March Madness is just around the corner, and a slew of top college basketball prospects already sense their NBA futures approaching.
Massive names like player of the year favorite Zion Williamson know they’ll be taken early in the 2019 NBA Draft and have a chance at leading their teams to a national title, but several college basketball stars have much murkier futures.
Williamson has Duke in position to win the whole thing (+175 favorites at the Bovada sportsbook), and even if that doesn’t happen, he still feels like a lock to go #1 in this year’s draft.
In fact, Williamson is so confident where he’ll be taken that he’s talking about teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant with the New York Knicks.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) February 3, 2019
There is still a good deal of time before that all unfolds, but Williamson is certainly sitting pretty. The same can’t be said for everyone else, but there are several prospects – whether they’re likely first-round picks or fringe picks at all – that could drastically improve their draft stock.
Strong NCAA tournament runs often dictate portions of the draft each year. NBA fans and bettors alike saw that in a big way last year, when Villanova bench spark Donte DiVincenzo skied up draft boards and was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks in round one.
A second-round pick at best prior to March Madness, DiVincenzo parlayed an awesome tournament run into a killer draft position and a fat paycheck. There are numerous prospects who will aim to do something similar, and they might be able to accomplish that whilst pushing their teams toward a national title.
Here are six that stand out the most and may be worth tracking as long as they’re alive during the 2019 March Madness tourney.
Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
I could bring up Murray State’s Ja Morant and his plight to state a case for the #1 overall pick, but it’s just not going to happen. He’s a strong bet for the second pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but anyone unseating Zion Williamson feels like a huge reach at this point.
While you’re probably wasting your time up top, someone like Jarrett Culver could easily lock up a lottery spot with a strong tournament push. Texas Tech is sitting inside the top-25 as I write this and feels like a lock for the tournament, while Culver is putting up over 18 points per game as the key cog in their offense.
Are the Red Raiders going to be a sleeper team as they race through their region to the Final Four? It’s unlikely (+5000 odds to win the title), but if they have a chance of doing that, it’ll surely be due to stellar play from Culver.
I don’t know if Culver needs to get that far to enhance his stock, but besting his season average and being a little more consistent from long range will easily help him out.
Already a top-15 threat, a reasonable tourney run may cement Culver as a lottery pick. A brilliant run may force him into the top-10.
Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Duke is incredibly loaded. Zion Williamson is their biggest star and the locked-in top pick this year, but R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish both look like top-5 threats and top-10 guarantees.
Tre Jones is being lost in the shuffle, even though he’s been a steady performer at the lead guard spot (5.6 dimes per game), and Jay Bilas called him the best defender in the nation.
As the fourth scoring option at best, Jones is getting ridiculously overlooked. The reality is he could translate into an elite two-way point guard in the NBA, and teams would be getting a steal.
The big question is whether or not Jones can work his way up the ladder in round one. I think his defensive toughness and general talent keeps him inside the first round, but can he flex his muscle as a shooter and scorer enough to find his way into the lottery?
A great tournament run by Duke would only help his draft stock.
Markus Howard, PG, Marquette
Skipping down to round two, you’ll see a slew of talented scorers who could make a case to be selected in round one. Golden Eagles star Markus Howard is one of them, as he’s put up 25 points per game this year and connected on an insane 43% of his shots from long range.
Howard has Marquette (+7500 national championship odds) in a good spot right now, as he can fill it up as a scorer any given night. He did just that against Creighton earlier this year when he poured in an absurd 53 points in a crazy 106-104 victory.
Marquette has a solid team, but there’s little denying the main reason for their success is their star guard’s ability to pile up the points.
A lack of size and questionable lead guard skills have curbed his draft stock to this point, but driving Marquette deep into the tournament could play a big hand in confirming Howard as a round-one lock.
Mike Daum, F, South Dakota State
Another possible (but not guaranteed) second-round pick that could improve his 2019 NBA Draft stock is South Dakota State’s Mike Daum. Former Jackrabbits star Nate Wolters rode a solid scoring load into a brief NBA career, and it’s possible Daum could do the same.
