With each passing weekend, the number of potential NBA prospects in the NCAA Tournament dwindles, shining a brighter spotlight on the few individuals remaining.
While this tournament continues to be just one datapoint in much broader evaluations by NBA teams, there is no question that some prospects have helped or hurt themselves on this, the grandest of college basketball stages.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (2016 NBA Draft projection: 5-11)
Texas A&M: 17 points, 6-13 FGA (2-7 3PA, 3-5 FTA), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers
Oregon: 37 points, 13-20 FGA (8-13 3PA, 3-4 FTA), 4 rebounds, 0 assists, 6 turnovers
The year of Buddy Hield continued with a big weekend, leading Oklahoma to the Final Four with a 37-point performance against Oregon. He had everything working offensively and continued to show his shot making should translate to the next level. The four shots in the compilation below is just a sampling of what Hield has been doing to defenses all season.
He may not always be able to drive to the rim and finish, but if can get a half step on his defender he can kick out to the perimeter and relocate to the open space for a three, which he does perfectly in the first clip. Before his pass even reaches his teammate he is moving toward the open space and starting to spot up for a clean look from beyond the arc.
His step back is just as deadly. Hield doesn’t have the athleticism of other NBA wing players, but he has answered concerns as to how he would get his shot off against those defenders. He can put the ball on the floor for a dribble to create separation, step back to create even more space and quickly release his jump shot anywhere from 15 to 28 feet. He hit Oregon defenders with that move a few times, flummoxing them and leaving them and demoralizing the defense:
After struggling with the Texas A&M defense, having much more space to operate against Oregon must have felt freeing for Hield. The Aggies ran multiple defenders at him, including Alex Caruso, who is regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the nation. They face-guarded Hield, which made him work hard just to catch the ball, before shading multiple defenders at him to clog up his space.
One thing Hield doesn’t really have in his arsenal is shot creation for his teammates. He had just three assists this weekend to go along with 11 turnovers. This part of his development will be something to monitor throughout the first few seasons of his career. He likely won’t have to be much of a facilitator, but being able to move the ball in the flow of the offense and seeing open teammates when his movement draws the defense will help him in a team concept. With a smaller role, he’ll certainly need to cut down on the turnovers, which should come naturally with the ball in his hands less.
Hield’s nightly NBA production will probably fall somewhere between these two data points. He won’t be the sole focus of an opponent’s defense like he was against Texas A&M, whose whole gameplan was built around stopping him. He also won’t be the main shot taker who can pop off for 30-plus regularly.
His ceiling may not be as high as other players, but his floor as a NBA shooter seems to be worth the risk of a high draft pick. At this point, it’s not difficult to envision a team in the top five falling in love with him after the types of offensive performances he has put up all season. At worst, it’s hard to see him slipping much past the 10th pick.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (25-35)
Iowa State: 12 points, 4-13 FGA (0-2 3PA, 4-4 FTA), 2 rebounds, 5 assists
Syracuse: 12 points, 2-14 FGA (1-6 3PA, 7-7 FTA), 7 rebounds, 7 assists
Malcolm Brogdon didn’t have the best four-game stretch in the tournament, faltering when Virginia needed him the most against Syracuse.
After shooting a shade over 40 percent from three during the regular season, Brogdon slumped at the worst possible time, hitting just 3-for-16 on long distance shots in the NCAA Tournament. He’s probably closer to the shooter he was over the larger sample size of the regular season, but this four-game slump didn’t do him any favors.
Brogdon isn’t going to create shots for himself in the NBA. Instead, he’s going to need to run off screens to get open for baseline jumpers or below the break three-pointers. Although he excels in getting open and drawing the defense to himself, if he isn’t making shots the defense isn’t going to need to guard him, and that certainly limits his offensive potential.
What helps him is his ability to affect the game in other ways when he isn’t scoring, especially on the defensive side. He’ll throw his body around on the glass and help his team rebound. More importantly, He locks in on that end and can shut down some of the best perimeter players.
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Brice Johnson, North Carolina (20-40)
Indiana: 20 points, 5-11 FGA (10-12 FTA), 10 rebounds, 3 blocks
Notre Dame: 25 points, 10-15 FGA (5-5 FTA), 12 rebounds, 1 block
Brice Johnson continued to show his strengths in two wins against Indiana and Notre Dame. Johnson is an extremely bouncy athlete who runs the floor extremely well and will finish anything around the rim, converting 88.2 percent of his attempts there according to hoop-math. Johnson is also one of the best defensive rebounders in the country, able to beat everyone to the rebound no matter whether it is a shot off the rim or a loose ball he needs to track down.
What was interesting about this weekend is the mid-range game he flashed in small spurts. Notre Dame was content to play off of him from 15 feet and he took advantage by hitting some free throw line jumpers. He didn’t do this too often during the regular season and this ability to step out to the midrange and do more than just dunk will allow scouts a wider look at a potential offensive role. If all he can do is dunk, he’ll still be a coveted prospect. But if he can hit a jumper from 15 feet? Teams can run ball screen options for him and not be afraid to have him stationed on the elbow in various sets without fear his man will be able to fall back and clog the lane.
