The pep bands have blared, the nation’s best teams are battling for a chance to succeed Villanova and amid it all, the players we will all soon watch play at the next level are making their final impressions.
While the top pick remains frozen in amber -- Markelle Fultz missed Washington’s final few games and promptly declared for the draft while the Huskies did not reach the postseason and changed coaches -- plenty of players are making their case under the hot lights of postseason arenas. Here’s how it looks, midway through the madness -- sans Robert Williams, a surefire first-rounder and possible lottery pick.
(Order based on current standings and pre-existing trade agreements made as of March 20)
Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington: You just can’t not pick Fultz, not if a guard of either kind is needed, not when Fultz finished better than 50 percent from 2-point range and 41 percent from 3 while managing to post an assist rate of 35.5 percent despite teammates that left the Washington overall offense 170th in the country.
Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA: Imagine, if you will, a supercharged play-maker back court with Ball and D’Angelo Russell, each capable of leading the offense, each perfectly comfortable off the ball. You can be sure Magic Johnson has.
Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas: Though his stock has dipped thanks to a number of off-court incidents, the combination of his nonstop defensive attacking and evolving offensive game makes him a must for the Suns here.
Jayson Tatum, SF/PF, Duke: Other than Fultz, Tatum is the best bet to provide a team with top-level offensive creation, and the Magic need him to do it. Allows Aaron Gordon to slot up into the four long-term, too.
Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State: The major concern with Smith is going to a team where he’ll need to be the offense right away. On a roster with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, that’s not an issue in Philadelphia.
Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State: There’s no one on this Kings roster right now who can do most of the things Isaac can. He is an elite perimeter defender who can get his shot off against anyone, does so efficiently, and if anything has been underutilized offensively at Florida State.
|Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky: Prepare the Garden for more than a few 40-point nights, while giving the Knicks the perimeter defender they’ve lacked since ... Gerald Wilkins?|
Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona: They can just use all their old DeMarcus Cousins sets beyond the 3-point line, and Isaac can help mask some of Markkanen’s defensive limitations against fours.
DeAaron Fox, PG, Kentucky: There’s just no way Tom Thibodeau misses a chance to add the best defender at the point in this draft. What does this mean for Kris Dunn?
|Allonzo Trier, SG, Arizona: Slowly, the world is coming around to realize that Trier might be the best shooting guard in this draft, and even if one prefers Monk, he’s a close second.|
|Frank Ntilikina, PG, France: Dallas knows how to develop point guards, and Yogi Ferrell provides a bridge allowing them to do so.|
Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State: Bridges adds needed versatility at the wing, doing a lot of what Portland hoped Noah Vonleh would, while reinforcing their defensive gravitas.
|Johnathan Motley, PF, Baylor: An interior scorer the Bulls sorely need, and enough versatility on his shot and passing ability to fit well in Fred Hoiberg’s scheme.|
Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina: Jackson’s ability to play up-tempo, defend elegantly and drain the 3 makes him a worthy fit in the Erik Spoelstra system.
Tyler Lydon, SF, Syracuse: The necessary defense Denver can use on the wing, the shooting that guarantees he’ll see the court.
|Donovan Mitchell, PG, Louisville: Listen to any Stan Van Gundy utterance, and it’s clear he wants a potential lead guard with more versatility than Reggie Jackson. Mitchell is that guard, and it is fun to imagine the highlights from a back court featuring Mitchell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.|
|Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova: Just the kind of low-usage, high-efficiency wing with plus defensive skills Milwaukee can slot between its many intriguing young bigs and Giannis Antetokounmpo.|
|T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA: An interesting counterpunch to lineups featuring Thaddeus Young at the four, with potential to outshoot Young and with Paul George to serve as defensive protection against the more difficult fours.|
|Justin Patton, C, Creighton: Few are better equipped to mold the raw Marcus Camby-like athleticism into a productive two-way center than Mike Budenholzer, who can groom him to take over the starting spot by the time Dwight Howard’s contract ends.|
|Frank Mason, PG, Kansas: Well-suited to play Terry Stotts-style offense, Mason can provide a third option to the constant movement and scoring prowess of C.J. Mccollum and Damian Lillard, limiting their wear and tear.|
|Semi Ojeleye, SF, SMU: If Billy Donovan still coached at Florida, he would have recruited Ojeleye, a monster matchup problem on the wing who will feast on all the Russell Westbrook space.|
|Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State: A steady Kyle Lowry insurance policy who fits Dwayne Casey’s policy of protecting the ball like no one else in this draft.|
|Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia: A long-term play for the Texas native with potential 2/3 length to ease slowly into an Orlando team that’s still a few years away.|
|Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Germany: No one has a longer time horizon than the Nets, who need lottery-level talent, and thus must take lottery ticket items like Hartenstein, who can shoot it from anywhere, but still lacks an NBA build for either the four or five spot.|
|Tacko Fall, C, Central Florida: Speaking of taking a chance, Fall is a paradigm changer, 7-feet-6 without the issues of being too thin or too out of shape that have plagued recent guys at his height. Learning the skyhook as we speak, someone no NBA team has the personnel to counter.|
|Harry Giles, PF, Duke: Just enough glimmers of the guy who looked like a future top overall pick not too long ago. At 26, why shouldn’t the Jazz take a chance?|
|John Collins, PF, Wake Forest: He’s a lot like just-out-of-school LaMarcus Aldridge in both his strengths (scoring around the basket) and weaknesses (long-range game, defending, passing) that the Blazers might be tempted to try to recreate the Aldridge era, Vertigo-style.|
|Ivan Rabb, PF, California: A team 24th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage could do worse than the Pac-12’s best defensive rebounder with nascent offensive skills and the ability to find teammates from the wing.|
|Bam Adebayo, C, Kentucky: Picture that raw talent in the hands of Gregg Popovich, getting DeWayne Dedmon’s minutes. And you thought the Spurs were good already.|
|Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue: If Giles is the roll of the dice, Swanigan is the known quantity, reinforcing the Utah work on the offensive boards and giving them more versatility offensively out of the four slot. He’ll do what Boris Diaw is doing this year, but he’ll do it better.|