With the NCAA tournament continuing to pare down its teams in preparation for the Final Four, we're beginning to see scouts' evaluations of NBA prospects start to caramelize.
While the Big Dance has long been overrated in terms of a projection tool for NBA stardom, it remains the most important grounds for college prospects. All it takes is one bad game to send your stock on a steep descent, one last-second shot to turn a borderline lottery pick into a top-five lock.
For the prospects in this year's draft, the NCAA tournament was a widespread dud. Top prospects were getting booted out of the Big Dance left and right, giving even more credence to the theory that this is a weak draft. Even players who were once considered relatively sure things—cough, Ben McLemore, cough—are now going to have to answer questions about their March performance.
How has March Madness changed the draft outlook? Let's take a look at our latest projections for the entire first round to find out.
First, a few notes:
- All picks are based on teams' records prior to Saturday, March 30
- The Thunder received Toronto's first-round pick as part of the James Harden deal from Houston.
- Memphis' pick goes to Minnesota as part of the Marreese Speights deal.
1. Charlotte Bobcats: Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas)
McLemore somewhat salvaged his consensus top-pick status with a 20-point performance versus Michigan in the Sweet 16, but he's in a precarious position right now. His March will be remembered far more for his 0-of-9 bombing against North Carolina, fading down the stretch and the Jayhawks' earlier-than-expected ouster than anything else.
Luckily, McLemore will have over two months to remind teams why he's probably the safest pick in a weak draft. He is an explosive athlete, has a beautiful stroke from NBA range and should develop into a plus defender at the next level.
Though his propensity for disappearing will scare teams off, McLemore would make a top-tier pairing with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing. With Jeffrey Taylor looking like a career bench player and Gerald Henderson in a contract year, McLemore would make a perfect replacement.
2. Orlando Magic: Marcus Smart (PG, Oklahoma State)
The Magic won't pull the trigger, but they would have to be tempted by Nerlens Noel in this scenario. Nikola Vucevic is a burgeoning offensive talent and a nightly double-double, but Noel is the type of defensive game changer that could become awfully reminiscent of a former Orlando center who shall not be named.
That being said, the temptation of replacing Jameer Nelson with Smart here will probably be too much. The Oklahoma State guard probably won't be a star at the NBA level—his shooting needs a ton of work before he can even think about starting—but Smart is the type of talent who probably won't bust here either.
The Magic would prefer McLemore falls to them, but Smart is the most likely option in this scenario.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Nerlens Noel (C, Kentucky)
Noel's ACL tear looms over his draft status, but the Cavs would be nothing short of thrilled to have him fall to No. 3. Tyler Zeller, the center Cleveland drafted last season, is a fine young talent—he simply possesses nowhere near Noel's potential.
With Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters emerging down the stretch, Noel could be the final piece in a burgeoning young core. Otto Porter is another option if the team looks to shore up its dearth of talent on the wing.
4. Phoenix Suns: Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)
Phoenix has been after an athletic playmaker ever since its dalliance as Eric Gordon's muse last summer, which makes Oladipo arguably the most ideal player in the entire draft. He's a rapidly improving shooter, knocking down 44 percent of his three-pointers this season, and will make an instant impact on the Suns' sieve-like defense.
They will have to be patient with Oladipo his first season, as he'll probably have a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist-like impact on spacing. But there are few more athletic or explosive players in this draft (if any) than Oladipo.
5. Detroit Pistons: Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank finally got around to giving Andre Drummond, ostensibly the team's franchise center, his first start on Friday. Drummond responded with 17 points in 19 minutes, eviscerating the Raptors inside and giving promise to the future of a possible Drummond-Greg Monroe front line.
Detroit could solidify its place as one of the NBA's biggest and most impressive front lines with the drafting of Monroe's fellow Georgetown star, Porter. The sophomore forward has been oft-compared to Lamar Odom for good reason, and he could give the Pistons a versatility their offense has lacked throughout the season.
