For right or wrong (read: wrong), the NCAA Tournament can often greatly help or hurt the stock of an NBA prospect. With that said, how did some of the top prospects fare on day one? Whose stock is being bought, and whose is being sold?
D’Angelo Russell (28 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks) – Russell did exactly what we have come to expect him to do over the course of the season in a huge round of 64 tilt against the VCU Rams. He hit contested outside shots, got to the free throw line at a good clip with his size and strength, and demonstrated a tremendous amount of toughness to stay in the game after receiving an elbow to the face while perfectly protecting the rim in the second half that left a nice-sized cut above his eye. A huge test test lies ahead for Russell in the next round when his Ohio State squad faces one of the premier teams in the country in the Arizona Wildcats. Russell will square off against Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson. Those two are sure to give him the stiffest test he has faced all season. Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson could be the two best perimeter defenders in the country, so Russell’s play against them could be telling. Will he be able to shoot over elite length and bully his way to the rim as he has been able to do against defenders all season? Those are major questions for sure, but if Russell firmly answers them, he could realistically be in the running for the No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft.
Stanley Johnson (22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) – As expected, Johnson excelled against far inferior competition. Johnson made 4-of-5 three-point attempts, and he continues to be Arizona’s most consistent scoring threat. An Arizona game wouldn’t be complete without a few highlights from the Stanimal, which he delivered on in the form of a major block one play and a ferocious dunk after taking his man baseline off the dribble on another play. The rip move, baseline drive and nasty dunk led color commentator Reggie Miller to call Johnson “the reincarnation of LeBron James.” That’s sensationalism, but it also demonstrates how much Johnson has done right as a freshman.
R.J. Hunter (16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals) – For most of Georgia State’s contest against Baylor, things didn’t go Hunter’s way. Through about 38 minutes of play, Hunter was a putrid 1-of-8 from the field and 0-of-5 from long range. Yet, despite an abysmal shooting performance for most of the night, Hunter stepped up when it mattered most and won his team the game. He scored 12 points in a variety of ways in the last 2:39 of play, and he hit the game winning three with 2.6 seconds remaining. One might wonder why Hunter is on the buy list after such an inconsistent performance, but there’s plenty to like about his game and what he did against the Bears. Hunter is a 30 percent shooter from beyond the arc on the season, but I believe that’s mostly a product of his sky-high 30 percent usage rate. He’s not going to be a first option in the NBA, and the team that drafts him should have no problem accentuating his best attributes and mitigating his worst by giving him a specific role. Hunter’s a good shooter when he plays within himself, which he’ll be able to do when his team at the next level doesn’t need him to be a chucker. NBA teams have demonstrated a propensity to overvalue guys that make big shots in the NCAA tournament, so it’s easy to see how teams could be gushing over him after his performance on Thursday.
Jakob Poeltl (18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks) – Poeltl was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field in Utah’s win against Stephen F. Austin. He’s tough not to like because he understands his current limitations on the offensive end. He plays within himself, content to get clean up buckets around the rim and he succeeds as a big target in pick-and-rolls. Poeltl cleaned up the glass well on both ends, grabbing three offensive boards and five of the defensive variety. The way he used his length against the Lumberjacks might be the most impressive part of his game. That’s good because his calling card at the next level will likely be as a defensive center. He stayed vertical all night to contest shots, demonstrating the ability to stay out of foul trouble. His game has a lot of upside, and some team in search of more firepower in the frontcourt will grab him in the first round and be delighted when he turns into a quality backup big man. The major question remaining is just how high can his stock rise? Can he force his way up into the lottery? Perhaps not, but he’s closer to that point than you might think.
Myles Turner (2 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block, 4 turnovers) – Turner wasn’t used properly by head coach Rick Barnes as a freshman, and that continued in presumably his last game in a Texas uniform. Isolation attempts consume the Longhorns’ offense, and those don’t help Turner’s game a bit. Turner is one of the toughest potential lottery prospects to evaluate for that reason. He needs to be seen in an advanced offensive system for us to tell what he really is, but that’s exactly the problem. His time to prove himself in competitive games before heading to the NBA is over. Some team would be taking a serious flyer on him if he’s selected in the top 10 given his inconsistent play over the course of his freshman season. Far too often, Turner didn’t make his impact felt in big games, and that was no different against Butler. He didn’t have too much of a chance, playing just 16 minutes, but in those minutes he scored a mere two points. He made poor decisions with the ball, turning the ball over four times. The good news for Turner is that he ate up the glass against Butler, and his top-notch rebounding ability will likely transfer to the next level. But again, his game remains a bit of a mystery, and he could be a risky high pick.
Kevon Looney (6 points, 10 rebounds) – In UCLA’s last two Pac-12 conference tournament games, Looney was almost a non-factor. It was more of the same for Looney, at least in the scoring department, against SMU in the round of 64. Looney isn’t a tremendously dynamic scorer, with many of his points typically coming around the rim on putbacks. He had three buckets against SMU, and two of them came on tip-ins. Aside from on the court play, Looney’s decision to stay or go seems to be looming over his head more so than it is for most other lottery picks, and perhaps that’s playing into his recent run of poor play. On a bright note, Looney did rebound the ball at his typical high rate, grabbing 10 boards. His ridiculous wingspan (7’5″) allows him to dominate the boards, and his length is helping his NBA stock despite him being a tweener. It should be said that Looney is wearing a face mask due to a facial fracture, and it seems to be severely hindering his game. Nevertheless, he’s not capitalizing on valuable opportunities, hence why he’s on the sell list.