NBA Draft 2014: Previewing Top Big Ten Conference Tournament Prospects

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 10, 2014

NBA Draft 2014: Previewing Top Big Ten Conference Tournament Prospects

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    Most of the teams in the Big Ten have underachieved this season, but the same can't be said about the conference's top NBA prospects. 

    We've seen some pretty good ones break out in 2013-14. 

    Michigan and Michigan State actually hold down most of the talent at the top. And Indiana dresses the only standout freshman in the conference who's relevant in the 2014 draft conversation. 

    Otherwise, there are a number of Big Ten prospects who've flashed some promising role player potential at the next level.  

Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'10", PF/C, Freshman

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    If only he got the rock a little bit more.

    Noah Vonleh, at just 18 years old, hasn't been the focal point of his offense the way many of the other top prospects have been. He was used in just 21.5 percent of Indiana's plays. 

    But Vonleh capitalized on the majority of the ones run his way. He finished the regular season averaging 11.4 points on 53.1 percent. 

    When evaluating Vonleh, scouts will be valuing quality over quantity—how he got his buckets as opposed to how many he got. At 6'10", 240 pounds with a 7'4" wingspan, Vonleh is a handful in the post, where he's got the touch, foot speed and length to finish around or over defenders. 

    And unlike most young big men, Vonleh has a rare comfort level on the perimeter, where he's made 16 of 31 three-point attempts. 

    "Vonleh is one of the few big kids in this league who can go out on the perimeter and hold his own," Michigan coach John Beilein told Brendan Quinn of "He’s an anomaly that way."

    Not only does he have tremendous offensive upside, but he's also the Big Ten's leading rebounder despite playing just 26.3 minutes per game. 

    There really isn't much not to like here. Given his age, the promise he's already flashed and his limited role in Indiana's offense, he'll be (and he has been) playing with house money from here on out. 

Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4", SG, Sophomore

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    Gary Harris will enter the Big Ten tournament with a red-hot shooting hand, having made 18 of his last 37 three-point attempts.

    And it's noteworthy, given the only hole in Harris' game this season has been shooting inconsistency. 

    Otherwise, he's showcased a more threatening offensive game than he did a season ago, which led to Harris finishing third in the Big Ten in scoring. 

    He just finds ways to score within the offense, whether he's curling around a screen for a jumper or he's slashing down the lane for a floater. 

    If he's not moving, he's likely spotting up behind the arc, where he's nailing 2.5 three-pointers a game. 

    Harris has also doubled his per-game assist rate from last year, and he continues to play stout on- and off-ball defense. 

    He's established himself as what seems like a pretty safe NBA draft option, and even if Michigan State sputters this postseason, it shouldn't reflect much on Harris' stock.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Sophomore

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    Nik Stauskas has undergone some transformation. Formerly a one-dimensional shooter, he's now Michigan's go-to scorer and leading distributor. 

    That shooting stroke hasn't disappeared, either. It's actually gotten better—Stauskas hit 2.4 three-pointers a game this season at a ridiculous 45.8 percent clip. 

    But it's the threat he now poses as a scorer and playmaker that's driven his stock way up. Stauskas developed a mean off-the-dribble game to pair with some deceiving athleticism that's led to a number of highlight finishes. In between, he's creating jumpers in every direction, from step-backs to runners on the move. 

    To seal the deal, Stauskas plays the game at a high level mentally. He gets as fired up as anyone, yet he rarely ever seems to lose sight of the team's goal.

    After losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the pros, and then losing Mitch McGary to injury, Stauskas has found a way to put this team on his back. If he's able to hold strong for a postseason run, expect the lottery buzz to start heating up. 

Adreian Payne, Michigan State, 6'10", PF, Senior

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    Adreian Payne returned as a sophomore with a more complete game, but a foot injury, inconsistency and too many losses have kept the buzz from getting too loud.

    He raised his scoring average to 16.1 points from 10.5 points a game this season. And you can credit that jump in production to a much-improved outside game.  

