Ranking the Top 10 NBA Draft Prospects in NCAA Tournament

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 15, 2021

Ranking the Top 10 NBA Draft Prospects in NCAA Tournament

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Unlike last March, NBA scouts will be busy this month. The NCAA tournament field is set and loaded with draft lottery prospects. 

    Seven of the projected top 10 in our latest mock draft will be participating in March Madness. And most of the following prospects play for top-six seeds that could make deep runs. 

    Jalen Green's and Jonathan Kuminga's decisions to play for the G League Ignite won't hurt college basketball this month.

10. Jaden Springer (Tennessee, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Working on and off the ball for Tennessee, Jaden Springer has made a case to NBA scouts with his versatility and a well-rounded skill set.

    Skeptics may question his athleticism or off-the-dribble effectiveness. But Springer compensates for a deficiency of explosion with strength, timing and body control. Despite lacking burst, he gets through gaps with his dribble, shows vision on the move and finishes well around the rim.

    He wisely picks his spots when he attacks, and he's been consistent catching-and-shooting from three all season. 

    With excellent defensive technique and tools, the 18-year-old comes off as a two-way combo who can fit alongside anyone.

9. Corey Kispert (Gonzaga, SF, Senior)

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    For a 6'7", 220-pound forward, Corey Kispert's shooting is sharp, versatile and convincing enough for NBA lottery teams to justify targeting it in the draft. 

    Over 43 percent from three in consecutive years while shooting comfortably off spot-ups, pull-ups and screens, Kispert also has the size to get his shot off and guard his position at the next level. 

    But labeling him as a shooting specialist feels limiting, even though Kispert's jumper represents his moneymaker. A capable pick-and-roll ball-handler and the nation's No. 1 most efficient transition player (points per possession), per Synergy Sports, the senior forward should serve as a more well-rounded, complementary scorer. 

    With huge nonconference performances early in the season, Kispert shouldn't need to prove much to scouts during the NCAA tournament.

8. Scottie Barnes (Florida State, SF/PF, Freshman)

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    NBA teams will accept Scottie Barnes' scoring limitations. They'll overlook them for his unique playmaking ability and elite defensive potential.

    He won't be for every roster. But those looking for an ultimate role player in a Draymond Green mold will value his knack for impacting games without needing to put up points. 

    At 6'9", 227 pounds, he's a fantastic passer who can also operate off the dribble and create for teammates. And he'll still manage to earn himself baskets by attacking in transition and using his length around the rim. 

    The bigger draw to Barnes is the enormous defensive upside tied to his size, lateral foot speed, focus and IQ. He's guarded every position at Florida State, manning bigs inside and picking up guards full-court.

    Shooting is an obvious weakness, but any made three is seen as a bonus.

7. Franz Wagner (Michigan, SF, Sophomore)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Improved shooting, passing and defense have created versatility that Franz Wagner could now sell to lottery teams. 

    For a 6'9" forward, his skill set screams NBA fit, even if he doesn't project as a high-level scorer. 

    Scouts could picture Wagner playing the same do-it-all role in the pros as he does at Michigan, where he operates as a floor-spacer, pick-and-roll ball-handler and the team's most disruptive, switchable defender. The analytics back up the eye test, with Wagner ranked second in the country in defensive box plus-minus, per Sports Reference.

    And the German will only turn 20 in August with multiple years of experience in college, overseas and FIBA tournaments.

    Contributing to a deep Michigan run in the tournament should only help emphasize Wagner's impact.

6. Moses Moody (Arkansas, SG, Freshman)

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Used primarily off the ball at Arkansas, Moses Moody has still managed to become college basketball's third-leading freshman scorer. 

    He's producing with a simplified skill set that NBA scouts deem translatable for a 6'6" 2-guard or wing. Though a limited creator, Moody hasn't needed isolation or pick-and-roll ball-handling possessions. He's been one of the nation's most efficient spot-up players with a consistent, catch-and-shoot three-ball, and the ability to put the ball on the floor and pull up into jumpers. 

    He's earned the three-and-D label that helps paint Moody as a high-floor prospect and easy fit. But he's also flashed enough shot-making versatility and slashing to suggest there is more scoring potential to unlock.

