NBA Courtside: Top prospects to watch during March Madness

March Madness is here again, but is it just us, or have all of the scandals and bad press put a damper on the hype this time around?

Regardless of any of the distractions, this is always a fun time of the year. The upsets, mistakes and nerves make it worth watching.

Since this is an NBA space, this week we take a look at the tourney’s top potential pros. NBA front offices tend to inexplicably fall in love with prospects based on what they do in these few weeks, but these guys have been bringing it all year (with one exception).

Trae Young, Oklahoma: Young was the great single story of the NCAA season’s early going. He was doing the best Stephen Curry imitation we’ve seen, scoring at will from anywhere on the court, while also delivering breathtaking passes. He cooled down substantially and is no longer a potential top-three pick in a draft loaded with outstanding big men, but he’s still a treat to watch. Oklahoma barely got in and will have to upset No. 7 Rhode Island to keep rolling.

Deandre Ayton, Arizona: The favourite to go No. 1 (unless European standout Luka Doncic proves too tempting to pass up) has been compared to everybody from Karl-Anthony Towns to David West. There’s little Ayton can’t do, provided he feels like it.

Mo Bamba, Texas: Bamba is a freak of nature, impossibly long and athletic, he completely locks down the paint. He might go in the top five even without an offensive game.

Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: Did you know his dad played guard for the Raptors? So did the father of Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Both of those kids are going to be way better NBAers than their dads and Jackson, in particular, projects as an excellent pro because he can do it at both ends. Being coached by Tom Izzo won’t hurt either.

Collin Sexton, Alabama: Sexton was a bit of a sleeper who some felt could drop out of the top 10. That was before four huge games in a row elevated his stock, potentially even ahead of Young’s. The combo guard is just fun to watch.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Duke: These big Blue Devils have been too much for most opponents to handle all year and Bagley in particular looks like a stud in waiting.

Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: That exception we mentioned, Porter was considered perhaps the biggest talent in his high school class, but a severe spinal injury cut his freshman season to 25 minutes (two in the season opener, and 23 in his recent comeback). He’s only at 60 or 70% right now, but can still turn heads.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky: The top Canadian to watch, Hamilton’s own Gilgeous-Alexander was the MVP of the SEC Tournament and can contribute in a variety of ways.

There’s others to keep an eye on, but that list is a good start.

Enjoy the madness.

PAST STANDOUTS

A brief list of current NBAers who had extreme coming out parties at the tournament: Anthony Davis (a monster today, a monster back when he led Kentucky to its first national title in ages); Dwyane Wade (Wade at Marquette became one of the biggest tourney supernovas ever); Carmelo Anthony (Wade’s draft-mate did even better, leading Syracuse to its only crown in a freshman season for the ages, though Hakim Warrick supplied the most memorable moment with his block); Kemba Walker (UConn had no business winning night after night, but Walker refused to miss when games were on the line); Gordon Hayward (Remember when he led then unknown Butler within inches of the biggest underdog triumph ever?); Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer (Billy Donovan’s back-to-back Florida title teams were powered by the defence provided by this triumvirate); Frank Kaminsky (Frank the Tank had it going for Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015, but unlike the other names on this list, hasn’t carried it over to the NBA).

WELCOME BACK

Brandon Jennings has had a fascinating career. From going to Italy instead of the NCAA, to a rookie season that saw him score 55 points in just his seventh game, Jennings eventually became a journeyman and eventually left to play in China.

Jennings returned to North America last month, playing for Wisconsin of the G-League, before being called up by Milwaukee, the team that originally drafted him back in 2009.

On Monday, in his first NBA appearance in over a year, Jennings had 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in a win over Memphis.

AROUND THE RIM

Golden State has lost a few games lately but doesn’t seem too concerned. The team cancelled practice on Tuesday after what looked to be quite a night celebrating Stephen Curry’s 30th birthday … Clippers guard Avery Bradley will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a couple of muscle issues … Dallas veteran Wesley Matthews is also done for the year due to a broken leg.

THEY THE NORTH

A quick look at the top Canadians:

Andrew Wiggins, Wolves: 23 and 5 in big win over Golden State.

Jamal Murray, Nuggets: Starting an entertaining rivalry with Ball, Lakers.

Cory Joseph, Pacers: Huge in big win at Boston.

Dwight Powell, Mavericks: Might not be a Canadian playing better right now.

Kelly Olynyk, Heat: Stuffing the stat-sheet since returning to the lineup.

Trey Lyles, Nuggets: Bounced back after a couple of poor games.

Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies: Is pouring in points lately as rookie wall a memory.

Tristan Thompson, Cavs: Still sidelined and Cavs could use his help.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Grizzlies: NBA adjustment will be cutting down on fouls.

BIG NUMBERS

25 – Number of teams allowing fewer shots at the rim than the Raptors and Rockets. It hasn’t seemed to matter since they have two of the NBA’s three best records.

30.4 – James Harden’s player efficiency rating, which would be the 17th-best single-season mark ever.

20 – Triple-doubles by Russell Westbrook this season and 99 in his career. Only three players have more.

34.5 – Points per game by Portland’s Damian Lillard since Feb. 9, the most in the NBA in that span.

FIVE UP

Five surging squads (before Tuesday’s games)

1 Portland Trail Blazers – Make it 10 wins in a row

2 Toronto Raptors – They’ve been so good that even the furthest corners of the American media have started clueing in.

3 Utah Jazz – No Gordon Hayward, no Rudy Gobert for much of the year, no problem.

4 Indiana Pacers – Still one of this year’s biggest surprises.

5– Milwaukee Bucks – This has been a down season, but Giannis and Co. are making a late run to revive it.

FIVE DOWN

1 Memphis Grizzlies – After 18 losses in a row, we have to ask, will they win another game this season?

2 Phoenix Suns – You almost feel bad for Devin Booker sometimes. He needs more help.

3 New York Knicks – They aren’t even pretending to play defence any more. An abject and total disaster.

4 Orlando Magic – Aaron Gordon can’t stay healthy, the latest sour issue in the Magic Kingdom.

5– Sacramento Kings – They’ve completely forgotten how to shoot the basketball. In this day and age, you can’t compete if that’s the case.

HEAD

What an odd story.

What else can you say about the still unfolding Kawhi Leonard/San Antonio Spurs saga?

Earlier in the year, reports surfaced that the former Finals MVP and defensive player of the year was unhappy with various things and it could cause a split down the line.

Then Gregg Popovich said he didn’t think Leonard would be able to get back from an injury in time this year.

Then Leonard met with the media and said all was good and he was working on getting back on the court as soon as possible.

Then reports surfaced saying that return was rapidly approaching with a target date of Thursday even mentioned.

On Tuesday, ESPN reported that Leonard would not in fact return on Thursday against New Orleans. The Spurs apparently watched him work out but determined that he wasn’t ready yet.

Leonard, a two-time all-NBA first team member, has played in only nine games this season and San Antonio has lost 11-of-14, dropping to 10th in the ultra-tight Western Conference. The franchise has not missed the playoffs since 1996-97, when a fortuitous David Robinson injury ended up giving the Spurs the lottery spot required to land Tim Duncan.

In other injury news, Boston’s Marcus Smart has a tendon injury in his thumb which could impact him the rest of the season even if he doesn’t miss any time. Starting point guard Kyrie Irving is already battling knee soreness and backup centre Daniel Theis has been lost for the season.

@WolstatSun

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies

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