2016 NBA Draft Prospects Who Will Become Household Names Before March Madness

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 10, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 30: Dejounte Murray #5 of the Washington Huskies shoot free throws against the USC Trojans during a NCAA college basketball game at Galen Center on January 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
Leon Bennett/Getty Images

A handful of NBA prospects appear on the verge of breaking out. And though the everyday college hoops and draft follower knows these six rising standouts, the national love hasn't quite been there for any of them.

That will all change by March.

I pegged four freshmen, a junior and senior as soon-to-be household names. One is a projected top-10 pick and arguably the most underappreciated prospect in the country. Another is the son of a Hall of Fame guard—a senior who's finally getting taken seriously as a potential future pro. 

February and March represent two bigs months for prospects to make final impressions, between the remaining regular-season games and the conference tournaments. Look for the following names to blow up over the next four weeks.

Malik Beasley (Florida State, SG, Freshman)

Jan 2, 2016; Greenville, SC, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard Malik Beasley (5) drives to the basket as Clemson Tigers forward Jaron Blossomgame (5) defends during the first half at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dawson Powers-USA TODAY S
Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Back in October, Beasley wasn't even the flashiest freshman name on Florida State's roster. I'd argue now he's the team's top pro prospect and one of the better ones in the country.

Despite averaging 17.3 points and scoring at least 15 in 18 of 23 games, he's flown under the national radar. But with the Seminoles winners of four straight and big games ahead for them against Syracuse, Miami, Duke and Notre Dame (before the ACC tournament), the buzz has started and should continue to strengthen. 

He's oozing with NBA explosiveness, which shows up on showtime dunks in transition. But he's also showcased a balanced scoring attack in the half court. 

Beasley has been consistently accurate from long range as a spot-up shooter, having averaged 1.7 threes per game and shot 41.7 percent. And though not the most creative one-on-one player, he's shown he can attack closeouts and score in the mid-range with pull-ups off two feet and floaters off one (39 percent on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com).

Making 56.9 percent of his two-point attempts, Beasley has done an admirable job of scoring off the action within Florida State's offense (50.7 percent of his field goals at the rim have been assisted) by cutting and slashing. 

He must add some strength to compensate for average size and poor length (6'6" wingspan), but his quickness and energy have translated to effective perimeter defense. 

Had he entered the season with a little more hype, chances are, he'd be taken a little more seriously in the draft conversation. I'd imagine he will be by March. Look for Beasley as a potential big-time riser down the final stretch of the year.

Dejounte Murray (Washington, PG/SG, Freshman)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 30: Dejounte Murray #5 of the Washington Huskies drives to the baskert against Elijah Stewart #30 of the USC Trojans during a NCAA college basketball game at Galen Center on January 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by
Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Murray recently shook the radar with a 34-point, 11-rebound, six-assist line against Arizona State. It was the third time he's hit the 25-point mark since the start of 2016.

"We just didn't have a guy like Murray out there," Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley told Fox Sports' Tim Booth. "When you have a player like him that is so talented and so gifted that can make the plays that he can make it is hard for us to match that."

He's one of the more fun scorers to watch cook—Murray can put up points in a hurry off flashy drives and clever finishes. He's constantly changing speed or direction, both in transition (58 field goals within first 10 seconds of shot clock) and the half court, where he finds ways to shake defenders, slip through gaps and get to the rack. 

Body control, length and touch consistently translate to unorthodox buckets in the lane. 

But he's also a playmaker leading Washington in assists (4.7 per game). Murray can pass, and though his turnover rate is high (17.6 percent), he's flashed promising feel as a setup man. 

The fact that he's averaging 15.3 points without a jump shot makes you wonder just how dangerous he'd be with one. 

My guts says NBA scouts guide Murray back to school for a sophomore year. It would seem wise to enter the league with better shooting touch and a frame stronger than 170 pounds. But Murray ultimately looks poised to emerge as a name on every 2017 breakout list. 

Monte Morris (Iowa State, PG, Junior)

Jan 23, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Monte Morris (11) dribbles on TCU Horned Frogs guard Chauncey Collins (1) during the second half at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Iowa State won 73-60. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Spo
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Morris is on pace to be the only player since 1995 to average at least seven assists and turn the ball over fewer than 1.5 times a game (minimum five games), according to Sports-Reference.com. Over Iowa State's last five games, he's racked up 39 dimes (7.8 per game) to just three total turnovers.

