Analyzing the lottery picks in the NCAA Tournament

March Madness is in full effect, and the Phoenix Suns have lost seven of their last eight games. It’s officially time to start looking toward the NBA draft.

As of today, the Suns own the fourth worst record in the NBA. With 11 games left, they could realistically end up with anywhere from the third to the 10th pick. No matter how the Suns finish, it will be the highest Phoenix has selected since before Steve Nash came to the desert. Though this has been a lost season, there is potentially a pot of gold at the end of this dreary rainbow, depending on who the Suns select in June.

To kick off the draft conversation, we watched eight of the projected Top 10 picks (according to Chad Ford’s Top 100) and analyzed their performances in the second and third round of the NCAA tournament. Each of the players we’ve broken down is listed below along with his season averages and individual game lines.

Now, obviously it is quite subjective to judge a player based on his performance in one or two games. But Tournament games, with their heightened competition, coverage and stakes, aren’t normal contests. They are far and away the closest thing to an NBA game that any of these young men have played in up to this point in their career. Thus, their performances in these big games carry more than the usual weight. How they play in the pressure environment that is the Big Dance says a lot about how they will play in the NBA and how much they will or will not be able to contribute as rookies. ESPN’s Peter Keating wrote about this subject in the most recent issue of ESPN the Magazine (Insider Only.) Here’s how these eight sure-fire lottery picks performed on the big stage.

Ben McLemore

Freshman – SG – Kansas

Season Averages: 15.8 pts, 49% FG, 41% 3PT, 87% FT, 5.3 reb, 1.0 stl, PER 24.24

Game 1 vs. Western Kentucky: 32 min, 11 points, 2-5 FG, 7-8 FT, 6 reb, 4 TO

Game 2 vs. North Carolina: 24 min, 2 pts, 0-9 FG, 0-6 3PT, 5 reb, 2 TO

The dead guy in Weekend at Bernie’s had a better weekend than Ben McLemore. The Jayhawks’ freshman phenom was a no-show in both of Kansas’ wins over the weekend. Right now he’s projected as the No. 2 pick behind the injured Nerlens Noel, but he’ll have to redeem himself in a huge way during the upcoming rounds if he hopes to maintain that projection. In both matchups, McLemore was tight and tentative. His jumper was a mess, and he missed several easy layups. He did put his tremendous leaping ability on display a few times, but otherwise there was nothing spectacular about his performance. Defensively, he turned his back on his man and left the job of defending the opponent’s best perimeter player to his teammates. He is incredibly quick which allows him to recover when he makes a mistake, but that speed won’t help him in the NBA when everyone he guards is just as quick. It was disappointing to see him fail to contribute in other areas when it became clear his shot wasn’t falling. McLemore has talent – just look at his season averages – but as a freshman about to enter the NBA draft (albeit a 20-year-old freshman) he may not have the requisite maturity to put that talent to use.

Marcus Smart

Freshman – PG – Oklahoma State

Season Averages: 15.4 pts, 40% FG, 29% 3PT, 78% FT, 5.8 reb, 4.2 ast, 3.0 stl, 3.4 TO, PER 24.23

Game 1 vs. Oregon: 37 min, 14 pts, 5-13 FG, 0-2 3PT, 4-8 FT, 9 reb, 4 ast, 5 stl, 5 TO

Analysis (by Dave Dulberg):

In spite of Oklahoma State’s 13-point loss to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA tournament, freshman Marcus Smart proved that he’s one of the more intriguing lottery candidates in June’s draft. Smart filled up the stat sheet against the Ducks, showed off his impressive lateral quickness on the defensive end, and did a decent job of containing Oregon’s speedy guards on the perimeter.

The concern is what position does the six-foot-four Smart play? Coach Travis Ford had Smart off the ball for most of the first half until the Cowboys fell behind by double digits. Ironically, it felt like Smart was less of a playmaker with the ball in his hands in the second half, and often forced shots that weren’t there. Rarely do you see a point guard excel off the ball, but Smart certainly fits in that category.

