10 best NBA Draft prospects in the 2023 NCAA tournament
The NCAA men's tournament is here, and NBA scouts and front-office executives will travel all over the country to get eyes on the top draft prospects playing on the biggest stage in college basketball.
Alabama received the No. 1 overall seed after winning the SEC championship in a dominating fashion over Texas A&M, 82-63. The Crimson Tide have the best freshman in the country, Brandon Miller, who has been playing at a high level to close out the season and was named the SEC tournament MVP. Miller is a projected top-five pick and will be the top college player to watch for any NBA fan throughout the tournament.
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Unlike last year's draft where all top-five players appeared in the tournament — Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., Keegan Murray and Jaden Ivey — the 2023 NBA Draft is like no other in recent years with only one or two top players electing to play college basketball. Victor Wembanyama (France), Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), Amen and Ausar Thompson (Overtime Elite) all chose the pro route over college basketball.
There will be plenty of opportunities for other players to emerge and take the spotlight in the next few weeks. Here's a look at the 10 best NBA Draft prospects in the NCAA tournament.
Brandon Miller, Alabama
Draft range: 2-5
Freshman: 19.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg
There is no player in college basketball or this draft class that plays like Miller. At 6-foot-9, he has a tight handle and limits his turnovers when getting to the paint, making the right read when the defense collapses. The most impressive part of his game is his outside jumper and the way he creates separation for himself. Miller is averaging 40% from behind the arc on at least six attempts per game and can knock it down in a variety of ways. His percentage increases to 60% off catch-and-shoot open 3-pointers and has made some tough buckets down the stretch for the Crimson Tide. Miller also set the school record for most points ever scored in a freshman season, surpassing Collin Sexton in totaling 633 points.
His off-the-court issues and involvement in the shooting death of Jamea Harris is something NBA teams continue to monitor, but as he continues to play, NBA front office personnel will do their due diligence in scouting the 20-year-old and getting as much information on the case as possible before the draft in June.
MVP.@AlabamaMBB x #SECTourney pic.twitter.com/eIbfjfv8To
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) March 12, 2023
Nick Smith Jr., Arkansas
Draft range: 3-10
Freshman: 14 ppg, 2.1 apg
Smith Jr. made his return to the court mid-February after being sidelined for two months with a minor knee injury. A lot of NBA scouts expected Smith Jr. to sit out the remainder of the season and prepare for the draft but his return has been productive both for the Razorbacks and his draft stock.
He's averaging just under 20 points per game since returning to the court and hit the game-winner against Auburn in the SEC tournament to advance. Smith Jr. is a three-level scorer who favors the right side when getting downhill and projects more as a combo guard in the NBA. At 6-foot-5, he's found creative ways to get floaters off over much bigger players and is shooting the three ball comfortably, connecting on 42% of his attempts in the last six games.
Arkansas is the No. 8 seed in the West region and a potential great guard matchup is brewing in the second round against No. 1 seed Kansas with Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson.
Jarace Walker, Houston
Draft range: 4-10
Freshman: 11.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg
Walker has the most NBA-ready body in this draft class and it's his defensive versatility that has caught the attention of a lot of teams projected in the lottery. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, he can defend the five in a small-ball lineup but has also shown his quickness and athleticism when stepping out to guard the wing.
Houston's senior guard Marcus Sasser sustained an apparent groin injury in the conference semifinal games against Cincinnati and no timeframe has been announced for his return. It might end up being a huge blow for the No. 1-seeded Cougars in the Midwest region and NBA scouts will be watching to see how Walker elevates his game in Sasser's absence. In the most recent loss to Memphis, Walker was active in the paint, recording three blocked shots, and added 13 points in 30 minutes on the court.
Anthony Black, Arkansas
Draft range: 5-12
Freshman: 12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.2 apg
Black is one of the best passing guards in college basketball and combined with his height and length at 6-foot-7, his ceiling is high as a NBA guard in the way he can see over defenses and create for others. His role expanded in Smith Jr.'s absence allowed him to get more confident with his shot selection and making reads as the primary ball handler. In the last few games, Black and Smith Jr. are showing why they were so highly rated coming out of high school and things are clicking at the right time with the way they're finding each other in transition.
