In part one of this series we took stock of the names we expect to hear early in the draft this June. The tournament didn’t shake up the top of our rankings very much; any major shuffling likely won’t happen until the actual lottery order is set next month.
Today we’ll wrap up our post-tournament analysis with a handful of players that should be gone by the middle of the first round. This is the range where more players were able to prove themselves in new ways over the last several weeks. Expect continued movement in the next two months, but today we look at how their tournament performance moved each player’s projection.
1 game: 38 mins, 12 pts (5/12 FG), 2 reb, 0 ast (3 TOs)
The Miami guard had an up and down freshman season, and it didn’t end in an ideal way. The U had plenty of issues getting things going all year, and the loss of perimeter leader Bruce Brown midseason didn’t help. Brown’s exit did provide more opportunity for Walker to stretch himself, where he shot 36 percent from three in conference play. But he’s still a work in progress, never more evident than in Miami’s first round game against Cinderella Loyola-Chicago. Walker had a series of blunders (a crucial turnover and missed free throw) late that led to the Ramblers’ last second dagger. The 6’4 wing has the build, wingspan, and athleticism to be a solid two-way player at the next level — it will just be a process.
2 games: 35 MPG, 20 pts (16/40 FG), 7.5 reb, 2 ast
Bridges returned to East Lansing for his sophomore season with plenty of personal and team goals in mind. A projected top-12 pick last spring, the 6’7 forward didn’t fulfill most of those ambitions, and likely sits in a similar draft spot again this summer. He may not have taken major steps statistically, but if anything he proved consistency and his ability to take on more of a leadership role. Bridges is super athletic, can play both forward positions and both sides of the ball. NBA teams covet those skills. Though the Spartans’ rather embarrassing exit from the tournament ended Bridges’ time in college on a sour note, expect him to regain some momentum over the next two months.
3 games: 33.7 MPG, 15.3 pts (17/36 FG), 5.7 reb, 1.7 ast
Coach Calipari has reportedly made an effort to convince Knox to stay (opposite of Cal’s typical encouragement of players to leave), with the freshman forward expected to make a decision by Friday. Knox ended his season on a rather quiet note. After dominating Davidson in the first round with 25 points, he was underwhelming, averaging 10.5 points over their final two games. Representative of his season as a whole, Knox was up and down, tasked with carrying an offensive load for a Wildcats squad that had trouble scoring consistently. Knox has work to do to realize his full potential as a scorer, but similar to other combo forwards in this draft, his skill set is desired in every organization.
2 games: 31.5 MPG, 21 pts (14/28 FG), 3.5 reb, 4.5 ast (5 TOpg)
Sexton is so electric, and was in such a groove heading in to the tournament, that he felt due for a deep Kemba Walker-like run. Unfortunately for the Tide, they had a meeting with the future champions early on. Some questions remain about his decision making and ability to get others involved in the offense, but he will be an exciting two-way guard at the next level, on or off the ball. It’s that versatility that will keep him in the discussion as a top-10 selection.
3 games: 38.3 MPG, 20.3 pts (17/35 FG), 6.3 reb, 6 ast, 2.3 stl (3.3 TOpg)
No guard did more for his draft stock the last month of the season than SGA. Averaging 19 points (shooting 50 percent from three), five rebounds and nearly seven assists over his final 10 games, Gilgeous-Alexander was doing everything for the Wildcats. Because of his length and athleticism (6’6, reported 7’ wingspan) teams will be able to use him at either guard position. His offensive ability has grown exponentially over the last six months. Teams will want to know if his outside shot is legit (40 percent from three, but on only 57 attempts), though his 82 percent from the free-throw line is a good indicator. He may not crack the top 10, but he might be the steal of the draft.
3 games: 24.6 MPG, 11 pts (15/20 FG), 11 reb, 2.3 blk
Scouts and GMs got the best of Robert Williams in the NCAA tournament, in all his athletic dunking and shot-blocking glory. Like Bridges, Williams returned to A&M for his sophomore year with bigger goals in mind. But unlike Bridges, more questions may have surfaced for the Aggies big man. There might be valid questions about his engagement and attitude, though he was forced to play out of position in College Station, paired with center Tyler Davis. But when you get Williams fully invested, like the Aggies did in March, he gives you all of the explosive ability of a rim-running, rim-protecting big man that still has a vital role in the NBA.
4 games: 32.3 MPG, 12 pts (19/38 FG), 7.3 reb, 2.5 ast, 1 blk, 1 stl
Smith, a freshman forward who came out of nowhere this season, will reportedly test the NBA draft waters this spring without immediately hiring an agent — leaving open the option of returning to Lubbock next fall. This is the right move for the springy wing. He could return for a sophomore season with a bigger role on a team losing a lot of veteran leadership. But Smith also had an outstanding March, playing a crucial role in a deep tournament run for the Red Raiders. And it seemed like we were just getting a taste of his potential. There is plenty more to be developed in Smith offensively, primarily as a ball handler and shooter. But he is the exact kind of do-it-all, multi-positional wing that will thrive at the next level (I mean, look at that picture above). And he may not be able to pass all this momentum up.