Otto Porter

Sophmore – SF – Georgetown

Season Averages: 16.2 pts, 48% FG, 42% 3PT, 77% FT, 7.5 reb, 1.8 stl, PER 27.88

Game 1 vs. Florida Gulf Coast: 38 min, 13 pts, 5-17 FG, 2-6 3PT, 11 reb, 3 ast

Georgetown’s loss was the Cinderella story of the second round, and much of the responsibility for it should fall on Otto Porter’s shoulders. Despite posting a double-double, the Big East Player of the Year was invisible for much of this game and never really found his shot. Porter went scoreless for a 25 minute stretch. It wasn’t just that his shots weren’t falling, it’s that by the end, he wasn’t even squaring up. Every time he caught the ball, he looked to pass immediately. The only reason Georgetown was in this game was because Porter’s teammate Markel Starks was incredible.

Porter reminds me a lot of Rudy Gay. He’s got great size and a good looking jump shot. He’s still very skinny and gets pushed around down low, but that doesn’t seem to stop him from getting boards. Defensively, he was the Hoyas’ floor general, calling out assignments and helping. He found ways to contribute even though his shot wasn’t falling. That said, him winning POY in the Big East is more an indictment of the Big East than an endorsement of Porter. I’m not sure he’s ready to be as substantial a contributor as his draft projection might suggest. He could be Jeremy Lamb 2.0.

Anthony Bennett

Freshman – PF – UNLV

Season Averages: 16.1 pts, 53%, 37% 3PT, 70% FT, 8.0 ast, 1.2 blk, PER 28.24

Game 1 vs. California: 37 min, 15 pts, 4-11 FG, 7-10 FT, 11 reb, 2 blk

Analysis (by Dave Dulberg):

Anthony Bennett is a physical specimen. That much was known even before the Running Rebels entered the NCAA tournament. In UNLV’s 64-61 loss to California in the second round, Bennett was not at his best, yet still managed to put up a double-double (15 points and 11 rebounds). He reminds me a lot of Derrick Favors when he came out of Georgia Tech after one year.

Bennett commands a double team in the post, has decent foot work in the paint and a nice touch around the rim. The problem for the 20-year-old, is that he also has an affinity for the 15-foot jump shot. Against the Golden Bears, Bennett seemed rather content firing up jumper after jumper.  While his shot is above average for a player of his size, it felt like he began every possession either facing up or catching passes well outside the lane.  At 240 pounds, I’m not sure Bennett fully recognizes yet how to best utilize his body.

Victor Oladipo

Junior – SG – Indiana

Season Averages: 13.6 pts, 59% FG, 43% 3PT, 75% FT, 6.4 reb, 2.1 stl, PER 29.09

Game 1 vs. James Madison: 26 min, 11 points, 3-7 FG, 1-3 3PT, 4-4 FT, 6 reb, 3 ast

Game 2 vs. Temple: 32 min, 16 points, 7-12 FG, 1-3 3PT, 8 reb

Oladipo played the best of any player on this list, and it wasn’t really that close. The junior shooting guard has been rising up the draft board all season, and recently surpassed his own teammate Cody Zeller as a possible Top 5 pick. Oladipo flies under the radar a bit because he doesn’t score over 15 points a game, but his scoring is just one of the many ways he can contribute.

Oladipo looks and plays like a shorter Luol Deng. He’s a tenacious defender with an incredibly high motor. He’s a highly efficient shooter and can get to the basket and finish against almost anyone. His first step is very quick and his lengthy stride allows him to get to the hoop with just one dribble. He rebounds as well as any guard in the draft and is incredibly fast in the open court. Down the stretch against Temple, he guarded the Owls’ best player (Khalif Wyatt went off for 31 points but many of those points came with Oladipo guarding other players) and nailed the dagger three to put the game out of reach. He can handle the ball like a point guard, but he’s much better off the ball. The only knock on his game I can see is that he may not have much of a left hand. After the first weekend of Tourney, he looks like the most NBA ready player in the draft.