It’s a little different with Daum, however, as he has been a dominant forward (24 points and 11 rebounds per game) and already appears to have the size and spacing ability to position himself for an NBA job.
There are legitimate concerns about his overall athleticism and explosiveness, but Daum can flat-out score the ball from virtually anywhere on the floor and brings that coveted outside shooting to the table.
The NBA loves big men that can bang inside, crash the glass, and space the floor. Daum will have to get tougher to handle talented NBA scorers down low, and he admittedly has a funky shot. However, fundamentally, he’s an excellent scoring big who will work for rebounds and isn’t afraid of contact.
Daum will probably have to prove his worth on a big stage, though. Putting up killer numbers against weaker competition won’t mean much to the NBA, but dominating March Madness teams en route to a deep tourney run could turn some heads.
If that happens, Daum could find himself locked onto someone’s board this summer.
C.J. Massinburg, PG, Buffalo
If you like stars from smaller schools and want someone to root for when you bet on March Madness this year, add C.J. Massinburg to the list. There are only so many true March Madness sleepers out there, but Buffalo has wormed their way into the top-25 and looks very dangerous at the moment.
A huge reason why the Bulls have been so good is their sharpshooting guard, C.J. Massinburg. The senior has continued slaying from long range, as he’s connected on over 40% from deep for the second year in a row and has also produced as a scorer with 18 points per game.
Massinburg has the look of a very interesting NBA point guard. The size, scoring, shooting, and creating all add up to a strong prospect. He also rebounds extremely well for a guard.
Just look at how badly he waxed a good West Virginia squad earlier this year.
I certainly will hear the complaints about Massinburg. His shot is pretty ugly, and he hasn’t yet proven he can effectively transition to the point guard position. He also isn’t an elite athlete, which further complicates this task.
Still, Massinburg is a very good scorer who can stroke it at a high level from long range.
Even as a combo guard off of someone’s bench, he may hold value in the NBA. I doubt that gets his name called in round one, but the mere possibility of him being an elite bench spark or a point guard convert may be enough to get him taken in round two.
Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue
I might be saving the best for last. I also will be the first to admit that there are more than just these six players that have a chance at improving their 2019 NBA Draft range.
That being said, I’ll wrap things up with Purdue star Carsen Edwards, who is a phenomenal scorer (24.9 points per game) and a gifted shooter. Edwards lacks ideal size for the next level, but he’s a superb athlete and can score on anyone.
Size and actual point guard skills are certainly in question, but continuing to dominate as he leads Purdue (+7000 title odds) deep into March Madness may erase some of the skepticism surrounding him. Scouts tend to chase after bigger and longer prospects, but Edwards can flat-out ball.
Any NBA team looking for a scoring spark off the bench or an underrated point guard prospect will have to give Edwards a chance to prove them wrong. He’s seemingly been doing just that his entire life and has only gotten better every season with the Boilermakers.
Right now, Edwards projects as a solid round-two prospect, but his elite scoring ability should have him in the round-one discussion. Eventually, we’ll see NBA Draft prop bets asking you which players can crack round one, and if Edwards name pops up, I’d bet he slips in.
There is still some time between now and the start of the 2019 March Madness tournament. We literally don’t even know the final field, and the fluidity revolving around the whole Bracketology debate is going to keep things very interesting.
Understandably, that’s going to align with how bettors look at the 2019 NBA Draft, and as the tourney marches on, things will change even more.
I’m not exactly sure when the online sports betting sites will start pushing out their wagers, but a prop featuring Zion Williamson and the first overall draft choice has come and gone already.
Needless to say, once the greatest tournament in sports pops back up, you better believe some of these sites will start offering various betting options.
For now, all you can do is enjoy the build-up to March Madness and start to keep tabs on your favorite teams and players. Just don’t be shocked if some of these players end up having big tournaments and boost their draft stock because of it.
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