He has his own propensity for disappearing for long offensive stretches, but the same was said about Monroe when he left school. The Pistons coaching staff worked wonders with Monroe and could do the same with Porter if he puts in the work.
6. New Orleans Hornets: Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
If Burke wasn't a top-10 lock prior to knocking down his game-tying shot against Kansas in the Sweet 16, he was instantly afterward. Burke's brilliant second half and overtime session, where he single-handedly carried the Wolverines to victory, was something of Player of the Year legend.
There are questions about Burke's size and especially about his defense. But he's an offensive wizard with NBA court vision and a vastly improved jumper from his freshman season. Greivis Vasquez has had a fine season, but his ball dominance hasn't meshed with Eric Gordon when both are on the floor.
With Vazquez nearing a pretty hefty raise and Austin Rivers' rookie season having been a complete nightmare, New Orleans might have to pull the trigger here.
Semi-related: Burke would be going from being a Wolverine to a Pelican. Someone is losing in this scenario.
7. Washington Wizards: Shabazz Muhammad (SG/SF, UCLA)
It will be interesting to see whether or not the revelation that Muhammad is 20 instead of 19 affects his draft stock. There are plenty of older freshmen in this class, including McLemore, the likely No. 1 pick.
Still, Muhammad also did not come to UCLA and single-handedly resurrect the program as many assumed he would. He had a very nice season with 18 points and five rebounds per game en route to leading UCLA to a Pac-12 regular season title—but nice is all it was. There were flashes of the player who was a household name coming to Westwood, just not quite enough to keep him in the top five.
Muhammad would be an undersized 3 in the NBA, and the Wizards already have Bradley Beal in tow. But Muhammad's probably the best fit until we see whether they move Nene or Emeka Okafor this offseason.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves: Gary Harris (SG, Michigan State)
The Timberwolves have a playoff-worthy young core when everyone is healthy, meaning they can afford to take a risk with this pick. They would love it if Muhammad fell to them, but that did not happen in this scenario.
In which case, Minnesota would have the decision between Harris and Anthony Bennett. Both have plenty of upside and will see their draft stock solidify in the top-10, but their inconsistencies are wild and off-putting.
Harris gets the nod here due to positional need, but don't be shocked if the Timberwolves roll the dice with Bennett, either.
9. Sacramento Kings: Anthony Bennett (PF, UNLV)
Wherever they're playing next season, the Kings would jump in the air and click their heels together if Bennett fell to them. The move would essentially be a repeat of last year's draft pick, Thomas Robinson, who was shipped off to Houston in a deadline trade.
Bennett, as inconsistent as he was at UNLV, probably has more upside. He's the strongest big in the draft, gifted with the NBA body you'll hear scouts marvel at in the coming weeks and months.
Height plays a factor, and his post game is rougher around the edges than a rosebush. With so few stars really having All-Star potential, Bennett is a no-brainer in this spot.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder: Michael Carter-Williams (G, Syracuse)
The Thunder are a team almost impossible to project on draft day. They will take whomever sits atop their draft board, with barely one regard being given to that player's position.
Conventional wisdom in this spot says take Alex Len or Cody Zeller, the draft's two potential lottery-pick centers. Sam Presti learned once how dangerous going with conventional wisdom can be with draft picks—say hi, Cole Aldrich.
Carter-Williams is an older prospect (21) who still needs to work on his outside shooting, but he's also an instant-contributor threat. His vision and ball-handling are pro-ready, and his passing skills have been well-documented throughout his career.
This pick could go any number of ways, but Carter-Williams' potential has to be intriguing here for Presti.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Cody Zeller (F-C, Indiana)
A major house-cleaning could be in order for the Sixers organization with this season's disappointment, so this will be a team to watch all offseason. Philadelphia still has to be smarting about the Andrew Bynum deal going awry—especially with Nikola Vucevic ascending in Orlando—and Zeller could help rectify that situation.
He's not going to be a star, but Zeller could be a serviceable starter somewhere down the line. In this draft, that's worthy of a lottery pick.