Shabazz Muhammad

Freshman – SF – UCLA

Season Averages: 17.9 ppg, 44% FG, 38% 3PT, 71% FT, 5.2 reb, PER 21.99

Game 1 vs. Minnesota: 39 min, 20 pts, 6-18 FG, 0-6 3PT, 8-10 FT, 4 reb

Don’t let his line fool you, Muhammad could not hit the broad side of a barn in this game. UCLA got blown out by the Gophers and Muhammad’s struggles were a big reason why. The 2nd leading freshmen scorer in the country eventually got his twenty points, but they came on free throws and transition layups. In the halfcourt, he was totally ineffective.

Muhammad is incredibly strong for his size. He is not afraid to initiate contact and does a great job of getting to the free throw line. Offensively, he can get a bit lost on the weakside and can go long stretches of possession without touching the ball. Defensively, he might as well be a ghost. In an incredibly physical game in which the Bruins played only seven guys and were whistled for 19 fouls, zero of them were charged to Muhammad. He consistently guarded Minnesota’s weakest perimeter player and had no impact whatsoever defensively. Someone projected as highly as Muhammad should be able to contribute in ways other than scoring.

How he plays in the NBA will depend on what sort of situation he lands in. If the he lands with a team that is counting on him to contribute right away, he could be a big disappointment. After Jordan Adams went out with injury, UCLA had to rely on Muhammad even more than before. He was not up to the challenge. However, if he lands with a team that just needs him to run the floor and be athletic, then he has a chance to grow and become a very good player.

Muhammad’s birth date came under scrutiny in the last week (he’s 20, not 19) and he’s closer in age to Victor Oladipo than he is to Marcus Smart. While that hurts his stock and the thought of his upside, it does make it more likely that he will drop to Phoenix’s pick.

Cody Zeller

Sophmore – C – Indiana

Season Averages: 16.7 pts, 57% FG, 76% FT, 8 reb, 1.3 blk, PER 30.93

Game 1 vs. James Madison: 27 min, 11 pts, 4-5 FG, 3-4 FT, 4 reb, 4 TO

Game 2 vs. Temple: 29 min, 15 points, 4-10 FG, 7-8 FT, 6 reb, 6 TO

Cody Zeller is a good college basketball player. He has a high basketball IQ. He runs the floor. He gets great post position and can finish inside. He can even throw down a pretty thunderous dunk if given the opportunity. All that said, I don’t know if any of his skills are going to translate effectively to the NBA.

Averaging 8 rebounds per game in college is admirable, but Zeller has one of the lowest rebounding rates I’ve ever seen for a high profile big man. Indiana often plays four perimeter players around Zeller, giving him ample opportunities to grab boards, but in these two games, he grabbed maybe 10 percent of the rebounds available to him. His 6’5 teammate, Oladipo, outrebounded him in both games. Players very seldom improve as a rebounders after they get to the NBA.

Zeller also has below-average hands. Most of his 10 turnovers were plays where he lost the handle or had the ball stripped from him in the paint.  Defensively, he’s not a shot blocker, and he’s not very fast laterally. At seven feet and 240 pounds, Zeller isn’t bulky enough to defend NBA big men in the post, but he’s also doesn’t appear to be quick enough to defend on the perimeter. As I said before, he’s a great college player, but I don’t see any way that a team taking him in the Top 10 isn’t disappointed.

Gary Harris

Freshman – SG – Michigan State

Season Averages: 13.1 pts, 46% FG, 42% 3PT, 77% FT, 1.3 stl, PER 19.08

Game 1 vs. Valparaiso: 32 min, 10 points, 4-11 FG, 2-5 3PT, 4 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl

Game 2 vs. Memphis: 25 min, 23 pts, 6-9 FG, 4-7 3PT, 7-8 FT, 3 reb, 4 pf

This weekend was really a tale of two games for Harris. In the Spartans’ first game against Valpo, Harris faded into the background on offense. His teammate, Keith Appling, had a big game, and Harris seemed content to sit on the weak side and be passive. When he did get the ball, Harris didn’t shy away from shooting, but his shot wasn’t quite clicking. In the second game against Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers, Harris caught fire and sparked Michigan State to big runs in both halves that determined the outcome of the game. Harris would have had 30 points against the Tigers if not for some foul trouble.

