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March Madness 2016: NBA Prospect Watch, Final Four

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With the NCAA Tournament entering its final games, we take a look at how the top remaining prospects fared and look ahead to Buddy Hield's Saturday matchup with Villanova..

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Unlike the past few years which saw Final Four matchups brimming with big-name talent, the 2016 NCAA tournament has knocked out all of the high-profile NBA prospects but one; thank goodness for Buddy Hield.

Aside from breaking down Hield (whose excellent tournament performances may ruin his destiny of becoming a King), let's review how the potential 2016 draft class performed in the Sweet 16

Players are listed in order of my current draft rankings; note that my rankings do not currently include international players, who I will be studying after the tournament. Click on a player's name to open their DraftExpress profile, which has all of their basic information; stats all come from sports-reference.com or hoop-math.com.

5. SG Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Next Contest: vs. 2 seed Villanova, Saturday, April 2nd

To quote myself - Buddy. F'ing. Hield.

Hield's demolition of Oregon was the highlight of an excellent NCAA tournament; the senior scored 37 points on 13 of 20 shooting (including 5 of 7 from deep) and destroyed any defender the Ducks threw at him. While Hield set the tempo early on, the entire Sooners squad had a great offensive first half (scoring 48 points), so Oregon was never able to lock in on Buddy. If Hield can in a rhythm early against Villanova and get the Oklahoma offense flowing like they were against Oregon, the Wildcats won't be able to stick doubles on Hield. And while it may be ages ago in college basketball time, Oklahoma did demolish Villanova 78-55 in December. I picked Oklahoma to win the tournament, so I'm crossing my fingers (and expecting) Buddy keeps my bracket alive.

While Hield certainly deserves the hype he's been getting, I do think we need to reign in some of the expectations. Hield is an excellent scoring talent, but he's not a complete player; he doesn't have the same skills or instincts on defense, nor the consistent motivation. This latter can be somewhat explained by pointing out just how much energy Hield has to expend to make Oklahoma's offense work, but it still leaves his defense a question mark heading into the NBA. And while think Hield should be a top five pick, he's a clear tier below Brandon Ingram, Ben Simmons AND Kris Dunn for me, and I think Jamal Murray fits the current NBA landscape better than Hield.

The one major complaint against Hield I can shrug off is his turnovers; his decision making (3.0 turnovers a game, 13.7% turnover rate) hasn't been the best, but his role on the Sooners offense basically forces him to make tough decisions while the opposition's entire defensive scheme is built with him in mind. In the NBA, he won't be forced to carry such a big load, and even if he handles the ball as a second/third option, he's not going to have a 30% usage rate.

My favorite comparison for Hield is CJ McCollum - Hield doesn't have the passing instincts that McCollum had at LeHigh, but I expect Hield will be a McCollum level 20 PPG scorer in the NBA. The Steph Curry comparisons are absurd, although I will point out Curry averaged 3.7 turnover a game his junior year at Davidson at a 13.5% turnover rate.

Hield will likely be one of my first draft prospect write-ups after the lottery, but if you need more Buddy hype in the meantime, Omer did what Omer does and posted a great little comment.

Additional players to watch: PF Brice Johnson, North Carolina, SG Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia, PF Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, SG/SF Malachi Richardson, Syracuse

Week 2 Notes:

  • Oregon's defense shut him down in the second half, but even with the Sweet 16 exit, Brandon Ingram had an excellent tournament; he averaged 23 points and 6.3 rebounds on 45% shooting and 37.5% from three. The vocal scouting community has been beating the Ingram/Ben Simmons for No. 1 debate hard over the past two weeks, and Ingram made his case by showcasing his best attributes on the big stage; he's a strong offensive player, a selfless ball-handler, and he has a basketball IQ beyond his age. No NBA team will opt for him over Simmons solely on the hype coming out of these three games, but to be fair to him, he has been showcasing these skills all year long.
    Ingram had a very solid game through most of the Oregon/Duke matchup, scoring 24 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. He continued to show off his full repertoire of offensive skills, making long-range shots and taking his Duck defenders off the dribble. It wasn't a complete success, though; Ingram was visually bothered by the Ducks athleticism and length, and was rejected multiple times by Jordan Bell. Oregon put the clamps on Ingram late, and he didn't score a field goal in the final 11:55 of the contest. Ingram will have to become sufficiently stronger and learn how to battle against NBA level size and athleticism.
  • Demetrius Jackson followed up a so-so game against Wisconsin (16 points and six assists on 6 of 18 shooting) with a 26 point, four assist outing (10-16 shooting) in the Elite Eight loss to North Carolina. Jackson was the best non-Brice Johnson player on the court, and showed off his ability to score on all three levels while keeping his teammates involved. He's still too inconsistent as a three-point shooter (unless he's in the corner, where he's red-hot), and his decision making is less-than-stellar for a junior point guard, but he's a bulldog on defense and rarely takes a play off. In a draft class that lacks any sure-thing point guards outside of Kris Dunn, I believe Jackson is the second best.
  • The NBA's new Draft Combine rule—which lets any draft eligible player declare for the draft and return to school if they don't like their draft stock—will be great for many players this year, especially Thomas Bryant. He showed good development throughout the season (especially when he demolished the Kentucky front line in the 2nd round), but he's still a very raw product. He's currently 13th on my board, and I love his full-game potential, but it may make sense for him to return to Indiana and see if he can enter the NBA as more than a future-project.
  • Cursed Gonzaga - the moment I show faith in the Zags, and they go and lose to a Syracuse team I still don't believe deserved to be in the tournament! Regardless, it was a great performance by Domantas Sabonis - 19 points, 17 rebounds, and five blocks on 8 of 12 shooting. Sabonis' footwork in the post and basketball IQ are excellent, and when he fills out his 6'10 frame, he can develop into a well-balanced NBA stretch four. Here's hoping Sabonis jumps to the NBA so my beloved Saint Mary's won't ever have to face him again.

Top potential 2016 Draftees outside the Tournament: 1. F Ben Simmons, LSU, 2. SF Brandon Ingram, Duke, 3. PG Kris Dunn, Providence, 4. SG Jamal Murray, Kentucky, 6. SF Jaylen Brown, California, 7. C Jakob Poeltl, Utah, 8. PF Henry Ellenson, Marquette, 9. PF Ivan Rabb, California, 10. PF/C Skal Labissiere, Kentucky, 11. SG Denzel Valentine, Michigan State, 12. PG Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame, 13. PF Thomas Bryant, Indiana, 14. PF/C Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga, 15. PF/C Deyonta Davis, Michigan State, 16. C Diamond Stone, Maryland, 17. F Taurean Prince, Baylor, 18. PG Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt, 19. PF Marquese Chriss, Washington, 20. PF/C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt, 21. PG Tyler Ulis, Kentucky,  22. PG/SG Caris LeVert, Michigan, 23. C Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV, 24. SG Grayson Allen, Duke, 25. Gary Payton II, Oregon State

Top International prospects: PF Dragan Bender, Croatia, SG Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey, SG/SF Timothe Luwawu, France