Morris is putting up world-class numbers in terms of facilitating efficiency. He has a fantastic feel for setting up teammates, whether it's by pushing the break, working off ball screens or driving-and-kicking. 

And he's become a tougher scorer, having also raised his two-point jump-shooting percentage to 46.7 percent from 38.5, per Hoop-Math.com. 

With Texas, Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas still on the regular-season schedule, Morris has the chance to build on what's been a breakout year. He's already hit a number of clutch pull-ups and floaters to win or ice games in crunch time.

Closing strong should lead to more publicity and even possible first-round consideration

Henry Ellenson (Marquette, PF, Freshman)

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 6: Henry Ellenson #13 of the Marquette Golden Eagles handles the ball against the Xavier Musketeers during the game at Cintas Center on February 6, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Xavier defeated Marquette 90-82. (Photo by Joe Robbins/
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

NBA draft fans should be well aware of Ellenson, a McDonald's All-American and projected lottery pick from Day 1. But the lack of national attention he's received is a crime. 

A few big wins for Marquette down the stretch could help change that. With matchups against Providence and No. 1 Villanova in February, and the chance to see both of them—plus No. 6 Xavier—in the Big East tournament, there are solid opportunities for Ellenson to announce himself.

Scouts are certainly familiar with him. He's averaging 16.3 points and 9.8 boards, having showcased coveted offensive versatility fueled by shooting touch, ball-handling ability, post skills and rebounding instincts. 

At 6'10", Ellenson shoots 42 percent on two-point jumpers and 75.2 percent from the line. And he's hit 22 threes in 24 games, highlighting stretch 4 and pick-and-pop potential. We've seen him work back-to-the-basket with the game slowed down or initiate the offense in transition. 

Ellenson should be a strong top-10 bet this upcoming June, regardless of how much attention he gets over the next month. He's one of the more polished, balanced offensive bigs in the country. And by the time March rolls around, the average fan will know it. 

Gary Payton II (Oregon State, PG, Senior)

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 26:  Gary Payton II #1 of the Oregon State Beavers passes against the Auburn Tigers during the 2014 MGM Grand Main Event basketball tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 26, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Auburn won 71-
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The name is already recognizable, but over the next month, Payton's credibility and overall popularity could really take off.

He just went for 17 points, four assists and seven steals in a win over Colorado after hanging 20 points, seven assists and six boards on Utah in a win. A week earlier on January 24, Payton erupted for 22 points, 15 boards, eight assists and four steals—his third 20-point, 10-rebound game of January. 

Known mostly for his defensive activity, Payton has matured as a playmaker and passer. And though his jumper remains a question mark, he puts a ton of pressure on the rim off transition opportunities, drives and slashes. He's on pace to become one of three players since 1995 to average at least 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals in a season, per Sports-Reference.com

He's also one of the top rebounding guards in the country with an unteachable nose for the ball. 

Oregon State has regular-season games left against California, Oregon, Washington, USC and UCLA. Big performances against upcoming quality opponents and notable prospects should only lead to more positive buzz. In what could be a relatively shallow 2016 field, the fact that he's 23 years old might not faze general managers looking for specialists in the 20-30 range. 

Diamond Stone (Maryland, C, Freshman)

COLLEGE PARK, MD - JANUARY 16: Diamond Stone #33 of the Maryland Terrapins grabs a rebound against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Xfinity Center on January 16, 2016 in College Park, Maryland.  (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

Stone was recently inserted into Maryland's starting lineup after two months of providing steady production off the bench. He's only finished with fewer than 10 points on five separate occasions while averaging just 8.4 field-goal attempts per game. His numbers per 40 minutes: 23.5 points and 10.2 rebounds. 

And with the Terps looking to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the spotlight is bound to find the team's star freshman anchor.

Stone—6'11", 255 pounds—has given off NBA center vibes despite receiving relatively little national attention. He blends monster size and strength with soft hands and enough bounce, which together, translate to easy buckets off dump downs, offensive rebounds and low-post touches. 

Still, it might be Stone's promising mid-range touch that drives his stock into lottery territory. He's looked comfortable shooting from the elbows or short corners off kickouts or face-up opportunities. And he's made an impressive 88-of-110 free throws (80 percent).

Stone has the chance to create some serious waves, given the team's expectations, as well as the country's natural desire to identify a young, big-man talent during a year in which there are few. 

All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, Hoop-Math.com


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.