Top NBA prospects in Midwest Region
March, 19, 2013
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com
Tony Spinelli/ESPNGorgui Dieng's ability to pass and defend makes him a likely first-round selection in the NBA draft.It's March Madness, baby! It's the big stage for some of college basketball's best players to show off their games. NBA scouts and general managers will be out in force the next few weeks scouting everyone in the Big Dance.
Rightly or wrongly, a great March can really help a player's stock. NBA GMs, the real decision-makers come draft time, are in attendance and tend to be swayed by what they see on the big stage.
Last year, Syracuse's Dion Waiters boosted his stock with a few big tourney performances. In 2011, UConn's Kemba Walker and Arizona's Derrick Williams improved their stocks with great runs. In 2010, Butler's Gordon Hayward, Baylor's Ekpe Udoh and Xavier's Jordan Crawford helped their causes with terrific tournament performances. In 2009, Tyreke Evans and Jonny Flynn rode strong tournament performances to high lottery picks. In 2008, Derrick Rose moved past Michael Beasley on most NBA teams' boards with an excellent performance, and players such as Russell Westbrook and Brandon Rush helped themselves with strong tournament play, as well.
In years past, Florida's Al Horford and Joakim Noah, LSU's Tyrus Thomas, Illinois' Deron Williams, Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony, Marquette's Dwyane Wade, Maryland's Chris Wilcox, Arizona's Richard Jefferson, Florida's Mike Miller, Miami (Ohio)'s Wally Szczerbiak and Connecticut's Richard Hamilton helped their draft position significantly in March.
Who will take advantage of the national stage in this year's NCAA tournament to supercharge his draft stock?
The Midwest Region has a solid smattering of NBA draft prospects. We count three potential lottery picks and a couple of other first-rounders. It's not a huge bounty, but it's an upgrade over the West Region.
ESPN.com has talked to multiple NBA scouts and GMs over the course of the season to give you a look at the top NBA prospects they'll be watching in each NCAA region.
Gorgui Dieng, C, Jr.
Potential second-rounders: Russ Smith, SG, Jr.; Peyton Siva, PG, Sr.
Wait 'til next year: Montrezl Harrell, PF, Fr.; Wayne Blackshear, G/F, So.; Chane Behanan, F, So.
Dieng has played well enough this season to get serious consideration in the first round. He's still not very polished offensively and he's old for his class, but his rebounding, shot-blocking and passing ability should help him get the nod.
Smith and Siva are both somewhat controversial picks. Smith can really score the basketball and Siva is so tough, but both have significant weaknesses.
Harrell might be the guy to watch. After he annihilated Syracuse in the Big East championship, a lot of scouts started moving him up their draft boards. He really needs another season with Rick Pitino, but a big NCAA tournament could move him into the first round.
Mason Plumlee, F/C, Sr.
Potential second-rounders: Ryan Kelly, F, Sr., Seth Curry, G, Sr.
Wait 'til next year: Rasheed Sulaimon, SG, Fr.; Quinn Cook, PG, So.; Amile Jefferson, F, Fr.; Marshall Plumlee, F/C, So.
Mason Plumlee, Kelly and Curry have all been awesome this season, but they've struggled to catch the imaginations of NBA scouts. Plumlee probably goes somewhere in the late lottery just based on his size and athleticism. Some scouts see Kelly as a bubble first-rounder because of his size and shooting prowess. Curry has played well, despite being injured, all season, but I think the comparisons to his brother Steph hurt him. Sulaimon is right on the first-round bubble. Most likely he'll stay in school another season, but if he gets really hot in the tournament, that could change.
Gary Harris, SG, Fr.
Potential second-rounders: Adreian Payne, PF, Jr., Keith Appling, G, Jr.
Wait 'til next year: Branden Dawson, F, So.
Harris doesn't put up really big numbers, but when you factor in he's a freshman playing on a veteran Tom Izzo team, his stats could downright wow you. He's a good athlete, a good shooter and a player who can defend multiple positions. Is he ready? Probably not (and he's seriously considering returning to school). But in a draft with so many weaknesses, he's likely to be a top-10 pick if he declares.
Payne has had a bit of a coming-out party this season. He's big and athletic and has shown off his versatility. He has a shot at the second round. Appling has had his moments, but he's still a tweener, which concerns scouts. Dawson could be awesome as a junior, but he still doesn't seem back to 100 percent health this season.
There's a temptation to put the Billikens' lead guard, Kwamain Mitchell, here, but of all the scouts I spoke with, none of them had him in their top 100. Saint Louis is a very dangerous team, it just doesn't have a legit NBA prospect on its roster.
Marcus Smart, PG, Fr.
First-rounder: Le'Bryan Nash, F, So.
Potential second-rounder: Markel Brown, SG, Jr.
Smart's importance to the Cowboys can't totally be shown on a stat sheet. He has willed this team to victory and is one of the toughest, most competitive freshmen we've seen in a long time. It's hard to believe he won't be a top-5 pick come draft night even if he can't shoot and is turnover-prone. Nash has benefited greatly from Smart's presence and might want to ride his point guard's coattails into the NBA. Brown is a crazy athlete who has started to shoot the ball better. He might be an intriguing second-round pick.
Adonis Thomas, F, So.; Geron Johnson, SG, Jr.; D.J. Stephens, F, Sr.; Tarik Black, F/C, Jr.; Joe Jackson, G, Jr.
Thomas was considered a potential lottery pick coming out of high school. He has had his ups and downs this season, but his inability to carve out a definitive position for himself has hurt his stock. Johnson is big and athletic and can really score the basketball. I think he's one of the more underrated players in the country. Stephens is, in my opinion, the most explosive leaper in college basketball. He plays as if he's on a trampoline. Black and Jackson are solid, but both are long shots to get drafted.