Your NBA team is still tanking, college basketball is still rolling, Loyola is in the Final Four, and no, this isn’t a weird dream. The Crossover’s Front Office is here to answer 10 burning draft questions.
1) I’m watching the Final Four. Where are all the lottery picks?
Alas, it is not a year ripe for future superstars to have their shining moments. Villanova and Kansas might have been what you expected, even if Kansas was a slight surprise edging Duke, but Michigan may not have been, and Loyola–Chicago was not. There may not be a single NBA star on either team’s roster, but that doesn’t mean this weekend will be a total loss from a scouting perspective. It’s not ideal, but it’ll still be fun.
2) Which team has the most talent?
It’s Villanova, which likely has the lone lottery pick standing in Mikal Bridges. The talented two-way wing player was up and down in the regional games but remains a bankable talent with a solid floor as a defender and three-point shooter. Bridges struggled to score in the win over Texas Tech on Sunday, but part of his value is that he can make an impact on nights where his offense isn’t working. Expect him to shine against Kansas on Saturday, where he should find open looks from outside and be able to showcase his defensive versatility on the perimeter.
If they weren’t going into the tournament, the Wildcats should be universally considered the favorites to win it all. Along with Bridges, Villanova also features an incredible floor leader in Jalen Brunson and two other interesting players for future drafts: guard Donte DiVincenzo and forward Omari Spellman. Brunson in particular is the other guy to take seriously: you’ll continue to hear people question his athletic ability, but there is nothing overrated about his decision-making ability and offensive feel. He deserves to be a Top 40 pick, and is going to play in the NBA for a long time.
3) What do we make of Malik Newman’s resurgence?
Newman, a former-five star recruit who was invited to the combine after his freshman year at Mississippi State in 2016, has been nothing short of stellar in the month of March. He transferred and is thus only a sophomore, and while still a flawed prospect, he can certainly still fill up a box score. He might have positioned himself to make the NBA leap now. He hung 32 points on Duke on Sunday and has averaged 22.7 during Kansas’s seven-game win streak, which dates back to March 8. In that stretch, he’s made 28 of 51 attempts from three (54.9%) and also grabbed 5.1 boards per game.
Though Newman was only the fourth highest-usage player on Kansas for most of the season (fifth after Silvio De Sousa’s arrival), he’s looking like the player scouts loved in high school—there’s just not much else for him to prove in terms of what he brings to the floor. He will always be an undersized two-guard, but he’s athletic, has good instincts as a scorer and has functioned bigger than his size out of necessity. His confidence levels are riding high.
Without overreacting too hard, Newman is probably the most intriguing Jayhawks storyline right now. Kansas earned the No. 1 seed without a surefire guy like in years past, relying on a skilled group of perimeter players led by an unselfish, fringe first-rounder in Devonte Graham. Svi Mykhailiuk can be polarizing, but definitely made strides this season as a 20-year-old senior. It’s a bit early to call on Silvio De Sousa and Udoka Azubuike, but both are intriguing from a physical perspective. If Kansas can topple Villanova, I’ll be impressed.
4) I watched the Elite Eight. How concerning is Marvin Bagley’s defense?
It’s concerning. And while I’ve been personally hesitant to heap on too much criticism, given that Bagley had a steep learning curve to deal with this season, it is worth explicitly stating that Bagley becoming a passable NBA defender can’t be taken for granted. For a quick point of comparison, I feel better about future improvement coming from Deandre Ayton, who had his own struggles but also defended out of position all season, and has the advantage of elite athletic ability coupled with elite size—he will at least be able to defend fives, and learning to guard ball screens takes time.
With Bagley, it’s more complicated because he lacks the wingspan and reach factors that easily project on the defensive end, and also never really displayed great rim-protection instincts that scream “I’m a small-ball, rim-running center.” This would have been fine in Amare’ Stoudemire’s era, but it’s just tougher to feel totally great about in 2018. Yes, Duke had to play zone, but Bagley’s bad ball-watching habit is part of the reason they made the change. And yes, he rebounds hard and tries, which matters, but in a crowd of NBA athletes, that won’t be easier, either.
