Under-the-Radar 2014 NBA Draft Prospects to Watch During NCAA Tournament

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterMarch 19, 2014

Under-the-Radar 2014 NBA Draft Prospects to Watch During NCAA Tournament

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    Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    The NCAA tournament is a phenomenal opportunity for some of the under-the-radar prospects to prove they belong in the first-round conversation. 

    Some of these players just haven't had the chance to play against power-conference competition, something scouts have been waiting to see all year long.

    Others are still stuck on that first-round fence, and they'll need a strong postseason effort to ultimately push them on the right side of it. 

    With the games taking on more meaning in March, so do the individual performances of each NBA prospect.

Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6'3", PG, Junior

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    Sarah Bentham/Associated Press

    Elfrid Payton entered his junior year as a prospect to keep an eye on after he'd spent the summer playing with USA's FIBA World Championship team. 

    And Payton has been crushing Sun Belt competition this season, averaging 19.1 points, 5.9 boards, six assists and 2.3 steals a game. He just went for 19 points and six dimes against Georgia State to win his conference tournament and a ticket to the dance.

    But Payton hasn't played a power school since November and December, when he shot just 6-of-19 against Baylor and 3-of-11 against Louisville.

    It wouldn't be a good look for Payton if he struggles against Creighton in the round of 64, which would mark his third poor outing against an opponent with substance. 

    Payton is a dynamite athlete, he's unstoppable in the open floor and lightning-quick to hit a lane. He's also a true point guard.

    But he'll need an impact performance in the NCAA tournament to eliminate the questions regarding the legitimacy of his production in a mid-major conference. It could end up being the difference between the second round and a guaranteed first-round contract.  

Markel Brown, Oklahoma State, 6'4", SG, Senior

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Markel Brown's terrific season has been slightly overshadowed by Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State's disappointing record.

    He took his game to a new level, raising his scoring average to 17.1 points, while improving his field-goal and three-point percentages. 

    Last year, Brown expanded his shot-creating range and ability. This year, he's started making more of them while tightening up his selection. 

    At 6'3", Brown doesn't have a natural NBA position, and it's kept his draft stock in check over the past two seasons.

    But we're now talking about a world-class athlete who can light up the mid-range and perimeter with an array of pull-up and step-back jumpers. He also has the defensive tools to guard opposing point guards, while his floor game and passing instincts have also both gotten better (2.9 assists, 1.6 turnovers per game).

    Despite his effortless, above-the-rim athleticism, there probably isn't much upside here, but I like the idea of Brown in an Avery Bradley-type of role off the bench. 

    Brown and the Cowboys could get Arizona in the round of 32, and you can only imagine how many scouts will be tuned in for that one. I'd consider Brown a fringe first-rounder, and one who has the potential to move needle with a strong postseason. 

Kendall Williams, New Mexico, 6'4", PG/SG, Senior

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Kendall Williams tightened up his game a little bit this year, and it's led to a more productive and efficient senior season at New Mexico. 

    He's averaging a career-high 16.4 points, while his shooting percentages are up across the board. Williams is even nailing 1.9 three-pointers a game at a 40.4 percent clip.

    The problem he's always had in terms of generating NBA attention is that as a combo guard, he's not a standout facilitator or a reliable go-to scorer. He's solid in both departments but not great in either.

    However, we've seen Williams erupt a few times over the past few years, and when he's locked into that zone, his upside and versatility tend to shine.  

    You might recall him going off for 46 points against Colorado State last season. Williams hasn't been as potent this year, but his consistency has been much better.

    He just scored at least 16 points in three straight wins to close out the Mountain West conference tournament. 

    Look for New Mexico to knock off Stanford in the round of 64 and meet with Kansas in the round of 32. Williams scored 24 points against the Jayhawks earlier this season in a loss. Another 24 in a win could help him attract some extra attention. 

Jordan Adams, UCLA, 6'5", SG, Sophomore

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Jordan Adams had another tremendous year at UCLA that once again seemingly flew under the radar. He averaged 17 points on an impressive 47.7 percent shooting while finishing No. 4 in the country in steals. 

    "He told me he hoped he never had to play against me again," Adams said referring to Arizona coach Sean Miller, per Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Eisenberg, after Adams went for 19 points, four boards and four assists in the Pac-12 tournament title game.

    Adams is relentless at both ends of the floor, whether he's attacking or sticking a jumper in someone's grill, or he's forcing a turnover or jumping a passing lane. 

    And though not the most explosive athlete, at 6'5", 220 pounds, Adams is a powerful guard who can absorb or dish out contact. 

    He's got the ability to take over games, just like he recently did against Washington when he went for 31 points on four-missed shots. 

    UCLA could face Florida in the Sweet 16, which would give Adams the stage and audience he needs to really showcase his game against the No. 1 overall seed. 

Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, 6'8", SF, Senior

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    Stephen Haas/Associated Press

    After playing a major role in Wichita State's run to the Final Four in 2013, Cleanthony Early emerged as the team's No. 1 option in 2013. 

    He averaged 15.8 points on 47 percent shooting this season. And at 6'8", 219 pounds, he certainly looks the part of an NBA wing. Early is a big-time weapon in transition and in the open floor as an attacker. 

    This year, he's become a much bigger threat from behind the arc, where he's hitting more three-pointers per game (1.7 per game) at a higher percentage (36.4 percent). 

    Early also improved at the defensive end, finishing the season with the No. 1 defensive rating in the conference.

    He's the top dog for the No. 1 seed and undefeated Shockers, and the deeper this team advances, the more heads he's likely to turn. 

    I've got Early currently slotted as an early-second rounder, but another strong NCAA tournament could change that.

Terran Petteway, Nebraska, 6'6", SG/SF, Junior

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Terran Petteway is one of those microwave scorers who can heat up and knock down difficult shots in bunches. 

    He actually led the Big Ten with 18.1 points per game.

    But for whatever reason, Petteway, who sat out last year after transferring from Texas Tech, has flown under the radar despite leading Nebraska to the Big Dance.

    He's put up points in volume against the good and the bad, from his 35-point explosion against Minnesota to his recent 26-point, 10-rebound performance in a win over Wisconsin. 

    Petteway is a tremendous offensive talent. At 6'6", he's quick and shifty off the dribble, and he's got the ability to separate for a jumper from just about anywhere. His shot selection can get a little wild, but that might have something to do with a lack of weapons around him. 

    With his size and scoring arsenal, Petteway should get some NBA looks whether he blows up in the tournament or not. But he's definitely a prospect to keep an eye on in the early rounds.