Chad Ford has been breaking down the best NBA prospects in the NCAA tournament by region. Today, our 5-on-5 panelists provide their opinions.
1. Which draft prospect in the Midwest Region are you most intrigued by?
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Nik Stauskas, Michigan. Three-point shooting is in high demand around the league, and Stauskas can supply it. Even though there are legitimate concerns about his ability to move laterally and blow by defenders, don't paint Stauskas as a statuesque shooter. If he's used on the next level how Gordon Hayward is in Utah (lots of dribble handoffs and curls from the corner), Stauskas could produce similar results.
Brett Koremenos, Grantland: Rodney Hood, Duke. Jabari Parker gets the lion's share of the attention (and mostly rightfully so), but Hood quietly has showcased the potential to be an impact player at the next level. He has a very nuanced game for such a young player, and the NCAA tournament may just be the place where he steps out of Parker's shadow.
Danny Nowell, TrueHoop Network: T.J. Warren, North Carolina State. Warren is currently projected to be drafted just after the lottery, and I can't figure out why he's not slated higher. He's 6-foot-8 with an array of crafty runners and floaters, a decent handle, and a few 40-point games to his name this season. If Warren fell to my team, I'd be thrilled.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: T.J. Warren, North Carolina State. We know Warren can score. If he can parlay that output into a 12-5 upset, and maybe even one more, it would dramatically increase the chances that he'll come out this season while his stock is hottest.
Jack Winter, Warriors World: Nik Stauskas, Michigan. It's a glowing testament to his NBA potential that Stauskas improved from glorified sharpshooter as a freshman to Big 10 Player of the Year as a sophomore. Shouldered with more offensive responsibility this season than anyone anticipated, he achieved the difficult feat of upping his usage and his efficiency. If Stauskas is due for similar growth in the future, he'll be a steal in the mid-first round come June.
2. Which draft prospect in the West Region are you most intrigued by?
Foster: Aaron Gordon, Arizona. Remember when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was championed for his leadership, work ethic and attitude above anything else? The exact same thing is happening with Gordon, which should probably throw up some red flags. Everyone loves Gordon's intangibles, but how high in the draft can you take a glue guy who can't shoot or score for himself yet?
Koremenos: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin. I was able to watch Dekker some even in high school and was always intrigued by his skill set. The Badgers' offense isn't doing him many favors, but his uninspiring play this season has me questioning what exactly his ceiling is at the next level. Maybe an extended tournament run would answer a few questions.
Nowell: Aaron Gordon, Arizona. Gordon came into this season ranked just behind the Wiggins-Randle-Parker hype train, and spent half a season looking rough on offense. In the latter half, he figured out how to get high-percentage shots off the ball and defended like a monster in the paint and on the perimeter.
Pelton: Elfrid Payton, Louisiana Lafayette. The strength of schedule in the Sun Belt isn't real strong. Per Ken Pomeroy's metrics, the Ragin' Cajuns played the 159th-most difficult slate, although they did play some tough teams (including Louisville) in nonconference action. Still, this will be the best opportunity to watch a sleeper like Payton.
Winter: Aaron Gordon, Arizona. Few players in the world boast Gordon's combination of size and athleticism, which begs a vexing question: Why did he average less than one block and one steal per game this season? There's far more to defense than filling stat sheets, and Gordon's impact for Arizona on that end has undoubtedly been positive. But he'll be drafted for defensive potential first and foremost, shining extra light on that questionable statistical profile.
3. Which draft prospect in the South Region are you most intrigued by?
Foster: Kyle Anderson, UCLA. The combination of height, ballhandling and floor vision just does something to people this time of year, and I can't say that I'm immune. Anderson is a below-the-rim player who relies on craftiness instead of athleticism -- he's like the morphing of Boris Diaw and Greivis Vasquez. Of course I'm going to watch that.
Koremenos: Dwight Powell, Stanford. Powell may not have the most attention on him, but that's precisely why I'm so interested in watching him play. He's a 6-10 kid who is tall and athletic, he can handle the ball like a guard, and he must be pretty sharp given he goes to such a prestigious university. Yet for some reason, he is projected as a second-round pick on most draft sites. If Stanford goes on a run led by Powell, expect that to change.