He has yet to announce his NBA decision, but Bagley’s career at Duke is over. NBA teams know what they’re getting, but they’ll also have to bet big on projection with him. And it’s a more difficult task, say, if you’re picking third and Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba are on the board. Those three players are an intriguing group to follow from here when it comes to draft position.
5) What should Gary Trent do?
Bagley, Wendell Carter and Grayson Allen are on the outs, Trevon Duval probably is too, but Trent is in essence the swing guy for the Blue Devils, who are getting a massive talent influx to replace what they lost. R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson might make Duke the most athletic team in the country this fall, and Tre Jones will come in to run the point. Those guys all need big minutes, and it puts Trent—who’s probably a second-rounder if he comes out—in an awkward position.
Trent can absolutely fit in with that group if he stays, but he also can’t really expect his role to expand as a scorer given how much all four of those players like to have the ball. He’s what Duke needs, as a guy who can space the floor and add some size, but standing in the corner for another year isn’t really what Trent needs. He probably doesn’t have star upside, but he was good this season and has more to show. Testing the waters with some serious intent like Frank Jackson did last year probably makes sense.
6) What if Michigan’s best prospect isn’t Moritz Wagner?
As I’ve written before, Wagner is an acquired taste. You have to love his offensive skill set and three-point shooting and annoying on-court antics while willfully ignoring the fact that he just might not be athletic enough, or care enough about defense, or even play defense well enough to make it work in the NBA. Scouts have mixed opinions on Wagner and I’ve yet to find someone who’s truly in love with him (though that person is likely out there). He has a year of eligibility left but tested the waters a year ago and showed poorly at the combine.
Although Charles Matthews is pretty inconsistent, he’s athletic, plays defense and definitely has talent—he transferred from Kentucky and will have one year left in school. Jordan Poole, who hit the game winner against Houston, has also come up in conversations with scouts, although he’s a couple years away. While none of these guys light the world on fire, the point is that when you look at “best prospect” as “player most likely to earn an NBA pension,” the answer as far as Michigan goes isn’t totally clear-cut.
7) Texas Tech lost, but is Zhaire Smith a thing?
Well, this dunk was definitely a thing.
If Smith enters the draft, he will get picked, quite likely in the Top 40 and potentially in the first, an unreal scenario for a kid who was the 194th best player in his high school class according to the 24/7 composite rankings. To go one and done from there is pretty unheard of, and it’s tied to how absurdly athletic he is and the versatility he displayed as a supporting player for the Red Raiders. We ranked him as the 37th-best prospect for the 2018 draft on our board last week, and it will certainly behoove him to test.
Though Smith is raw and unpolished, in need of an off-dribble skill set and some defensive discipline, the talent level is there. You can argue the things he’s good at give him a decent floor for someone so early in his development. He plays above the rim, runs the floor, shot well from three in a tiny sample size and should eventually play useful defense. You can also argue that none of those things alone are enough to safely pencil him into a real NBA role, and even if they all work out for him, not being able to score or create off the dribble could be a mega-issue.
We know Smith has some feel for the little things, but we don’t know if he really knows how to score. The funny thing about the draft process: that level of uncertainty, and the perception of upside, might be exactly why Smith should come out.
8) Who is Loyola’s best pro prospect? Is it Sister Jean?
Yeah, it’s Sister Jean. No, it’s actually Donte Ingram, who’s athletic, committed to playing defense and can shoot. He’s a senior and may be the player who benefits most from this Loyola run—he’s certainly good enough to earn an invite to Summer League at the very least. Still, the beauty of the Ramblers is how well they define “sum of their parts.”
9) Hold up, is it true that Giannis has a brother who might enter the draft?
Yes. KostasAntetokounmpo wasn’t expressly good this season, but he has a ton of athletic potential. Don’t get too excited, but also don’t ignore him as a prospect. There are a lot of ways to use a two-way contract slot.
10) I actually hate college basketball, but I love scrolling down to the bottom of articles. Do I need a 20-minute Luka Doncic highlight mix in my life?
There's only 87 days until the draft.