Another NCAA season has come and gone, and while the upcoming NBA playoffs will more than fill the basketball sized hole in our hearts (assuming of course, that your heart is large enough to fit a basketball), it remains bittersweet, for there are no more games for Sixers fans to watch and fall in love with prospects.
From now until June, all we have to sustain us are Youtube clips, random tweets featuring information leaked by agents, and stock footage of your favorite prospects making the highest quality metal folding chairs in the land look foolish. (Seletti, the official metal folding chair of the NCAA!)
But we got quite the sampling of footage from this year's NCAA Tournament. Some of the top prospects got plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills, while others had to make due with only a game or two before unceremoniously exiting to get back in time for Chem 103. I'm sure D'Angelo Russell made it back for that midterm.
Let's talk about some of the guys who helped their case. We start, of course, with the most important.
Quietly, for almost a year and a half, I have been a Sam Dekker fan. It hasn't really been as over the top as some of my other favorites, but when I'm talking about first round prospects, Sam Dekker is always close to my heart.
Dekker, until Lil' Bow Wow took his sneakers back, had a phenomenal tournament. He showcased his excellent athleticism by getting to the basket, he showed excellent ball skills for a player his size, and most importantly, he shot 50% from 3-point range in the tournament pre-title game.
And while I was loving every minute of that (as anyone who follows me on Twitter can attest), in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn't going to last. Dekker was a 32% long distance shooter in three years at Wisconsin. Now, in my mind, there's nobody in this draft who's a better candidate for the Second Annual Jerami Grant Started From The Bottom, Now We're Here Trophy for improved shooting than Dekker. His mechanics aren't bad. He has the ball skills. He's not an athlete who looks lost playing basketball. He's a basketball player who's also a freak athlete.
I don't know what this tournament ultimately does for Dekker's stock. All of his upward momentum got squashed by a less than stellar championship game. Ultimately, I think his stock settles in where I had him all along, somewhere between the late lottery and the late teens. Bold prediction: If the Heat make the playoffs, this is the Heat pick. I will eventually put this in tweet form so it can be favorited by Brandon Gowton in between posts about Marcus Mariota's shoe size.
I've gone back and forth on Justise Winslow so many times this season that it has given me legitimate neck pain. (Seriously, my neck is killing me,) And now that the games are over, I'm going to settle on a position and stick with it.
I think Justise Winslow is the best wing in this draft. Winslow had an excellent tournament, as well as a very good back half of the NCAA season. I think he showed improvement as the season went on, and I think his skillset will make a team thrilled to have him.
The Grantland Industrial Complex is buzzing that Winslow should be a top pick candidate, and I'm not willing to go that far quite yet. His upside is extraordinarily high, but there are a lot of guys in this draft with high upside. His shot was a pleasant surprise, as he shot 41.8% from distance. He is an excellent defender, and he can get to the rim, but I worry that a lot of time he's just bowling over smaller defenders.
That said, he's an excellent prospect, and probably worthy of a top 5 pick in this draft.
Winslow's teammate made himself a lot of money Monday night. The point guard position isn't looking as thin now as it was a few months ago, when it was Emmanuel Mudiay, followed by Greg, the kid who plays on Tuesday nights at your local YMCA. You know, short, redhead, never passes you the ball even when you're wide open in the corner long enough to grill hamburgers. He's the worst.
Now, however, the position has filled out with top-end talent like Russell and Mudiay, along with late lottery hopefuls in Jones, Jerian Grant, and Kris Dunn, plus a couple of intriguing back-end names like Murray State's Cameron Payne and Brazilian George Lucas.
Jones, however, may have vaulted himself to the top of that list of late lottery hopefuls by making the National Title game his personal playground. With Okafor and Winslow on the bench, Jones took over (with some help from future ESPN 50-for-50 subject Grayson Allen), scoring 19 second half points to give Duke's long suffering fanbase their first title in FIVE WHOLE YEARS. Bless them for their loyalty to such a tortured program.
Guys The Sixers Probably Aren't Going to Draft
This is the part of the program where we talk about two men who are probably not going to be Sixers, that being Utah's Jakob Poeltl and Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky. I could be wrong. There could be a point where General Sam Hinkie, Commander of the 76th Tank Battallion, decides that this is the time to pick another big man to add to the reserves. That said, I think both of these guys are going to go even higher than projected, and that's a price I don't think General Hinkie will want to pay. Both of them have size and incredible mobility for their size. Poeltl is also an excellent rim protector, which is always at a premium for teams that do not already have Nerlens Noel.
We'll talk about more guys as the draft approaches, I promise. We're heading into the home stretch now, everybody. The next two and a half months will be agonizing, exhilarating, and then more agonizing. Let's get nuts.
I was just going to copy Spike's Big Board here, but it doesn't appear that it was received well, so I'll try my own. I too, however, will be ranking Montrezl Harrell obscenely high, and that's just something you'll need to accept.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky - I believe the top tier has two names that are essentially equal. The tiebreaker for me is fit, and Towns is a much better fit for the Sixers than the 2nd name.
2. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke - The defensive concerns are real, but I believe in Brett Brown to work him into a system that plays to his strengths. Offensively, he'll be one of the best post scorers in the game.
3. D'Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State - Russell's ability to create his own shot and pull up from anywhere on the court is so enticing, and paired with Embiid and Noel, his spacing would be invaluable.
4. Emmanuel Mudiay, G, Guangdong - I'm a Mudiay believer. I think he's going to be a star in the NBA, and I think his shot can be brought to the point where it's functionally effective, if nothing else.
5. Justise Winslow, G/F, Duke - Winslow played his way into my top 5. He's been the best wing in the country for several months now.
6. Kristaps Porzingis, F, Latvia - Porzingis seems to be falling a little, but his combination of size and pure athleticism is still so hard to pass on. He's a project, but a worthwhile one.
7. Mario Hezonja, F, Croatia - I love Hezonja. Him being #7 is not a knock on him, but rather a testament to how much I love this draft.
8. Stanley Johnson, F, Arizona - I haven't forgotten about StanJohn, but I wasn't overly impressed by him down the stretch, and I think his game needs a little more fine tuning. Still, athletically, there's few more impressive.
9. Kelly Oubre, F, Kansas - This is a generous ranking for Kelly that's based entirely on potential and how little respect I have for Bill Self as someone who develops players for the next level.
10. Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky - You have to pull the trigger here on value alone.
11. Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah - Same story. Upside, upside, upside.
12. Myles Turner, C, Texas - This whole region is basically the value tier.
13. Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin - If that 32% shooting can turn into 37% shooting, you have yourself a weapon. I believe in Sam Dekker.
14. Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky - Booker slumped as a shooter a bit down the stretch, but I think he still has the potential to be an elite shooting weapon at the next level. He's a killer in transition.
15. Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky - So skilled for his size, and again, upside, upside, upside.
Until next time, everybody.