2019 Final Four: Six players still in the NCAA Tournament who could help their NBA Draft stock this weekend
The latest on NBA Draft prospects from Michigan State, Texas Tech, Virginia and Auburn
MINNEAPOLIS -- From an NBA Draft perspective, this year's Final Four is a bit of a disappointment.
There's no Duke, which means no Zion Williamson (the guaranteed No. 1 overall pick), no RJ Barrett (an all-but-guaranteed top-three pick), and no Cam Reddish (a certain lottery pick who could go as high as the top five).
There's no North Carolina, which means no Coby White (a likely lottery pick who has shot up draft boards in recent months), no Nassir Little (a likely lottery pick player with an NBA body and NBA athleticism who showed glimpses of his potential toward the end of the season), and no Cam Johnson (a 6-foot-9 gunner who has risen in NBA teams' estimation this season and looks like a first-round pick).
There's no Murray State as a Cinderella, which means we don't get to see the human tornado that is Ja Morant (a guaranteed top-three pick who is the best point guard in this draft).
And there's no Kentucky, which means no Keldon Johnson, no PJ Washington, no Tyler Herro, no Ashton Hagans; all four could hear their name called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at some point on June 20.
That's quite a bummer, especially for those basketball fans who look at the collegiate season as one long tryout for the NBA.
But despite those very large asterisks, there is still some decent draft intrigue within this Final Four.
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
- Position: Shooting guard
- Class: Sophomore
- Age: Turned 20 on Feb. 20
- Draft range: Mid- to late-lottery
- The skinny: Culver is listed at 6-6, but there's plenty of speculation – around the NBA and around the internet – that he's taller than that, and potentially still growing. I asked him about this during the West Regional. He told me he thinks he is still growing – and he certainly hopes he is. (He's quite long, too.) If Culver turns into six-seven or six-eight, his ceiling gets even higher. Culver is long and athletic wing who can score from all over the court and do a little bit of everything is a valued commodity in today's NBA. He's skinny now, but on an NBA strength program, Culver could blossom into that ceiling-type player. He's also very emblematic of this draft, where there are often big disagreements about where certain players are slotted. Some people I've spoken with would put Culver a solid 10 slots lower than where others have him, going around five or six. One thing you hear from everyone that knows Culver is that he's a high-character young man.
De'Andre Hunter, Virginia
- Position: Small forward/Power forward
- Class: Redshirt sophomore
- Age: Turned 21 on Dec. 2
- Draft range: Mid-lottery
- The skinny: Hunter is emblematic of what teams will get if they're drafting outside the top three in this shallow draft. He's not a star – the only guaranteed star-potential guys in this draft are named Zion, Ja and RJ – but he's got the potential to be a very solid role-playing starter on a winning team. His ability to defend multiple positions at a high level is ideal for today's small-ball NBA. At 21, he might be relatively old for this draft, but scouts point out the big jumps he's made each season since his redshirt year as evidence that there's still more room for growth. He's more than just a 3-and-D player, but he's very good at both 3 and D: One of the best defenders in this draft, and a shooter who hit 42.4 percent of his 3-pointers this season (on only 2.8 attempts per game). "I love his defense, and he shoots the ball better than people give him credit for," one scout said. "I look at him as an upside third guy, probably more a fourth guy on a good team," said an NBA executive. "But that's still a valuable guy."
Ty Jerome, Virginia
- Position: PG/SG
- Class: Junior
- Age: Turns 22 on July 7
- Draft range: Late first/early second
- The skinny: I've talked with NBA folks who love Jerome – but even loving him probably doesn't shoot him much past the bottom of the first round. Jerome is smart and can really shoot it and from deep; he's a career 39.1 percent shooter from 3-point range. He has good size to defend both guard positions. While the upside isn't quite there, he could find a spot as a role player coming out of this weak NBA Draft. He's got active hands on defense, nabbing 1.6 steals per game this season.
- Position: Point guard
- Class: Junior
- Age: Turned 21 on Feb. 28
- Draft range: Second round to undrafted
- The skinny: The first team All-American and Big Ten player of the year has limitations in the eyes of NBA decision-makers, namely, his size and athleticism. There's concern around Winston on whether he'll be able to defend NBA point guards. Of course, we've heard similar concerns before from players of similar stature who carved out nice careers as NBA backups: Shabazz Napier and Tyus Jones – both of whom used the NCAA tournament to increase their draft stock – and Monte Morris. And just look at Winston's incredible season. He's held together this injury-wracked Michigan State team by averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 assists (against only 2.9 turnovers) while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range. Only one player had a higher assist rate in college basketball than Winston, and it was Ja Morant. Leading his team to a title could boost his draft stock, a la Napier and Jones.
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State
- Position: Power forward/center
- Class: Sophomore
- Age: Turned 20 on Jan. 12
- Draft range: late second round to undrafted
- The skinny: Tillman was key in Michigan State's upset win over Duke in the Elite Eight. Going up against Zion Williamson for much of the game, Tillman did it all. He scored 19 points on efficient shooting (8-of-12 from the field, including making his only 3-point attempt). He pulled down nine rebounds and had three steals and two blocks. His energy was infused in Michigan State's win. Is he big enough or athletic enough to defend NBA centers? Probably not – but people said the same thing about fellow Michigan State product Draymond Green. He may not have a single elite skill, but there's value in someone being able to do a little bit of everything, and doing it with great energy. Montrezl Harrell profiled a bit like Tillman coming out of Louisville, and he's developed into a nice NBA player.
Chuma Okeke, Auburn
- Position: Power forward
- Class: Sophomore
- Age: Turns 21 on Aug. 18
- Draft range: late first round or second round
- The skinny: Auburn's top NBA prospect won't be playing in the Final Four. Okeke tore ACL in Auburn's Sweet Sixteen game against North Carolina. It's a shame on so many levels, but especially since he was in the middle of playing perhaps the best game of his career. Okeke had scored 20 points on only 11 shots, and had banged home 3-of-5 3-pointers and grabbing 11 rebounds when he went down with the knee injury. He can shoot it and play above the rim, and he can hang with big bodies down low. Really a shame we won't get to see him in the Final Four. He's the type of player who could really have boosted his stock here.
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