NBA Draft Sleepers to Watch in the NCAA Tournament

For most diehard NBA fans, the NCAA Tournament is the last look at some of the biggest names discussed on draft boards.

The narrative follows the top players on the top teams, like the quartet of stud freshmen at Duke, the constant parade of prospects at the Kentucky and Kansas factories, and upstart mid-majors receiving lottery looks like Ja Morant. By this point, those guys are household names in NBA circles, where fans of teams looking to snag one with a top pick are preparing themselves for the future.

While the NCAA Tournament is a one-stop shop from that perspective, it also provides the opportunity for new prospects to be introduced on a national stage. A decade ago, Stephen Curry and Davidson made a large splash. The late-season surge of the 2016 Syracuse Orange helped Malachi Richardson appear in the first-round conversation. Draft stock is subject to change, and gems are bound to be unearthed through the hysteria of March Madness.

Who is on this year’s list of late-risers and under-valued prospects that should catch your attention heading into the year’s busiest week of basketball?

Markus Howard, Marquette

Hoops fans are treated to a gem of a first-round matchup when Ja Morant and Murray State collide with Howard and the Golden Eagles of Marquette.

Morant has grabbed all the attention this season as the top point guard prospect and national leader in created points per game. Yet, Howard is sixth on that list and has consistently anchored a Marquette squad that was ranked as high as tenth in the country. He averaged 25 points and four assists while shooting above 40 percent from three for the third-consecutive season. His ten thirty-point games this year set a Big East record, and few players have his combination of deep range and shifty handles.

Howard may be the poor man’s version Trae Young. Undersized but shifty, he can create his own shot one-on-one, has range as soon as he steps in the building, and a series of dribble moves that can create just enough separation to score. He’s got an efficient mid-range pull-up, has a series of effective step-backs and shoots it off the bounce. He uses his body well to draw contact and is a good finisher inside.

Here you can see some of the similarities:

From a scouting perspective, you have to be careful not to fall in love with a prospect just because he plays the same style as another player that is successful. The comparison between the two does not mean Howard will have the same type of impact, nor is anyone advocating for him to be a top-five pick.

Trae Young is, and was as a freshman at Oklahoma, much more complete than Howard during his junior year.

Unlike Young, Howard’s jumper has a high release and takes some time, so he needs to create more room to launch. He’s nowhere near the caliber of a passer either, and that limits Howard to second-round discussion.

I do like his leadership skill, ability to thrive in big moments and how he is consistent despite his high volume as a shooter. In games against ranked opponents this season, Howard averaged 34.6 per game and went 4-1 record in those contests. It’s hard to question the production he’s accounted for.

Howard is only 5’11” and makes his impact on the offensive side. That size will certainly limit his draft stock, which is why he’s discussed more like a sleeper than a guy that could bulldoze his way into lottery contention with a strong March. Enjoy the Howard-Morant matchup, and don’t find yourself surprised if Morant looks like the second-best point guard in the contest.

Eric Paschall, Villanova

Mar 16, 2019; New York, NY, USA; Villanova Wildcats forward Eric Paschall (4) drives to the basket against Seton Hall Pirates guard Jared Rhoden (14) and guard Quincy McKnight (0) during the first half of the Big East conference tournament final at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Paschall’s stat line is incredibly solid: 16.5 points, 45 percent from the field and 36 from three, and 6.2 rebounds.

His shooting numbers have slowly risen to acceptable heights, but a cold March is hampering the draft stock of this future NBA glue guy. Nothing screams “superstar”, as he isn’t quick enough off the bounce, large enough to impose himself down low or flashy enough to garner highlight praise.

Yet, Paschall has built himself into a fantastically skilled and versatile player, thanks in large part to the high level of player production taking place at Villanova.

The rise of his jumper has opened up the lane for this super physical wing, albeit a slightly undersized one. He came into college at Fordham as a slashing mismatch 4-man and will leave it with his three-point shot as his best asset. Heading into March 4th, Paschall was shooting 42.5 percent from NBA three-point range.

His shooting ability is legitimate, which will allow him to see the floor early in his career.

It’s the rest of Paschall’s game—being so solid and dependable—that makes him an intriguing second-round prospect. While he isn’t a primary option on any set or action with the ball in his hands, he is under control off ball screens and has the ability to handle it just enough to create offense. He’s an underrated athlete and an explosive two-foot finisher in traffic:

While his shooting has found a cold stretch lately, Paschall found ways to impact the game during Villanova’s run to win the Big East Tournament. Late in a close contest with Xavier, it was Paschall’s nose for the basketball and tenacious offensive rebounding (averaging 1.3 per game) that sent the Wildcats onto victory:

The low ceiling as a top-level playmaker should keep Paschall out of first-round discussions in June, and his age (already 22 years old) doesn’t translate to the swing-for-the-fences picks that come at the top of the second-round.