12. Portland Trail Blazers: Mason Plumlee (F, Duke)
Alex Len could be the pick here, but giving up on Meyers Leonard after 12 months seems a little premature. J.J. Hickson is a free agent after this season, and Plumlee could be the perfect athletic forward to take his place.
Again, he won't be a star. But Plumlee will be a rotational player for the life of his contract and then some.
13. Dallas Mavericks: C.J. McCollum (SG, Lehigh)
The Mavericks are in desperate need of youth and a scoring infusion, making McCollum an ideal pick in this spot. The Lehigh star missed nearly his entire senior season with an injury and has plenty of questions about his ability to handle better competition. But he was also hailed as this draft's Damian Lillard in the preseason for a reason.
14. Phoenix Suns (via Los Angeles Lakers): Alex Len (C, Maryland)
Potential. That's the word you'll hear about Len over and over in the months leading up to June's draft. You'll hear that word because Len's production is still far off from the dominance many expected when he arrived at Maryland. His toughness has been completely nonexistent, he gets bullied around in the post by bigger players, and he falls way too in love with his perimeter game for a 7'1" prospect.
But the potential.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Dario Saric (SF, Croatia)
Milwaukee has a ton of questions to answer in its backcourt. Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick and Brandon Jennings all have free-agency rights this summer, and they will almost certainly look to use them. Saric is completely raw, but he's a potential draft-and-stash with a ton of potential—critical for a Bucks team that will need to figure out where they stand on most of their roster in the next couple years.
16. Utah Jazz: Jamaal Franklin (SG, San Diego State)
Without a point guard to choose from here unless they want to reach, Franklin becomes a pretty strong selection here. He's an athletic wing who gets to the rim and can finish among the best players in this class.
What's more, Franklin is the type of player who will always give effort. He played wildly out of position at San Diego State most of the time, and as such the development of his jumper stunted. But he does a lot of the little things well and could contribute right away in the Jazz's rotation.
17. Boston Celtics: Willie Cauley-Stein (C, Kentucky)
At first you don't succeed? The Celtics tried shoring up their interior with Fab Melo in last year's draft—that has resulted in exactly five NBA appearances this season. Cauley-Stein is just as raw as Melo was coming out of college, but he's also younger and did a pretty strong Nerlens Noel impersonation down the stretch for Kentucky.
There is some Daniel Orton 2.0 potential here, but the Celtics need interior help terribly.
18. Atlanta Hawks: Glenn Robinson III (SF, Michigan)
Robinson is very much a work in progress, but his round of 64 performance may foretell his ceiling as a player. The freshman forward made eight of his nine shots, including all three from beyond the arc, and scored 21 points in a victory against South Dakota State.
He's been very good at knowing his capabilities and working within them. Robinson has shot nearly 57 percent this season and would be a solid addition for a Hawks franchise either in full rebuild mode or in the midst of a massive reload—we'll find out with how they use their cap space this offseason.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)
Again, much of Atlanta's strategy will come down to how it plans its offseason. If Danny Ferry plans on going whole hog after a max-contract-level free agent in July, then the Hawks could go after one of the draft's European players and call it a day.
But if we assume Atlanta will be looking for contributors in the first round, Caldwell-Pope is a solid wing complement. He's a fantastic long-range shooter with a quick release that should help him be a spot-up option as a rookie.
At the very least, drafting Caldwell-Pope appeases the Bulldogs faithful in the crowd—and there's nothing wrong with a little bit of pandering in uncertain times.
20. Chicago Bulls: Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
The Bulls' bench defense hasn't been nearly the same since Omer Asik bolted for Houston, and Nazr Mohammad is rapidly approaching decay before our eyes. Even if Chicago plans on bringing him back next season at a veteran's minimum level, the team will need a long-term bench presence with Taj Gibson going forward.
Withey doesn't translate as much of an offensive threat at the NBA level, but the Bulls won't need him to be. If he adds a little more bulk to his frame, Withey should have a long career as a defensive stopper off the bench.
