March is when careers are launched and dreams are realized, as this is a time for players to draw more attention to their budding careers. Who are the best future pros taking center stage in the NCAA tournament?
Grayson Allen, Duke
The Blue Devils junior never lacks for attention, but this March could provide another outlet for Allen to make headlines. Allen’s numbers are down across the board from his standout sophomore campaign, but he can restore faith with a strong showing over several games in the tournament, as he can now do for Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum what Quinn Cook did for rookies like him during the 2015 national title campaign.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA
You have probably heard a thing or two about this guy. And you might not have seen him play all that much, given the late-night tips on the West Coast. But the Bruins point guard has lived up to the hype of his five-star billing by leading the nation in assists (7.8) and being the straw that stirs the drink for UCLA’s No. 2-ranked offense (per KenPom).
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
The Big Ten’s freshman of the year is the highest-scoring rookie (16.6) that coach Tom Izzo has ever had with the Spartans, answering the bell despite a midseason ankle injury that cost him six games. The 6-foot-7 former McDonald’s All-American is a force in the paint (8.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg) and from the perimeter (40.8 percent from 3), while showing tremendous passing ability.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
The freshman point guard has led the Wildcats to yet another SEC regular-season title, leading the team in assists while averaging 15.5 ppg. The shifty southpaw earned comparisons to NBA point guard and fellow lefty Brandon Jennings and he has shown a unique ability to get things done in traffic.
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State
Isaac’s numbers have been solid (12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg) for a Seminoles team that finished a remarkable second in the rugged ACC, and he is only going to get better. Yes, those ever-present draft buzzwords — “raw,” “upside” — are thrown around plenty when discussing Isaac, but how could they not be for a guy who stands 6-foot-10 and weighs just 210 pounds?
Josh Jackson, Kansas
Jackson, who will miss Kansas’ Big 12 conference tournament opener because of a one-game suspension, has the chance to both lead the No. 1 Jayhawks to the national title and then be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, much like former Jayhawk Danny Manning did in 1988. The reason both could happen is because the 6-foot-8, 207-pound Jackson is the ideal two-way player, chasing down shots (1.1 bpg) while harassing ball-handlers (1.6 spg).
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Jackson won ACC player of the year honors this season, upping his scoring average from 12.2 ppg to 18.3 ppg. And while that can partly be attributed to the much bigger load he had to take on for the Tar Heels, there is no overlooking the fact that Jackson is a much better outside shooter now than he was before.
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
What’s not to love about a 7-footer who shoots 42.8 percent from deep? Markkanen has been everything he was made out to be with the Wildcats, as the freshman has poured in 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. The son of former Kansas player Pekka Markkanen, Lauri has over many years developed the reputation of a gym rat. Defending players at the NBA level will be the next challenge for Markkanen, but he is certainly ready to take the next step after a standout rookie campaign at Arizona.
Malik Monk, Kentucky
It wouldn’t be a list of NBA prospects without multiple Kentucky players on it, and Monk may be the cream of the crop this year. He leads the Wildcats in scoring (15.4 ppg) and is capable of ridiculous shooting outbursts. (See: Monk’s 47-point game in a win over UNC). Monk is just 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, but with the way the NBA game is played today, there’s no reason to think he can’t fit in as a natural shooting guard and contribute immediately wherever he ends up.
Jayson Tatum, Duke
There’s little to pick apart about Tatum’s game, as the freshman has adjusted extremely well to a loaded Blue Devils team after missing some time early with a foot injury. He’s 6-foot-8, 205 pounds and scores from anywhere, with a mid-range game that will flow nicely to the next level. Tatum knows how to use his size, and his 16 ppg and 7.3 rpg aren’t too shabby, either.