As we all know, It's the last two weeks of March, which means that the multi-billion dollar event known as March Madness is once again upon us.
For those of you who don't pay attention to college basketball as a whole, this is your chance to get really excited about a guy that you will later bash your GM for not drafting. 64 teams and hundreds of players is a lot, so I'm here to help you narrow the field from a Rockets perspective,
Houston is right in the thick of the playoff race, which means their own first round pick goes to the Lakers, but barring something epic happening in the last 15 games or so, the Pelicans will send their first round pick to Houston one way or another. Houston also holds the Knick's 2nd round pick this year, which could very well be the first pick of the 2nd round.
Houston holds a mid-first round pick and an early 2nd round picks, so this article will specifically focus on player in that draft range, as well as some potential prospects that may go undrafted.
Starting from Game 1 of the round of 64 on CBS, Jerian Grant is ready to steal your hearts with his smarts, skills and the general maturity of an NBA ready point guard. He's a tall PG at 6'5, has a stocky build to match his length. He runs the pick and roll like a pro thanks to his size to see over defenders, and his ability as a passer and decision maker is his biggest asset. I categorize everything else he does as fairly average by NBA standards, but a high IQ player with all around average skill sticks around in the NBA for a long time. Ability to guard NBA point guards will be his key barometer due to the fact that he guards mostly shooting guards in college.
Immediately follows the Notre Dame game, you have underachieving Texas vs. Cinderella to annual attendee Butler at 2:45 on CBS. I call Rick Barnes the reverse Bill Self: instead of fooling you into believing somebody is good, he fools you into having doubts about his player. Most of his players overachieve in the NBA. Myles Turner isn't quite Karl Towns in term of versatility and polish, but he's still a big human being with very high skill level. He reminds me a little of Eddie Griffin in that he's a wiry tall guy that can step out and shoot, but can also patrol the air space. I don't anticipate Myles Turner to fall out of top 10, but just in case Rick Barnes jobs him harder than usual, I'm mentioning him here.
Thursday prime time starts with a pair of games with prospects to watch, one of which is Utah versus Stephen F. Austin on TruTV featuring the one of the most versatile guards in the nation: Delon Wright. Wright is ninth in the Nation in PER and first among all PGs. He stuffs the box score sheet like a fat kid's plate at the buffet table, and he does so in a very competitive Pac-12 conference filled with NBA talent. At 6'5 with a tremendous knack for being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, he can put up numbers without you even noticing. He's not the best outside shooter, but he's made marked improvements both from 3 and from the line. Not an overwhelming athlete or a particularly creative player, so there is some upside limits, but the package of size and versatility is hard to turn down.
Here is where I veer off from the beaten path. The 7:30 EST game on CBS is Harvard versus North Carolina, a game where most of the NBA prospects will be wearing the Carolina Blue. However, the player I choose to focus on is a Crimson. Harvard has only 4 NCAA tournament appearances in its history, but 3 of those came in the last 3 years. Guess who was on all 3 of those teams? Wesley Saunders has made a steady, Jeremy Lin-like rise over his career at Harvard, and he's is the steady engine that makes Harvard go. Tommy Amaker runs a smart system that has made Saunders a much more well-rounded player than he otherwise would have been. He can run a solid pick and roll, run off screens and pull up for jumpers, handle the ball and direct traffic. With a solid all-around game without flash, Saunders will have to prove that he can perform against higher level competitions, and this North Carolina team is the perfect test bed.
Devin Booker/Kentucky big men
The game of the day/night on Thursday will no doubt be Kentucky versus "who cares, they'll lose anyway" on CBS at 9:30 EST. Devin Booker is the guy a lot of mock drafts have the Rockets picking. If you're asking why, you should tune in and watch him shoot. The pillsbury doughboy looking freshmen has a sweet touch from range, shooting 42 percent from deep this season on four attempts a game. One thing you applaud Kentucky for this season, other than the fact that they put together a borderline NBA team, is that Cal got all of them to play hard.
Devin Booker is no exception. He competes very hard on both ends of the floor even with some physical limitations. He's one of these player that just knows where to go to get open and get his shot off. One thing that's problematic is he has been persona non grata against the best competition, and college shooting specialists tend to struggle to make the NBA transition right away.