    Payne has hit 30 three-pointers so far, after making only 17 as a freshman, sophomore and junior combined. He's got a really nice stroke, and at 6'10" with long arms, he's able to cleanly release over the top of every defense. 

    He's still a bit limited as a post scorer—Payne picks up most of his buckets inside off dump passes, lobs and offensive rebounds.  

    But this is Payne's final audition, and at this point, scouts are aware of his skill level. From here on out, the goal for Payne is consistency. Because it's a little frustrating to see him score 23 points against Purdue and then finish with four points the following home game.

Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, 6'8", SF, Sophomore

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    Sam Dekker has started to fizzle a bit down the stretch—he's only scored 18 points over his last three games combined.

    But the NBA guys love his size, athleticism and skill level for a wing. Dekker gets the majority of his buckets off drives, cuts, spot-up jumpers and low-post finishes playing without the ball in his hands as an opportunistic scorer. 

    He's also been fairly consistent this season without ever getting too hot or cold. 

    However, Dekker's outside stroke hasn't been as reliable as it was a season ago, when he shot 39.1 percent from downtown. This year, he's only hitting 33 percent of his threes, and for the second straight season, he's below 70 percent from the line. 

    Dekker is a high-IQ player who competes and plays within the offense. He's averaging just 1.1 turnovers a game for the second straight year. 

    Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Dekker doesn't have the skill set that allows guys to take over a game. That's not likely to bother NBA teams looking for complementary offense, but it's the reason why Dekker's 12.9 points per game usually come quietly and not in bunches. 

Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa, 6'6", PG/SG/SF, Senior

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    Roy Devyn Marble has had an awfully impressive season for Iowa, and despite putting up a dud in the regular-season finale, he'd been smoking hot as of late.  

    Marble hit the 20-point mark six times from February 8 to March 6. However, Marble's team hasn't looked too hot, having lost five of its last six games. 

    It hasn't kept Marble from standing out, though. He brought his three-point percentage up to 37 percent as a senior, and he's averaging 3.5 assists per game, which reflects his passing instincts as a playmaker. 

    Marble actually gets a decent amount of burn running the point for Iowa. His versatility is ultimately what differentiates him, as he's got the skill set, athleticism and size to handle different roles and positions in the offense. 

    As a senior in the Big Ten, this final conference tournament is a major opportunity for Marble, who will likely be fighting for a guaranteed contract this June as a fringe first-round talent. 

A.J. Hammons, Purdue, 7'0", C, Sophomore

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    Purdue hasn't picked up many wins, but A.J. Hammons has had some really nice moments this season. 

    He's gone off a few times—Hammons went for 18 points, 16 boards and five blocks against Ohio State, 20 points and 14 boards against Minnesota, and 16 and 14 against Iowa. 

    Though not much of an athlete or refined offensive player, his NBA allure is obvious. Hammons stands 7'0", 251 pounds with a 7'3" wingspan. He scores with his back to the rim, he dominates the glass and protects the paint defensively. 

    Hammons actually led the Big Ten in shot-blocking this year after averaging three swats a game.

    It wouldn't be a surprise to see Hammons bolt for the draft after the year—at 21 years old, his team isn't very good, and he might want to take advantage of the shortage of centers expected to go in 2014. 

Terran Petteway, Nebraska, 6'6", SG, Sophomore

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    Terran Petteway flew under the radar this season despite leading the conference in scoring with 18 points a game. 

    He packs one potent punch of offense out there—Petteway has erupted on numerous occasions, including in his regular-season finale against Wisconsin, when he went for 26 points and 10 boards in a win. 

    Earlier during the year, Petteway hung 30 points on Massachusetts, 35 on Minnesota and 29 on Purdue. 

    He's been a relentless scorer, whether he's attacking the rim off the bounce, pushing it on the break or lighting it up from the perimeter. His shot selection isn't always spot on, but he's capable of creating and hitting them from every spot and angle on the floor. 

    Petteway also plays with contagious fire and energy, and though it can result in some wild plays, it's easy to see why someone might admire his passion and intensity. 

    He guided Nebraska to an 11-7 conference record this season. A few big-time postseason performances might help bolster Petteway's awareness around the country.