Harris’ jump shot is a thing of beauty, especially when he’s shooting from beyond the arc. He’s equally comfortable as a spot up shooter or coming off screens. He attacks the hoop willingly and has some serious hops. He is a bit undersized for an NBA shooting guard however, and he may not finish at the rim in the pros. Defensively, he’s the most active defender on this list other than Oladipo. He was engaged on each and every position. If he made a mistake, he had the speed to recover. Whether or not he’ll be this tenacious of a defender when Tom Izzo isn’t yelling at him remains to be seen, but at least he’s got the ability. Harris is very young and still has a lot of growing and maturing to do, but he seems like he has the foundation to be a very solid player.

Please let us know in the comments what you thought of these performances and which player you think the Suns should pick in June.

Tags: Nba Draft Phoenix Suns

  • Rich Anthony

    @ Scott – if OLADIPO isn’t available to us, it might be a very cruel summer. My biggest fear is that a scenario like that might result in another Zeller in a Suns uniform.

    If Noel or O2 (OLADIPO) aren’t on the board, then you have two (similar) options.

    Draft the “best player available” regardless of position minus point guard with every pick.

    Or, trade down for more picks as Scott has suggested and – see above.

    We need talent – athletic talent, because outside of Dragon, we don’t have it.

    Talented athletic scorer, talented athletic big man, freak athlete who fills a role, etc.

    It’s why I don’t like Muhammad or Otto porter or Zeller. Really if McLemore and your guy from SD State are available when we pick and O2 / Noel are not then take them both. As long as we get a freakishly crazy big man somewhere in there.

  • Azbballfan

    Freakishly crazy bigman?

    hmmm………….How about Rudy Gobert? he is i think 19 years old plays for France his 7 foot 1 with a 7 foot 9 inch wing span

    will go anywhere from late lotto to late 1st, last game that i know about he had 14 points on 5 shots and 14 boards in 27 minutes

    if you look him up on youtube he looks very athletic for someone that is 7 foot 1 and 240 pounds

    his offensive game is raw and he would be a project but for a likely middle to late first roundr, if Withey and Gorge Diengu are gone (i dont know how to spell his name you know who i mean) doesnt seem to bad

    The Suns havent drafted a 7 footer since Lopez in 2008

  • foreveris2long

    I haven’t seen Gobert but I think the Suns badly need an athletic power forward who can rebound and block shots. Payne from Michigan State does that and can hit a 15 footer. He is projected to go in the 2nd round but another good showing in the tournament this weekend could elevate his draft status to the 1st round.

  • Alex Parisi

    Just take the best player available. If that’s Oladipo, I for one would be thrilled. As for PHX’s later picks, I love these guys if they’re available… Jamaal Franklin (SDSU), Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Solomon Hill (Arizona), DJ Stephens (Memphis), Jahii Carson (ASU), and CJ Leslie (NC State).

  • john

    The Suns should have just taken Faried a couple of years ago like I asked them to.

    How could they pass up on Faried after that EPIC youtube vid he made for himself? That was the stuff of legends.

  • Forever is2long

    Good win for the Mavs last night especially since Utah is too busy choking to help the Suns get the Lakers lottery pick. With World Peace I believe now having a torn meniscus, they are prime to continue their losing ways.

  • Ty-Sun

    Yeah, I’m hoping that Dallas gets it’s sh!t together for the rest of the season and takes that 8th seed away from the Lakers. :)

  • Ty-Sun

    I’ve been doing some research on Franklin. Perhaps his past problems could be a blessing in disguise for the Suns if that’s what is keeping him from being projected as a lottery pick. The ideal draft day scenario for the Suns might be to win one of the first two picks in the lottery and have the Lakers miss the playoffs. That way they could possibly take Noel with their 1st pick and then take Franklin with the Lakers pick since it seems that a lot of people are predicting Franklin will still be undrafted by that time.

  • Forever is2long

    Ty-Sun I think I would dance on the roof top in my undees if the Suns got Noel and Franklin. Another way we could possibly pull that off is to trade Gortat for a top 11 pick. AzBBall told me about him so I checked some video clips and then saw him a little in a conference tournament game. Then I saw him at length in March Madness and was extremely impressed. The LA Times did an article on the guy this year as though he was a mystery man no one had heard of. With his freakish wingspan and athleticism, he could skyrocket up the draft board. Stay tuned on this kid.