21. Golden State Warriors: Alex Poythress (SF, Kentucky)
Poythress would be a repeat from last season's lottery pick Harrison Barnes, but the Warriors would be expecting far two different things from the small forwards.
Though he was one of the most baffling players to watch this season and needs more seasoning than a cheap steak, Poythress is a fantastic wing defender. He can take on three positions on the wing and could do fine against the Deron Williams-style NBA point guard.
Shooting? Well, not so much. He'll knock down a set jumper now and again, but don't ask him to create off the dribble. And at No. 21, it's unlikely the Warriors will ever ask him to.
22. Brooklyn Nets: James Michael McAdoo (PF, North Carolina)
The Nets' roster is essentially set for the next half-decade, meaning they'll be swinging for the fences with their draft picks. They will want a contributor, someone who has the potential to develop eventually into a star.
McAdoo is the only player remaining on the board with that potential at this spot. He's descended from a potential top-10 draft pick coming into the season but is definitely worth the gamble this late in the first round.
23. Indiana Pacers: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga)
Perhaps together Roy Hibbert and Olynyk can become the perfect NBA center. Hibbert has been and likely always will be a mess offensively, while Olynyk will struggle to guard even replacement-level bigs at the NBA level.
The Pacers need scoring, though, and Olynyk falling to them would be a more-than-pleasant surprise.
24. New York Knicks: Allen Crabbe (SG, California)
The Knicks need anyone on their roster that's below the age of 312 at this point, specifically someone who can contribute right away. Crabbe is a terrific shooter from anywhere on the floor, and he's developed into a good enough perimeter defender on the outside.
At the very least, Crabbe can help take some burden off of Jason Kidd, whose effectiveness has become name-value-only in the second half this season.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (Via Memphis Grizzlies): Rudy Gobert (PF, France)
After grabbing what could be an instant contributor with their first pick, the Timberwolves do something that many teams with multiple first-rounders do—go international. Gobert is a 7'1" behemoth that runs like a gazelle, has a wingspan of 7'9" and would be ridiculously entertaining to watch catch alley-oops from Ricky Rubio.
Minnesota has been adding international flavor since Rubio came to town, and Gobert would be a nice fit late in the round.
26. Los Angeles Clippers: Sergey Karasev (SG, Russia)
With an over-abundance of depth on their roster, the Clippers want this pick about as much they want a root canal. Karasev is an interesting prospect who is comparable to Alexey Shved of the Minnesota Timberwolves, just without the same athleticism.
That said, this is a draft-and-stash at its finest, folks. Karasev won't be over this year and probably won't be for at least a couple more seasons.
27. Denver Nuggets: Doug McDermott (SF, Creighton)
The Nuggets need shooting help perhaps more than any other team. Danilo Gallinari has not developed from outside the way many thought he would, and Denver's over-reliance on points in the paint could be its downfall this postseason.
McDermott probably won't be much more than a spot-up shooter at the NBA level, but that's enough for a first-round grade in this draft—especially for the Nuggets.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
Oklahoma City loves taking chances on centers that are underdeveloped (see: Daniel Orton, Hasheem Thabeet), and Dieng could be the next option. He's broken offensively, but he blocks shots and rebounds well in the post.
At this point in the draft, there's no wrong answer for a team that may win the NBA championship.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Archie Goodwin (SG, Kentucky)
R.C. Buford loves going international with these picks with the express purpose of stashing players, but there is no one who stands out here. Goodwin, like many of his Kentucky cohorts, may wind up staying in Lexington. If he doesn't, the Spurs would be crazy to pass on someone with his potential at this late juncture.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Miami Heat): Reggie Bullock (SF, North Carolina)
Outside shooting outside of Kyrie Irving remains a big need for the Cavaliers, and after getting none of that in Noel, they can get an abundance in Bullock. The junior stepped up his game whenever Roy Williams switched to a four-guard lineup this season, emerging as a top-notch threat from deep and a surprisingly adept rebounder.
There are players with a higher potential available, but none as sure to contribute as Bullock.