Draft prospects who can help themselves with a strong tourney
Sometime this week, NBA team executives will board planes and scatter throughout the country. The NCAA tournament is one-stop shopping for league execs who are eager to see prospects perform against top competition.
Here's a look at 10 players teams will be keeping an eye on.
Adams is a physical specimen, a 7-foot, 250-pound New Zealand import with superior hands, footwork and ability to run the floor. It's been an uneven freshman season for Adams, who has struggled against improved competition and yet to consistently show he is as good as the sum of his parts. Most NBA scouts believe Adams will -- or at least should -- return to school for his sophomore season. Still, several hope Pittsburgh advances to the round of 32, where Adams would likely match up with Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, a probable first-round pick.
Muscala has had a productive senior year, averaging 19 points and 11.2 rebounds while leading the nation in double-doubles (22). Bucknell runs most of its offense through the 6-11, 239-pound Muscala, who has a diverse post game and the range to step out and make jump shots. Concerns about Muscala focus on his competition: Playing in the Patriot League, he is rarely is matched up against an opponent with his blend of size and skill.
Muscala will get a chance to showcase his skills against Butler, which will likely stick 6-11 Andrew Smith on him. If Bucknell can advance, a high-profile matchup with Marquette likely awaits. A strong tournament could move Muscala from a late first- or early second-round pick into the mid-20s or better.
The 6-4 Wolters has put up some big numbers with the Jackrabbits, averaging 22.7 points on 49.3 percent shooting this season, all while facing consistent double teams most nights. Wolters is a brilliant ball handler who changes direction well. Like Muscala, NBA executives wonder how Wolters will perform against better players, particularly defensively, where his limited athleticism could be a liability. Wolters will jump right into the deep end in South Dakota State's first game, against Michigan, which features Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke, a prolific scoring playmaker who is projected as a top-20 pick.
Porter is a strong candidate for National Player of the Year, and a surefire top-10 pick. He is a lanky, athletic forward who runs the floor, defends well and has improved his three-point shooting from 22.6 percent as a freshman to 42.7 percent this season. Several team executives have expressed concern over Porter's lack of a polished offensive game and how he will score against NBA defenses. A deep tournament run -- which could include a trip through Kansas, the NCAA's top defensive team in terms of field-goal percentage -- would go a long way toward assuaging any doubts.
Leslie has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, alternating between big performances befitting of a top-10 pick (a 25-point, six-rebound effort against Duke in January) and why-should-we-draft-him clunkers (a six-point-in-30-minutes game against North Carolina in February). Leslie is athletic, with a lightning-quick first step, but he is an inconsistent rebounder (7.4 per game) who can't stretch the floor (he made just one of his five three-point attempts this season) and who, at times, appears disinterested. What do GMs want to see from Leslie in the tournament? A player who lives up to his enormous potential.
It has been a disappointing sophomore season for McAdoo, who has not developed the way many GMs predicted. He has struggled from the perimeter, and despite a 7-1 wingspan blocked just 13 shots this season, as many as he swatted as a freshman in half the minutes. McAdoo will be challenged by a stingy Villanova defense in the opening round, but the real test could come in the round of 32 against Kansas, a swarming defensive team with a top-flight center -- and future first-round pick -- in Jeff Withey.
A foot injury has limited Kelly to only 19 games in his senior season, but his impact on Duke has been measurable: The Blue Devils are 18-1 this season with Kelly in the lineup. The 6-11 Kelly is a perimeter big man, connecting on 48.6 percent of his three-pointers this season. Kelly isn't much of a rebounder (5.4 per game), and NBA scouts will be watching how he performs in more physical matchups.
Crabbe is an interesting prospect: After spending his first two seasons camped out on the perimeter, Crabbe has morphed into a more aggressive slasher as a junior. His free-throw attempts have risen (2.6 last season; 4.3 this year), as has his field-goal percentage (43.1 to 46.2). Crabbe is the top option in Cal's offense, and he will have plenty of NBA eyeballs on him in the first round, when the Golden Bears take on UNLV and Anthony Bennett, a projected top-10 pick. The difference for Crabbe between an extended tournament run and a first-round exit could be the difference between guaranteed first-round money and a second-round, make-good contract.
Olynyk is a highly skilled, efficient scorer who ranks third in the country in shooting at 65.2 percent. He has a diverse set of post moves, able to score with either hand and use good footwork to offset limited athleticism. But Olynyk lacks strength, a concern for teams that project him as a center in the NBA. A strong performance against Adams in the third round would help his stock, and, looking down the line, a matchup with a physical Ohio State team would be one to watch.
Let's be clear: Bhullar is not going to be in the draft. But the 7-5, 355-pound freshman is a mountain of a man -- and an intriguing prospect. When asked by SI.com about Bhullar, several NBA general managers confessed they had never seen him. But many will be in attendance in San Jose, Calif., to get a first look at Bhullar, who scored a combined 30 points in the final two games of the WAC tournament, helping New Mexico State earn an automatic bid. He is (surprise) not very mobile, but he has good hands and a decent touch around the rim.
His first tournament test won't be easy: St. Louis is a strong, physical team that defends well and applies a lot of pressure.