  • Scott

    The first I heard of Franklin was when DE posted a scouting report on him in early November.

    Did you know he has a Phoenix connection? He went to Westwind Prep in Phoenix.

  • Ty-Sun

    If the Suns do get lucky in the lottery and get the chance to draft Noel AND the Lakers miss the playoffs (which gives the Suns get their pick), Franklin sounds like the ideal use of the Lakers pick. But that’s the ideal situation. If the Suns get the 4th – 6th pick and the Lakers do make the playoffs, I would be happy with Oladido and the best player available with the Heat’s pick at the end of the 1st round.

    But if the Suns own pick ends up at 4-6 and the Lakers miss the playoffs then perhaps we take Bennett or Porter with the 1st pick and Franklin with the 2nd.

    I just hope that the Suns’ FO is putting as much thought into the draft as people here on this site are! The last two drafts they’ve seemed to play it safe with their picks. Although it’s a baseball analogy, I think it’s time to swing for the fence instead of just trying to get on base.

  • DBreezy

    Interesting convo about the upcoming draft. While I think this is always true, I think it’s even more important than ever this year to keep the big picture. Every year at this time two things happen. College basketball takes center stage for sports fans and media vs the niche it is most of the season and GM’s, head coaches, and occasionally owners start focusing in heavily for the first time vs the scouts who have been watching most of these guys since high school or earlier…

    Next thing you know draft rankings start going up and down as the fresh eyes on the scene take a look at these guys, living and dying with each tourney or draft workout high or low. The fresh eyes are all higher up the decision and responsibility chain than the scouts who have trudged around for years watching and ranking these guys so you know who wins that battle. I’ve come to like watching it play out every year on which tends to let it’s rankings flow up and down in the moment all season long vs Draftexpress that tends to largely stick with the long time scouting observations in their stuff resulting in far fewer changes through the year….

    In the end, there are usually a couple of big name prospects that typically slip way too far each season and its happening more and more because of one and done. So much hype is put on all of these guys coming out of high school that unless they have Durant or Beasley type freshman years and/or tourney’s their stock plummets. Ask guys like Deandre Jordan and Andre Drummond about that. Honestly if it wasn’t for the late season and tourney runs for guys like Rose, Mayo, Tyreke Evans, and Love they probably would have slipped more than they should. If Presti wasn’t Presti, Harden would have slipped for not going deep enough in the tourney…

    Even if they are succesful, if they come back for a second year and don’t dramatically top the first one which is hard in college hoops, they’re in trouble as well. Guys like Sullinger, Barnes, Lamb, and PJ3 fit that to varying degrees as it looks like Cody Zeller will this year. In the turmoil of all of this stuff, previously unheard of or unheralded prospects often rise above where they probably should be selected…………

    Of course nature abhors a vacuum and there are exceptions, but to me the trend remains largely true. None of this stuff is new, but what seems dangerous this year is the weakness of the draft, especially for a team like the Suns. There still seems to be a belief in the front office that they are different from other deep lottery squads despite a season worse than almost all of them and despite having less talent. That plus a front office team at or near the end of their deals likely spells pressure for immediate results ie an immediate impact player in a draft where none likely exists. At best you’re probably hoping one of these guys can be an all star down the line like a Gasol or Paul George. I wonder how susceptible Blanks will be to the winds blowing around this draft? I wonder what kind of environment and immediate expectations the highest Suns number 1 pick in years will have? Would they treat a guy like Oladipo the way Charlotte has with MKG or will they hype him up all offseason as has been their standard for years? Makes me think when I look for example at Shabazz and BMac as I get the feeling that Shabazz is better equipped mentally to shrug the pressure of such expectations from above off effectively.

  • Scott

    So … Blanks has muffed it up for the whole time he’s been in office and his contract hangs on this next draft.

    Blanks has … one last shot to win it! ;)

  • Scott

    BTW, IMO it’s too early to say who the top talents are in this draft. We haven’t even reached the deadline for declaring who’s in and who isn’t.

