A Nets Fans’ Guide to the NCAA Tournament
It’s that time of year again. A time filled with excitement, intrigue, and strong takeaways from one 40 minute game involving a bunch of teenagers and a bouncing ball. Oh, Wisconsin lost in the second round? Obviously because they’re chokers who’s slow pace is just a gimmick that can’t work in March. Duke ended up winning the national championship? Coach K paid off the refs, like always. Andrew Wiggins went 1-6 and only scored 4 points as 2 seeded Kansas got upset by Stanford? Wiggins isn’t ready for the NBA, he needs to stay in college or he’ll bust. As the weather gets warmer, the takes get hotter, a tradition unlike any other. Even if that’s the Master’s slogan and not the NCAA’s it still works. There are going to be a lot of people watching NBA prospects for the first time this spring, and whether it be from one game or six, people will surely come away with definite conclusions on each players future. Like any good NBA fan you should be able to have a strong, assured opinion on whoever the Nets end up taking, so here is a region by region guide to who you should be watching. This isn’t a comprehensive guide of every prospect in the tournament who the Nets might draft; I limited my scope to players ranked between #25-50 on either Draft Express or Chad Ford’s Big Board, but this should cover almost everyone. When it comes to tournament play, there certainly are things to learn from seeing prospects go up against other high level competition. Still, no single game should influence an overall body of work too much, and it is important to remember that the way player x is playing when you watch them, is not the way they always play. Cleanthony Early and Andrew Wiggins can attest to this. Also, these aren’t my opinions on players, but instead quick overviews of their general outlooks. So without further ado, a guide to the Nets relevant prospects in this years tournament.
Kentucky: Dakari Johnson. Dakari is known as the guy who comes off the bench when front court gods Karl Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein get bored of dominating their NCAA brethren. Coming off the bench as a sophomore is usually not a great sign for someone’s NBA future, but Johnson would probably be starting on any other team in the country. He’s a strong, skilled, and smart big guy who does everything pretty well, and even though he doesn’t have elite athleticism, he could be a solid two way center at the NBA level. He’s currently projected as a late first rounder, and could be in play for the Nets if they decide Brook Lopez isn’t part of their future.
Maryland: Jake Layman. Layman is an athletic and versatile 6’9 junior forward who’s 37% stroke from three makes him an interesting NBA wing. Watching Maryland he doesn’t always leap off the screen since ball dominant guards Dez Wells and Melo Trimble do most of the creating, but he spaces the floor and has the length and athleticism to be a good defender. Right now he’s mocked as an early second rounder, so the Nets will probably give him a look with both their first and second round selections.
Notre Dame: Demetrius Jackson. Like Layman, Jackson often goes under the radar in comparison to his more heralded teammate, in his case Jerian Grant, but the 6’1 sophomore certainly deserves some attention. He’s a quick and bouncy athlete who can get into the lane on offense, and bother opposing guards on the other end. Coupled with 41% three point shooting, he’s a potentially dynamic backup point guard at the NBA level. There isn’t much first round buzz around Jackson, but he could easily be a target for the Nets second rounder.
Indiana: Troy Williams/Yogi Ferrell. Williams is a super athletic 6’7 sophomore forward who’s athleticism really pops. He’s only shot 12 threes so far this year, but if he develops his outside stroke could be a great 3-and-D wing who also can play small ball at the four. Ferrell is a lightning fast junior point guard who can score the ball, shoot the three, and distribute the ball, but generously listed at 6’0 he will struggle on the defensive end. Ferrell’s potential is an Aaron Brooks-esque instant offense guard off the bench, much like Notre Dame’s Jackson. Both Williams and Ferrell are early to mid second rounders, so they both will be in consideration for the Nets.
Wichita State: Ron Baker. Baker is a 6’4 junior combo guard, and probably was an extra in the movie Hoosiers. He makes good decisions with the ball, really shoots it well, and is a really good defender at the college level, but there are concerns about his position and athleticism when it comes to the NBA. If Baker can figure out how to play PG in the NBA his size, shooting ability and smarts will make him an effective backup and potential second rounder for Brooklyn.
LSU: Jarell Martin. Martin is an athletic 6’10 sophomore power forward who you may have seen recently throwing down a between the legs dunk in the middle of a tied game. His athleticism combined with impressive ball handling for a man of his size and a fledgling outside shot give him a chance to be an inside-outside threat at the NBA level. He’s been rising up draft boards recently, and could be an option at either the back end of the first round or the Nets second round choice.
