ll look at players that could be available should the Mavericks try to trade their way back in to the first round, and then some names who could be floating around in the second.
Since the Big Ten played their tournament early, names like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges won’t appear on this schedule. We also will feature a single player from each team, even if schools like Duke and Kentucky have multiple players to track.
PW is throwing a lot of info at you this week, but now you’ll have a one stop shop of content for every NBA prospect you need to track in the next five days.
Note: some tip-off times are approximate
DeAndre Ayton - C, University of Arizona
vs Arizona State/Colorado - March 8, 2 CT (PAC-12 Network)
Possible games: 3/9 8 CT (PAC-12 Network), 3/10 9 CT (FS1)
Over the last month, the 7’1 Hercules suiting up for the Arizona Wildcats has definitively separated himself from the pack. Even in the midst of alleged scandal, Ayton has continued to post eye-popping numbers, most recently dominating for 26 points and 20 rebounds in U of A’s regular season finale against Cal over the weekend.
He’s flanked by second-round hopefuls Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, but it’s all Ayton for us. The big man from the Bahamas has posted stout numbers this season against both his possible opponents. Look for a big game from him Thursday, and more to come through the weekend.
Michael Porter Jr. - F, University of Missouri
vs Georgia/Vanderbilt - March 8, 2:30 CT (SEC Network)
Possible games: 3/9 vs Kentucky 2:30 CT (ESPN), 3/10 12 CT (ESPN), 3/11 12 CT (ESPN)
We featured Michael Porter Jr. last week on PW, in the hopes that he’d play last Saturday for the first time since Missouri’s season opener. Unfortunately for us, Porter opted to sit out as he takes his time rehabbing from back surgery. His younger brother Jontay, who has steadily risen on draft boards, had a solid game opposite Arkansas big man Daniel Gafford.
Many believe the older Porter will make an appearance this week, though it’s impossible to project for how long, considering the demanding schedule. Still, with the possibility of getting our first look at Porter post-surgery, we had to include him on this list.
Marvin Bagley III - PF/C, Duke University
vs VaTech/Notre Dame/Pittsburgh - March 8, 6 CT (ESPN)
Possible games: 3/9 8 CT (ESPN/2), 3/10 7:30 CT (ESPN)
When MBIII reclassified to play at Duke this year rather than next, he remained the number one draft prospect entering the season. For much of his freshman campaign he has put up impressive numbers, to the point that we’re probably taking his production for granted.
Still, some of the holes in his game have revealed themselves over the last month or so, both on defense and operating away from the basket on offense. But Bagley is an insane athlete, and his ceiling as a pro is still sky high. Fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. looks to be another lottery selection behind Bagley, and senior Grayson Allen will have his name called later in the draft as a lethal sharpshooter.
Mikal Bridges - SG/SF, Villanova University
vs Marquette/DePaul - March 8th, 6 CT (FS1)
*Possible games: 3/9 8 CT (FS1), 3/10 5:30 CT (Fox)
Junior wing Mikal Bridges used this season as a massive opportunity, and his numbers exploded, improving across the board on both ends of the floor. Doubling his shot attempts per game, his three-point percentage actually went up, shooting 42 percent on the season from deep. He’s averaging eight more points per game (17.6 per), and has become a reliable threat with a high basketball IQ.
In some ways, all that offensive improvement is just icing on the cake, because he does all the other little things right. The phrase “he doesn’t need the ball in his hands” is overused when analyzing players, but Bridges is that sort of contributor. He will win you games without scoring. Mikal is 13th in the country in win shares (5.6, his teammate Jalen Brunson is sixth at 5.8), and has the ability to guard all three perimeter positions. He’s the second best true wing of this draft class, and is the sort of player teams will gravitate to as Villanova makes a tournament run.
Mohamed Bamba - C, University of Texas
vs Iowa State - March 7, 8 CT (ESPNU)
*Possible games: 3/8 vs Texas Tech 6 CT (ESPN/2), 3/9 8 CT (ESPN/2), 3/10 5 CT (ESPN)
It’s possible we won’t get to see the Longhorn big man Wednesday, in their matchup with Iowa State. Bamba, who has played and started in 28 of the University of Texas’ 31 games this season, has been out recently with a sprained toe. Head coach Shaka Smart said Monday morning that Bamba was making progress, but that he was “not sure” if Bamba would play against the Cyclones. With UT sitting on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid, there’s no doubt they need Bamba this week.
For his part, Mo Bamba has looked the model of a future franchise defensive anchor. With 105 blocks on the season (second in the country, four blocks ahead of Jaren Jackson Jr.), and the sixth best defensive box plus/minus (9.2), Bamba’s instincts protecting the paint are rarely found at such a young age. As his offensive game continues to expand, he could end up being the most versatile big man of this class.
Kevin Knox - F, University of Kentucky
vs Missouri/Georgia/Vanderbilt - March 9, 2:30 CT (ESPN)
Possible games: 3/10 12 CT (ESPN), 3/11 12 CT (ESPN)
Kevin Knox has not done enough to put himself in the same tier as the names listed above. Still, he remains an intriguing top-ten talent, as a combo forward that has had a solid season; especially considering that he’s mostly had to play out of position, and on a team that’s had more trouble putting points on the board than most Kentucky squads are used to.
Knox and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have shouldered much of the leadership load for this young group. And with this team’s lack of outside shooting, Knox has been forced to work through a lot of traffic. At the next level he’ll be better suited as a 4, and if he’s given a better system that stretches the floor, he could be a mismatch machine. His ability is certainly raw now, but length, athleticism and versatility is ideal in this current NBA.
Lonnie Walker - SG, University of Miami
vs UNC/Syracuse/Wake Forest - March 8, 8 CT (ESPN)
Possible games: 3/9 8 CT (ESPN/2), 3/10 7:30 CT (ESPN)
Most draft boards don’t have the freshman wing listed quite this high, but PW is doubling down on Lonnie Walker as a legitimate lottery talent. The lengthy 6’4 (nearly 6’11 wingspan) shooting guard had a quiet start to his freshman season, but slowly came on toward the end of January and has established himself as a reliable contributor.
Right around the time sophomore wing leader Bruce Brown (who might be a second-round steal) went down with a season-ending injury, Walker started to find his shooting stroke, hitting a respectable 36 percent from deep, on nearly seven attempts, while averaging 15 points per game. He’s another very raw prospect, but real potential is there as a multi-tool shooting guard at the next level.
We’ll return tomorrow with schedules for more players the Mavericks should be scouting!