Questions for top prospects entering NCAA Tournament


The NCAA Tournament started Thursday and already some of the top players expected to be drafted in this year's upcoming NBA Draft have been eliminated.

Marcus Smart scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out four assists in Oklahoma State's 68-55 upset loss to Oregon. Smart shot only 5 for 13 from the floor and committed five turnovers. It was not an impressive performance for the freshman.

Similarly, UNLV's Anthony Bennett struggled with 15 points and 11 rebounds on 4-for-11 shooting in the 64-61 loss to California. He had moments where he looked like he dominated, and then he had moments where he hovered around the 3-point line too much.

There will be plenty more action tonight with Kansas' Ben McLemore, Indiana's Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo and UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad take the court.

With that in mind, I reached out to Ed Isaacson of NBA Draft Blog to take a look at some of the top prospects and the questions we want to have answered about the top prospects entering this draft. As Ed said yesterday on my post on the depth on display in the NCAA Tournament, the draft may not be top heavy but there are still several players who can be big contributors. Just remember, these questions were asked before the Tournament began.

Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily:  What top prospect can help himself the most in the NCAA Tournament? Who could fall if he does not have a good Tournament?

Ed Isaacson, NBA Draft Blog: Again, I hate to say that a quick loss or a deep Tournament run can significantly affect a player's Draft position, but this would apply most to the young players, freshmen and sophomores. Guys like Anthony Bennett, Marcus Smart, Cody Zeller, where there have been clear issues that people have been concerned about, a deep tourney run can help put some people at ease if they show improvement.

PRR: It is starting to sound like Ben McLemore is gaining some separation as the top pick in this Draft class. What does he do well that would fit with an NBA roster? What areas does he still need to work on?

Isaacson: McLemore is an explosive athlete and a great perimeter shooter. What makes him a popular prospect is that he would fit seamlessly into any offensive plan, and he is still improving. He's not a great defender, and there have been concerns about him stepping up in big situations. He has had some very quiet games when Kansas could have used him to make some plays.

PRR: Is Marcus Smart an NBA point guard? What areas does he need to improve to get there? Are his high turnover numbers a cause for concern?

Isaacson: I believe Smart can play the point in the NBA. He isn't going to be a creating point guard, but he can facilitate the offense and get the ball to players in the right spots. Turnovers are tough sometimes to assess for players. In Smart's case, most of his turnovers come when he is looking to make his own play, not when he is running the offense. He's a smart player and a quick learner, he will be fine down the road.

PRR: Nerlens Noel is obviously not playing and ACL injuries are not what they used to be, but how concerned should NBA executives be about Noel coming of his injury? Is it too early to tell?

Isaacson: It's way too early to tell now, but having just had his surgery, that means it will be almost 3 1/2 month until the draft. Teams will have a much better idea how his progress is by then. I wouldn't be too concerned about him coming back. Noel will be a high pick because of his long term potential. He wasn't going to be producing much his first year anyway. The extra time will help him get stronger, spend some time learning what he needs and hopefully produce down the line.

PRR: Shabazz Muhammad was the top freshman prospect entering this season, but he has largely disappointed in his year at UCLA. What has held him back? How can he show he can still deliver on his potential? Is it simply too early to tell? Is his game just a better fit for the NBA than for college?

Isaacson: Muhammad was just a victim of overhype. He has an NBA body and very good athleticism. He has worked to improve his jumper, though he will have problems with it at the NBA level. He's unique with his ability to play around the basket for his size. He'll find his niche but I don't think he will ever live up to the hype.

Eds. note: The previous answer was given before the admission today that Muhammad is 20 and not 19 as previously reported.

PRR: Otto Porter came on strong in the last couple weeks of the season and really looked impressive. What kind of player do you see him becoming?

Isaacson: The best thing about Porter is that its tough to just label him as a ________ kind of player. He does everything on both ends of the floor. Scores, passes, rebounds at a high level, defends. He isn't a vocal leader, but his actions on the court show his team what to do

PRR: Cody Zeller saw his name kind of plummet as the year went on. What kind of skills could he bring to an NBA team? Could he work his way back up to being a top three pick again? What concerns caused the skeptics to gain traction with him?

Isaacson: Zeller never plummeted in my eyes. There are strength issues right now and how it allows him to finish around the basket, but he's 19, that will change. The fact is that he is the most skilled big in this draft and continues to get better. He can score out to 15 feet, he is a tremendous passer and a strong post defender. He can find himself in the Top 3 depending on who has a pick.