Louisville: Terry Rozier. Rozier is an explosive 6’1 sophomore guard who can get into the lane and make plays happen or hit the outside shot. He’s got a strong body that allows him to get to the line and bully opponents on both ends of the floor, but he’s only shot 31% from deep this year and isn’t a great passer for a point guard. If he can show more as a creator and develop a more consistent three point shot he could be a more well rounded version of Jackson or Ferrell, and he’s considered a potential late first or early second round guy.
Virginia: Justin Anderson. Recovering from a foot injury and an appendectomy the 6’6 junior wing Anderson could be the difference maker for Virginia this spring. When healthy he’s a devastating two way force who can really shoot the ball, plays elite D, and uses his elite athleticism to make plays happen on the offensive end. Anderson is currently mocked as a mid to late first rounder, and if he falls to the Nets they would be in luck.
Wisconsin: Nigel Hayes. Hayes is a 6’8 sophomore combo forward whose numbers are depressed as the third option in Wisconsin’s slow paced offense, but his versatility and skill have made him shoot up draft boards in the last couple weeks. He’s a good athlete who can really defend and rebound for his size, but also shoots the ball well and is a smart and heady passer. He is a bit of a tweener, but if he can fit in as either a wing at the NBA level or a small ball four he could be a really valuable asset. Assuming he doesn’t rise up boards too much more he would be an interesting selection at either the end of the first, or the second round.
UNC: Kennedy Meeks/Justin Jackson/Brice Johnson. Meeks is a huge 6’9 290 lb sophomore big guy with soft hands and nice touch both around the basket and from the midrange. He’s not a very good athlete, and at only 6’9 he definitely has some defensive concerns. Freshman Jackson stands at a similar 6’8, but is a stick like 193 lb and has a smooth off the bounce midrange game filled with floaters and pull ups. He’s not clearly a three or a four, but players with his size and skill combination are rare. Johnson is an athletic 6’9 junior power forward who can score out of the post with a dangerous turnaround or attack the rim. All three would be in contention for the Nets second round pick, but it is possible none of them declare for this years upcoming draft.
Georgia State: RJ Hunter. Son of now famous coach Ron Hunter who tore his achilles celebrating their recent conference win, Hunter is a 6’6 scoring machine from the wing. Hunter carries his team on offense, using pin-down and curl screens to create all sorts of looks for both himself and others. He’s got decent length and quickness, and could be a versatile scoring wing at the NBA level. He won’t be there by the second round, but he could fall to the Nets at the end of the first.
Duke: Tyus Jones. Jones is a 6’1 freshman PG for Duke who has gained a reputation as one of the NCAA’s best clutch and big time game performers. He’s a below-average athlete, but a really smart player who can draw fouls, shoot it from the outside, and is an amazing passer. If he chooses to go pro this year Jones will likely get picked sometime in the mid-20s right before the Nets, but if his underwhelming physical profile causes him to fall in the workout process he might be an option.
Utah: Delon Wright. I’ve already written a lot of words about Wright here, but he’s a 6’5 senior PG who makes Utah go. Wright can do a little bit of everything on the court, and has the opportunity to really make a name for himself in the tournament if Utah goes on a run and potentially beats Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Wright is another guy who the Nets will be looking at if he is available when it’s their turn at the end of the first round.
Eastern Washington: Tyler Harvey. Harvey is a 6’4 shooting guard who has only recently broken onto the draft scene. He is the leading scorer in the NCAA at 22.9 points per game, and is a threat to shoot the ball from almost anywhere within half court. If he can show he has the athleticism to defend at an NBA level, his shooting will force NBA teams to give him a look. With a strong tournament performance he could be on the Nets radar in the second round.
Gonzaga: Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis is a 6’10 freshman forward, and the son of legendary international big man Arvydas Sabonis. Here we end as we started, with a really good big guy who doesn’t even start for his own team. Sabonis is stuck behind a great front court of Kyle Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski, but he has the best long term future of the three. He’s a solid albeit not great athlete, but he’s a fantastic rebounder and is one of the best finishers in the NCAA with a 67.7% FG%. Sabonis isn’t a great shooter, but he can hit the elbow jumper and projects as someone who can be solid on both ends of the floor at the NBA level. He would be a realistic pick with the Nets first rounder, but also could fall to the Nets second round selection.
Happy watching guys, I know I’m excited.