    But definitely the Suns should draft for talent, as they need talent at every position. (Despite being 5 deep at SF.)

  • DBreezy


    I don’t know if his job hinges on this draft in Sarver’s view or not as Bob has said earlier this season that he’s been happy with the talent that Lance has draftee, but one would think that getting an impact player in this draft would be heavy on his mind as he enters the last year of his deal….

    Like you, I believe that several players will be allowed to walk or traded this summer. I could easily see some combo of Brown, Gortat, Scola, Dudley, O’Neal, Frye, Garrett, Hadadi gone next season one way or another. Beasley’s an obvious omission here, but my gut says that they don’t stretch him this summer unless they need the cap space similar to what happened with Chilly who played a lot fewer mins than Beas. Beyond possible team wishes to part ways, I think some fans have discounted the possibility that one or several of these guys may ask to be moved this summer. I doubt Brown and Telfair were the only vets frustrated with where things are now and a guy like Gortat has to be cognizant of the fact that the Suns aren’t paying him what he wants, but still currently have his Bird rights…

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the Suns aren’t going to be big players in free agency and unless they’re planning on taking someone else’s big salary off their hands (Granger, Pau, etc) they won’t likely be adding an impact player via trade. I base that off the seeming lack of interest in the Suns current assets and the tightened trade market due to the luxury tax curtain. In fact I’m not expecting much in the way of near term draft picks coming back either, but probably more Wes Johnson, Marcus Morris types who aren’t currently panning out elsewhere plus maybe picks down the line unless a team is certain about its tax structure going forward….

    An ugly situation coming into the last year of your deal if you’re Lance off what looks like a 25-28 win season. Where else are you gonna look for hope to save yourself going forward? Especially since other owners around the league might not have the same glowing opinion of you that Sarver presently does. I agree that it’s too early to tell who the top talents are in the draft, which says a whole lot about this draft.

  • John

    Giannis Adetokoubo is not an illegal Nigerian citizen living in Greece. This nonsense started from DX’s article, but was already debunked in Greek media.

    They already cleared it up in Greek media.

    He has Greek citizenship.
    He has a Greek passport.
    He is eligible to play on the Greek national team.

    He does not have Nigerian citizenship.
    He does not have a Nigerian passport.
    He is not eligible to play on the Nigerian national team.

    DX is trying to stir up some kind of controversy with that article by saying things that were not true.

  • Scott

    @John -

    I doubt there is some sort of conspiracy operating here. If the DX story is wrong, it’s probably just bad information, taken from someone who was thought to be a good reference.

    FWIW – and unrelated to the above – apparently Morey (GM for the Rockets) and Presti (GM for the Thunder) are among the NBA guys scouting Giannis in Athens.

  • john

    If those two guys are interested, the Suns had better be showing some interest as well.

  • azbballfan

    yeah i agree Presti and Morey consistently draft well no matter what year it is

    I dont remember who the head scout is for the suns

    (is it John Trelor?)

    they need to go do their jobs and take a look at this player.

    btw i am pretty sure that the suns have the right to get the grizzlies pick this year, in some deal for Wesley Johnson we got a pick that was some conditions like the worst of the pick between minny and Memphis

    i am almost positive we have 3 first round picks no matter what

    also i know we get the heats pick because Cleveland owns the Lakers non lotto pick and has the right to take swap that pick with the Heats which of course they wont do

    Even if LA makes the playoffs the Suns should trade for a spot lower in the lottery by some combination of a trade of players or 2nd round, or late 1st round picks if someone talented enough drops to say 14

  • Jim

    I agree with Scott on the DX story. It should be interesting too to see if LA makes it but even then don’t think much of it. Will have to wait and see how the draft plays out! I think it’s still a bit too early IMO.

  • Carl

    In no particular order, ecxpet Sandoval who I’d love to read more about. I haven’t filtered out already-requested players. Consider them affirmation votes. I tried to keep the list to 8 and failed badly. THANKS!!!P. SandovalV. MartinezH. PenceF. HernandezF. LirianoP. HughesJ. ChamerlainE. EncarnacionR. DoumitP. MaholmA. WainwrightK. KouzmanoffR. Cano