This sequence topped off with a Nick Smith Jr. alley-oop finish 💯@lif3nick | @RazorbackMBB pic.twitter.com/l32o8AoQMr
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 10, 2023
Keyonte George, Baylor
Draft range: 7-14
Freshman: 15.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg
George sustained a minor ankle injury in a win over Texas on Feb. 25 and is just now getting more comfortable on the court heading into games later this week. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard came into a veteran backcourt with Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer and found ways to contribute immediately.
George is a high-volume shooter who has recorded 20-plus points in 12 games this season and prior to his injury he strung together back-to-back games averaging 22 points and four rebounds. George has a high, quick-releasing jumper that allows him to get it off from multiple spots on the court and his change of speed off a defensive turnover give him the advantage in the open court to convert on easy buckets.
Gradey Dick, Kansas
Draft range: 8-14
Freshman: 14.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Dick struggled in the loss to Texas in the Big 12 championship, going 0-for-5 from 3-point range and scoring only six points. There have been times throughout the season when he looks lost on defense and lets his man slip for a cut or drop down to the corner for an open three. What he does extremely well comes on the offensive side of the ball with his knack to get to open spots and make plays at the end of the shot clock. Dick is interchangeable at the wing position and does a good job in the high pick-and-roll option by either shooting the three or getting to the elbow with a two-dribble pull-up. When his shot isn't falling, he finds other ways to impact the game, particularly on the offensive glass, creating second-chance opportunities for the Jayhawks.
Cason Wallace, Kentucky
Draft range: 8-16
Freshman: 11.6 ppg, 4.2 apg
This was an up-and-down year for Kentucky and the same can be said for Wallace. He is one of the most impactful on-ball defenders in this draft class but his shot selection remains an area of development. Head coach John Calipari's system doesn't cater to guards who excel in spacing or use their quick-twitch to make decisions. Tyrese Maxey, Devin Booker, De'Aaron Fox and Tyler Herro have all had greater success at the NBA level than under Calipari and NBA scouts know they have to take this into consideration when scouting Kentucky guards. Wallace had one of his most complete games of the season in a win over Auburn late February where he flirted with a double-double finishing with 19 points, nine assists and four steals.
Jalen Hood-Schifino, Indiana
Draft range: 10-20
Freshman: 13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg
It took Hood-Schifino a little bit longer to settle into the college season after dealing with minor back pain in the beginning of the year. Since he entered the starting lineup, he's been one of the most improved players in college basketball and is rising up draft boards.
The 6-foot-6 point guard has a mature game and the Hoosiers look more settled on offense when the ball is in his hands. The guard-forward tandem of Hood-Schifino and senior Trayce Jackson-Davis has been instrumental in Indiana's success down the stretch as it enters the tournament as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest region.
Kris Murray, Iowa
Draft range: 12-20
Junior: 20.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg
Murray's minutes increased from 18 minutes to 35 minutes per game from last season to this season. He became the go-to guy on offense after his twin brother, Keegan, was drafted No. 4 overall to the Sacramento Kings in last year's draft. Murray is one of three players in the Big Ten to average 20 or more points throughout the entire season and he's found ways to use his size to his advantage against small guards on the perimeter. Murray is patient when he has the ball in his hands, averaging under two turnovers per game, and defensively, he's great at using his body and size to secure rebounds off the weak side and push the ball in transition.
Jalen Wilson, Kansas
Draft range: 18-30
Junior: 20.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg
Wilson is a player that could help his draft stock the most during the NCAA tournament, similar to Ochai Agbaji last season when he led Kansas to a national championship. Wilson tested the NBA waters and elected to return for his junior season after getting feedback from NBA teams.
The most notable improvement to his game has been his 3-point jump shot. Wilson has more than doubled his made threes from last season and is shooting more consistently at 34% from deep. He's also taken on a bigger leadership role this season and has put the team on his back at times throughout the season, coming up with big plays when the game is on the line.