5. Keon Johnson (Tennessee, SG, Freshman)

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Just like Patrick Williams and Isaac Okoro did last draft, Keon Johnson is poised to draw top-10 interest with physical ability and flashes of skill—not stats or production. 

    Even without a great deal of polish, Johnson has consistently given Tennessee easy baskets and tough defense with his explosion, power and motor. NBA teams should feel confident Johnson will offer them the same. 

    But since the start of the season, Johnson has grown as a scorer and regularly delivered smart passes that highlight underrated playmaking instincts.

    Between Johnson's perceived high floor as an energizer, room for improvement (turned 19 years old on Wednesday) and signs that he's already getting sharper with his off-the-dribble game and shot-making, the low risk and potential reward create an attractive gamble for NBA teams.

4. James Bouknight (Connecticut, SG, Sophomore)

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    David Butler II/Associated Press

    After freshman flashes, there were sophomore breakout expectations for James Bouknight entering the season. And he's delivered on them with consistent scoring output and NBA-level creation and shot-making. 

    At 6'5", he has 2-guard size and an ability to shake free with quick dribble moves and change of speed. He racks up points with his pull-up game and athletic, acrobatic finishing package. 

    NBA teams see a ball-screen and isolation threat capable of generating his own offense in the half court and taking over for stretches. 

    While his three-ball has been up and down, Bouknight's jumper still looks dangerous, particularly shooting off the dribble. 

    Showing more signs of playmaking and passing in the NCAA tournament could attract more attention from NBA front offices, possibly enough to push him as high as No. 6 on draft boards.

3. Evan Mobley (USC, C, Freshman)

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Evan Mobley started the season top-five on draft boards, and he'll undoubtedly finish that way, regardless of what happens in the NCAA tournament. 

    At 7'0" with length, a quick jump and nimble feet, his rim protection and switchability create enormous defensive upside that NBA teams are banking on. 

    But he's looked even better than initially advertised offensively, particularly with his ball skill and comfort level away from the basket. Near it, he'll continue to serve as a high-percentage finisher. But Mobley's potential to be special stems from his ability to handle in the open floor, face up and score on the move and knock down jumpers. 

    Mobley hasn't faced many NBA-level bigs in the Pac-12, so he'll have lottery teams' full attention in the NCAA tournament, especially with the G League Ignite prospects having met expectations.

2. Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga, PG, Freshman)

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    As Jalen Suggs was carrying Gonzaga back from a double-digit deficit Tuesday night against BYU, one couldn't help but wonder whether he'd be worthy of No. 1 overall consideration. 

    He's the full package—an athletic, 6'4" ball-handler who thrives downhill, has high-level passing skills, shoots well off the dribble, and impacts games with his defensive tools and instincts. And aside from obvious talent and sharp skills, scouts rave about the mental makeup and competitiveness that could set him apart.

    Practically every projected lottery team already has a young prospect or established veteran at point guard. But Suggs has proved to be interchangeable and adaptable enough—with his selfless play and cutting—to comfortably operate alongside another ball-handler like he's done with Joel Ayayi at Gonzaga.

1. Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State, PG/SG, Freshman)

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    Jerry Larson/Associated Press

    Scouts didn't expect they'd have a chance to evaluate Cade Cunningham in the NCAA tournament. But the freshman has carried Oklahoma State to the field of 68, leading the Cowboys to key wins with his takeover scoring ability and clutch play. 

    Out of Montverde Academy in Florida, it was passing for a 6'8" ball-handler that separated Cunningham and fueled most of the hype. Instead, he's held off Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley and the G League Ignite standouts in the No. 1 overall conversation with his self-creation moves and shot-making out to the arc.

    He's become one of the nation's most advanced, efficient isolation players with pull-ups and step-backs. But Cunningham has also shot over 40 percent as a catch-and-shooter, and he still possesses exciting playmaking potential with his height, off-the-dribble skills and vision.

    Luka Doncic and Grant Hill have been the most popular comparisons used by NBA scouts, who anticipate Cunningham will go first in the draft regardless of what happens during March Madness.