Kentucky has just an embarrassment of riches in the front court. Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns will probably be out of the Rockets draft range, but do keep an eye out for Trey Lyles and Dakari Johnson. Trey Lyles is a bit in the Terrence Jones mode, does a little bit of everything, but can he do any of them well? Dakari Johnson is just a hulking human being that reminds me of Greg Smith, big guy that just knows where to go to get an easy bucket.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Friday kicks off with Kansas facing off against New Mexico State on CBS at 12:15 EST. I have loathed Kansas for years because I don't believe Bill Self readies his player for NBA style basketball. Kansas players have a tendency to stagnate over the course of their collegiate careers, but tend to do just enough to fool everyone into thinking they're good. Luckily, the New Orleans-to-Houston transplant looks to be an one-and-done player, so he still has hope to actually realize his talent before his prime. He's physically everything you want in a wing player: 6'7 with a 7'2 wingspan, rebounds like a fiend, plays well with his tremendous athleticism on both ends despite his lanky frame, comfortable with his outside shot, and for a Daryl Morey twist, a lefty. Being just 19 going on 20, he's more potential than actual, but his potential is tantalizing. Even with ample wing depth, Rocket may not be able to resist claiming him if he falls within reach.
Skipping ahead to 4:40 EST on TNT, a very impressive Maryland team faces a gritty, plucky Valparasio team coached by Bryce Drew. Yes, that Bryce Drew. Maryland's backcourt duo of Melo Trimble and Dez Wells is a force to be reckoned with every night. Freshman Melo Trimble especially stands out as one of the best freshman guards in the country not talked about in a draft context. To be fair, there is no indication that he will leave school after a year, but I'm going to talk about him anyway because he is one of my favorite players this season.
While still polishing his point guard skills, it is very difficult to not watch him with starry eyes. He strokes 3s with supreme confidence, and he draws fouls like a magnet, and he steps up to the moment like it's nothing. Reminds you of anyone? Look at his resume this season, he scored 17 point on Wisconsin, 16 points on Virginia, and averaged over 20 points against Michigan State, those are some stingy defenses for him to be putting up numbers. Some say he plays with poise, but I see it as more of a quiet swagger. If Melo Trimble pulls a surprise exit (like if Maryland make a Final Four run) (Ed. note: As a Terps fan, this is highly unlikely considering they face Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but I'm delighted someone else said this), expect teams to get on that train in a hurry.
Side note: Dez Wells had an equally impressive season as a senior, but he's likely a fringe NBA player due to his oddly mismatched game and his age. He's an undersized power guard that's most effective creating inside of the arc, bullying his defenders for his shot. He has not shown significant development over the course of his collegiate career. He'll have to prove to the scouts that he still has a little bit extra he can bring to the NBA table.
The Friday prime time feature on CBS will be the Duke game at 7:10 EST. Duke tends to disappoint in the tournaments in recent years, but this is one of the most talented Duke team in years. Between Jahlil Okafor, the possible first pick, Justise Winslow, a likely top 10 pick, and Tyus Jones, probable first round pick, there's enough talent to crush most college teams. Jones and Okafor particularly have a chemistry that's hard to come by between freshmen.
Tyus Jones knows how to feed a big guy, because he's played some the most important games of his life with a very talented post player. Tyus Jones is some what of a throwback Duke player. He doesn't have overwhelming physical gifts, but he plays a very poised and intelligent game that will impress the scouts. While Duke's offense tend to revolve around Okafor, Tyus Jones occasionally will flash his scoring prowess with outburst of impressive drives and scores to remind you that he is very talented as well. His major flaw lies in his size and defense. Quinn Cook, the forever Blue Devil, tends to take on the tough defensive assignment on defense and leave Jones on the less offensively inclined guard. If he can't guard NBA PGs, then his upside would probably be limited to the bench.
First weekend caps off with one of my favorites for the Rockets' first round pick, a do-it-all PG for the Providence Friars on TruTV. Kris Dunn is a 6'3 PG with tremendous physical tools: 6'8 wingspan, ups for days, and lighting quick first step. One of the most fun players to watch this season, creative passer, always plays with a degree of aggressive demeanor on offense and defense, Dunn has the potential to be an NBA starter. Dunn has to prove that he can overcome the inconsistency that plagues him this season, both from the floor and from the charity stripe. One of the biggest worries is his health. His shoulder injury cost him two seasons at Providence, and his medical evaluation will no doubt play a big part in his draft status.
Other players to watch: Montrezl Harrell, undersized monster rebounder. R.J. Hunter, irrational confidence and unlimited range. Georges Niang, do it all tweener forward with questionable athleticism. Domantas Sabonis, Arvydas Sabonis' son.