Roundtable: NBA prospect with most at stake in 2015 NCAA tournament?
It's the time of the year when even NBA diehards give in to their inner college basketball fan. With that in mind, SI.com paneled its NBA experts to ask which 2015 draft prospect has the most on the line during March Madness.
Which NBA prospect has the most at stake in the 2015 NCAA tournament?
Lee Jenkins: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Emmanuel Mudiay, who spent the season in China, is not playing. D’Angelo Russell, whose Ohio State team is seeded No. 10, could have a short stay. So there is a good chance that Grant will be the best point guard in the field. College coaches tend to like senior point guards more than NBA general managers do, but Grant could use this postseason as a spring board to the top half of the first round. He already led the Fighting Irish to the ACC tournament title and now takes his wealth of size and experience to the NCAAs.
• MORE NBA: Harden or Curry: Who is the NBA's 2014-15 MVP?
Phil Taylor: D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
First of all, I don’t believe that tournament performance ultimately makes a huge difference in a player’s draft prospects. The pre-draft individual workouts that NBA teams hold (not to mention the tons of video they already have on top collegians) are much more likely to make a player rise or fall than a couple of good or bad games in March. That said, Russell is my pick because opinions about him aren’t as fully formed as they are about Jahlil Okafor or even Karl-Anthony Towns. Russell is creating an increasing buzz as a player with remarkable offensive gifts. He isn't the shooter Steph Curry is (who is?), but he's a very good one, and has shown flashes of superior court vision and passing ability. Russell is easily a top-five pick, but if he puts those skills on display while taking Ohio State on a deep tourney run, he just might convince someone he’s worthy of being No. 1 overall.
• MORE NBA: Five players facing the postseason microscope
Chris Mannix: Myles Turner, Texas
NBA executives love Turner's talent. He is a 6'11" skilled post player with the three-point range coaches drool over. He blocks shots, rebounds and has decent mobility. But the Big 12 Freshman of the Year has stuffed his stats against bad teams; in big matchups, like the three-point, two-rebound clunker Turner submitted against Iowa State last week, he has struggled. If he can string together a few strong games in the tournament, his back of the lottery projection could change.
• MORE NBA: Big Board 4.0: Shuffle near top before tourney
Matt Dollinger: Myles Turner, Texas
While it sometimes feels like Kansas, Kentucky and Duke have monopolies on all the blue-chip big men, Turner is proof that prized centers aren't limited to wearing the color blue. The 18-year-old is the most talented Longhorns freshman since Kevin Durant and could use March Madness as a springboard to becoming a top-five pick. At 6'11" and 243 pounds with a 7'4" wingspan, Turner has all of the measureables to make Jay Bilas salivate. The question is whether he has the polish and potential to make NBA executives do the same. He averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks for Texas this year, but failed to reach double-digit points in his last four games. If Turner wants to be high lottery pick—and he has the tools to be one—he needs a strong showing in the tourney.
• MORE NBA: Jazz keep rising in the latest Power Rankings
David Gardner: Devin Booker, Kentucky
As far as the NBA draft is concerned, Karl-Anthony Towns stands very little to gain during the NCAA tournament. After all, he will likely be selected with the first or second pick in June. Booker, on the other hand, is projected just outside the lottery by DraftExpress.com, and has been left off many other mock drafts entirely. While Aaron Harrison has struggled to find his three-point stroke this season (31.0% from the beyond the arc), Booker has been Kentucky's sharpshooter. In the Big Dance, where the three-ball is key, Booker could make a huge impact—and make NBA teams focus on him among the Wildcats' platoon of coveted draft picks.
• MORE NBA: Serge Ibaka's injury could upset OKC's balance
Chris Johnson: R.J. Hunter, Georgia State
Hunter’s time in the tournament is likely to be short-lived, but he is talented enough to lead the No. 14 seed Panthers past No. 3 seed Baylor. The 6'6" junior saw his three-point shooting (39.7% to 29.4%), effective field goal (56.1% to 46.5%) and true shooting (61.6% to 54.7%) percentages drop considerably from last season. Whether these declines are the product of an increased workload or opponents improving their defense on Hunter, it remains true that his most attractive trait as a prospect (shooting) has tailed off in 2015. Hunter is still considered a mid-round pick—in its latest mock, DraftExpress.com pegged him at No. 24—but a strong offensive performance in the NCAAs, preferably one that includes an abundance of threes, could ease concerns over his dip in shooting accuracy. The question is whether Hunter will have more than 40 minutes to showcase his skills.
• MORE NBA: How much is Draymond Green really worth?