Nowell: Kyle Anderson, UCLA. Anderson's teammate Zach LaVine gets a little more buzz, but Anderson is another 6-8 wing who should be projected higher. Anderson just put 21 and 15 on Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament, and if he plays well in the NCAA tournament, his length and athleticism may make his stock quite a bit more pricey.
Pelton: Kyle Anderson, UCLA. I've seen plenty of Anderson in the Pac-12, but the more chances I get to watch him against elite athletes, the more chances I get to answer the question of whether he can defend an NBA position. Offensively, there's no question the super-versatile Anderson can play almost any spot.
Winter: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas. Just because it's the obvious answer doesn't mean it's the wrong one. Wiggins has justified the illogical preseason hype with his performance in March so far, and he will need to continue doing so for Kansas to advance past the tournament's first weekend while Joel Embiid rests an injured back. The draft's best prospect with his back against the wall -- what's more intriguing than that?
4. Which draft prospect in the East Region are you most intrigued by?
Foster: Adreian Payne, Michigan State. If you sent Marreese Speights to the Wizard of Oz for a tuneup, he'd come out looking a lot like Payne. The senior power forward has the athleticism and 3-point range we've seen from quite a few players over the years, but his toughness and intelligence is what could separate him from the other stretch 4s out there.
Koremenos: James Michael McAdoo, UNC. After his freshman season, I thought McAdoo was a surefire lottery pick. An athletic, rangy 6-9 forward offers a lot of upside if his approach to the game and the people around him point him in the right direction. Unfortunately for him, he has failed to add too many skills to his immense physical gifts and now looks like a player without a position in the NBA. That said, a good NCAA tournament run could boost him back into the first round of the draft.
Nowell: Gary Harris, Michigan State. I haven't seen as much of Harris as I'd like, so I'll be watching to see whether he's an undersized guard with the shot and tenacity to justify his current lottery projection, or whether he's a ball-dominant college scorer who doesn't translate.
Pelton: Gary Harris, Michigan State. Scouts love winners, and it feels like the Final Four run many experts are pegging Sparty for could go a long way toward improving Harris' stock, making him the consensus second-best sophomore after Marcus Smart.
Winter: Adreian Payne, Michigan State. Four-year prospects from a power conference with high-end talent are rare, but Payne fits the bill. He's always had the size and athleticism NBA teams covet, and this season showed a consistent jumper with deep range; he's the ideal stretch 4. If the Spartans make good on their early-season promise and advance to the later rounds, Payne has an outside chance to buck recent trends and crack the lottery.
5. Which draft prospect not in the tourney are you most intrigued by?
Foster: Dante Exum. Allow me to plant the flag on Exum right now: I think he'll be the best player in this draft class. Rarely do you see a young player with his kind of athletic gifts exercise such smooth control with the basketball. He's a little reminiscent of Brandon Roy in that way, and it wouldn't shock me in the least bit to see the Aussie guard have a similar impact right off the bat.
Koremenos: Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado. Colorado is playing in the tournament, but they will be doing so without the services of the multifaceted Dinwiddie, who tore his ACL in January. I scouted Dinwiddie live before his injury and came away thinking his game would make him a perfect complementary player at the next level. Sadly, he won't have the opportunity to showcase his skills on this big stage due to his injury.
Nowell: P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends. I can't hide my UNC fandom here, so Hairston will always have a place in my heart, but the way he has torn up the D-League after leaving Chapel Hill under a cloud has been impressive. If his "character issues" are behind him, a team in the late first is going to get a real gift if others are nervous.
Pelton: P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends. Elsewhere in the multiverse, Hairston is gearing up for a March run with the North Carolina Tar Heels. As it is, he's playing out the string with the D-League's Texas Legends. Hairston has played well and stayed out of trouble at the minor league level, and if he solidifies himself as a first-round pick it could help the D-League's reputation as a safety net.
Winter: Clint Capela. It would be easy to imagine Capela garnering top-five buzz if he were stateside, leading an undermanned team to a couple of classic March upsets. He has the length, leaping ability and foot speed to be a dominant defender, and he flashes the pick-and-roll feel that's so crucial in the modern NBA. Don't be surprised if Capela is this draft's second-best big man five years from now.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Pelton covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Brett Koremenos covers the NBA for Grantland. D.J. Foster, Danny Nowell and Jack Winter are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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