But get to know this guy; He’s an underrated guy from a system that consistently churns out solid pros.

Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan

Mar 3, 2019; College Park, MD, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Ignas Brazdeikis (13) shoots over Maryland Terrapins guard Darryl Morsell (11) during he first half at XFINITY Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Shooter alert!

The smooth-stroking lefty was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and has propelled a top-ten team’s offense for much of the season. Now on the big stage, Brazdeikis is going to get his chance to make a name for himself and solidify his stock as a low-first round pick.

There’s not much doubt about how his offense can translate to the next level. At 6’7″ with a high release, Brazdeikis could very well be the next effective stretch-4 and can even steal some minutes at the 3.

While not great off the bounce, he is a fantastic athlete that plays above the rim. Iggy has a great feel and rarely forces bad shots, combining the touch of a skill-driven background with an aggression and strength few teenagers possess. His lack of top-tier foot speed almost works to his advantage, as defenders are often surprised when he is able to drive past them.

His ideal role may be working out of the corners as a catch-and-shoot threat, and how he attacks a closeout from that position is crucial for scouts to note:

Everything about his game tells me there’s little risk to selecting him late in the first-round: He is a great shooter, moves incredibly well without the ball, is explosive at the rim, has been taught how to attack closeouts, flashed some one-on-one scoring ability, has enough length to guard 4s, and plays in a defensive system that will prepare him for the rigors of the NBA level.

Louis King, Oregon

Mar 9, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Oregon Ducks forward Louis King (2) passes in front of Washington Huskies forward Dominic Green (22) during the first half at Alaska Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Frequent visitors to mock draft boards will recognize the name Louis King, who came into his freshman season at Oregon with legitimate lottery hype. After a meniscus injury cost him all of November, he’s been playing catch-up ever since.

His draft stock has slipped, and many experts have suggested he stay in school for another year to get healthy, improve his play over a sustained period of time and prove he is a legitimate lottery or first-round selection. He fell all the way to 51st on Sports Illustrated‘s big board in early January.

King is already climbing back into the first-round conversation, however.

He helped Oregon to four wins in as many days to clinch an NCAA Tournament by securing the Pac-12 Championship while scoring 16.5 points and hitting 40 percent from three. The Ducks have now won eight-straight games, entering the NCAA Tournament as an incredibly dangerous twelve-seed.

Oh yeah, they’ve done so without their top-two frontcourt players, including the nation’s best shot-blocker and projected lottery prospect Bol Bol.

To complete a rise up draft boards and a return to first-round stock, a win and strong showing from the 6’9″ swing forward is important. King has been criticized for his turnovers (they are high in losses), lack of high-level drive and absence of killer instinct. The NCAA Tournament is the stage that cures all those issues.

Few athletes glide through the lane and have as effective of a catch-and-shoot jumper. King’s certainly still a little rough around the edges, but the flashes of potential, combined with the recent winning streak, could propel him back to first-round debate.

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

Nov 12, 2017; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22) passes the ball against Vermont Catamounts forward Anthony Lamb (3) in the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Every tournament sleeper list needs at least one player from a low-major school to make an appearance, right?

Trendy picks like Dylan Windler of Belmont or Ja Morant of Murray State have received plenty of attention on a national stage already. This Thursday could be the coming out party for Anthony Lamb and the Vermont Catamounts.

Lamb is a bonafide scorer, averaging 21.4 points while shooting 37 percent from three and 58 percent from two-point range. He terrorizes players in his conference with his inside-outside game. He’s a load at 6’6″ and super strong. He’s scored over 30 points on four occasions, making at least four treys in all those contests.

But it’s his interior scoring that is so valuable. He’s one of the strongest scorers pound-for-pound you will see in the NCAA Tournament, and he bullied players in the America East Conference:

The worry at the next level revolves around his ability to guard on the interior.

He’s a bit undersized to be a consistent 4-man, and he struggles to move his feet to keep guards consistently in front. Vermont likes to play small, putting Lamb at the 4 and even the 5 to spread out their opponents, where he most naturally thrives.

Against the size and length of Florida State, who start a 7’4″ center, the first round matchup will certainly be an interesting test of whether Lamb is creative enough to be a stretch option at the next level. Can he defend on the interior?

For scouting purposes, this is the exact matchup a front office should want to see Lamb in.

The Catamounts played a difficult schedule for a low-major program. Two of their four non-conference losses were to Kansas and Louisville, and their other two were to near-tournament teams in Bucknell and Lipscomb. Lamb scored 24 against Kansas and 25 against Louisville, proving he can score with the big boys, and likely will do so this week.

His defense is the question, but an explosive showing on offense could solidify his stock as belonging on most draft boards.


Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of Sports-Reference and are current as of March 18, 2019.