Johnson still needs to improve his defense, as he is neither an elite rim protector or able to slow down the pick and roll effectively. He may not have the strength to bang inside or the wingspan to protect the rim, so being able to defend the perimeter will be key for his fit at the next level. He won’t face any major NBA prospects in his final two games, but he’ll still need to demonstrate a commitment to that side of the game that will give scouts a glimpse of what role he could fill at the next level.
Chris Boucher, Oregon (45-60 in 2016, 20-45 in 2017)
Duke: 11 points, 4-10 FGA (1-4 3PA, 2-5 FTA), 4 rebounds, 1 block
Oklahoma: 14 points, 5-10 FGA (1-4 3PA, 3-4 FTA), 10 rebounds, 0 block
After starting his career at the junior college level, the 23-year old Chris Boucher has had a nice debut season for the Oregon Ducks. He received a waiver for another year of college eligibility, but he’ll have a tough decision to make regarding his future. He should test the waters and if the feedback is positive, he may want to make the move to the professional ranks since he will turn 24 next season.
Teams will have concerns about his inexperience and he is really raw, but he is also dripping with potential. Athletic, 6-foot-10 big men aren’t readily available, which gives him an immediate boost. But in addition to the concerns about his age, his frame is a serious question mark.
Boucher is listed at just 200 pounds, and that may be generous. His arms and legs are twigs and it’s hard to see him holding up for a full NBA season right now. He likely hasn’t had the best nutrition or weight plan up to this point in his career ,so he should be able to add some bulk quickly, but his frame doesn’t look like he will be able to add too many pounds.
Although he made just 2-for-8 in his two games this weekend, he’s shown a willingness to step out to the perimeter. He converted just 33.9 percent of his three-point attempts overall, but being able to bring his opponent, likely the opposing center, away from the rim would be a valuable skill. If he can finish around the rim and be a capable three-point shooter, he’ll be a unique offensive player.
Defensively, his first prerogative is strengthening up to be able to defend the post. He should be able to be dropped into a NBA game and protect the rim, as he blocked three shots per game this year. He’s a much better offensive rebounder than defensive rebounder, with his ability to crash the offensive glass from the perimeter. He doesn’t have the toughness yet to hold his own defensively, where he pulled down just 4.9 defensive rebounds per game.
His skill set is intriguing enough to make him a viable second round gamble if he chooses to declare this year. If he returns to Oregon, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him play his way into the first round, but his age could hold him back and bump him down to the second round even if he shows some strides in his key areas of improvement.
Biggest riser of the weekend: V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame (50-60 in 2016, 25-40 in 2017)
Wisconsin: 19 points, 7-11 FGA (3-5 3PA, 2-2 FTA), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 3 steals
North Carolina: 18 points, 6-9 FGA (3-5 3PA, 3-5 FTA), 1 rebound, 1 block, 1 steal
Now a Notre Dame junior, this is the first time V.J. Beachem has played significant minutes for the Fighting Irish thanks in part to the graduation of Pat Connaughton. He’s just a role player for the offense, but he fills that role so perfectly it’s quite easy to project him filling the same role at the next level. Beachem is also filling up the score sheet during the tournament and making his mark on a Notre Dame Elite Eight run. Beachem is listed at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds, nearing the perfect size for a wing defender. He showed off his NBA athleticism with a monster dunk against North Carolina, and he’s a fluid athlete who moves smoothly around the court and has no trouble exploding off the ground when he needs to make a play.
Beacham Yamming https://t.co/5vsKgPDc2A
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) March 28, 2016
Beachem has developed into a three-point weapon, converting 44.4 percent on 5.5 attempts per game. He can stroke it from anywhere beyond the arc and, with his height, has no trouble getting his shot off. His 6-for-10 shooting performance this weekend against two solid defenses only confirmed what scouts already knew about his shooting prowess. While he doesn’t do much else offensively on a regular enough basis, shooting can sometimes be all a team asks for. At the very least, he’ll need to be able to attack a closeout as he did in the Vine above.
He also has everything you could ask for in a defensive prospect, with an above average wingspan to complement his height, good lateral quickness, and a desire to change the game defensively. It would be nice for him to put up box score stats more regularly with less than one block and one steal per game, but that production would only bolster his already strong case.
While he continued to do what he’s done for the past few months, stringing together a handful of productive games has really helped his draft profile. He will likely stay for his senior season and will be an interesting prospect to watch in a larger offensive role with the graduation of Zach Auguste and the likely departure of Demetrius Jackson for the NBA. If he can round out his skill set, he could put his name in the mix for a lottery pick next year. At the least, he’ll be a safe pick to fill a three-and-D role coveted by every NBA team.
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