NBA prospects are born and raised on the courts of the NCAA tournament.
That might not be entirely true (it isn't), but there's a lot to be said about a guy that performs well on a national stage—like the one that has presented itself at the 2013 NCAA tournament. NBA teams keep a close eye on top prospects in moments like this and you should too.
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist cemented their status in the 2012 NBA draft with strong showings in a championship performance, while guys like Bradley Beal, Kendall Marshall and Royce White all improved their pre-draft rankings by being some of the best players on the floor in the tournament.
This year, the field is wide open.
There are literally endless possibilities for the name that could be selected No. 1 when the draft kicks off in June. This makes this tournament one of the most important in recent memory in helping to decide what NBA teams are looking for this summer.
Check out these four prospects with a watchful eye over the next couple of weeks. Each could make-or-break their draft stock, decide to return to school next season or even help their team win a championship with the end result of their play in March Madness.
Gonzaga C-F Kelly Olynyk
Olynyk was a stud from the starting gun and finished strong against No. 16 Southern, too, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and the ever-important designation of being Gonzaga's lone ranger on offense for the majority of the game.
The 7'0" combo center-forward averaged 17 points and seven rebounds on the season, and appears to be getting better with time as this season goes on.
He showed a great array of moves both around the basket and in the mid-range game on Thursday, reminding me of a mixture between Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol and Phoenix Suns forward Luis Scola (OK, maybe it was just the hair).
Either way, Olynyk has to pick up the slack for this team when guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton struggle to score. That was the case on Thursday against Southern and Olynyk proved he could handle the load in later games, if need be.
Right now, he's projected somewhere in the 15-20 range of the first round. However, with a few more quality games against top-tier talent, Olynyk could make his case to be a lottery pick and prove a lot of guys wrong who feel he is too soft and doesn't have enough experience against top forwards.
Kansas SG Ben McLemore
If McLemore wants to claim the No. 1 spot in the draft (currently the odds favor the Charlotte Bobcats for the top pick) he can do it in this tournament.
Like Davis did last year, McLemore enters the draft with a few questions. Davis' questions were his ability to score on offense, how he would fare against top-flight competition in other conferences and if his size—or thereby lack of size—would hurt him against bigger post men.
Check, check and check.
For McLemore, his question marks are somewhat different.
There's a turnover bug that certainly bothers scouts, his shot selection has been questionable at best in the team's losses and despite being a knock-down jump-shooter, McLemore can still improve his ball-handling and isolation moves to create his own shot.
Kansas squares off against Western Kentucky in the second round followed by a matchup between the winner of North Carolina and Villanova. Players worthy of the No. 1 pick emerge in this setting, and McLemore will either do that or fade away to another pick based on what he shows us during Kansas' time in the tourney.
UCLA SG Shabazz Muhammad
Speaking of No. 1 guards, James Harden-lite plays for UCLA and wears No. 15.
Shabazz Muhammad, who sat out the first three games of the season due to an NCAA eligibility issue, has been lights-out ever since.
He averages 17.8 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the three-point line, and his 6'6" frame is a huge matchup problem for defenders in the post, where Muhammad is sneaky good with his predominant left hand.
However, he's also fallen victim to the bad shot bug, a problem I guess many would have playing with top-flight prospects like Larry Drew II, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams all season.
Muhammad should be watched closely for two reasons. One, he's a flat-out stud that has the physical gifts and talents to go No. 1 overall, and two, he has a major choice ahead of him with the NBA.
The previous two players do, too, but Muhammad was one of the most highly-touted one-and-done candidates this year. If the Bruins lose in Friday's game against Minnesota, will he end his UCLA career with two-straight losses and a tournament upset?
Lots of questions, very few answers surrounding Muhammad. We'll know more after his performance in March Madness.
Creighton F Doug McDermott
Where do you draft a guy like McDermott this year?
Considered a "weak" draft, does he climb into the Top 15 because he has incredible basketball IQ and a nose for scoring the rock? Or does his lack of athleticism and "tweener" status make him untouchable until the second round?
We don't know any of those answers but the only guy that can shed some light on where he should be drafted right now is McDermott himself.
The stats are undeniable on this guy. Averaging 23.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 56 percent from the floor, 49 percent from three and 86 percent from the line, McDermott has outshined the rest of the nation in almost every "pure-shooting" category.
The question remains—where do you draft him?
Some liken him to a guy like Steve Novak that can stretch the floor and play defense for a five-minute stretch, others think he's more of a Matt Bonner, shoot-it-like-it-stole-something type. McDermott might not be able to answer these questions right now but like the other guys on this list, he's going to be a lot of fun to watch and should have a great tournament for the Bluejays.
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